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Strange Days

Just before the May release of Strangest Places, Austin singer/songwriter Abra Moore's major label debut, the Arista Austin promotions department launched a campaign that involved sending thousands of postcards inscribed with cheery greetings and Moore's facsimile autograph to critics, radio programmers and retail clerks across the country. It was a nice, semi-personal touch, but the punch line, for those with a keen eye, was to be found in the postmark's cities of origin -- small towns in Idaho, Nebraska and Rhode Island.

Get it? They were from the Strangest Places. But now, after scoring a hit with the CD's first single, "Four Leaf Clover," and performing a summer's worth of dates with Lilith Fair, Third Eye Blind and Collective Soul, Moore has earned the right to send postcards from two even stranger places: MTV and VH1.

The video for "Four Leaf Clover" is getting its share of national airplay, in part because it's perfect summer fare, allowing us to peek at Moore as she runs past colored drop cloths in one of the better outfits Victoria's Secret has to offer. It also can't hurt that the song is, as Entertainment Weekly recently deemed it, "super-catchy."

Nor, for that matter, does it hurt that when Moore sings about her good luck in love, she looks unhappy around the edges, her eyes suggesting woe, her tense body seeming, as she sings, "on overload." Moore's vulnerability -- and how her quaint, albeit upbeat, songs so casually reveal an everygirl brand of clumsiness -- have become her calling cards. A quality that could, in lesser hands, seem silly and transparent makes Moore oddly compelling, as if we should be thankful for an opportunity to watch a little girl tackle adult thoughts and themes.

But given her history of busking in Europe and her later ability to hold her own against hotheads Frank Orall and Bruce Hughes when she was a part of Poi Dog Pondering, it's clear Moore can fend for herself. And it's unlikely that she's losing much sleep over critics now comparing her to the likes of Joan Osborne and Liz Phair, because such comparisons at least mark the end of the suggestion -- common in her Poi Dog days and in reviews of her Bohemia Beat CD Sing -- that her voice and phrasing sported an uncanny resemblance to Rickie Lee Jones and Edie Brickell. Actually, her voice hasn't changed; it's her song writing that has, to the point that Strangest Places' tightest melodies and biggest hooks are just too muscular to sustain the Jones/Brickell legacy.

Unfortunately, Moore's still something of a lightweight vocalist live, although her extensive summer touring has reportedly added some much-needed depth, durability and range to her singing. Regardless, Moore is a must-see, not only because she's quick with punchy banter but also because she's become a competent bandleader, deftly orchestrating a pack of talented hired guns that includes former Leonard Cohen guitarist (and Strangest Places producer) Mitch Watkins and Shawn Colvin drummer Chris Searles. Ultimately, in the video, on the CD and on the stage, Moore's a bundle of nervous energy, which means her gigs are either train-wreck-style guilty pleasures or stunning victories. And considering the live boredom currently being handed out by other video-driven vixens, gambling on Moore seems well worth the risk.

-- Andy Langer

Abra Moore performs Saturday, August 30, at Buzzfest, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, with Silverchair, Matchbox 20, Cowboy Mouth, Old 97's, Seven Mary Three, Buck-O-Nine and Artificial Joy Club. Gates open at noon. Tickets are $9.50 to $32. For info, call 629-3700.

Clay Walker -- Two things set country heartthrob Clay Walker apart from many of his brethren: He writes no small amount of his own material, and he's been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The youngest of what might be called the new Beaumont Triumvirate -- along with Mark Chestnutt and Tracy Byrd -- Walker's ascension into the young country galaxy was perhaps the quickest of the three. In 1993, his self-titled debut CD went platinum; then, a year later, with If I Could Make a Living, he gambled on a headlining tour and it paid off; and his third CD, the quasi-concept Hypnotize the Moon, with his signature "Only on Days That End in Y," was remarkably successful. Two more recent efforts, 1996's Self-Portrait and this year's Rumor Has It, indicate that -- physically as well as creatively -- Walker shows no sign of surrender. At 8 p.m. Friday, August 29, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Tickets are $17.50 to $29.50. Lee Ann Womack opens. 629-3700.

(Rick Koster)

Fat -- Perhaps this English power trio export should have christened themselves with the more lingo-wise moniker of "Phat." That is, after all, what best describes guitarist Gareth Prossner's fuzz-fringed monster chords, which drive a band whose sound combines techno precision, hip-hop vocals and chant-along mosh pit choruses. From the bombastic fervor of "Dog" to the frenetic pace of "Pull," Fat is a band not at all interested in subtlety, though its heavily rhythmic couplet-spitting is offset by a wealth of pop smarts. Even better, the band's live persona exhibits a fierceness that its recorded identity can only hint at. Thursday, August 28, at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam. Doors open at 8 p.m. Cover is $1, 21 and over; $5, under 21. 225-0500.

(Bob Ruggiero)

 
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