Rotation

Smile
Smile
Hail Damage Records

This is the debut CD -- or digital demo, however you want to look at it -- from a Houston three-piece that's been playing the small club circuit with increasing frequency this past year, and there's a good chance that the band, like many, offers something live that it just hasn't yet been able to nail down in the studio. I hope so.

The disc itself is a droning, sleepy exercise in rock atmospherics, but the problem is, all the atmosphere seems to come out of an effects box. The guitars are echoplexed into oblivion throughout, giving the nine tunes an unfortunately dated sound, as if the band fell into a deep well sometime in the early eighties and, ten years later, unaware of what's happened on the surface in the interim, went ahead and recorded its idea of modern rock right there in the pit.

Darrell Smith's ponderous vocals are offered in the form of a synthesized croon, buried like the rest of the album in a reverb haze that obscures any sort of distinguishing characteristics.

Tunewise, I listened to this disc three times through, and spent each 50-minute duration thinking I had the relevant soundalike influence on the tip of my tongue, but I could never finally place it (except for a few moments where I'd swear Smile was taking its cue from Flock of Seagulls, but that's kinda mean, and since I haven't listened to the Seagulls in some time now, I could be wrong). What I'm left with is a CD that sounds an awful lot like a hodgepodge of influences that weren't terribly memorable in the first place, and has no real character, other than that ever-present echo, of its own.

-- Brad Tyer

Smile plays Saturday, December 17 at The Edge Unplugged.

King & Moore
Cliff Dance
Justice

The King here is vocalist Nancy, and Moore is bassist Glen, and the fact that Moore's wife Samantha Ashley is credited as lyricist on six of this disc's 11 tracks gives the album a sort of family feel that holds it together even as the duo veers all over the jazz map, from straight-ahead scat vocalizing to swanky torch vamps to beat-style spoken word.

King's voice is a quirky tool that doesn't always stretch as far as you'd like it to, but backed by pianist Art Lande, drummer Gary Hobbs and alto saxophonist Warren Rand, it fits into the package nicely, stepping out on the weirder tunes and adding character to the more standard fare.

The two obvious highlights here are a new arrangement of "On Green Dolphin Street," featuring Moore's song-length, popping, sliding bass solo as ecstatically disorienting backing, and the super-sassy bug-off of the Samantha Moore-penned title track, with King singing, "It's simply logical, fairly reasonable / That I need to wash my hair / Instead of dating a little person, about / whom I don't care." As for the rest of the disc, it's well-produced and awfully nice for fans of the jazz vocal genre, without exactly reaching out to grab you. But if the mood is rainy day or late night, this disc will only enhance it.

-- Brad Tyer

Various Artists
Texas Music
Rhino

Texas Music is a three CD set, sold individually, comprising the volumes Postwar Blues Combos, Western Swing and Honky Tonk and Garage Bands and Psychedelia. Guess what? The 18 tracks on each disc predictably fall well shy of comprehensive (not to mention that they virtually ignore any Texas-made music produced after 1970), but at the same time manage to serve as an introduction to the state's stylistic triple threat that's close to invaluable.

The set's compilers, John Morthland and James Austin, wisely avoid obvious and oft-anthologized tracks in favor of obscurities, curiosities and tracks that give a picture of Texas music by circling its center. This is no greatest hits package -- which would be a daunting project in its own right -- but a thoughtful sampler.

Postwar Blues Combos is the most Houston-friendly disc of the three, dominated by the Don Robey's Duke/Peacock legacy and selections by Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Albert Collins, Big Walter and his Thunderbirds and Bobby Bland. Texas City-born pianist Charles Brown also gets his due here with "Black Night," though he made his rep, like Collins and many of the Texas bluesmen who followed, on the West Coast.

Western Swing and Honky Tonk rightly kicks off with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and comes full circle to close with revivalists Asleep at the Wheel, but the journey includes everyone from honky-tonk mainstays such as Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb and Hank Thompson to little-knowns the Crystal Springs Ramblers and Harry Choates and his Fiddle.

Garage Bands and Pychedelia offers a few shining moments, like the Scotty McKay Quintet's "The Train Kept A'Rollin" and the obligatory nod to Roky Erickson's Thirteenth Floor Elevators, "You're Gonna Miss Me," but overall, this last disc is the most disappointing, revealing as it does that most bands of the period were too busy trying to score hits with knockoffs of Revolver-era Beatles or second-string Dylan impersonations to write anything with real lasting power.

My recommendation? Buy the first two volumes and keep 'em close to your heart. Skip the third and instead find a few of those Thirteenth Floor Elevators' LPs that you keep talking about as if you've heard them.

-- Brad Tyer

 
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