Unlike its namesake highway, Todville Road is relatively straightforward and 
Unlike its namesake highway, Todville Road is relatively straightforward and predictable

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Todville Road
Todville Road

Choosing a band name that alludes to something obscure is a common phenomenon of these postmodern times. Here's a local pop-rock outfit following suit, christening itself after a back road most Houston commuters have never had reason to travel. Pity that the reference is more interesting than the band -- or at least its debut CD.

The real two-lane strip of asphalt properly known as Todville Road snakes its way along the western edge of upper Galveston Bay, heading north from Seabrook. A mix of contradictions, it is home to some magnificent bayfront mansions (including one, now gone, that was the site of some notorious sex-scandal murders years ago) as well as modest cottages, middle-class suburban homes and looming industrial concerns. At the right times of year it can be a primo location for casual bird-watching. There are also several points of access where waders can fish for speckled trout and flounder. In short, the flood-prone road is a diverse and unique place, charming despite its imperfections.

Unfortunately the four-member band that copped the moniker makes music lacking in diversity, uniqueness and charm. Its imperfections aren't provocative or whimsical or amusing. These 11 original compositions are rendered in hyper-sincere fashion. But in the end it adds up to just a bunch of bland, unimaginative, completely forgettable pop rock, heavy on the jangly guitar.

The band, now in its fifth year, consists of Matt Lucas on lead vocals, guitar, keyboard and harmonica; Mike Laird on lead guitar and vocals; Pete Bawa on bass and vocals; and Alan Steinmetz on drums and percussion. Lucas and Laird write the songs, independently and in collaboration. While the instrumentation is adequate, kind of an innocuous sonic backdrop that features all the normal mainstream noise, the overall production is a bit muddy, which makes the lyrics occasionally hard to decipher. Problem is, whenever the slightly flat but earnestly harmonized vocals are comprehensible, the lyrics turn out to be really limp.

"Having hope is probably the main theme of the CD," says Laird in the accompanying press release. Fair enough. But even a novice songwriter should understand that such a potentially maudlin focus requires a novel approach. Instead, songs like "All the Same" (which, come to think of it, also makes a great title for this album) offer facile insights such as the maxim, repeated ad nauseam in the chorus, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Yes, clichés abound on this Todville Road. "Second Nature," for instance, finds the singer confessing: "I'm the guy who always put the cart before the horse." And on "Home" (which actually vibrates with a touch of bluesy soul, thanks to some funky rhythms and dreamy guitar loops), Lucas repeatedly utters: "This is the place where everyone knows my name." Geez, that was a sappy line the first time we all heard it on Cheers -- almost 20 years ago.

Maybe a better handle for this "road" band would be Center Street or Vanilla Drive or the name of any other utterly homogenous suburban street in some tract-house neighborhood. - Roger Wood


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