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Local music.com... Surfing the Internet in search of anything worthwhile about the local music scene is sort of like surfing the Gulf of Mexico: It's largely a wash. I recently tried using the keywords "Houston" and "music" and turned up 78 website matches, which any hacker will tell you isn't a particularly impressive number for a city of four million people.

What's worse, much of what I found was junk -- thinly disguised press releases and performance schedules for local artists interspersed with record label fluff and fan club proclamations for another famous Houston (that'd be Whitney). Grope about long enough, though, among the bone-dry web pages for the Houston Symphony, the skimpy sites for local bands such as the Surrealtors and 19 Good Bones, the ads for "AJ the DJ" and local recording studios, and you'll soon run into Houston Sound Below Ground (http://www. hsbg.com), one fan's quippy, entertaining guide to the city's music.

It's passionate, if incomplete: The site's main focus is on rock, with only token attention given to blues, country and folk music, and little if no space devoted to other genres. And though HSBG's home page beckons with its laughing, lipsticked skull and its provocative invitation to "Go Down Into...," there's nothing overtly underground about the site's contents. Most of the 50 or so bands featured are fairly visible around town, and a good number -- Atticus Finch, the Alleged, the Orphans -- aren't taking truckloads of chances with their art, their lifestyles or their wardrobes. But that hardly matters. It's all music in the end, and a forum is a forum, advocacy is advocacy, free publicity is free publicity.

A fine place for browsing, HSBG has four menus -- Bands, Releases, Venues and Vendors -- each with easily accessed databases that contain everything from addresses and phone numbers of local management companies to band biographies, nightclub listings, reviews and the occasional heads-up on the release of a new demo tape or CD. Click on the Bands icon, for example, and you'll have a choice of letters A to Z. Choose C, and up comes a horizontal row of squares containing the logos and/or cover artwork for Celindine, Childman, Clandestine, Clouded, Cootchie Rat and Crazykilledmingus (are they still around?). Venture behind one of those squares, and you get a history of the band, additional pictures and graphics and assorted factoids, along with contact numbers for band members or management (usually).

HSBG is the creation of Lalou Abrams, an enthusiast for all things Houston, especially its music. Abrams says she had little Internet experience when she established her website last January; she began her project by linking HSBG to as many already established home pages for local bands as she could find. From there, she took it on herself to do all the writing and grunt work.

"It's been kind of a long process," says Abrams, 34, a frustrated writer who works nights as a neonatal nurse. "It's been hit-or-miss -- learn as I go."

Abrams's love for Houston is blind, so you won't find much whining about the sorry state of the local scene or, for that matter, an abundance of mewling on why no one outside the city cares about what goes on here. What you will find is a fairly slick resource on many hot (and not-so-hot) live acts and venues of the moment (and a few whose moment has expired).

Since HSBG is essentially a one-woman operation, problems with accuracy, spelling, grammar and timeliness are bound to occur. A conspicuous example is the Venues menu, which lists nightclubs that have long since closed. But then, Abrams isn't making any claims to the website's absolute accuracy. In fact, she welcomes input from anyone with two cents to spare. (E-mail her at: abrams@INSYNC.NET.) MOST OF THE INFORMATION ON LOCAL ARTISTS COMES FROM THE BANDS THEMSELVES, AND IN THE CLUB PROFILES ABRAMS OFTEN SOLICITS CONTRIBUTIONS WITH THE ADMISSION, "I KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT THIS PLACE."

"[INPUT FROM OTHERS] KIND OF TRICKLES IN," SHE SAYS. "THE IDEA WAS THAT I WANTED TO GET LOCAL PEOPLE INVOLVED AND INTERESTED IN IT."

THAT SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING SLOWLY, BUT MEASURABLY. SINCE JULY, THE HSBG WEBSITE HAS REGISTERED 1,800 HITS. THAT NUMBER IS 1,775 HIGHER THAN THE TURNOUT FOR THE LAST SHOW BY A CERTAIN "POPULAR" HOUSTON ACT -- WHICH ACT, I WON'T SAY, BUT I'M SURE THERE'S MORE THAN ONE.

RAVES AND WAVE-OFFS... IN FOLK MUSIC, THERE'S OFTEN A FINE LINE BETWEEN CONFESSIONAL AND CAMP, AND HOUSTON SINGER/SONGWRITER SHANNON MEGARITY NEGOTIATES THAT BOUNDARY WITH AS MUCH SENSITIVITY AS IS ALLOWED BEFORE THINGS GET TOO SILLY. AT TIMES WALKING A WIRE ACROSS THE ABYSS OF THE SENTIMENTALLY BLAND, AT OTHER TIMES PLUMMETING INTO THE PIT, MEGARITY NEVERTHELESS CHARMS HIS WAY THROUGH THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF CORNERSTONE, HIS NEW DEBUT CD.

HE HAS HELP. BACKED BY A SOLID CLIQUE OF MUSICIAN FRIENDS -- INCLUDING KEYBOARDISTS PAUL ENGLISH AND MICHAEL RAMOS AND PERCUSSIONIST RAY DILLARD -- MEGARITY ACHIEVES AN EASY GIVE-AND-TAKE BETWEEN FEEL AND TECHNIQUE. HIS SONGWRITING IS HARDLY REMARKABLE. BUT IF HIS SOPHISTI-FOLK OCCASIONALLY DEGENERATES INTO HO-HUM GENRE WORKOUTS, AT LEAST THE EFFORT EXPENDED IS HONEST, FUNCTIONAL AND WARM -- MUCH WARMER, I'D ASSUME, THAN MEGARITY MUST HAVE BEEN AS HE POSED NAKED IN A FREEZING MOUNTAIN STREAM FOR THE DISC'S COVER SHOTS.

ETC.... HOUSTON NOMINEES FOR THE 1997 GRAMMY AWARDS WERE ANNOUNCED LAST WEEK. ON THIS YEAR'S SHORT LISTo Yolanda Adams, for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album (Live in Washington); La Mafia, for Best Mexican-American/Tejano Music Performance (Un Millon de Rosas); intermittent Houston resident Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, for Best Contemporary Blues Album (Long Way Home); and Terry Ellis, who shares a Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal nomination with En Vogue ("Don't Let Go (Love)" from the Set It Off soundtrack).

-- Hobart Rowland

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