AUGUST 3, 1998:
On the title track/opening number of Flaming Red, recent Austin transplant
Patti Griffin is introduced with a drumstick count-off, swirling rawk guitar line,
and a harp riff so fast that it sounds like a Public Enemy-style siren. Collectively,
it's the sound of nervous energy exploding, and Griffin certainly has a lot to be
anxious about. To follow-up 1996's Living With Ghosts, a debut of sparse,
but stirring, acoustic demos, Griffin has taken a somewhat risky path towards Newport.
As the intro suggests, this isn't the folk masterpiece nearly everyone expected.
In fact, Flaming Red's alt-rock foundation grounds a surprisingly cohesive
survey of American radio, covering AAA ("One Big Love"), rock ("Tony"),
and Top-40 radio ("Change"). And yet, as much as Flaming Red proves
Griffin is worthy of cross-format rock stardom, all the rocking really confirms is
that she's still a growing singer-songwriter - with phrasing that's more
JANIS JOPLIN WITH BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY
Live at Winterland '68 (Columbia/Legacy)
Janis Joplin had left Austin scarcely two years before this album was recorded and
her transition from folkie to acid queen wouldn't be matched as dramatically in style
until sweet little Charlie Sexton left for L.A. 20 years later and came back wearing
a new wave frightwig. But in this yet-another-trip-to-the-vault recording, Joplin
is exhumed luminously. With 13 song titles familiar to most Janis fans, there are
not a lot of surprises among its 14 tracks except how incandescent Joplin is in her
nascent stardom. As she rips into "Down on Me," its vicious waver is in
direct contrast to the heated-up version that completes the album. Her voice is girlish
and high as she introduces the Loading Zone, and notably free of the whiskey cackle
that came not long after. The most beautiful thing about this album, however, is
listening to a Sam Andrew tune called "Flower in the Sun," and taking solace
in its throwaway lyrics: "Once in the springtime, a flower opened up with the
sun/the passion lasted an hour, then she wilted for her loved one." Thirty years
after the Winterland recording and 28 years after her death, Janis is still
about passion. Take that, Courtney Love!
Sleepy Bunny Music
Hi-Flavour EP (Chocolate)
If ever I expected to find a secret track, it was on this CD, but so far, my search
has been to no avail. This is a band that lives to quirk, after all, as heard on
their previous full-length disc, and with all this room ... ? Nope, apparently, Bongo
Hate have decided to forego the trimmings here and stick with the meat of the matter;
four slices of pop so pure that the opening track sounds for all the world like David
Bowie writing for the Banana Splits. That's not to say this is predictable guitar-bass-drums-and-nothing-else
music. The guys still remember what they learned in XTC class, and apply that knowledge
well, with much electronic gee-whiz noise and vocal effects in evidence. The strangeness,
however, never overwhelms the music, making this a catchy, oft-repeatable disc. Exemplary.
DOAK SHORT & THE DIRTY DOGS
Get Dirty! (Tahoka)
The title of Doak Short's new album is no doubt a reference to his backing band,
but there's very little that's dirty about it. It's not dirty in a grainy, raw-knuckled,
get-out-the-Borax way, and it's certainly not dirty in a headin'-down-to-Times-Square-
with-a-pocketful-of-quarters way; if anything, the songs on Get Dirty! are
too clean and easy, a little too pop, a little short on grit and imagination. There
are exceptions: "Abraham" is a Western ballad of evident merit, and there's
a languid late-night charm to "Boozy Blues." But most of Short's songs
remain curiously lightweight, suffering from unremarkable guitar leads, weak melodies,
and lyrics that don't tell. "(When) Love Is a Lie" and "Mr. Moon"
are doubly infected by strange CSN/Cat Stevens production values. It's not insufferable,
by any means, but not particularly compelling either. Perhaps Short should take his
own advice and dirty things up a bit - see if a little more scruff can't improve
One Possible Explanation (Vatos Locos)
At a number of points on One Possible Explanation,
it's uncanny how much local singer-songwriter Roberto Moreno sounds like Joe Jackson.
