Fresh off a well-received slot at the Bonnaroo Festival, the MOFRO nucleus of John "JJ" Grey (vocals, harmonica, guitar, organ) and Daryl Hance (guitar, Dobro) are concocting something a bit different in their north Florida home: a mix of Sly Stone and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with a little Tony Joe White thrown into the swampy boil. And these boys aren't backwoods poseurs either. A recent episode of Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin Experience featured Grey hunting native poisonous snakes.
Like their debut record, Blackwater, the band's upcoming Lochloosa (named after one of the duo's favorite fishin' spots), features raw, deep music that veers from funky R&B to kick-ass country blues. The extra-fuzzy bass is turned up loud,while organ notes drop in like relatives visiting after church. Oddly, MOFRO's music sounds both menacing and back-porch-party-friendly. Grey -- like the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach -- coaxes growls and noises out of his throat that you would never think could come out of a white boy with questionable facial hair, but come they do. -- Bob Ruggiero
Friday, June 25, at Club Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.
Piebald and Jealous Sound, with Northstar and Spitalfield
If you've ever sat in your third-period trigonometry class and daydreamed that Ben Folds would hook up with the guys from Weezer to record an album (and, really, who hasn't?), then boy, do I have a band for you: Piebald! Don't let the third-wave ska-style name throw you off -- they're a peppy, punky, piano-flecked foursome from Boston that's kinda emo -- their best song is called "Holden Caulfield" -- yet goofy enough to avoid coming off like bellyaching buffoons. Some purist Piebaldies have complained that the band's just-released fifth album, All Ears, All Eyes, All the Time, trades in the sloppy hardcore crunch and time-signature craziness of old for a more polished pop-rock sound. True, perhaps, but grow up -- Piebald has.
Jealous Sound is an emo supergroup -- members of the L.A. quartet have previously logged time in Knapsack, Jawbox, Shudder to Think and Sunday's Best -- without the superwhine. Unfortunately, they're also without the supersongs. If Jimmy Eat World ever pulled a hamstring, I'd stick Jealous Sound in the lineup, but beyond that, I wouldn't give 'em much playing time. -- Michael Alan Goldberg
Thursday, June 24, at Fat Cat's, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.
The Damnwells and Juliana Hatfield
New York City's Damnwells created quite a buzz with their debut EP, PMR+1. With songs that sound familiar yet thankfully nothing like the stereotypical "New York band" du jour, the Damnwells are probably the closest thing the music industry has right now to the Replacements.
On their latest album, Bastards of the Beat, the Damnwells, led by singer-guitarist Alex Dezen (his sister Cameron, also a singer-songwriter, lives in Houston), continue their tradition of smart, straight-ahead pop-rock with alt-country leanings. Drummer Steven Terry was an original member of Whiskeytown, and you can hear shades of that band as well as Ryan Adams's solo stuff, Wilco, the Jayhawks and even a hint of Bob Dylan. The band has toured with Cheap Trick, Rhett Miller and Twilight Singers, and is currently opening for Juliana Hatfield.
Hatfield seems to have everything going for her. She has an interesting girly voice and a cooler-than-thou attitude, and she carries plenty of indie cred, courtesy of her stint in the on-again/off-again Blake Babies. Still, on every one of her solo albums, she's managed to disappoint. Her latest, In Exile Deo, is no exception.
At least it starts off right with "Get In Line" -- probably her most emotive song to date. "I'm dying from a lack of love and affection / Get in line / I'm giving myself away," she seethes over dark guitar loops and a slight shuffle. A less serious but equally fun "Dirty Dog" has Hatfield explaining, "You can flip me over from behind / That would be all right / But I'm not down with the dirty dog." Her official bio says the song's about, ahem, "personal boundaries."
Hatfield's real talent is to sound vulnerable while using her voice to cut through a mash of guitars, yet In Exile Deo spends most of its time on vocal mismatches like the draining "Tomorrow Never Comes" and the clumsy "Because We Love You." It's missteps like these that ultimately prove the album another frustrating waste of Hatfield's potential. -- David A. Cobb and Sander Wolf
Wednesday, June 30, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.
I first ran into Cooder Graw in Lubbock in 1999. These pleasant, well-mannered Amarillo outlaws were rehearsing during happy hour at the Bluelight on Buddy Holly Avenue. With their "It's a Loud Country" slogan, they reminded me of the original Joe Ely band. They'd been together about six months and didn't have a record or any merchandise, and they were doing it the time-honored hard way: one West Texas gig at a time. Fresh, eager, energetic and yes-ma'am-no-sir polite, they seemed to have no concept of how unlikely -- and how hard -- it would be for a band with a name that dumb to make it from a place that far from Anywhere-That-Matters.
