Primary Season

Well, Music Awards season is again upon us, and before you fill out the nominations ballot with the same old names you send us every year, we'd like to take this opportunity to urge you to go out and see some new stuff. And there's a bounty of promising young acts playing this week. Here's a short and partial rundown:

Folksy Americana rocker Lee Alexander is another Beatles fanatic -- on Out of Place, his Richard Cagle-produced debut CD, the backing harmonies are a dead giveaway, as are certain sitarlike guitar effects here and there. Album opener "Venus Rising" finds Alexander in Lennon mode and Cagle in full-on homage to George Martin -- but the electric piano/ woodwinds vibe is more faux-Edwardian Sgt. Pepper's than Helter Skelter White Album.

Other '60s influences crop up -- the whispery, harmonica-tinged acoustic number "On the Down Side" replicates Simon & Garfunkel (and '70s Shake Russell/Dana Cooper), while the bossa nova "My Sweet Addiction" harks back to Sergio Mendes and other such Brazilian pop crossover stuff. Equally obvious debts to guys like Elliott Smith, Nick Drake and Steve Earle crop up elsewhere.


Houston Press Music Awards

Lyrically, Alexander mainly mines relationship veins -- he finds rich ore on the bitterly funny "Better Him Than Me" -- but he also throws in tributes to Woody Guthrie and his tough-as-nails late grandmother, a sly Tom DeLay slam and a remake of "Danny Boy." The Nacogdoches-bred musician also plays a staggering array of instruments -- mandolin, fife, guitar, piano, uilleann pipes, harmonica and violin -- which should tell you that this CD never gets too same-y.

Alexander has enormous potential -- Out of Place is that rarest of rare local CDs that is both potentially commercial on a national scale and downright enjoyable to boot. I do have one quibble: On some but by no means all songs, Alexander's voice is overly breathy and he affects some weird accentÉyou know that one that all those singers on OC bands have that makes the sorority girls swoon?

See him at: The Vintage Bar (4356 Westheimer, 713-355-3093) on Friday, May 12, and the Proletariat (903 Richmond, 713-523-1199) on Wednesday, May 17.

Though it doesn't say so in the bio, it's obvious that the trio Savoy Special are, like Alexander, Beatles fanatics. While the bio openly declares that the band aims for a sincere, precise and innovative concoction of (respectively) R.E.M., Radiohead and the Police, you can hear echoes of the Fab Four just as loudly. On their debut CD, New Age Hustle, they toss in pinches of slightly exotic fare such as organ, horns, strings and turntable scratchin' into a basic rock-band broth of guitar, bass and drums. Sometimes this all gets way too overcaffeinated and cluttered, as on the herky-jerky title track and the jittery, nervous-making, bombastic "Call the Doctor," which sounds less like second-rate Radiohead than it does fourth-rate Muse. It's an epic train wreck -- at times, it sounds like two or three different bands are playing at the same time. There's no center to grab hold of. The falcon cannot hear the falconer, and a blood-dimmed tide is unleashed, while some rough beast slouches off toward...

...Sorry. I lost control there. Just skip ahead to "Saturday," the very next song. It's a standout, a relaxed mid-tempo toe-tapper with pleasant strings and a nice, near-oceanic sense of swell. Like the Nilsson classic "Everybody's Talkin'," it conjures up nautical scenes both lyrically and musically, and it makes for a nice track for your Bolivar Ferry sea shanty mixtape. (I would have loved to hear a pedal steel riding that surf -- maybe they can recut it with Matt Rhodes.) Garage-tinged album opener "Lift Your Head" is another good cut -- there's a plethora of vocal harmonies, the guitars sound like the Romantics' "That's What I Like About You," and the keyboards sound like ? and the Mysterians' "96 Tears."

Savoy Special isn't without a self-deprecating sense of humor. "My Band Is a Waste" is kicked off by an answering machine message in which an angry woman calls out the band and one of its members. (Yes, the angry answering machine message is to 2006 what the "hidden bonus track" was to 1998, but I am still not sick of them.) And then there's the fun and bizarre "Selling Garbage," which, as the title says, is about a guy who peddles trash. He's also going batshit crazy, and the song reminds me of a Ringo Starr-penned White Album outtake -- one of those Beatles songs you loved as a kid and still, against your better judgment, have a soft spot for today.

Local indie rockers Sitka Sound, a band very much in the kooky pop goodness thrall of bands like the Flaming Lips and Grandaddy -- share a bill with these guys Saturday. This quartet offers up clever and melodic jangle-pop seasoned with buttery and warm synths. "Little Indians" is the best of the four songs I heard -- textured, nutty and crunchy as fresh-baked baklava.

See them at: Rudyard's (2010 Waugh Drive, 713-521-0521) on Saturday, May 13. Austin's Moonlight Towers are also on the bill.

If I had to guess, I would say that the Bright Men of Learning spent a lot of time studying Kinks and Small Faces records. Their growling guitars/ cracked-voice vocals combo harks back to that era when British R&B-based rock was teetering on the brink of glam rock's full-on whoo-ooh-ooh glory. And on paper that sounds great, but BMoL -- which is fronted by Marshall Preddy, formerly of Telluride, the Wholesome Rollers and Chasmatic -- never quite gets out of third gear, at least in its recordings, though it does sound like the kind of beery bar rock that's best experienced live. Churchbus, the new band for former de Schmogster/Texas Guinness Lover Kilian Sweeney, traces their pedigree a generation or two deeper than the Bright Men, all the way back to Sun Studios and various crazed Pentecostal preachers. The Chicago-based group (and thus not eligible for the Music Awards, but what the hell) is most distinctly twangy -- slide guitar licks, exaggeratedly Southern accents, admittedly bastardized Doug Sahm covers -- but there are also trumpets up in the mix and the Irish tinges you'd expect from a band fronted by a guy named Kilian Sweeney. (The band's surreal "Three Short Years" reminds me of an Irish cowboy answer to the Butthole Surfers' "Moving to Florida," for some reason.)

See them at: The Proletariat (903 Richmond, 713-523-1199) on Saturday, May 13.

Last but not least, there's Million Year Dance. Singer Jonathan Welch is well and truly gifted, in the truest sense of the word. His swooping and elastic tenor is damn near operatic, and his band backs him with a muted, moody and melancholy indie-pop mlange that the band calls "Southern hypnotic pulse." Welch spent four years as a professional actor and is a devotee of Buddhism and yoga, and he brings elements of all these facets of his personality to his shows -- they aim to be both hypertheatrical and mystical. Recent performances have featured creative lighting, multiple dancers and yogis on stage, so don't expect this one to feature a quartet of scowling half-drunk guys staring at the floor. But do expect to find more substantial and longer coverage of these guys in these pages soon, not to mention a long career for this band.

See them at: The Red Cross Food Drive benefit at Fitzgerald's (2706 White Oak Drive) on Saturday, May 13. The Finalist, Morningside Drive and Eye Against are also on the bill; bring canned food for a discount on your ticket.


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