These days, you're lucky if a decent torch singer's voice gets you a dime for a cup of coffee. So you can bet it's more than just her bruisingly beautiful singing that gives Austin-based crooner Toni Price an edge over the competition. Credit in part her sheltered Nashville upbringing. While it's likely to make torch purists cringe, Price was raised on the rock and roll of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, as opposed to chestnuts from the likes of Patsy Cline and Etta James. This background ensures that Price is more open-minded than most when searching out new ways to flex her conditioned pipes, and she's also found a capable songwriter in old Music City buddy Gwil Owen, who supplies many of the songs worthy of her experimental urges.
You could say that Price came into her destiny through the back door, discovering a taste for the blues rather late in life after she got her mitts on a stack of Bonnie Raitt releases. All through the 1980s, Price sang her heart out in various rock bands on the frat-boy circuit in Nashville, soaking up, however unconsciously, the country and acoustic music permeating her hometown. With Raitt's help and some chiding from friends, Price slowly came to the conclusion that there was more to making music than singing covers while crossing her fingers in hopes of landing a spot in Nashville's next major-label showcase. Price wanted to have some fun, and it became apparent that Nashville was more about money than good times. Ironically enough, it was while performing in an Austin showcase -- one at Antone's during 1989's South by Southwest conference -- that Price decided that it might be time for a change of scenery. So she set her sights on the capital city.
It took time, money and effort to finally settle in Texas for good, but Price certainly knew what to do when she got here. She immediately wooed an impressive list of Austin's top musicians, including Junior Brown, David Grissom, Rich Brotherton, Derek O'Brien, Tommy Shannon and Casper Rawls. More than anything, those associations have aided in Price's maturation and added grit and technical finesse to her Antone's/Discovery recordings, the 1993 debut Swim Away and the new Hey.
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Like the woman herself, Price's live shows can be both tender and tough, stressing the singer's considerable vulnerability without taking listeners on sappy, sentimental rides. On-stage, Price is most comfortable nursing her juice bottle of whiskey and allowing her voice and hands the freedom to roam. As for the boozing, Price makes no apologies. When stripped to its essence, Price's is the voice of an authoritative, thick-skinned diva who, at times, still needs the occasional vice to protect her woundable heart. -- Hobart Rowland
Toni Price performs at 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday, January 13, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Tickets are $10 and $12. For info, call 528-5999.
El Flaco -- It must be difficult for a trio to practice when two of its members live in Austin and the other in New York. But as fate would have it, that's how it's panned out for the guys in El Flaco. Drummer Brad Turner left Texas early last year for culinary school in the Big Apple, but he's returned, recipes in hand, to temporarily rejoin bandmates Chris Hay (guitar) and Rob Gray (bass) in recording a follow-up to Thub, El Flaco's self-produced Sector 2 debut. When not in the studio, El Flaco has been dishing out heaps of its sweaty funk-punk-metal stew at shows around the state, an indulgence that -- until recently -- the band members' academic schedules have prevented. Catch them while you can. At Emo's Alternative Lounge's sixth anniversary celebration, 2700 Albany, 10:30 p.m. Friday, January 12. Free, 21 and up; $7, under 21. REO Speeddealer opens. 523-8503. (Joe Hon)
Atticus Finch -- Consult local club owners, and most will tell you that Atticus Finch emerged pretty much out of thin air. This Houston quartet gelled in April of last year after poet, screenplay author and sometime singer James Dildine -- itching for his shot at fronting a band -- joined with New Mexico-bred guitarist Michael McNeely, who'd been writing songs with bassist Schon Alkire and drummer Chris Laurents. Eight productive months later, their single "f.m.t.s." is lodged in daytime rotation at the Buzz. Immaculately produced at Sound Arts Studios, Atticus Finch's nine-song debut, Bruised, may be short on originality (see Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam under "influences"), but it's long on technical competence and assertive grooves. No matter how predictable its maneuvering, Atticus Finch could be this town's best chance at major-label interest in recent years. And the band's on-stage clichs roll along smoothly. With Spot at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam, Wednesday, January 17. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $1.07. 225-0500. (