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Scarface
The Diary
Rap-a-Lot Records/Noo Trybe Records

You wouldn't know it from reading the local press, but Scarface and the rest of the Geto Boys are Houston's biggest musical export. With his numbers and chart success, you can be damn sure that if Scarface were white and country, he'd have the keys to the city or a street named after him or a special day at the Astrodome. But Houston seems to be two separate cities, and a chart-topping release by a local rap artist has about as much impact on the mainstream here as a tree falling deep in the woods.

In 1989, Scarface founded the Geto Boys along with Willie D, Bushwick Bill and DJ Ready Red, earning his place in the hip-hop pantheon with Grip It on That Other Level, an album so violent it was denied major distribution. The group's chilling account of drug-induced schizophrenia, 1991's "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," propelled the multiplatinum We Can't Be Stopped and garnered the group critical praise to match its popular success. In 1993, Scarface released his second solo album, The World Is Yours, which debuted at number one on the Billboard R & B chart and number seven on the pop chart, quickly going gold.

So in late '94, with the Geto Boys on hiatus or maybe even broken up (the various members seem to be vigorously pursuing their own solo projects, and there has been no confirmation of the rumors of a new album), Scarface delivered The Diary. The signature Fifth Ward languid groove of the first single, "I've Never Seen a Man Cry," (the clean version of the album's "I Seen a Man Die") has been hanging around between 15 and 20 in the local charts, but the disc just doesn't seem to have the commercial juice of its predecessors. Not much stands out except "Mind Playing Tricks '94," an update of Scarface's finest moment and another scary look into the clinically insane mind that suggests that if Scarface has indeed been getting medical treatment for last four years, he should consider switching shrinks.

-- Peter Kelly

Beef Masters
Psilocybin Rodeo
Self-produced

Psilocybin Rodeo is Beef Masters' second full-length CD, and the Nacogdoches six-piece (including light man) has filled it up with nine new songs and a repeat of "Slow" from the earlier Secret Place of Wonderment disc. There are things here that I like that I didn't hear on the first disc, and there are things that I liked about the first that I can't get here. I don't know if that constitutes improvement or not, but it's movement anyhow, and enough of it to keep me interested.

What's present on Psilocybin Rodeo is a stone heavy hard-rock groove that's tightened up considerably in the interim. Drummer Nathan Jones and new bassist Tom McKinney keep a thunderously synced beat that drives these tunes along Soundgarden-esque (or, admit it, new Soul Hat-esque) roads. Production sounds closer to pro this time around, too. The semi-spacy reverbed guitar wanderings of the first record are mostly gone (actually, I miss them a little), replaced with seamless riffing that still vacillates between perfect ("Gibby's") and kinda pointless ("Waiting"). I'm not kidding about perfect, though. "Gibby's" ought to be on radio somewhere, and even if it never is, it's got a regular place in my disc-changer.

But since Beef Masters has now come so close to viable commercial hard rock, the weaknesses really start to stand out. With so much opportunity for wicked guitar solos, said solos are a tad on the predictable side. Vocalist Kendal Rogers' twang saved him on Secret Place, but after the effect-ed punch of his vox, the second thing you notice on the new one is that he really only sings five or six notes. Sometimes that doesn't matter, like during the instrumental "Jackacid Test" -- which sounds like it was written to be supported by the band's elaborately trippy light show -- but other times it starts to grate. The shotgun-totin'-beer-slurpin'-hick lyric slant is gonna need something else to prop it up pretty soon, too.

I think I may have once written something to the effect that this was a band worth watching, and Psilocybin Rodeo is good enough to keep me doing just that, even if it falls a little short of offering unqualified reward.

-- Brad Tyer

Tommy Schaper
Back to the Streets of Home
Buffalo Records

Local boy Tommy Schaper calls his group the Buffalo BeBop Band, and this disc's liner notes report that the name "confused many of his fans who came to see bebop music," which, given Schaper's prominent cowboy hat, seems terribly unlikely. But just in case anyone's confused, this is high-stepping dance-hall country music, with plenty of fiddle and lap steel to tweak these mostly high-energy tunes into shape.

Every country album's got to have at least one cheesy ballad, and Back to the Streets of Home has "Gamble on Love" filling that unfortunate slot with a certain amount of grace, but it's the disc's barnburning hoedown tunes that provide the real attraction. "Hot Damn" is a prime example, with its freight train rush of finely picked strings and Schaper's own gritty twang. If Schaper's aiming for Nashville-style homogeny, he thankfully misses the mark by sticking close to country's Texas branch, and you can hear an individuality in his delivery that stands out like a sore thumb, or a shining beacon, depending on how you look at such things. I lean toward the latter.

As a songwriter, Schaper's not breaking any ground, but he knows his way around country convention well enough to pull off the cowboy songs and the beer joint songs with equal aplomb, and he does both with remarkably few missteps. A sharp first effort.

-- Brad Tyer

 
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