Rave and wave-offs, summer edition... Let me preface this selective rundown of the latest crop of local releases by clearing the air a bit: No, we will not be doubling our coverage of the Houston music scene now that the Public News is history, its assets in our possession. But contrary to the opinion of some of those we've critiqued over the years, we wholeheartedly support local artists (huge hint: the annual Houston Press Music Awards).
But that enthusiasm doesn't necessarily require that I cherish everything I hear -- hell, even most of what I hear. Simple reality dictates that while high volume encourages excellence in any scene as fickle as Houston's, it also ensures that there's always tons of bad to outweigh the good. So, for what it's worth, here's some of both. (Note that where possible, I've gone against "Static" policy and included record label addresses and/or phone numbers, which should aid in locating the more obscure stuff. Just call me extra accommodating this week.)
The Freshmakers, Like Hell -- An all-consuming obsession with early Nirvana and the Replacements manifests itself in a few interesting moments ("Point A to Point B," "Westbound"). By and large, though, the Freshmakers could stand to pump a little fizz into their flat garage rock. (Stupid Gaijin Records, 2303 Albans, Houston, TX 77005.)
The Madisons, Drive -- The creation of enigmatic producer/musician/performer Lizzie Harrah, the Madisons are the Hollisters' Denny Dale (upright bass) and Houston live-music fixtures Stevie Wilson (drums) and Teri Greene (guitar). Recorded live to DAT at Houston's Digital Services, Drive retains a lazy, altogether intimate feel. But the guys are kept on their toes by Harrah's nimble piano work and sultry, sentimental originals, which run the gamut from loungey swing and saloon-style ragtime jazz to simmering rhythm and blues, and the occasional soul/pop torch ballad. (No label, address or phone number given.)
Ice, So Cool -- So lame. (Black & Red Records, 463 Woodrail, Webster, TX 77598;  461-0755.)
Thomas Cunningham, The Exiled Heart -- Perhaps the best endorsement of the new-agey piano noodlings on The Exiled Heart is the fact that they originate from entirely self-taught fingers. Playing has never been much more than a hobby for Thomas Cunningham, who works full-time in the medical business. And while the classical-leaning mood pieces here are best relegated to moments of quiet reflection (or nap time), that isn't meant to belittle Cunningham's potential as a player and a composer. (Spirit Rain Music,  997-8484.)
The Holdouts, Flyin' Mule Kick -- A mostly successful attempt at fusing the blue-collar stadium spirit of the E-Street band with the yeehaw sensibilities of Texas roots rock and country, the Holdouts manage to sound conventional without leaning too heavily on any one musical convention. Good, derivative fun, Flyin' Mule Kick has all the easy familiarity of a John Cafferty album, though minus the guilty conscience. Now, if the Holdouts could only find a decent singer to do their solid, if unremarkable, material justice. (Aus-Tone Records,  326-7256.)
Solar Wind, Five Sheets to the Wind -- The rock and pop-skewed fusion of Pat Metheny and Spyro Gyra figures heavily into Solar Wind's busy instrumental orbit, as do the late-'70s collaborative indulgences of Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer. Technically, this five-piece is white hot, but original they're not. (Chump Stumper Records,  497-7742.)
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Edge, Criticize -- About the only thing saving this Pearland power trio from their angry, heavy-handed selves is the fact that they're young and inexperienced. And while that doesn't make Criticize's deflated Soundgarden vibe any easier to stomach, it does mean there's always a chance for improvement, as there's nowhere to go from here but up -- or out. (Edge Records, 13402 Max Road, Pearland, TX 77581; 833-0417.)
Moscas, Vertigo -- Further proof that Houston's rock en Espanol movement has some real substance behind it, Moscas combine a surfy slacker vibe, easygoing harmonies and scraps of metal and ska with tunefully impulsive melodies and gallons of sweaty spunk. But what most stands out about Vertigo is its absolute devotion to the groove -- be it plodding, jazzy or whizzing by at a mosh-pit clip. If Vertigo is any indciation, Moscas aspire to be the Hispanic Meat Puppets. (Novosonic Records, 1220 King, Houston, TX 77022; 697-0249.)
Blue Wing, Blue Wing -- The sort of accomplished, salt-of-the-earth folk outfit that leaves Anderson Fair audiences awestruck, Blue Wing has a way with a song and a story. As for the 13 tracks on the quartet's self-titled debut, there isn't a sour note in the bunch, and the playing is stellar throughout -- no doubt the product of decades of experience among the four them. While the group's command of a variety of stringed instruments is exceptional in every way, the interplay between the steel guitar of Dan Crook and the mandolin of Kelly Lancaster is the most memorable. The perfect campfire companion.
Have a comment, tip, compliment or beef? E-mail Hobart Rowland at firstname.lastname@example.org.