Being one of the top-drawing live acts in the city can be both a blessing and a curse. The Handsomes set a Continental Club attendance record on December 25 at its annual Christmas Day show, with 533 bodies -- including the usual gaggle of H-town girls gone wild -- pressing the flesh and humping along to the band's pop-ska originals and dance club covers. So how on earth could a six-song studio CD stack up to that? Good question. Depending on your point of view, the disc is either a lukewarm version of the sweaty live show or an improvement on the tempo-shifting tunes cranked out by bigger-name acts that turn up every 18 months on pop radio to brazenly inform us that ska isn't dead. The session, recorded in Austin, is impeccably produced by guitarist and chief songwriter David Nachtigall, who should be on the speed dial of any young local band looking to make a CD. As expected, the four-piece band comes across as tight in the studio as it does on stage. As for the songs, well, they reflect an accurate cross-section of the band's original material, which means some are killer and some blend away into the background like a beige sofa sitting on an off-white rug. Standout tracks include "Te Quiero," a Latino-influenced change of pace highlighting rhythm section Ben Stark (bass) and Patrick Kelly (drums), and the final cut, "Be with You," in which vocalist Jordan Blackwell finally relaxes and drops his choppy dancehall diction, finding more of his own voice in the process, buoyed by a lush, forceful Coldplayish riff. Without a major label to do the legwork, it's likely that including at least one of the band's trademark quirky arrangements of covers (by such ska luminaries as Michael Jackson or George Michael) would have been a tad expensive. But it also might have given a better indication of where the Handsomes come from and, presumably, where they're headed.
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