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Kevin Salem
Urban Art Bar
Friday, October 28

What's a gifted singer/songwriter -- not to mention hotshot guitarist/producer -- to do? You play on the most highly acclaimed indie album of the year, write songs with Butch Vig (producer of Nirvana, Urge Overkill and Freedy), produce college fave raves (Madder Rose, Lisa Loeb), release a CD of your own well-crafted songs (Soma City, on Roadrunner Records) and generally play your talented ass off for eight years. Then 20 people pay to see you play in the nation's fourth-largest city.

The 4 million or so Houstonians who didn't see the Kevin Salem Band at the Urban Art Bar have a variety of excuses: the CD only came out on October 25, the venue's only been open for six weeks and, hey, we're not a real college town anyway -- but they missed a fine, tough performance.

After taking the stage shoeless and without his Buddy Holly glasses, Salem led his four-piece band through a taut set of his compositions. The feedback-drenched, unrequited love song "Will" was an early highlight, but the band really took off on the slow, bass-heavy "Diviner." Salem's tightly controlled, impassioned slide guitar brought home the number's bitter lost-and-never-to-be-found-again love; if Bon Jovi covered the song as a power ballad, it would top the charts, easy. Salem's singing was at its best on the delicate "Ruin You" and the early R.E.M.-ish set closer "In A Whisper." The last song, dedicated to Salem's manager's new-born daughter Emma, soared with Salem's finely modulated guitar solo.

-- Peter Kelly

BeBe and CeCe Winans with Sounds of Blackness
Houston Arena Theatre
Tuesday, November 1

Sounds of Blackness proves that more really is less. Opening for BeBe and CeCe Winans, the 14-voice group was stylish, but lacking in substance. With no want for talent, the group instead fell willing victim to overproduction. (Too much time in Las Vegas, and not enough time in church, guys?)

BeBe and CeCe Winans, however, hit the stage intent on singing praise -- no Vegas about it. The duo doesn't so much sing as it testifies. Though the Winans long ago left the traditional gospel form, they manage to keep Christ at the center of each song.

BeBe, who writes many of the tunes, proves a charming presence on stage, telling stories about little sister CeCe. While in perfect sync, the two are also vastly different. He steps on stage exactly on cue; she rushes up a few seconds late. He is straight-faced; she can't stop smiling. His singing carries few embellishments; her voice soars. Stepping back, he lets her take the spotlight while he takes control.

Despite the differences, the partnership works wonderfully. Several songs had the audience on its feet. And "These What Abouts," based on BeBe's own almost-divorce, left a few audience members in tears.

Sounds of Blackness joined the Winans for a dramatic and stirring version of "Walk in Jerusalem," and to close the show, El DeBarge and Yolanda Adams came up from the audience to help out with "I'll Take You There."

-- Olivia Torre

 
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