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A shoe that fits... Sift through the ashes of the deceased post-punk redneck outfits Tab Jones, Fleshmop and Pork Belly Picnic, and you'll turn up most of the story behind Houston's Horseshoe, a wild and woolly '90s answer to the gonzo psychedelic experiments of Country Joe and the Fish and other Woodstock-era hillbillies. Horseshoe's history begins with a decision by Greg Wood (lead vocals), Eddie Hawkins (drums) and Scott Daniels (guitar, vocals) to stick together after Tab Jones' untimely breakup in 1993, even as bassist Chris King went off to join Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys. To beef themselves up, the trio snatched Daniels' former Fleshmop bandmate Ben Collis for bass duties and rhythm guitarist Cary Winscott from Pork Belly Picnic.

Now, ten months later, with the dust settled and the roster solidified, Horseshoe can rightly join Carolyn and her Monkeys on the short list of worthwhile byproducts of this city's incestuous music community. The folks in Horseshoe, however, would rather think of themselves less as a plate of leftovers than a unique result of mixing and matching old recipes. For Eddie Hawkins and the others, working in Tab Jones constituted a three-year learning experience that gave everyone time to test their limits and refine their playing. Sure, you can hear a lot of the same old loosey-goosey traits in the new band -- a weakness for impromptu jams, the obscure rock covers mixed with renditions of old Buck Owens and Merle Haggard tunes, a communal spirit that tempts even the most unskilled wannabe musician to beg for a few minutes on-stage with the band. It's all there, and it's still good, dirty fun. But most of what you experience at a Horseshoe show these days is tighter and more tuneful than before. The group has learned to play up its strengths instead of squirming around in its shortcomings. Trial and error has forced Horseshoe to trim its excess indulgences -- losing the fat, if you will.

Not that this in any way implies that Horseshoe has neglected its lyrical and stylistic eccentricities to the point that it sounds like just another smart groove band -- in the vein of, say, Blues Traveler. "That seems to be the popular thing around here," says Greg Wood, who pens the group's lyrics and supplies Horseshoe's literate front-guy persona. "Our band is trying to get away from that now. We strive to be a little more than just music you can shake your ass to."

Even so, Horseshoe's regular Wednesday night gigs at Mary Jane's have been known, at times, to resemble H.O.R.D.E.-ish gatherings, as Wood spends a large portion of his time in the audience (where he says he's most comfortable), doing his part to erase the line between performer and spectator. At a recent Mary Jane's show, one guy even insisted on sitting in on a Horseshoe jam with his flute -- pushing the anything goes envelope a bit far, I'd say.

Right now, it appears that a debut CD is in Horseshoe's future. Largely original in content, the as-yet-unnamed effort was scheduled for release last fall, but money problems should keep it under wraps until early this spring. Wood describes the collection as multitextured and probably a lot more fussed-over than people might expect. The basic tracks were recorded at Loma Ranch in Fredericksburg, with additional work done locally at Sound Arts Studios. When not obsessing over the new CD, the group keeps busy with semi-regular gigs at the Last Concert Cafe, Dan Electro's and The Edge (where the band will play Saturday). "Be sure to tell people we really hate each other and could come to fisticuffs at any time on-stage," Wood says, in a valiant effort to encourage newcomers to check out the band.

Because of Horseshoe's close ties to Carolyn Wonderland (the band often opens for her), there's a tendency to lump them into a similar hippie blues-rock category. But for Hawkins, the differences between the two are obvious. "Carolyn is so sweet and clean and nice," he says. "We're much meaner, uglier and smellier than she is."

Etc.... The post-Planet Shock! project, Aftershock, has just inked a deal with the Los Angeles-based production company Marquis West. The Houstonians will head into a Phoenix studio next month with producer Jay Lean (Rage Against the Machine) to start work on a full-length debut, which they plan on shopping around to the majors. Though he won't mention names, Aftershock's Lee Leal says a number of labels have already expressed interest. Contrary to its mention last week on Static's "missing, presumed dead" list, Spridle is actually alive and well with a revamped lineup that includes new drummer Greg Babineaux. Bruce Hornsby will add a little superstar clout to the first Bud Ice/IHL All-Star Weekend at The Summit. Hornsby and the Range will perform Friday night. Offering yet another excuse to celebrate so soon after the holidays, the strolling, European-style dance band the Gypsies will help ring in the Julian Calendar New Year at City Streets on Sunday. Unless you hire them yourself, this belated bash may be your only chance in '96 to experience the Gypsies in all their polyethnic, multi-instrumental splendor. -- Hobart Rowland

 
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