Pop Moment

You can kick a good woman out of her time slot, but you can't keep her down... Hometown radio fans may remember DJ Donna McKenzie from her recent stint at KLOL, or her prior gig at Z-107 before it made the move to "alternative," or her "Made in Texas" program at 107 or the Houston compilation CD it spawned, or the similarly conceived "New Texas Radio" she introduced on Sunday nights at KLOL. Or you may just recognize the name from my incessant babbling about her doings in this space.

In any case, when McKenzie left KLOL, she took "New Texas Radio" with her (part of the contract, you know), and she's since been off the air and quietly busy transforming the sometimes awkward baby into a statewide syndicated program. It's still called "New Texas Radio," and it debuts this week on FM stations in El Paso, Corpus Christi, College Station, Abilene, Amarillo and Houston, with agreements pending in Dallas and Austin. The weekly one-hour program is scheduled to run on McKenzie's alma mater KLOL Sunday nights at 11.

McKenzie records each week's program direct to CD in a local studio until her own custom-built studio is finished, and that's what she's in the middle of doing when I call to get details, so she's a little frazzled and can't remember exactly which acts are featured on the debut program, but they include the Toadies, Ian Moore, ZZ Top, Soulhat, the Nixons, Jimmie Vaughan, Jackopierce, and Houston's King's X and Sunset Heights. McKenzie envisions the program as "a way for really hard-working, talented emerging young artists (like ZZ Top?) to have access to the airwaves, to produce a really high-quality vehicle for these artists to get on the radio." She's also working on plans to syndicate the program in Europe and over the Armed Forces Radio Network.

While McKenzie's trying to get more Texas bands on the radio, video gal and Big Productions producer Stephanie Granader continues trying to get more local bands on the tube. Granader was one of several principals behind the short-lived "And the Beat Goes On," which took viewers upstairs at Fitzgerald's for mini-concert videos of local bands and which aired weekly on PBS. But since that bird didn't fly, she's scaled back a bit to produce a series of what she calls "Music Stops" -- five-minute-or-so interviews/performance videos of Houston bands scheduled to run as inserts during KUHT/Channel 8's "HOV -- High Occupancy Video" magazine program at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and 11 p.m. on Saturdays. Planet Shock! ran January 31, Paul English had his moment February 7, and upcoming slots are scheduled for Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys (February 14), Jesse Dayton (February 21), de Schmog (February 28) and Sunset Heights (March 21). The de Schmog spot is especially notable, if only for the smirk planted on coffee shop counterboy/singer Killian Sweeney's face as he explains to the camera: "I make cappuccino and serve muffins all day long. And at night, I'm a rock star."

Speaking of Sunset Heights, the band's just finished recording a live EP at Rivendell Studios. It's called Born in Houston/Live, which turns out to mean live in the studio with an audience, but who's nitpicking? The disc was engineered by Ben Elliot, whose name you'll recognize if you ever looked to see who engineered the Rollins Band, and it offers reworked material from the band's Texas Tea debut, two new tunes and three Hendrix (Jimi, not Nona) covers. Sunset Heights heads out on the road later this month for its first U.S. tour before heading back to Europe for its third tour in the past year. The Born in Houston CD doesn't have a U.S. release date yet.

The Grammys are coming... Homeboy Lyle Lovett carries three nominations into the upcoming 37th Annual Grammys, for Pop Vocal Collaboration (his "Funny How Time Slips Away" duet with Al Green), Duo or Group Country Vocal Performance (for "Blues for Dixie" with Asleep at the Wheel) and for Pop Album (for I Love Everybody). Justice Records is tagging along, too, with Willie Nelson's Moonlight Becomes You garnering a nomination for Traditional Pop Vocal Performance. And certainly not least, local Tejano heroes La Mafia become the first ever group to claim a nomination for Latin Pop Performance, for the CD Vida. The Mafia will be butting heads with Placido Domingo, among others, for the final nod. Hmmm....

Cassette of the Week: I don't know if I had anything to do with it, but ever since I mentioned in passing that I had a soft spot for home-dubbed cassettes, the mail's been full of them. The latest is from an aggregation called Catbox, which has got to be one of the two or three best band names ever, and even though it's home-dubbed on your standard high bias TDKs, it's got a great-looking color Xeroxed sleeve, as befits a band with at least one professional artist in-house. That'd be Jack Livingston, the guitar player, and the power trio is fleshed out with Lalena Fisher on bass and vocals and Robert Dibrell, who's credited with "drums and absolutely no percussion." There's a bunch of male vocals on the 19-tune cassette, so someone's not taking proper credit, but who cares. As for the music, it's a poppy, slowed-down (sometimes) Ramones-ish blast of guitar chords backing almost-spoken lyrics that are mixed way up front so you can hear them over the clang. Sort of like Pork, only not so sloppy. Lyrically, these people are maybe too smart, too psycho-literate to be real rock and rollers, but when "I Don't Want to Talk About It" rolls around on the tape and Livingston's character in the duet suggests "Why don't you just get a job," and Fisher's character shoots back "Get a job? / I'm in school! / What are you talking about? / You're a fucking welder!" I'm in no mood to hold it against them. Great stuff. Gimme more.

-- Brad Tyer


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