On the quintet's third and latest record, Prolonging the Magic, Cake gives lots of play to its country influences, without giving up much of its laid-back attitude. With wordplay bordering on absurd, singer/guitarist John McCrea deadpans lyrics while the band bangs out crystalline grooves, often accented by the lonesome country sound of pedal steel. It's not quite alternative rock, not quite Americana and not quite funky. The band's closest cousin might be Beck, were he to fancy himself more of a cowboy. Cake's new record lacks the aggression that drove its hit "The Distance" (from the previous record), but the slowed, down-home feel of Magic is more in keeping with its newly declared "irony-free" stance. What makes the Sacramento, California, band interesting, though, are the songs, not just the odd fusion of sounds. McCrea's observations ("Sheep go to heaven / Goats go to hell," "As soon as you're born, you start dying") and the country-funk accented by Vince Di Fiore's trumpet make for complex songs. Taking right-angle turns, the tunes stay off-kilter, but only just enough to keep them sounding unique. The omnipresent "Never There," with its trumpet break, dial-tone-as-synthesizer and synthetic drums, still has a hook you could hang a slab of meat on. Don't be surprised if McCrea takes to task those in the crowd who have come only to hear "Never There." He has used the stage as a bully pulpit before to deride hit seekers. You've been warned.
-- David Simutis
Cake plays Thursday, February 4, at 8 p.m. at the Aerial Theater, 520 Texas, (713)230-1600. Tickets are $17.
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Everlast -- Recovering former House of Pain member and current hip-hop troubadour Everlast (real name: Erik Schrody) finished his second solo record, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues, and it nearly killed him. He had a heart attack (the result of a faulty heart valve rather than the rock and roll lifestyle) on the last day of recording, but never slowed down. Taking a decidedly different direction from its Ice-T-produced, stale solo debut, 1990's Forever Everlasting, and from Pain's malt-liquor-doused, Irish-heritage-celebrating chants, Whitey is a hard look at grim realities. On the strength of the blues-inflected hit "What It's Like," Whitey has been creeping its way up the Billboard charts (at press time it was No. 11, the highest it has been), but a word to the wise: "What It's Like" is not indicative of the album; it's the lightest and catchiest song. The rest of the album tackles similar topics, but in a darker and heavier way. Mixing acoustic guitars and a blues-rock feel with record scratching and beats, it's a cut and paste amalgam stronger and more original than the sources it culls from. Everlast is a cross between a B-boy and Johnny Cash, with a streetwise, middle-finger-in-the-air attitude and strong songs. Everlast opens for Sugar Ray on Wednesday, February 10, at 8 p.m. at the Aerial Theater, 520 Texas, (713)230-1600. Tickets are $18.50. (David Simutis)