Sometimes it seems like Houston's been waiting for a national break-out band ever since ZZ Top -- you know, just to show the world that we can. Exhibit A, as good a debut as it is, probably won't be the album to take Dive to that plateau, but it makes a strong case that Dive is the band that'll be making the trip.
With so many Houston bands sticking to a strictly anti-commercial posture, and with the ones who are grabbing for the brass ring too often bogged down in some hopelessly behind-the-curve fashion sense, Dive comes across as the great white hometown hope -- commercial enough to pursue success, and possessed of a voice original enough to get it.
Not that Dive's doing anything particularly earth-shaking with this 11-song romp through modern guitar rock. Exhibit A rings with echoes of everything from Pantera to Blues Traveler, with heavy hits of pre-ballad Chili Peppers and -- it doesn't make any sense to me, either -- Living Colour. But in pulling ideas off the radio, Dive stops short of wholesale appropriation and adds its own peculiar dynamic. Exhibit A is derived from much, but after filtering, it's a sound you can't call derivative. It doesn't hurt that vocalist Eddie Dickey, in terms of pipes and charisma, is one of Houston's few frontmen worthy of the title.
Dive's got a good sense of jam working on these tracks, but these are kids we're talking about here, the crest of the Nintendo generation, and stunted attention spans thankfully lead to a boredom-cutting grab bag of tricky time changes that keep the cuts jumping. In fact, if there's a complaint to be made, it's that Dive might be trying to squeeze in too many ideas, to show off too many facets, on this debut. A little bit of musical editing might have whipped some of these songs -- none of which really stand out as single material -- into the sort of shape that could sustain the record's best bits. I'd like to see it happen, because during those not-infrequent best bits, it's a dance-around-the-living-room kinda record.
-- Brad Tyer
Dive opens for Urge Overkill and Eugenius at Numbers on Sunday, April 10.
Don McCalister Jr. and his Cowboy Jazz Review
Brand New Ways
If Lyle Lovett indulged in more Western swing than gospel and had somehow been born without that ironic sneer, he might be sounding a lot like McCalister these days. But since Lovett's off doing his own thing, it's McCalister who's filling this particular niche in modern country music, and those of us who revel in country spiced with jazz (rather than with, say, Journey) ought to be glad he's doing it.
McCalister's got an underwrought voice that sounds more friendly than anything else, and it's easy enough to imagine him as your next-door neighbor, strumming tunes on the front porch swing; it's an even-handed delivery that saves him when he veers a little too close to generic ballad material. But when the voice is playing as just one of all the right instruments -- slide steel, fiddle, harmonica, piano, sax on one track, clarinet on another -- you get an inspired swing that makes you beg for a dance partner. Seven originals here and five covers, including Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown." The best of them, which include the title track and "Cash on the Barrelhead," are so compulsively foot-tapping they don't even offer the option of sitting this one out. Those'll be the tunes to listen for when McCalister brings the Cowboy Jazz Review to town this week.
-- Brad Tyer
Don McCalister Jr. and his Cowboy Jazz Review play at Blanco's on Friday,
Mary Queen of Scots
Kurt Cobain's favorite band here, fronted by Eugene Kelly -- who, if the legends of the Kelly-fronted Vaselines and Captain America are to be believed, is some sort of Scot-pop savant.
Hell if I can hear it. Droning guitar strums, vocals gazing so hard into their own navel they might as well be internal organs, and a sense of dynamic floating somewhere well to this side of the presumably desired alpha state. Maybe it's me -- I can't figure out the Teenage Fanclub thing, either -- but this sounds like filler for someone else's bad album.
-- Brad Tyer
Eugenius opens for Urge Overkill at Numbers on Sunday, April 10.
Freak City Soundtrack
This one's a very pretty, hook-filled straight-rock record that doesn't seem to have aligned itself along fashion lines at all, with just-heavier-than-jangly guitars, strong vocals from leader Jim Ellison and a pop sense so dead-on you can't help but think there's a crate of old Kinks records stashed behind a Marshall amp in the Issue rehearsal room.
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Boys and girls and how they act around each other provide the classic pop underpinning for a modern sensibility that builds a high-voltage stairway of almost Queen-like harmonies to its clincher line, "It's a very good thing that you're gone," in "Very Good Thing." Slow things down on a track like "I Could Use You," and you can hear a shimmeringly unfashionable debt to E.L.O.
"Power pop" has become such a catchall category for music that doesn't really stand up and identify itself that the label sounds almost like a dismissal these days. Which works fine when you're dealing with run-of-the-mill product, but it obscures the fact that while power-pop practitioners may be a dime a dozen, the few bands who do it this well are precious.
-- Brad Tyer
Material Issue plays at Goat's Head Soup on Thursday, April 7.