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Nice Guy, Nice Songs

From 4-H to Miss Molly, Hadden Sayers keeps aiming for the next plateau

The Hadden Sayers Band put together a four-song demo tape and started playing any place in town that would have them, leading to a small following and an invite to last year's South by Southwest, where a showcase at Babe's led to regular Austin engagements. That's when Sayers really grabbed the ball and ran, taking the band out on the road, all over Texas and the Southeast, where he's played most of the 150 dates the band has so far logged. And demo tapes and a forthcoming CD aside, live is where the Hadden Sayers Band happens. It's a solid Southern rock groove that the band maintains, even if it's not so obvious as to invite Allman Brothers comparisons, and it leaves plenty of room for Sayers to steer the tunes in different directions and stretch out on jam-oriented solos. Sayers is obviously the frontman with his long red hair and Renaissance Rock Star fashion sense, but he doesn't let his solos hog the stage and he works hard to inject some real crowd-pleasing soul into his vocals. In other words, he's not a dick about it.

It's that combination of modesty and ability -- along with some good-time kick-ass rock songs -- that got Sayers voted "Best New Act" by readers in last year's Houston Press Music Awards; and that feedback, along with successful road tours and the preliminary sniffings of a handful of record labels, inevitably led Sayers to the next step, an honest-to-God CD, even though he says he had to dig back into the available plastic credit to fund the thing.

It's called The Hadden Sayers Band, and it's 11 songs (including new versions of the four previously released on tape) that lay down the first substantial brick in what Sayers' hopes will grow to be a long recording road.

"When you get a CD, what you're getting is the state of the band as of six months ago, or whenever the thing was recorded," Sayers says, explaining the impossibility of getting a full representation of the band on plastic, "but these are the songs that are the core of what we've been doing live, what people have seen us play, and that's what I wanted to get down for this first one."

He did a good job, punching up older standouts such as "Pray for Rain" and "Money Man" and adding new stock to the same standard with "Big Shot," "Down and Out (Of My Mind)" and "Kristi Don't Care." Miss Molly and Carolyn Wonderland both take advantage of standout cameos as background vocalists. There's a ballad, "Standing in My Field," broadening the formula, and if Sayers restrains his live pyrotechnics for the sake of the recorded song, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of shining moments for six string fans, like the honky-tonky riff that carries "Big Shot" and the dose of solos scattered liberally throughout. The disc, recorded at Houston's Digital Studios, sounds a hell of a lot better than the demo, and it proves that Sayers can write at least half an album's worth of memorable songs and never embarrass himself with the others.

But it's not what Sayers would consider the definitive statement by any means. As he's suggested, the band is working itself into what he describes as a more melodic direction, and that material won't make it to disc until it's been properly road-tested. What he's after -- and what, if he finds it, could turn out to be the element that takes Sayers to the next plateau -- is his own unmistakable sound. Sayers can sing, but he doesn't have the distinctiveness that years can bring, and he can play all hell out of that Strat, but he hasn't yet struck on anything he'd call a trademark sound. He goes back to the Mellencamp idolatry: "Man, when you hear a John Mellencamp song on the radio, you know it's Mellencamp. It's just that sound, it doesn't matter if you do the same thing over and over, like Tom Petty -- it doesn't matter because it all sounds like Tom Petty.

"A friend of mine calls it the 'Tide box theory': when you go buy that box of Tide and rip that tab open, there's damn well gonna be white powder in there. You know what you're gonna get, every time. That's what I'm aspiring to."

Powdered soap isn't the image most hot young guitar slingers would employ to describe the fruits of their musical toil, but Hadden Sayers isn't most hot young guitar slingers, and hey, you kinda know what he means.

The Hadden Sayers Band celebrates the release of its eponymous CD with a release party at 9:30 p.m., Saturday, January 28 at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Tickets cost $5. Call 869-COOL for info.

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