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The Hollisters
The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure
Freedom

Nationally, many consider Austin to be the hub of alternative country. But The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure, the long-awaited debut CD from the Hollisters, just might be the release Houston has needed to put itself on the alt-country map. It proves without a doubt that the Hollisters' brand of traditional honky-tonk and revved-up roots rock can stand toe-to-toe with any band cultivating similar territory, be they from Austin or anywhere else.

With Mike Barfield's hearty growl (think a younger, nimbler Johnny Cash) and Eric Danheim's sleek, deceptively direct guitar work leading the way, the Hollisters show a deep respect for the Bakersfield sound made famous by Buck Owens. That's especially true on tracks such as the aging-trucker's anthem "Better Slow Down" and the lively cover of Nick Lowe's "Without Love." But the Hollisters have also managed to fashion a sound all their own by lightly sifting in other influences, which show up on the delicate, Tex-Mex-tinged "Pink Adobe Hacienda" and the hard-charging highway romp "Goldbrick Wheeler."

It's worth mentioning that some of Austin's finest musicians had a hand in making The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure a success. Casper Rawls, best known as a guitarist for Toni Price and the Leroi Brothers, produced the record with a clear and refined touch, while singer/songwriter Libbi Bosworth adds sweet harmonies to the disc's first tune, "East Texas Pines," which she also co-wrote (with Gary Griffith).

After shopping this disc to labels big and small for what seemed like forever, the Hollisters decided to release Rhythm and Pleasure on Freedom Records, a tiny Austin label responsible for a limited but impressive array of seriously country releases over the last couple of years. Not that any of that matters to the listeners, who should be thrilled that such a sterling document of the best band to come out of Houston in a long time is at long last available. (****)

-- Jim Caligiuri

Green Day
Nimrod
Reprise

To understand Nimrod, go immediately to the disc's second-to-last track, "Time of Your Life." Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong flubs his first two attempts to play a pretty acoustic guitar intro, mutters a quiet "fuck," and then nails it on the third attempt. From there, the song never wavers from its particularly smooth shape: It's a meditative ballad augmented by David Campbell's keen string arrangement. That's right: On the band's fifth full-length release, Green Day adds strings, horns and harmonica in an effort to expand their sonic vocabulary.

Nothing wrong with that; in fact, some of Nimrod's best moments are its least expected ones, even if the "mistakes" on "Time of Your Life" sound like Armstrong's self-conscious attempt to prove to the faithful that he's no Billy Joel. He needn't have tried so hard, because Green Day has always been more a pop band with spiky hair than true Gilman Street punks. Purists bitched when the Ramones hired Phil Spector to produce End of the Century, too, and that collaboration made perfect sense at a similar point in the band's career. Nimrod doesn't match Dookie's gale-force fun, but it's more interesting than the latter's half-finished follow-up, Insomniac, on which Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool strained to sound like slap-dash superstars.

Not that Green Day's signature sound has disappeared; far from it, in fact. Fans of Dookie should take comfort in the fact that a dozen of Nimrod's 18 songs are durable pop-punk staples -- "All the Time," "Uptight" and "Hauskinka" among them. As for the remaining "experimental" cuts, it should be conceded that the drag-queen humor and woozy horn arrangement of "King for a Day" sound more like cold-sweat desperation than any sort of logical progression. And at this point in Green Day's career, such triple-time romps as "Platypus (I Hate You)" and "Take Back" sound less convincing than something like "Last Ride In," a moody surf instrumental complete with strings, horns and some tasteful vibraphone.

Ultimately, the combination of new ideas and old tricks serves the band well: Nimrod isn't a great CD, but it's an imperfectly good one. One piece of advice, though: The next time Billie Joe feels the urge to record a ballad such as "Time of Your Life," he should let the song stand without apology. Some listeners may think it's a mistake, but at least we can be sure he did it on purpose. (***)

-- Keith Moerer

The Refreshments
The Bottle and Fresh Horses
Mercury

While rumors of the untimely demise of Tempe, Arizona's Gin Blossoms inch ever closer to fact, their miserable New Southwest experience soldiers on under the guise of the Refreshments. The fact that the Blossoms and their sound-alike progeny share the same hometown cannot be overemphasized. For if every note-perfect jangle-riff and yearning, cry-in-yer-microbrew chorus on the Refreshments' sophomore effort was indeed -- as it seems -- cribbed from the Ginners' Byrds-cum-Petty playbook, the sharp-dressed banditos responsible could, at the very least, say they rubbed shoulders with their victims. They did have the humility to thank those victims in the CD liner notes. But why stop there? There's always songwriting credits. (**)

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