What's in a Name?

A lot, if you're Moses Guest, and taking another grab at the brass ring

In a business where self-promotion is a necessity, the four individuals who comprise the Houston groove-rock outfit Moses Guest have a special method of getting their name out to the public.

"We have stickers strategically placed in many urinals throughout the city," says drummer James Edwards, with a mock-serious, Spinal Tap-ian flourish.

"Yeah," bassist Rozz Zamorano chimes in, "and that means we have a really captive audience."

With steady gigs and the imminent release of their second CD, American Trailer Home Blues, Moses Guest ought to soon enjoy increased visibility around town -- and not just with those emptying their bladders. It damn well better, hints bandleader Graham Guest, or this might just be Moses's last gasp. With a revamped lineup and a beefier, more technically efficient sound, the group is currently firing on all cylinders. But if their local support base doesn't blossom into something more regional, Moses Guest could wind up careening into the abyss of the also-rans.

As for those longtime fans who have stuck by the band through thick and thin, they're likely to find that American Trailer Home Blues sounds, in many ways, like it was created by a completely different band than the one featured on last year's Geniality of Morality. That's because -- with the exception of guitarist/vocalist Guest -- it is a completely different band.

"This lineup is a lot more melodious, the beat is groovier and all our ears are better," Guest says during a recent band sit-down in which good-natured laughs -- often at the expense of fellow bandmates -- come quickly and often. "Each one of us has a pretty high comfort level with each other."

Actually, they might be a hair too comfortable with each other, seeing as conversation on more serious matters consistently bottoms out with talk revolving around a certain "distinguishing characteristic" of Zamorano's genitalia. The comments are followed by extended bouts of guffaws and giddiness, and usually the owner of said characteristic is the one laughing loudest. Apparently, consultations with Paula Jones are forthcoming.

Graham Guest assembled the initial version of Moses Guest -- which he named after his grandfather -- in the summer of 1995. He added the "Moses" only after club marquees announcing that "Guest" would be performing solicited too many confused inquiries. The original roster featured Sean Simon on bass and John Chupin on drums. That was the trio featured on the 14-track Geniality, a hybrid of solid, carefully contained -- if unadventurous -- Southern jams and jangly alt-rock musings. The group followed the release of the CD with a string of performances in Texas, Louisiana and Colorado.

Guest, however, wasn't all that happy with the direction in which the band's music seemed to be going; he craved a looser sound with roots more firmly entrenched in influences such as Little Feat, the Allman Brothers, the Black Crowes and Steely Dan -- with a little Alice in Chains thrown in for a modernizing effect. Eventually, Guest completely reconfigured the group with help from Zamorano (who also plays with Fondue Monks), Edwards and former Beat Temple keyboardist Rick Thompson. The result is an astonishing turnaround, as recent gigs and a rough cassette copy of American Trailer Home Blues attest. The new sound of Moses Guest is fuller, fatter and more proficient, and it takes its own sweet time to unwind. The linchpin for this refurbished sonic outlook is the masterful work of Thompson, whose solos -- whether jaunty, jazzy or classic rocktinged -- both complement and encourage the musical excursions of the others. That all amounts to stoner grooves that are at once expansive and danceable.

"We work in a lot of different styles, and that gives each song its own flavor," Edwards explains.

Guest, meanwhile, hardly seems concerned that his group falls neatly into the "jam band" category. "We don't mind that at all," he says. "And, in fact, it's hard not to get a good [live] show out of a jam band unless they're really off and rambling around."

The trick is to avoid what Guest calls an "over-jam," and Moses Guest's upcoming CD is strong evidence that the band has little problem with that. Blues features rhythm-intensive, streamlined ditties such as "I Do Not Love You," "Mountain" and "Burning Around the Sun," as well as a rather charming nod to their home away from home, "Colorado." There's also a live version of "Right Down" -- previously featured on Geniality -- that gives a clear enough indication of what the new lineup can do with an old studio track.

"The thing I appreciate the most is where you're getting an audience that's up and dancing, and you feed off that," says Edwards about the live experience. "And these are people that have a choice to go out to Richmond and listen to the music they know and hear all day. We're playing original stuff and they're digging it."

When they're not on the road, Moses Guest take up residence at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar and Rudyard's Pub. Unlike many groups, which are happy to grab a spot on any stage that will have them, the members of Moses Guest prefer regular (if occasional) slots at a few select clubs.

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