The Soul of Storyville

Storyville singer Malford Milligan wasn't even a singer a few short years ago, just your run-of-the-mill black albino sociology student at the University of Texas with a growing interest in the tenets of Buddhism. The Buddhism, Milligan has said, opened his mind to the idea of performing publicly, which in turn led to a stint with Austin's short-lived but fondly remembered Stick People. After Stick People broke up, Milligan started Storyville, and in 1993, went into the studio to cut an album with the help of Austin studio legends like guitarist Stephen Bruton (who also produced), drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, who both once played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Arc Angels, and guitarist David Grissom, late of John Mellencamp's band. Former Texas boy Don Henley even stopped by to add background vocals on one track.

What came out is Bluest Eyes (November Records), and while the disc boasts a blues-rock supporting cast that might lead one to expect, well, just another Austin blues-rock record, Milligan's pure soul voice carries the music to another level. The Milligan-penned title track, built around ideas found in the Toni Morrison novel of the same name, is a soaring meditation on internalized racism and outsider-ism from a uniquely specific point of view. It's the crown jewel in a shimmering collection, but Milligan also uses the disc to reinterpret material as far-ranging as Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come."

With the album out, Milligan had to put together a traveling band to support the raves it quickly generated. Layton and Shannon signed on, giving the live show a cracking whip of a rhythm section. Grissom, after having largely forsworn the group setting in the wake of his Mellencamp stint, also agreed to hit the road with Milligan, teaming up with fellow guitarist David Holt, most recently with Florida's Mavericks. Not too surprisingly, the raves only increased as Storyville trooped across the states.

Now, after months playing everywhere from Chicago to Santa Cruz, Storyville's back in Texas with a road-tested band and, first and foremost, Milligan's impassioned vocals, ready to wrap anyone with a soul around its little finger. Get wrapped.

-- Brad Tyer

Storyville plays at 9 p.m., Friday, November 4 at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Chris Masterson opens. Tickets cost $8. Call 869-COOL for info.

Crit Picks:

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 -- The unwieldy name is the first tip-off that San Francisco's (by way of Iowa) Thinking Fellers are of the alternative-with-a-wink school, securing their place in the musical margins not so much with heavy guitar bombast as with liberal doses of wry/sly lyrics and prodigious musical invention skewed toward the dissonant. Bugs and mental flare-outs are favorite song topics, and tape-loops and found noise find ample room to play in the compositions. You get it: not easily defined, and just as hard to contain. Strangers from the Universe (Matador) is the latest, if not necessarily the greatest, evidence. At the Urban Art Bar, Thursday, November 3.

New Orleans Klezmer All Stars -- You know Klezmer, that wacky itinerant Eastern European music played on clarinets and accordions and fiddles and such. You know New Orleans, ancestral home of all that is spicy and soul-filled. And you know the Big Easy, a bluesy record store cum drinking hole cum part-time music showcase. If you want me to tell you in advance how all three elements will mix it up, you're expecting too much. Let's just say I'm intrigued. At the Big Easy, Friday, November 4.

Sir Mix-A-Lot -- "Baby Got Back," Mix-A-Lot's double-platinum single of two years back, may have been the best big-butt song since Spinal Tap, and surely I don't need to tell you what part of the female anatomy is celebrated on his latest video for "Put 'Em on the Glass," from the recently released Chief Boot Knocka' (American). The disc also offers "Ride," a celebration of what Mix likes to do with all those female accouterments, alongside a guest appearance from Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. There's a fine line, I suppose, between outright sexism and good humor, which is the basis on which I'll recommend this, but not, for instance, 2 Live Crew. Mix-A-Lot's at least half comic, and one hell of a performer. At Boomerang, Friday, November 4.

Cop Shoot Cop -- Release (Interscope) is the new one from the lineup that's turning out to be one of the most accessible of New York's arty noise rockers, and it contains the kind of foot-stomping, head-bashing rhythms layered with skronky guitar noise and barking vocals that you expect from the genre, but also a simplicity of design that makes it the perfect disc to listen to if you think you might want to start your own loud, aggressive band, but don't really know how to play. At the Urban Art Bar, Wednesday, November 9.

Pigface and Horsey -- Pigface isn't really a band, but Martin Atkins' (formerly of PiL, Killing Joke and Nine Inch Nails) own private Idaho of collaborative noise anarchy. If it's "songs" you want, look elsewhere, but if noise for noise's sake mainlines into your outer-limit sensibilities, you might want to check out the overload Pigface provides. Openers Horsey are a similarly insensitive unit from San Francisco. For fans, this might be heaven. For the curious, I've gotta recommend earplugs. At The Abyss, Wednesday, November 9.


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