The wide-open vowels and inflective bursts that convey the sharp wit of his lyrics,
and the fact that this album is a song cycle about women and the city complete the
match. This works to Moreno's favor, as it relegates the instrumental work to the
background. The guitar is mostly straight chords, played entirely inside the lines,
and the rhythm section follows suit, but Moreno comes up with enough catchy choruses
and hooks to make every song interesting. And the guest appearances often shine,
too; Ana Egge's weepy vocals on the opener "What It Takes" are a great
counter for Moreno's plaintive lead. Jon Dee Graham provides the album's best guitar
work on this song as well, and the lap steel he lends to "Summer" and "Soldier"
add a welcome lazy twist to the mostly up-tempo "Vato Pop." There's no
shortage of memorable lyrics on One Possible Explanation, either, as Moreno's
insightful, biting, and humorous perspectives make his voice more unique than any
"He sounds like Joe Jackson"-type comment could explain.
Carry Me Back
Thad Beckman covers a fair amount of territory on Carry Me Back, taking
his accomplished guitar and sincere voice and tackling tunes from bounce to blues,
from Delightful Ditties to Deep Brooding Ballads. Witness "Well Bottom Blues"
and "You're Just So Appealin'": both are quirky fingerpickin' songs that
sound distinctly like the tunes that might pop into your head when you're on your
way to buy gumballs. Compare "Freedom Slowly Sets on America" and "When
the Sun Goes Down": Both are somber, almost sinister songs, heavily invested
with a very basic despair born deep in the belly. While the disc does end with a
measure of cheer, it's the darker mood that prevails on Carry Me Back, with
Beckman coming off as a vaguely gloomy truthseeker and self-described lost soul.
Sometimes it works ("Song for JFK" is a somnolent and spacious gem) and
sometimes it doesn't ("Where Do I Belong?" is a touch overwrought), but
there's scarcely a song on here that doesn't carry a mood with it. Quite a few carry
a growl as well. Solid stuff from a good songwriter.
Wilory Farm (Tycoon Cowgirl)
Charming doesn't quite capture the appeal of Terri Hendrix's Wilory Farm.
There's something far less contrived and inescapably likable about the San Marcos
resident's second album for it to be merely charming. With a voice as effortless
and delicate as Alison Krauss', Hendrix runs through an array of styles: folk, country,
pop, country swing. There's even a brief bluegrassy nod to Jimi Hendrix on "Sister's
Apartment." Only when Hendrix (Terri, that is) offers up standard Lilith fare
(the very Sarah McLachlan-like "Gravity") does Wilory Farm start
to approach the pitfall of indistinguishability. When Hendrix sticks to the sticks,
like on the collection of folksy aphorisms "Wallet," she manages to somehow
carve out a bit of uniqueness among the wealth of Cen-Tex female singer-songwriters.
Wilory Farm is not all upside, however. The album is perky to a fault. Even
Hendrix's pain ("Hole in My Pocket") is perky. And like Martha Stewart,
there's only so much of it anybody can take before it starts to feel like their psyche
is being deprogrammed. Nevertheless, Hendrix has put together a delightful album.
Stroke the Apechild (Austin Music Mafia)
Never turn your back on a band like this. Brown Whörnet's specialty is quick
change for shock value, and they carry out this transaction with spine-twisting efficiency.
One side of this 10-inch EP consists of five short, shrill bursts of Alternative
Tentacles-style hardcore commingled with John Zorn's car crash experimentalism. Only
one of these tunes, "Bison," lasts longer than your average anti-perspirant
jingle. Of course, most jingles don't slap you silly with messages like "Your
Dick Is Small." The endless groove at the end of side one gives you a chance
to recover from the aural ambush. "Ladies of Summer," the only song on
side two, allows the band to extrapolate on a punk/dub hybrid set on a Parisian runway.
