New Birth Brass Band

Thirty years ago, the New Orleans brass band tradition had all but died out. Luckily enough for the whole world, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band came along, funked things up and helped save the style. Ten years later, the Rebirth Brass Band — then mere teenagers — came along to join them and brought even more modern and outside sounds to the New Orleans jazz, blues and gospel canon; today you can hear snatches of Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and 50 Cent in one of their epic shows. And as the Dirty Dozen is to the Rebirth, so the New Birth is to the Rebirth, a younger version and a future standard-bearer for the genre. New Orleans royalty is already hip to these kids, who average around 25 years of age. Allen Toussaint produced D-Boy, the band’s debut, and bass legend George Porter Jr. produced the band’s second record, this year’s New Birth Family, which features a cover of Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman” that will rattle the fillings out of your teeth. When the band unpacks its horns and drums in the cozy environs of Under the Volcano this New Year’s Eve and buffets you with their blend of funk, jazz, R&B and Mardi Gras Indian chants, you’ll be able to rest assured that nobody anywhere in Houston, or at least nobody with their clothes on, is having a better time than you. And how many New Year’s Eves are you able to say that? — John Nova Lomax
Friday, December 31, at Under the Volcano, 2349 Bissonnet, 713-526-5282.

Gene Watson

New Birth Brass Band
New Birth Brass Band
Asylum Street Spankers
Asylum Street Spankers

If I had to pick one mandatory characteristic of all great country music, it would be a hurt-filled voice. And in that department, Humble resident Gene Watson ranks with Hank Williams and George Jones. A local auto-body mechanic who sang in a string of Houston honky-tonks during the early ’70s (when Houston was actually known for honky-tonks), Watson has a voice filled with regret and a huge dose of plain-folks humanity that make him one of the ultimate ballad singers. In 1974, he tromped all over the brittle Nashville countrypolitan formula with his harshly realistic and, for its time, steamy ballad “Love in the Hot Afternoon.” He followed up with a string of regional hits that included “Paper Rosie” and the honky-tonk classics “Should I Go Home (or Should I Go Crazy),” “Farewell Party” and “Nothing Sure Looked Good on You.” Watson was a fully established worldwide country star in 1984 when he finally hit No. 1 with “Fourteen Carat Mind.” For the rest of the decade, he was a constant presence on country radio and seemed to permanently reside in the Country Top Ten with songs like “Speak Softly (You’re Talking to My Heart)” and “You’re Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without.” While his hits were certainly worthy, among aficionados it was tracks like “Pick the Wildwood Flower,” “The Old Man and His Horn,” “One Sided Conversation,” “You Could Know as Much About a Stranger” and “Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All the Time” that raised him to cult-figure status. Watson is one of only a handful of classic country artists who can fill a two-hour show with nothing but hits, and he has continued to record, releasing The Gospel Side of Gene Watson in 2004. And while his star has dimmed on the world stage, Watson remains a treasured if less frequently seen commodity up and down the Gulf Coast. — William Michael Smith
Friday, December 31, at the Doyle Convention Center, 2010 Fifth Avenue North, Texas City, 409-948-3111.

Asylum Street Spankers

Mercurial, the latest platter from these unamplified Austin roots music revivalists, is a cover record, and a damn good one, thanks to a couple of stunning twists. Amid the sort of mid-20th-century blues, R&B and swing fare you associate with the Spankers — Bessie Smith, Ivory Joe Hunter, the Boswell Sisters and the like — comes a sudden surprise: After the opening instrumental bars of a cowboy jazz/jump blues number, singer/washboard man Wammo hollers, “My name’s MCA and I got a license to kill / I think you know what time it is / it’s time to get ill.” “Paul Revere” has never been on a ride like this Beastie Boy boogie, and the tune ranks up there with Molotov’s punkified “Girls” remake “Chavas,” the Flash Express’s Velvet Underground-ish reworking of “The Message” and, of course, the Gourds’ hoedownification of “Gin and Juice” as one of the very best rock remakes of rap tunes. (Also committed to the Asylum for Spankings are the B-52s’ “Dance This Mess Around” and Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.”) Even so, there has always been something about the Spankers’ aggressively hipper-than-thou, delicate-genius, über-Austin stoner-slacker vibe that I can’t abide. But then, that’s just me and my mean ol’ Houston ass. — John Nova Lomax
Thursday, December 30, at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.

The Iguanas

The Iguanas have a knack for disregarding musical borders. While the quintet keeps its rock roots firmly planted in hometown New Orleans, it’s also managed to naturalize Mexican conjunto and norteńo styles. Given the geography, the result goes beyond Tex-Mex. When the Iguanas mix it up, you can call their sound Chicano R&B with a voodoo twist. Their latest release, Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart, proves that they’re more than a compelling dance band; they’re also gifted interpreters of everyday life. The ethereal tunes are snapshots from a two-lane-highway trip across America, south by southwest. The record’s spirit lies in the title track, co-written with the Blasters’ Dave Alvin, which tells the story of a child’s first radio. Alongside a couple of bona fide barroom rockers, other tunes recall Nebraska-era Springsteen, Big Star and the Band. With Spanish rhythms and lyrics punctuated by hearty, honking saxophone riffs, there’s plenty to dance to. The Iguanas are in the same league as Los Lobos, the Pogues, Shonen Knife and others who have successfully translated their culture into rock and roll. Brush up on your Spanish and lace up your blue suede zapatos. The Border Patrol has the night off. — Nita Ketner
Thursday, December 30, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9899.

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