JANUARY 25, 1999:
For a band whose local reputation has hinged so heavily on the twists and turns of its live sets, Soulhat has always been surprisingly adept in the studio. Nineteen ninety-three's freestylin' Outdebox has aged better than expected and their grossly underbought major label follow-up, '94's Good to Be Gone, hasn't aged at all; "Bonecrusher" still sounds as relevant every Friday afternoon on KLBJ as anything Candlebox, Collective Soul, or Big Head Todd has served up in the five years since. This tasty new six-song EP, which serves as the band's first recording without founding guitarist Bill Cassis and their last with original bassist Brian Walsh, is as clever, quirky, and straightforward as Soulhat's ever been. Frontman Kevin McKinney's union of Dr. Seuss' lyricism and Billy Gibbon's groove is more and more a formula for fully realized high-octane rock and drummer Barry "Frosty" Smith is playing better than ever (although it could be argued his vocal turn on his own "Young Ones" is more novelty than necessity). Best of all, Soulhat is a rare case where the EP format works, in that the six selections cover a lot of ground, only going over the four-minute mark once while leaving the listener satisfied and wanting something more. Hopefully, it won't be another five years to get it.
3 1/2 stars-- Andy Langer
EARTHPIG AND FIREGreatest Hits Vol. II (Pure Profit)
Alas poor Earthpig, we hardly knew you. This 13-song collection of material recorded over 18 months effectively signals the end of local trio Earthpig and Fire. It also prompts the question why it must end, or at least why it wasn't more of a sensation while it was around. With a guitar playing style best described as a hybrid of Stanley Jordan and Jeff Healey, with the clean strummed sound of the Velvet Underground (made explicit with the cover of "Who Loves the Sun"), Earthpig, aka Adam Bork, should have been the darling of the technical geeks. Whereas Jordan used his mastery to turn himself into a jazz virtuoso, Earthpig subverts his talents to serve his off-kilter pop constructs ("Bob Dole," "Glue," "Pantyman") that might have been adored by indie hipsters and mindless rockers alike. Hell, with just enough of those loose-fitting rhythms ("Girl in a Tree"), Earthpig and Fire could have even been a minor star to the people who trade in their lives for Volkswagen vans. Instead, we're left with this Greatest Hits Vol. II, a smattering of the near-genius that would be Earthpig and an abridged testament to the phenomenon that never was.
3 1/2 stars -- Michael Bertin
ROKY ERICKSONNever Say Goodbye (Emperor Jones)
As reluctant as the man himself is to ascend the stage these days, the good folks at Emperor Jones seem even more shy about the sale of this disc. Warnings abound, including a liner-notes caveat that apologizes: "We thought a long time about whether to make [these songs] available, but ultimately we thought their beauty outshined their modest fidelity." They needn't have bothered. Even without the Beatles' Anthology series and the advent of the lo-fi movement adjusting the public to less-than-optimum studio recordings, Never Say Goodbye is a collection of recordings that desperately needed to greet fans of great music. The disc consists of the only known recordings of 14 Roky Erickson originals committed to tape under various conditions between 1971 and 1985, all of which fairly bleed beauty. ("I love you," he chimes on "I Love the Living You," "What you do to purple and blue?") As perversely exciting as Erickson's output of demon, ghost, and vampire rockers may be, these pleas for love and understanding, performed mostly alone with sweetly simple acoustic guitar, could knock down buildings with their quiet power. It's a terrible shame if not an outright crime that these songs never got their proper due in a timely manner; they could have been as well-regarded an embodiment of misunderstood genius as Brian Wilson's Smile (oh, wait, that never got released either!). There's nothing to be gained by complaining about a few tape dropouts and some hiss when presented with a set of beautiful, previously unheard gems like these. Take them "as is" and be happy.
(Many Stars) -- Ken Lieck
KNIFE IN THE WATERPlays One Sound and Others
In the somnambulant cadences of a rain-soaked funeral procession, the songs on Knife in the Water's debut CD scribble dour accounts of the consequences of living. Plays One Sound and Others doesn't merely dwell on gloom, though, as there's something noble in the awful wishes of "Swallows," a certain hopefulness in the rejection of "I Sent You Up." Aaron Blount's voice is as soothing as a long pull off a bottle of cough syrup, and an uncertain bite follows the initial calm and warmth with which he imbues the proceedings. When Laura Krause pitches in on harmonies, slightly dissonant and dodging the keys, the effect of her and Blount's voices together is exactly that of the combination of spacey, droning keyboards and pedal steel. "Come On Cotton" steps things up a bit with a knowing nod to Galaxie 500, while "Careening" looks the same direction as it slides off the end of the album into pure mid-tones. Never downright clunky, but often standing toes on the edge of it, the delicate alloy of lo-fi melodic rock on Plays One Sound and Others ekes out some untrodden space in the crowd.
