The PR associated with this debut release from East L.A.'s Blazers doesn't want you to think in terms of roots rock, but face it, what we call rock in these modern times doesn't often have the unaffectedly honest edge you'll find here. So go ahead. Call it roots rock, with Mexican spice. It's the kind of rollicking, foot-stomping, guitar-driven romp that either sends you into a frenzy or leaves you cold, and if you belong to the former category, there's plenty of reason to get excited over this one.
Los Lobos' Cesar Rojas puts his stamp of approval on the project as producer and studio musician, and Blazers Manuel Gonzales (vocals and guitars), Ruben Guaderrama (vocals and guitars), Lee Stuart (vocals and bass) and Ruben Gonzales (drums) sprint through their paces, torching territory belonging to the blues, country and western, cumbias, nortenos and straight-ahead rock and roll. It'll put a bounce in your butt when you're sitting on the couch, and while that's nice enough all by itself, I'd take it as evidence that we're dealing with a road-toughened live band. Buy the disk as a prelude, if you need one, but my money says the clubs are where the Blazers burn.
-- Brad Tyer
The Blazers play Friday, April 22 at the Satellite Lounge.
Guess I'm not the only one who's spent too many late nights listening to Tom Waits' Bone Machine.
Latin Playboys are what happens when a driving force behind one of the nation's finest bands (Los Lobos' David Hidalgo, in this case) decides to put together a side group and stretch into uncharted territory. Los Lobos have traveled some virgin roads in their day, but Latin Playboys drive right off the map.
With co-conspirators Louie Perez (who co-wrote these 14 songs with Hidalgo), Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, Hidalgo wends his way through a moody soundtrack of twilight memories and almost surreal instrumental melancholy that's no less beautiful for being nearly indecipherable. Night shades and moons make an appearance in almost every number here, including "Crayon Sun," which strikes some odd nerve center and made me melt and my cats howl at midday.
Fractured noises seem to come from whatever instrument happened to be handy at the time (sax, congas, guitars, piano, feedback), and while "disjointed" works better than "cohesive" as a description, the whole disk has the shuffling feel of something produced in a living room well after dusk. Leave it on endless repeat, and sooner or later people are sure to notice that this sounds quite like nothing they've heard before. Offer to tape it for them, but keep the disk stashed in a safe place, cuz they don't make many this rewardingly weird.
-- Brad Tyer
David Hidalgo and his other band, Los Lobos, play at the Bayou City Theatre Sunday, April 24.
Banana Blender Surprise
Send in the Crowns
Banana's fresh-faced, rootsy nerd-rock hybrid has led the Houston band to steady gigging in Austin and opening slots for Mojo Nixon, the Beat Farmers, Two Hoots and a Holler and NRBQ -- all stylistically sympathetic acts, comparisons with which point up the frustrations of Banana's CD debut.
Singer David Beebe has the range and the punch to handle a wide array of vocal chores, and the band-s five other members play tight, professional-sounding roots pop punctuated with a satisfyingly fat guitar twang. Armed with a song like "Saveena," you might convince me that these guys could open for the Iguanas and pull it off.
But unfortunately, the music's only half the story here -- start listening to the lyrics, and Banana takes a sharp turn toward novelty. The band's heralded food-motif school of songwriting must be funny to someone -- my little sister comes to mind -- but it hits my ear as merely cute. "Royal Crown and a Moon Pie," (no, most decidedly not the NRBQ tune of similar title), "Barbecue," "You Can't Cook" and "At the Cafeteria" don't even make me hungry, and try as I might, I can't figure what else I'm supposed to get out of them.
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It's a shame in a way, because armed with the chops to rock, Banana chooses to goof with music for people who like it safe. Liner notes inform us that the proto-band's first performance took place at a swimming party for second-graders, where, no doubt, everyone danced in the shallow end.
There's undeniable promise here, in the high-quality sound and the sheer togetherness of the band's interplay, but if Banana aspires to Mojo status it's going to have to put some bite behind that yap.
-- Brad Tyer
Banana Blender Surprise celebrates the release of Send in the Crowns when they open for Trish and Darin at the Satellite Lounge Saturday, April 23.