Ten inches really isn't enough to capture the full-throttle intensity of the Whörnet's
superlative live performances, but this brief taster ought to get a few more bodies
through the gate.
Gone Rockin' (Music Room)
Alamo Suite is the new vehicle for longtime local swamp/surf/boogie guitarist
and Tailgator, Don Leady. The name also refers to his new project's debut: All 10
originals were recorded with a "live in the studio" feel. Joined by Glenn
Rios on drums and Cliff Hargrove on stand-up bass, Leady has plenty of elbow room
to play. And move about he does, from the chops-fest title track to "Starshine,"
a country joyride in a 1960 Chrysler convertible, to the darkly entertaining "Warrior,"
and "Blue Northern," a flat open jam session. Sadly, this instrumental
fun fest is cut short by the album's length - 30 minutes. Given the instrumental
interplay and flexible tightness of the trio, one wonders why Alamo Suite didn't
add some live tracks or even extend the extant songs (none of the 10 tunes clock
in over four minutes) to round out the album. Even with this time limitation, however,
Alamo Suite is a righteous place where boogie, jazz, swamp, blues and swing
Oncoming Headlights (pH Base Productions)
MATT THE ELECTRICIAN
Baseball Song (Chez Dre)
If Matt Sever ran the world, baseball would still be the national sport; the home
team would really be the home team, and the players would autograph balls for free
and with a smile. And Sam Walton would have been lynched long ago by a mob of mom
and pop store owners - also with a smile. There's almost nothing on Baseball Song
that isn't unflinchingly optimistic. On "I Remember," Sever even admits
that "silver linings pile up on me." They'll pile up on you as well when
listening to this album, set atop a dominantly acoustic, though more poppy than folky,
cloud of simple tunefulness. Sever proudly and clearly tells how he likes everything
from "Food" (makes him "higher than any new drug"), to "Scars"
("I like scars, I wanna remember"), with the only bad word in his vocabulary
being "Goodbye." If it's obtuseness and angst you're looking for, go elsewhere.
If you like your music positive and heartfelt, then you've been waiting for the electrician,
or someone like him.
DEEP IN THE HEART (OF TEXAS)
When the makers of the local indie film Deep in the Heart (of Texas) got
down to slappin' a soundtrack on their homage to all things Austin, they didn't go
half-enchilada: the Shanachie soundtrack reads like a Who's Who of Lone Star troubadours,
featuring certifiable legends (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Long John Hunter),
blues belters (Lavelle White, Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton), and more than a few local
heroes (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Don Walser, and Wayne Hancock, among others). It's good
chops all around, although highest marks have to be given to Gilmore ("Just
a Wave, Not the Water"), Nelson ("Just One Love" with Kimmie Rhodes),
and Walser ("Rolling Stone From Texas"), with special notice for Rosie
Flores, whose moody "Boxcars" is a slow and certain treat. The album is
dedicated to Walter Hyatt, ending with two of the crooner's imaginative originals,
"This Time Lucille" and "Last Call." Despite such an impressive
lineup, Deep in the Heart still has the unmistakable feel of a sampler, lacking
the coherence of the studio albums these songs were cribbed from. That said, it's
a good collection, strong on local content and true to its Texan aim.
First Day of Spring (Catfish Jazz)
The haunted, somehow yearning moan of the violin is an intimate sound. It's the very
definition of "chamber music," something played in the boudoir late at
night. For this sound alone, Sebastian Campesi deserves your warm applause. A 20-year
veteran of the San Antonio Symphony (first fiddle), Campesi has had the string family's
soprano tucked under his chin for the better part of his 77 years, and you hear it
every time he makes those four strings sing. The long, lugubrious solo on "Nancy"
and especially "Try a Little Tenderness," wherein Campesi etches a lifetime
of playing into an inimitable standard, are rich and evocative to the point where
you're quite simply floating on the wistful nature of his instrument's sound. On
"Royal Garden Blues," meanwhile, Campesi and guest fiddler Johnny Gimble
demonstrate other Texas-sized applications of their common interest. Campesi is no
Yo-Yo Ma, falling just a half-step off the pace of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams,"
and needing perhaps one more take on several tracks, but overall his embracing, emotive
playing and the strong support of pianist Rich Harney and percussionist Herlin Riley
distinguish the First Day of Spring as chamber music suitable for day or night.