3 1/2 stars -- Christopher Hess
KVRX LOCAL LIVE VOLUME 3Educational Programing (KVRX)
For a college radio station, each semester is a poor man's format change. The constant turnover of people and music creates a listening experience that's raw and erratic for all the right reasons. This stunt-double propensity for jarring the listener is the driving force behind KVRX's third compilation of performances taken from their Sunday night Local Live program. Anyone who takes in all 19 tracks will undoubtedly hear something they're not familiar with presented in a wonderfully incongruent manner. Where else but college radio will you hear the Kiss Offs' trash-punk tribute to John Lee Hooker ("All Dressed Up") followed by the UT Afro-Caribbean Ensemble doing Ruben Blades' "Talento En Television"? To Rococo Rot's "All Around You" and Intonarumori's "KVRX Improvisation #1" provide transcendent exercises in experimental electronics, while Zulu As Kono's "43 Second Wreck" and Um Ting Tum's "Chips and Dip" fill the quota for distorted stop/start volatility. On the acoustic side, Don Walser delivers a finely nuanced rendition of Jimmie Rodgers' "T For Texas," and the Meat Purveyors strike a perfect harmonium of twang and jaunt with their take on "Working on a Building." At the very least, you'll need Daniel Johnston's supremely embittered "And I Wonder ... " before your next breakup. Taken together with the low sticker price, this diverse collection of strong, well-recorded performances is an unbeatable value.
4 stars -- Greg Beets
RECKLESS KELLYAcoustic (Reckless Records)
In the same way that kids can get away with eating ice cream before the main course, Reckless Kelly serves up Acoustic as a lukewarm side dish to their popular debut, Millican. While few bands would choose to go unplugged live for their sophomore effort, here's Reckless Kelly, charming, affable, and happily strumming away at Stubb's as if they were in a college campus guitar jam. This isn't to say the 13 tracks plus the bonus cut are banal, on the contrary, they evoke the kind of good-time sway of which many bands only dream. But Acoustic is simply too lightweight to offer the substantial follow-up Millican demanded. No doubt, the boys will collect good karma points for their spirited cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "Hottest Thing in Town," but Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" is pure frat-party corn. In between lies a genuinely lovely "She Sang the Red River Valley," a useless cover of "Subterranean Homesick Blues," an irresistible Steve Earle offering ("My Baby Worships Me"), and a smattering of catchy Braun Brothers originals ("You Should Be Gone," "Eight More Miles") but all told, the album never offers the whiskey warmth of continuity. The future bodes well for Reckless Kelly, so better to consider Acoustic just a benign panacea to loyal fans while Austin's answer to Earle work toward their next studio album.
2 1/2 stars-- Margaret Moser
SANDBLASTERSCactus Stingray (Wildebeest)
Surf music is like that which essence it seeks to bottle -- water; sometimes it glistens with the reflection of a million suns, sometimes it just lays there -- like water. Cactus Stingray, the second full-length release by Austin's perennial surf trio the Sandblasters, is definitely of the sunblock variety -- glaringly good. Riding wave after wave of great sound and production values, the bass in the guitar, bass, and drums booming like titanic swells, Cactus Stingray has feel, flow, and personality, three things essential to making albums in a genre that's all instrumental and generally considered simplistic at best -- a form in which all bodies of water look the same after a while. So, while you might not remember the song titles, the melodies linger with you like sand in your shoes. Actually, the titles tell the tale, from the sinking opener "Quick Sand" and the mysterious "Flight p-51" to the three-tune tunnel of "Hungarian Hunch Dance" (Hendrix goes to Hungary), "Submersionary" (meditatively Mermen) and "Big Sky" (Sergio Leone, who else?). The slithering "Snake Shake" and humorously grinding "Toothless Cannibal" cancel out the rather rotted "El Cucumbre," the only ebb in a whole lot of flow. "Instrumental music that surges through the veins of the sun-baked Mojave desert" reads Cactus Stingray's back-tray CD inset, which means you'll need that SPF 35-strength paba-free, hypoallergenic, and waterproof sunblock.
4 stars -- Raoul Hernandez
ROCKET 69Jump Shot! (RM)
One glance at Rocket 69's self-released Jump Shot!, and it's clear they haven't missed too many beats of the current swing revival. The album has all the standard embellishments of the scene: swing dancers on the cover, a large and sharp-dressed cast, and a coquettish lead singer with hair piled high. Give them credit, then, for avoiding the obvious tunes -- a jump blues album without a Louis Jordan cover? Impossible! Beyond that, Jump Shot! still plays a little thin: The horn lines are unimaginative and sometimes clumsy, Denia Ridley's vocals lack punch, and the sound is a touch spongy where it needs to be crisp. Whatever your opinion of the swing revival, the best in the bunch stick an old V8 behind their tunes and drive, giving their sets an undeniable electricity that makes the music jump, jive, and wail (as they say). Perhaps Rocket 69 can whip up that kind of excitement in the cozy confines of the Caucus Club, but this jump shot falls short. They got the rim, but they didn't get the bucket.
