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Folk Rocks

Greg Trooper's infrequent but welcome visits to Houston have a tendency to transform the normally sedate environs of McGonigel's Mucky Duck into a rowdy, crowded dance hall. But even on the unusual occasion when the Duck truly rocks, it's still a club for songwriters -- and that's a fraternity in which Trooper is a member in good standing. Behind Trooper's slashing guitar attack are lyrics that have earned him considerable country success. But take away the slight C&W edge to his three-piece backup crew, the Flatirons -- especially the chorus harmonies of keyboardist Abel Domingeus and bassist Greg Shirley -- and it's pure rock and roll energy that propels Trooper's clear, emotive vocals.

Though he's been a regular performer over the years, Trooper's music has become more recognized in the hands of others. Acerbic neo-folkie Billy Bragg reeled off a rendition of Trooper's "Everywhere" for his Don't Try This at Home. And while Bragg's version is moving, it's also one of the many examples of a cover that pales in comparison to the original. A poignant tale of two '40s-era California schoolboys -- one Anglo, one Nisei -- whose friendship is devastated by the World War II relocation of Japanese-Americans, "Everywhere" is a remarkably personal tale made all the more remarkable when you consider that its author is decades younger than the song's characters.

Like many songwriters, Trooper has a folkie reputation that came from years of solo shows. After long stints in Texas and Kansas honing his craft, he moved to New York in the mid-'80s to "acquire an edge" for his songs. With the glass canyons of Manhattan as his backdrop, Trooper formed the Defenders -- who later became the Flatirons -- proving that his folk lyrics could rock with the 1986 release, We Won't Dance. Critical acclaim for that CD, and a Best New Male Vocalist honor at the New York Music Awards, brought Trooper to the attention of Vince Gill, who recorded the tune "We Won't Dance" for his 1989 CD, When I Call Your Name. Trooper has just released another of his own CDs, Noises in the Hallway, which features an assortment of never-heard Defenders renditions of Trooper songs, along with more recent creations backed by the Flatirons. The CD release is the impetus for the celebration at the Duck, though just having Trooper back in town should be reason enough to party. -- Jim Sherman

Greg Trooper and the Flatirons perform at 9 p.m. Friday, February 23, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Tickets are $8. For info, call 528-5999.

Pansy Division -- If the idea of a gay punk band singing about morning erections, stage fright at urinals and well-endowed sexual partners makes your heterosexual id a little squeamish, too bad: San Francisco's Pansy Division is coming out in the world -- and fast. The guys have already been recognized in various published bastions of finer American culture; they've toured stadiums with former Lookout! labelmates Green Day; and they've just released their catchiest and most together work so far, Wish I'd Taken Pictures.

There was a time not long ago, however, when the trio -- singer/guitarist Jon Ginoli, bassist Chris Freeman and drummer Dustin Donaldson -- dreaded the prospect of playing to testosterone-soaked mosh pits. No wonder. The impetus for Pansy Division actually came when founder/primary songwriter Ginoli caught punk's homophobic vibe square in the face while attending a 1984 performance by the Descendents. Angered by the anti-gay sentiments uttered in one song, the previously in-the-closet Ginoli decided that it was time to come clean about his sexual preferences. He also took up the guitar. Following a few frustrating experiences with other bands, in 1990, Ginoli formed Pansy Division with Freeman. Four CDs later, Pansy Division has overcome its fearof hetero-audience retribution through heavy touring. In turn, the group's earned a devoted following. A big portion of the Pansy Division crowd are young girls, which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the content of their songs. On Wish I'd Taken Pictures, the bulk of the lyrics are devoted to cute guys and what makes them desirable. Ginoli often goes over admired physical attributes in vivid detail, his quivering vocals delivering his sometimes sordid tales of love, lust and longing with a naked vulnerability. Not for the sexually confused. At Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, Saturday, February 24, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $6. All That Jazz, Badger and Dynamite Boy open. 862-7580. (Hobart Rowland)

La Diferenzia -- Budding Tejano heavyweights La Diferenzia could possess the superstar qualities Latino audiences are looking for after the death of Selena. The group -- made up of four Texans, three Midwesterners and a Mexico City native -- has already proven its commercial worth with a self-titled platinum debut that produced five top-ten radio hits and stuck around on Billboard's Latin Top 50 for an exhausting 49 weeks. La Diferenzia's Spanish-language songs, while diverse in their range of influences (everything from flamenco to country to ranchera to mainstream R&B), are anchored by a pleasant pop-friendly gloss. On the band's upcoming CD, Fue Mucho Más Que Amor (due in stores Tuesday), lead singer Ricardo Castillon -- impressive on the group's first release -- comes into his own, infusing the international quality of the material with a homegrown sweetness that easily clears the language barrier. At the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's "Go Tejano Day," Sunday, February 25, at 4 p.m. Free with rodeo admission. 629-3700. (

 
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