Happy Feet (Continental Records/RCA)
A few years back 81/2 Souvenirs, the jewel in Austin's swing crown,
released their debut, Happy Feet, recorded live at the Continental Club. In
1995, the band released the second edition of Happy Feet, the new edition
containing more tracks and featuring their then new singer, Juliana Sheffield. Since
then, both Sheffield and bassist Todd Wulfmeyer have left, respectively replaced
with Chrysta Bell and former Asylum Street Spanker Kevin Smith. And the band has
recently signed with RCA/BMG, giving the five-piece group serious distribution power.
How is this version different? Resequenced, all the second edition's 14 songs
find their way on this new version. Glover Gill demonstrates again why he's one of
the most respected ivory ticklers in town, and Olivier Giraud's guitar work channels
the very soul of master guitarist Django Reinhardt. Adam Berlin still cements the
steady beat and Smith's bass lines lay down a firm musical structure. What's different
is Chrysta Bell's vocals. Sheffield applied operatic power to her higher range interpretation
of the swing style, while Bell stays within the lower end of the spectrum, yielding
a slightly more subtle, sultry mood. Only rabid fans will need to possess all three
versions of Happy Feet, but this third version could well be the major-label
calling card the band needs.
Most of All (Fire Ant)
JOHNNY CASH/WILLIE NELSON
VH1 Storytellers (American)
For better or worse, this album plays like the logical result of nonstop exposure
to three decades of AOR radio as heard through the trained ears of a home studio
enthusiast. Booth's e-man prowess is readily apparent in that he did virtually everything
here but play the drums and take out the trash. Unfortunately, not having a counter-influence
to Booth's singular vision hamstrings Velvet Rut's potential for engagement.
The album does have a few genuine moments, particularly the incessant, badass bass
drive of "Truth Is Rare." More often than not, though, the melodies and
song structures tend to get lost in a miasma of gratuitous production and vocal slurry.
The clandestine sterility of the studio comes between the artist and audience like
a large panel of opaque plexiglass. After upteen songs in that far-removed fashion,
Booth's musical ideas become indistinguishable from one another. Velvet Rut
is a long story in dire need of a good editor.
Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb (Island)
Talk To My Heart (Watermelon)
It's been a rough road for Johnny Bush. His voice disappeared in 1972 (diagnosed
as spastic dysphonia) just at the point when his career was breaking wide open with
"Whiskey River" hitting the Top 10. After years of distress and hard work,
his voice is now about 70% of what it once was and possesses a slight warble that
adds a certain amount of character to the brand of high grade honky- tonk presented
on Talk To My Heart. He doesn't write as much as he used to, most of the tunes
here being picked from among the current crop of first-class Texas songwriters, including
folks like Clay Blaker ("This House Has No Doors"), Justin Trevino ("Neon
Nightmare"), and Joe Gracey ("Deep in Love and Buried in the Blues").
That's not to say the two songs he's penned for this disc aren't up to his past efforts.
"The Cheatin' Line" is a classic shuffle in the style of Mel Street, and
"While It Sure Feels Good (Not to Feel So Bad)" is a bittersweet ballad
with a smooth steel guitar break that fits the laid back mood perfectly. Texas can
be proud of another of its legends as Johnny Bush has turned up a winner
Music: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Cover . News . Film . Music . Arts . Books . Comics
© 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . Austin Chronicle . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch