Houston Music's 2017 All-Star Team
Utility men (L-R): Gio Chamba and Coffee Guzman
Photo by Christian Peña Photography/Courtesy of Gio Chamba
This week the Houston Astros will send a club-record six players to Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Miami. This has absolutely nothing to do with music besides releasing a bunch of good vibes that have, provided you’re tuned to that particular frequency, spread to other sectors of the city’s entertainment scene. Luckily, we are, so as ‘Stros fans begin praying the team can continue playing with even a fraction of the same momentum as the season’s triumphant first half, the Houston Press thought it was also a perfect time to celebrate the following musical acts, all of whom have likewise given local fans plenty to cheer about in 2017.
Signified by Vicki Lynn Tippit's mesmeric vocals, Black Kite has been casting spells all over Houston since 2013 with evocative electronica that summons art-rock's darker corners. Then featuring James Templeton on drums and arrangements by Ed Gardiner, 2016 full-length Soft Animus Heart (Miss Champagne Records) provided a well-recorded glimpse into their hauntingly danceable pop aesthetic. But, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango but only one to moonwalk — and Tippit glides effortlessly from step to step. These days she performs Black Kite as a solo project, changing the sound slightly into something deliciously darker than what came before and, back in April, delivering a superior performance in Dinolion's immersive theater production of The Red House. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS
Every winning team needs a utility player, someone whose inclinations for the game are so strong you could put them anywhere in the lineup and expect them to make something happen. As Houston music All-Stars go, that player is Gio Chamba. His "put me in, Coach" attitude makes him the go-to guy, whether you need an early evening pick-me-up or late-night rally. And, he's versatile, switching from singing to DJing to engaging the crowd by leaping into it like Derek Jeter chasing a foul into the stands...whatever it takes to get the win. Additionally, you get consistency. Whether he's dropping a new video like last week's debut of "Flamin' Hot Chido"; an album, like the approaching, highly anticipated Tejas; or taking on a dance-night residency, as he and bandmate Coffee Guzman are doing as "Grupo Secreto" starting this week at Secret Group; you know you're getting the best from someone who absolutely loves the game. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
When work on popular indie-pop trio BLSHS's debut album was diverted, singer Michelle Miears took the opportunity to caps-lock her surname and record a solo EP, Who Will Save You? Released in February, its six songs float by largely unmoored from standard pop structures, hewing toward ambient/classical territory and spiked by intermittent beats, all while using Miears’s melodious vocals as a guide. Any aspiring filmmakers out there ought to see if soundtrack work interests her, because she’d be good at it. Miears wrote, produced, performed and recorded the EP by herself, asking only engineer John Griffin (Southern Backtones) to help make it shine. It does. CHRIS GRAY
Steve Krase has been a stalwart of Houston’s blues scene for a quarter-century, but before that the Long Island native picked up a few tricks from the J. Geils Band — such as learning from the great Magic Dick how to attack his harmonica with boiler-room velocity, as he does on April's Should’ve Seen It Comin’. His followup to 2014’s Buckle Up, Krase's new album may not be an explicit tribute to the late Geils, but it’s not too tough to detect the Boston bandleader’s fingerprints on Krase’s high-spirited blues-rock anyway. Here, though, it comes seasoned with a solid 25 years of Texas roadhouse swagger. CHRIS GRAY
Vockah Redu’s face should be everywhere, his crew should be our crew, 'cause his cause is our cause, and whether you’ve forgotten this or not, that’s body rock. Somewhere in the booty-shaking, the bouncing, the twerking, the call-and-response, resplendently robed or in a state of deshabille, Vockah Redu’s juggling that timeless, mercurial je ne sais quoi that Bob Dylan used to allude to with his harmonica playing, that Bo Diddley taught all of our mothers and grandmothers, that Jimi rolled up in his headband, that Kurtis Blow decked out in red leather, that Elvis snared in gold lame, betwixt modern art and contemporary feeling and an ancient hormonal fugue. Where do you think babies come from? Vockah Redu and the Cru people the Earth the way Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam used to do it, the way George Clinton has always done it, the way the Pied Piper of Hamlin did it. He’s funky; they’re funky. He’s on fire; we could all be on fire. TEX KERSCHEN
The Suffers' Kam Franklin fronting the Houston Symphony
Photo by Marco Torres
We've written extensively about The Suffers over the past few years, and rightfully so. This Houston-born octet has been putting the work in since its formation, and the first half of 2017 has been no different. Last month, the Gulf Coast soul collective performed alongside the Houston Symphony and wowed longtime fans and classical-music enthusiasts alike. Their spirits were even undeterred in the face of having their tour van stolen shortly after their performance with the symphony. Almost immediately afterword, they set out on a nationwide tour. A year and a half removed from the release of their debut album (and with another one well on its way), The Suffers show no intention of slowing down. MATTHEW KEEVER
T2 THE GHETTO HIPPIE
Every All-Star squad needs a sizzling-hot masher in its lineup. In 2017, no one in Houston music has taken more swings and churned out more hits than T2 the Ghetto Hippie. Noisey Radio premiered his new track (featuring fellow H-town slugger Maxo Kream) just Saturday night and, fittingly, he's dropping his long-awaited album, Double Cups and Taco Trucks, during All-Star week. These are only the latest deep drives in a 2017 streak that's included an NPR Music nod, a SXSW showcase and headliner status at the recent Paul Wall-Baby Bash show at White Oak Music Hall. Metaphorically, his delivery is as unorthodox as Jeff Bagwell at the plate. But, like a hip-hop Jose Altuve, T2 has talent, works hard and stays humble. He's proving to be a man of all seasons. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Mid-July usually screams dog days, looking backwards and attempting to forecast what may occur in the next six months. But the loudest moment from hip-hop in the city of Houston in 2017 wasn't a comeback or even a retirement announcement. No, the city's biggest noisemaker was a producer who felt the need to fight a vaunted venue over what he felt was discrimination. Garrett Brown, better known as Trakksounds, spent the early part of February attempting to secure a venue for his The Other Side album release. When he came to Fitzgerald's, home to a number of hip-hop shows over the past years, he thought there was a sure answer — a simple 'yes' or 'no.' Instead, he inadvertently saw himself become the leader of a movement to boycott the historic venue and move his show elsewhere. In the five months since, his stock has only risen behind the boards. The controversy long behind him, he managed to secure a pretty decent iTunes debut for his album and tours frequently with Maxo Kream and others. But it was his actions in February that earned him the respect of a wide-number of artists and acts. Hannibal Buress, who had just played the venue during Super Bowl week, swore he wasn't coming back. Same for a number of artists. Sometimes, you don't win the MVP for breaking records. Sometimes, you win MVP solely for making a bit of a difference. BRANDON CALDWELL
You could swing a dead cat almost anywhere around here and swat a band, but if you’re rubbing your cat up on Gerritt Wittmer chances are you’ve already found yourself in a pretty dark place. Which is to say that what he does eludes easy categorization, in part because he works in the tectonic hot zone between sound art and performance art, but he does so by and large in rock clubs and other down-to-earth venues more often than those highbrow academic settings that, whether purposefully or not, tend to elevate and isolate art, attenuating its audience and relevance. Meanwhile, Gerritt Wittmer is setting up his blinding work lights on the floor of your local punk dive or honky tonk, dialing up the terror on his custom-coded sound devices, willfully inserting silence or nearly inaudible hums or susurrations between huge disorienting sonic transience, the likes of which transport audiences into pre-linguistic states of sensation. Anxiety factors heavily among the feelings his music wrangles, and as often, somehow, delight. TEX KERSCHEN
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