Six months later, they'd cut an album with Ray Benson producing -- and it caught on, making its way into the national Americana charts. They worked the Southern Big 12 circuit hard, quickly built a huge college fan base, and within two years were playing Billy Bob's, Willie's Picnic and the National Finals Rodeo in Vegas. Dodge trucks selected their signature song "Llano Estacado" for a TV commercial, and the publicity gave the band a national boost. "Better Days," not to be confused with the Greg Wood song of the same name, from their third album was picked up by Texas radio stations without any promotion and has remained in the Texas charts since May 2002. The band is currently recording its fifth album. If you like your country loud and honest, Cooder Graw is a must-see. -- William Michael Smith
Saturday, June 26, at the Firehouse Saloon, 5930 Southwest Freeway, 713-977-1962.
After a long layoff, Houston's foremost honky-tonkin' rocker is back with a vengeance at this weekly gig. The ample space in front of the Continental stage allows Wood to do what he does best: wander out into the crowd, beer in hand, pull up a barstool and crack jokes, insult patrons and bemoan his lot in life. (And sing a song or 20 along the way.)
Not that Wood's got much to bitch about these days -- his current residence is a closed-down bowling alley in Spring Branch. "It's a great life," he said between songs at a recent gig. "I can guzzle Jack Daniel's, bowl and watch porn on 24 screens, all at the same time." ("See?" a male Continental denizen said to me then, "This is why women never come to his gigs.") Though Wood threatened at the outset of his show to "fling shit at [the crowd] like a monkey at the zoo," the only things he wound up hurling were some Hershey bars and Nestlé Crunches, chocolate treats he had liberated from the vending machines at his residence. Since Wood is seated at a table for much of the show, the overall effect is strange -- it's as though you're at a dive bar and somebody's given the funniest, most interesting patron in the place a mike and a backing band.
Despite all the years of, as he puts it, "living like a wolverine," Wood's voice is still in great shape, and it goes without saying that his songs are all as eternal as they ever were. His backing band -- featuring one of Houston's only natural-born rock stars in guitarist Eric Dane, second guitarist Ken Jones, and a rhythm section of bassist Greg Mausser and drummer Bill Myers -- has really gelled. When they launch into Horseshoe standards like "Texas Trash," "Better Days," "Sam Kinison" and "Breakfast at 3 a.m.," you smile, sing along and know that there's no place better to be than right there, right now. -- John Nova Lomax
Early-evening shows every Wednesday through June at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9899.
Trace the lines in Rusty Weir's leathered face, and they'll take you back to that magical moment in Austin when the whole Cosmic Cowboy Progressive Country thing (that later morphed into the Outlaw Movement that later morphed into what we now refer to as Texas Music) alchemically coalesced into a by-gawd genuine cultural phenomenon. Along with Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Benson, Michael Martin Murphey, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Doug Sahm, Freda and the Firedogs, Alvin Crow and Greezy Wheels, Weir helped write the manifesto for how to be a longhaired, beer-swillin', dope-smokin', country-music-lovin' hippie-freak citizen of the Armadillo World Headquarters Army. That citizen would become the indelible national (and world) image of Austin. Weir's "Don't It Make You Wanna Dance" ranks high on any list of important Texas music of the 20th century, and some of his early tracks like "Black Molly Blues" and "Stoned, Slow, Rugged" are considered exemplary tracks from the Progressive Country period. Thirty years on, Weir is still traveling the highways, showing up in his trademark fringe vest and riverboat gambler hat, looking like a living museum exhibit for that wonderful moment, circa 1973. Not only is he still doing it, but after all these years, the man still has the fire in his belly. -- William Michael Smith
Thursday, June 24, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.
There's not a voice in the Bayou City better suited to the blues and soul than the one belonging to Oscar Perry. Capable of foghorn depths and angelic falsetto flights, Perry's "chocolate fog" pipes rival those of his early heroes, Jerry Butler and Brook Benton, and also call to mind other smooth crooners like Lou Rawls.
The Lake Jackson-born, Sunnyside-bred Perry is no slouch as a songwriter, either. Perry's credits include Bland's "Cold Day in Hell," "When You Come to the End of Your Road," "If I Weren't a Gambler" and modern Memphis blues bandleader Preston Shannon's "Put a Dollar in Your Pocket." But "This Time I'm Gone for Good" remains his greatest hit to date. The deep soul tune was reprised in 1998 by the legendary New Orleans song interpreter Johnny Adams on his swan song Man of My Word. Perry's words take on ominous new meaning given the situation; Adams, then in the final stages of prostate cancer, which would take his life mere weeks after the CD's release, knew this was his last set and selected songs accordingly. That he chose Perry's deeply personal song was high praise indeed. -- John Nova Lomax
Friday, June 25, at the Shakespeare Pub, 14129 Memorial, 281-497-4625.
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