2 1/2 stars -- Jay Hardwig
HEADHUNTERSVoodoo Pie (Voodoo Pie Music)
In 1996, Austin's Headhunters self-released a 45 with two of the group's energetic blues-rock numbers, "Black Cat Bone" and "Devilhound." Since then, Matt Giles replaced original guitarist Freddy Cruz, yet both strummers join bassist Jack Johnston, drummer Kevin Wright, and vocalist and mouth organist Randall Stockton in the band's first full-length release. Nine tracks are original, and the remaining five are blues standards including a Jimmy Page-inflected version of Willie Dixon's "Killing Floor," Elmore James' "One Way Out," and Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go." Despite the fact that both "Black Cat Bone" and "Devilhound" find their way onto Voodoo Pie, the time between releases has tightened the band's already taut sound. The newer version of "Devilhound," for example, is a few notches quicker and punchier, yet it doesn't come across hurried. Likewise, Stockton's voice and harmonica jockeying has matured without the frontman having to resort to histrionics. The addition of background vocals ("Sometimes It Rains on Sunday" and "Dead Sunday Ride"), swirlin' organ ("Black Cat Bone" and "Leave My Kitten Alone"), and the super-hot, horn-ignited "Mellow Down Easy" all show the Headhunters branching out from the standard blues format into more orchestrated R&B pieces. From the Edison wax cylinder-emulated "Intro" until the tongue-in-cheek "Worker Bee," Voodoo Pie is a rockin' R&B roadhouse party.
3 stars -- David Lynch
CADILLAC VOODOO CHOIRBoomtown Flood (Matchbox)
On the Cadillac Voodoo Choir Web site, the Austin/Atlanta quintet's drummer laments the fact that "it isn't easy being a Southern rock band in these digital times." It must be even tougher to be in a glorified Black Crowes tribute band just as the Crowes are waging a comeback with their most raunchy, satisfying, and self-referential album yet, this year's By Your Side. If Southern rock is dead, it's the Crowes that are poised to revive it, not a second generation Black Crowes rip-off who so shamelessly owe their melodies, arrangements, and phrasing to their fellow Atlantans that it's virtually impossible to afford them any benefit of the doubt and consider them a third-generation Aerosmith or fourth-generation Faces. While there's no denying that the bulk of Boomtown Flood is catchy and expertly delivered, there's also no getting around the fact that there's neither a smidgen of soul nor a modicum of originality contained therein. So, if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, the Black Crowes should be duly flattered. The rest of us should be embarrassed that innovation and individuality "in these digital times" have apparently become such rare commodities.
1 star -- Andy Langer
DADDY LONGHEADClassic (Man's Ruin)
When is less more? When it's 7, 10, and 12 inches long. Size does matter. So do petroleum products like vinyl -- singles. At least Frank Kozik still thinks so, because Austin's former poster prince (prints) keeps putting them out on his S.F.-based indie label, Man's Ruin. Two of his all-time classics, then, are a couple 10-inchers from 1997, one by Honky, the other from Daddy Longhead, two local Seventies throw-back bands fronted by ex-Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus. Both four-song EPs, Daddy Longhead and Honky's Ten Inches, are just 'bout perfect relative to their length and scope: Honky fires up whiskey 'n' bong Southern rock, and Daddy Longhead salutes the Sabbath. Both begged for more material, which now comes as Honky and Classic, and unfortunately, less is still more -- more or less. Leading off with the four Daddy Longhead tunes, Classic is the better of the Pinkus projects and well-titled to boot; the album comes from a 1993 recording session featuring Austin's pound-for-pound best pounder, Rey Washam, on drums. None of the other seven tunes are as good as the first four, but neither do they suck, and "Brown Sabbath" is in fact classic. Vocalist Jimbo Young makes up for a studio sound that could have used a Monster Magnet-type production budget with his Ted Osbourne/Ozzy Nugent shrieks and howls. Not bad. With Honky, get rid of "not." Opening with a quick rat-a-tat-tat drum roll, vocalist Carson Vester (aka Whitie Westlake, aka whatever his real name is) and Pinkus jump right in with their "harmonies": "Standing backstage, smoking some weed," later followed by "smoking on a joint, wish he had a bong." This Cheech & Chong flick only goes downhill from there; the next tune, "Mellow Larry," goes for screeching cat vocals, demo-thin guitars, and plain rotten riffs. Even the quartet of songs from Ten Inches sound off here. Not good. Never mess with perfection.
(Classic) 2 stars 1/2 stars
TERRY BOZZIOChamber Works
Drawing the Circle
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