A Way with Words

There's a lot of talk about the Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark/Nancy Griffith triumvirate of Texas songwriters, and how they all came up through the Anderson Fair-anchored Houston folk circuit way back in the good old days, when the folk clubs were filled with actual folks paying good money to bask in the presence of writers and performers who aimed their talents at adults and, lo and behold, found an audience. Yeah, there's a lot of talk about the good old days, almost as if they were over, and it's a fact that the crowds don't show up in the numbers they used to. But it'd be a mistake to confuse the dwindling audience with any lack of talent on the stage. Case in point: Dallas-born, Houston-based singer-songwriter Kimberly M'Carver.

M'Carver was what they call a late-bloomer. She didn't even start writing until 1984, when husband and collaborator Dennis bought her a guitar for Valentine's Day. Prior to that gift, M'Carver had been wasting away providing a generic female front voice for a series of top 40 bands on the wedding circuit.

But once she started writing on her own, her true gift began to surface, and it turned out to be a genuine talent for drawing believable characters with her lyrics and inhabiting them with her voice. An innocent query to Massachusetts' Rounder Records -- M'Carver was just trying to find out how to place her songs with other artists -- led to a three album deal with the Rounder-distributed Philo label after a showcase gig at the Last Concert Cafe.

The pairing of Philo and M'Carver produced the Breathe the Moonlight debut, which drew a round of raves for the Emmylou-like clarity of M'Carver's pipes and the sympathetic realism of her songs -- qualities abundantly represented on M'Carver's follow-up, Inherited Road, marked with a record release party Thursday night at McGonigel's Mucky Duck.

For Inherited Road, M'Carver stuck with the sidemen that gave her debut such stellar instrumental force -- most especially Jerry Douglas on Dobro and Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin. Local songstress Lisa Morales also makes a guest appearance, contributing harmony vocals. M'Carver's got one hell of a way with words, and if a picture's worth a thousand of 'em, these tunes are closer to portraits than stories. Musically, she ranges from country-ish ditties to waltzes to border-flavored laments with an ease that tells you just how unhappy M'Carver must have once been cranking out Madonna at a bar mitzvah.

You can't really say, as is traditional in such circumstances, that this new disc fulfills the promise of the first one, because the debut sprung forth so fully realized. All you can say is that here's more of a good thing. And last time I looked, more of a good thing was worth celebrating, especially when the party is already planned. Go revel.

Most of rocker Jerry Giddons' not-insignificant press coverage comes from Denver and Los Angeles, where Giddons gathered a certain amount of steam with his band the Walking Wounded. He's since relocated to Austin and made himself a regular feature on the small-bar circuit in Houston with a new band, the Stoney Whitepunks. He's also recently released a solo album, For Lydia, on L.A.'s Sputnik label, that finds him taking an unironic rock stance that falls into some largely unoccupied territory between cheese and bombast. On the one hand, he's not afraid to sing his songs, which automatically places him on the inherently earnest side of most modern rock. On the other hand, he's got little use for the sort of glossy pabulum that might make his career on the adult contemporary airwaves. It's rock music you can think about without putting yourself to sleep -- a rare commodity, and one that ought to be a welcome sight when Giddons and the Stoney Whitepunks play at Mary Jane's Saturday night.

Tab Benoit, that Louisiana guitar slinger who's made more ducats for Justice Records than anyone but their beloved Willie (and nobody expected anyone to surpass Willie, did they?) has a second album in the stores. What I Live For is a further profession of the blues faith from a guy who must have learned by now that being tagged "the next Stevie Ray Vaughan" isn't worth the press release it's printed on in a state that's already had the original. Truth be told, Benoit doesn't sound a damn thing like SRV, but he can make a note sting and sing with the best of the new breed, and he's been making his rep on the road this past year, which is where such things should be made, and my bet is that he'll put on a fine show for his home-away-from-home crowd when he plays Thursday night at the Satellite. Denver transplant and guitar wanker Emilio opens, and his publicist says he's really great.

Cassette of the Week: Live Demo: A Taste of Z.G.B. is the cassette-only offering from Zwee and the Graveberries, who've been playing the hippie-groove-rock thing around town for about a year now. And what the hell can you say about it? It's groovy hippie rock, with a solid rhythm section and wicky-wicky funkish guitars and bluesy vocals. I even heard a flute buried in the mix (what is it with hippies and flutes?). It's hard not to like this stuff (okay, it's easy, but I can imagine a situation in which I was already stoned and already in the bar and didn't really want to be disturbed by incompetence, in which case Z.G.B. would sound pleasant enough), but my overwhelming impression, as an amateur and terrifyingly repetitive guitarist myself, is that this is the sort of band I would play in if I had a band. Which is precisely why I don't.


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