Miss Molly
In the Garden
FM Disc

Miss Molly Elswick -- isn't that Mrs. Molly now? -- has been fine-tuning her image as a Gulf Coast blues queen for more than a decade, and there's no point in begrudging her the luxury of style-searching, since her voice has always carried more than enough substance. First it was Miss Molly and the Passions, fueling an '80s abandon that generated lewd gossip I haven't heard the half of yet. Then came Miss Molly and the Whips, a campy dominatrix vamp that stopped seeming seemly long before it was abandoned. Now we have Miss Molly, plain and simple, and even if Elswick doesn't look particularly comfortable in her Gauguinish nude pose on the disk's cover, the music inside -- recorded live over the course of three days in November of last year at the Satellite Lounge -- leaves the impression that Molly may be hitting her commercial stride.

Never mind that the closer Molly gets to a commercially viable album, the more she sounds like she's taken just a few too many lessons at the Bonnie Raitt charm school. It's a good sound for her, and it shows off her strengths to greater effect than any previous recording.

Those strengths include an impressive command of her idiom, ranging from skanky Gulf Coast boogie to saucy blues to adult-contemporary pop. The band, including bassist Charlie Knight, drummer Tony Braunagel, guitarists Hadden Sayers, Keith Blair, Bert Wills and Stephen Bruton, and a slew of background vocalists, sounds equally at home on both ends of the spectrum, and Molly roams over it all like it's familiar, but still challenging, turf.

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But if the strengths ultimately carry the album, the weaknesses don't fade entirely. Molly sounds great covering "Damn Your Eyes," and the four Hadden Sayers-penned tunes are the album's most consistent cuts, with a finger-snapping sense of groove that made these shows a party in the original. But when Elswick and husband/manager Dickie Malone sat down to cowrite "Hold It Like It Was Your Own" (is that possible?) and "Find a Way Home," they succumbed to schmaltz. Other than those few tracks, though, very strong.

-- Brad Tyer

Miss Molly and a raft of special guests perform at Molly's Fifth Annual Birthday Bash, Thursday, August 18, at the European Tavern. Call 868-1084 for info.

Man or God
Man or God
Soundirt Records

There's not much to this -- five songs, single-word titles and heavy fuzz-toned guitar hammering out alternating power-riff and industrial speed-metal rhythms with a minimum of balladry. Vocals are of the clipped throaty-roar variety, which doesn't really help the band stand out from the crowd. That's sort of a shame, since they do their thing tightly enough, and with enough balls in the attack, to be plenty convincing. It's a promising debut, and Bleachbath's crowd, at least, ought to dig it, but the hard-rock bedrock is so solid, and yet so alone, that I almost wanted to hear Man or God toss a bit of Ministry's junk noise into the mix so it would sound less like a hammer and more like a storm.

-- Brad Tyer

Mango Punch
Mango Punch
Punch Records

Mango Punch is an in-demand wedding and private party Latin music band around town, and its debut CD showcases the kind of edgeless eagerness to please that got them there. The band's four members -- Walter Suhr on vocals, guitars and synthesizers, Oscar Larranaga on vocals and percussion, Brian Torres on vocals and drums, and Julio Cespedes on drums -- produce a seamless Latin-flavored groove that leans too heavily on synthesized sounds and slick arrangements to appeal to traditionalists and authenticity fans, but, on the other hand, offers little to trip up clueless revelers in search of pleasant background. Song selection, like musical execution, reflects a quest for broad appeal, with shallow forays into salsa, merengue, cumbia, bolero and soggy love ballads. They're all nice people to have at a party, though, and they wear colorful suits onstage.

-- Brad Tyer

Wishbone Bush
Funk You Productions

The Bush is a four-piece post-high school funk unit from up north Houston way, and Swill is their nine-song debut. Production's pretty decent for a low-budget disk, and you can pretty much hear all of the elements of disjointed, party-boy white-funk loud and clear. Time was I would have said that Swill sounded like third-rate Chili Peppers -- and the lead cut "How Are You" is shameless in its imitation -- but I'm just so damn tired of plugging the Chili Peppers that I'll call it second-rate Venus in Furs. Though I'm sure the band would disclaim either influence, preferring to think of itself as an understudy to Dive. '60 Waste," after all, does catch a reasonably listenable groove, and there is a funny moment of pre-song dialogue, wherein boy says to girl: "Yeah, my mom says it means I was saved for something really special. Know what it is?" Girl responds: "Rock and roll?" And boy sighs: "Yeah. I'm gonna be a star...."

-- Brad Tyer

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