The Panic Choir
Soul and Luna
Bay Leaf Productions

You might expect a band with "panic" in its name to have some sort of edgy quality, some end-of-the-millennium angst, some fear and loathing maybe -- some attitude of some stripe, at least -- but you'd be wrong. Soul and Luna, besides carrying a title bastardizing an already cheap phrase, is relentlessly chirpy stuff occupying a remarkably unremarkable niche on the nice-rock spectrum, somewhere between the soulless groove fetish of Little Sister and the blueprint pop of Trish and Darin, with unachieved aspirations to the jazzified slack rock of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians laid on top.

It was in fact Darin Murphy who once told me he was considering moving T&D's base of operations to Austin because of that city's receptivity to "happy" music, and Austin's Panic Choir plows that turf like pros, with Carol Johnson's vocals weaving smoothly through the four-piece band's faceless hodgepodge of acoustic strums, syncopated drum slaps and generic six string solos. The good news -- for fans of the pointlessly pretty, anyhow -- is that everything's carried off with encouraging competence, right down to the seamless production by the band and Keith Rust, making Soul and Luna a well-produced product, if, unfortunately, very little else.

-- Brad Tyer

The Panic Choir plays at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, Thursday, January 19.

Bert Wills
Mr. Politician
GoldRhyme Records

Local blues boy Wills plays his rough and ready outsider role to the hilt on the cover of this disc (which shows a ponytailed, tattooed, dark-shades-wearing Wills being sworn into presidential office while George and Barbara Bush, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and a buxom, hot-pink clad bimbo look on). But he doesn't do much for his Harley-riding outlaw biker image in a clarifying "About the Cover" liner note: "The artist believes that George and Barbara Bush, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and Walter Mondale supported values that strengthened the moral integrity of our country." Bad ass, dude.

Ah, well, chalk it up to the gimmicky difficulty of packaging a white bluesman in an age that doesn't have much use for bluesmen period, unless they're dead or three-quarters of the way there. Still, all the superfluous stuff is an annoying shame, because if you can get past the cheezoid missteps of the cover concept, you'll notice that Wills has got both the voice and the guitar chops to dispense with the muddled trappings and take care of some serious business.

The voice is a forceful, raspy instrument that drives "Carene" with a bluesy intensity, or switches into a more subtle Mose Allison mode to match Paul English's piano turn on "Christmas Blues." English, by the way, is just the most high profile of the guest musicians on the disc, including three drummers, two pianists, two bassists, a percussionist, a harmonica player and a horn blower.

The real instrumental fireworks, though, issue from Wills' guitar. Whether he's picking straight Texas blues on "It's OK" or a snaking slide on "Dangerous Man," Wills' guitar stings and sings like the man means it. And in the blues, conviction -- even if it's the dubious conviction that George Bush is a bastion of moral integrity amidst a sea of political shysters -- is everything.

-- Brad Tyer

Bert Wills plays at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Friday, January 20.

Acid Bath
When the Kite String Breaks
Rotten Records

Five guys. Ten songs. John Wayne Gacy paintings on the cover. "Let's start a riot / let's start a war / everybody that you know is a whore / fuck it fuck it fuck it fuck it" serving as a comprehensively representative sampling of the lyrics. Early Sabbath meets industrial-period Ministry meets membership in high school speed metal bands. Critic Martha Bayles writes, in her recent book Hole in Our Soul: the loss of meaning and beauty in American popular music, that "the anarchistic, nihilistic impulses of perverse modernism have been grafted onto popular music, where they have ... encouraged today's cult of obscenity, brutality and sonic abuse." That must be what happened here. Listen to this and Johnny Cash's American Recordings side by side and wonder at the breadth of human perception.

-- Brad Tyer

Acid Bath plays between openers Criminally Insane and headliners Pungent Stench on a really stupid sounding bill at The Abyss, Tuesday, January 24.


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