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Out In Sight

Everybody has probably been through this scenario once or twice: It's Christmastime. You're at the local Cactus Music looking for that new one from Calvin Owens or Ezra Charles or any other of your favorite Houston-based artists. You cull the racks for your faves, but all you see are CDs from 2Pac, Sheryl Crow and Metallica. What gives?

Well, the reason many local artists don't release anything during this commercially fertile period, somewhere after Thanksgiving and before December 24, is that it's plain suicidal. All major players and labels know music lovers are liberal spenders during the holidays and use this knowledge to push their products. This is why the 2Pacs and the Sheryl Crows and the Metallicas release their stuff immediately after the turkey and cranberry sauce is polished off. Houston-based artists, knowing they can't compete, simply stay on the porch. There's no sense in running with the big dogs when the big dogs bite.

"For a rock band, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle," says Greg Ellis, Southwest Wholesale spokesperson. "Why would you want to compete against, I don't know, Nine Inch Nails or whatever?

"A lot of those sales are seasonal," he continues. "A lot of people are in stores, but they're not shopping. They're just buying whatever's at eye level. There's no point in putting your record out, or wasting your marketing budget. It's not worth it."

The beauty of this waiting game emerges around this time of year, when many local artists begin coming out of their shells, records in hands, like snails on the, ummm, hunt. There is no official count, but according to Southwest Wholesale, the area's largest distributor, there are approximately 40 new releases from Houston-based artists on shelves this month or scheduled to be released soon. "That's about a 30 percent increase" in total volume, says Ellis.

And these numbers do not include those not distributed through Southwest. A few noteworthy local releases include discs by Latin-punkers Los Skarnales, one-man-art-rock-band Jody Hughes (see below), smooth-jazzer Shaakir and country-westerner Leslie Newman.

Not all this is to say no Houston-based artists release material during the holidays. Some do. Just this past season, nearly 30 artists in November, and about 25 the following month, put their wares on racks, according to Southwest Wholesale. Those are decent numbers.

It just so happens that many of these fearless cats, like South Park Mexican, Lifestyl and Michael Watts Presents Swishahouse, are rap acts. Since these artists typically get hot quick and burn out even quicker, they take advantage of their celebrity as expeditiously as they can. Whenever they can. If a rapper, like Lil' Flip, gets hot the week before Christmas, you can be damn sure he's gonna put out an album as soon as he can, Christmas Day, if he has to. Which is almost what he did this past year. He released H.S.E./Hustlaz Stakin' Endz one week before December 25.

And some artists who hold off may seem like they're playing the waiting game but really aren't. Pinche Flojo Records, Los Skarnales's label, which will release the band's new Suavecito Style, is timing the drop of the record not with the post-holiday blues but with a new deal. The label recently agreed to sponsorship by EMusic.com. The on-line-based digital music distributor is providing Pinche Flojo with tour support and some marketing funds. In addition to Suavecito, Thanx But No Thanx's Strike Two, No Balls and Vatos Locos's eponymous record will also be released early this year. "Now, we can get our bands tour support in time to get bookers involved with summer tours," says Joshua Mares, Pinche Flojo owner. (Los Skarnales plays Saturday, January 22, at Fitzgerald's.) "It's just timing."

Art Rocker -- But Not Like Genesis

Heidi Klum is a supermodel. She poses in lingerie for Victoria's Secret, in bathing suits for Sports Illustrated and in minimal clothing anyplace else T-and-A like hers is welcome. She, in the belief of local art rocker Jody Hughes, is just the right kinda gal to appreciate his music. "I read in People magazine that she really liked Moby," says Hughes, referring to the one-man-sample-band. "My new year's resolution has been to think of myself more as a professional. So I'm going to send my CD to all my favorite celebrities." Which includes, among others, sending his work to Heidi Klum.

The CD Hughes mentions, his first, is almost finished. It's called Jody Hughes (self-released) and should be out later this month. The 16-track record is an attempt to capture Hughes's off-the-page sonic collage work, which is especially amazing live. Not just because Hughes, a relatively normal-looking character, goes through various costume changes on stage, nor because he bounces all over whatever club he happens to be playing, but because he manages to deliver a symphony's worth of electronic and sampled rock music all by himself.

"I see myself as a random person," he says. "But when I jump around on stage, I'd like to think people think, 'I can do that.'

"Like the guy who performs in front of the mirror by himself," Hughes continues, "I do that on stage. I think people should be encouraged to do that."

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