Press Picks

february 19
The Skatalites The stellar Jamaican group not only invented ska (and, by extension, reggae), but the 'lites also embodied and perfected the musical mating of Afro-Caribbean rhythms, American big-band jazz and stateside R&B. In recent years, we've encountered any number of the band's musical progeny, members of ska's burgeoning (and mostly American) third wave. Now it's time to check out the reconstituted original, minus the late and more than slightly mad genius Don Drummond but featuring co-founders Roland Alphonso, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett and Lloyd Knibb. The Skatalites are touring in support of Ball of Fire, which includes remakes of all-time faves like the title track, "James Bond Theme" (from Dr. No), "Freedom Sound" and Drummond's signature piece, "Eastern Standard Time." Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, 862-7580.

Distant Voices The work-in-progress, penned by Houston's Celeste Bedford-Walker based on a concept by Peter Webster, dramatically disinters some of the famous and not-so-famous residents of the College Memorial Park Cemetery in the Fourth Ward (a.k.a. Freedmen's Town). The drawn-from-life (and death) characters inhabiting Walker's "pageant of the African-American experience" include Antioch Baptist Church founder Jack Yates and Texas Light Guard drummer John Sessums. The aforementioned Webster directed; Horace-Alexander Young wrote the accompanying score, and performs it with his trio. Opening performances are at 7:30 tonight, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Presented in conjunction with Black History Month, the production continues through March 1. The new Audrey Lawson Arena Stage at the Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 520-0055. $10-$25.

The Gulf Coast Playboys Cultural chameleon Bradley Williams did stints shoveling fish at a Japanese market and playing for tips on San Francisco street corners before making his way to Cultural Chameleon Central -- Austin -- in the mid-'90s. The Michigan native already knew his way around an accordion thanks to his Polish lineage, and he put the knowledge to good, if unorthodox, use by co-founding the fine Eastside conjunto band Los Pinkys with Isidro Samilpa (that's conjunto as in the muy caliente Tejano dance strain, not "The Beer Barrel Polka"). The restless Williams is now exploring the sound of South Louisiana with his Playboys, an equally fine Cajun knockoff that includes guitarist Steve Doerr (a former LeRoi Brother) and fiddler Ralph Williams (of the Bad Livers). The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-COOL.

Sister Hazel and the Freddy Jones Band Hootie's Blowfish meet Up With People in Sister Hazel, which hails from the same town as the talented ska punks in Less Than Jake -- Gainesville, Florida -- but couldn't be more different. Named after Sister Hazel Williams, a Gainesville-based missionary, the all-guy Sis traffics in what used to be called good vibes and in upbeat tunes that try really hard, but refuse to stick in the head. Chicago's Freddy Jones (none of whose members is named Freddy or Jones) is similarly challenged. Blame it on the "Triple A" radio format, that '90s breeding ground for aural Alzheimer's and a tunefully insidious safe house for both of these acts; we double-dog dare you to hum a song by either band as you leave the building. Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 526-6551. $12 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).

february 20
Long Day's Journey into Night, starring Ellen Burstyn Eugene O'Neill's examination of the upended American dream, curdled like a carton of milk left out in the sun, has always made for a riveting (if deeply distressing) evening of theater. Interestingly, the press release uses the word "dysfunction" to describe the malady afflicting the turn-of-the-century New England family at the center of the piece (the Tyrones -- thinly veiled stand-ins for the playwright's own troubled brood). "Dysfunction" is the sort of bloodless generality O'Neill never would have used, and, though the word is in keeping with the ankle-deep calamities that define our time, it strikes us as a trivialization of the timeless tragedy of this bloody and black-hearted American dream of a play. So much contemporary theater panders to the postliterate; here's hoping this "new production" of Journey doesn't monkey around with O'Neill in some ill-advised attempt to transform the moral and emotional destitution of the Tyrones into some mod and more easily digestible group-therapy session. Academy Award-winner Burstyn (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) stars as drug-addled matron Mary Tyrone. Previews are scheduled at 8 tonight and Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday. The official opening is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The run continues through March 29. The Neuhaus Arena Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 228-8241. Tix: $22 (previews); $36-$40 (regular).

Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo The farm comes to America's fourth-largest market, and, as with most things Texan, the accompanying braggadocio's as deep as the dung after a cattle drive. While the HLS&R can back up its Brobdingnagian boasts -- both the livestock show and the PRCA-sanctioned rodeo are the world's largest in their respective realms, and just about every hat with a set of pipes and a pair of painted-on jeans from here to Nashville is scheduled to perform during the related concert series, beginning with tonight's show by Alan Jackson -- how much homespun charm can one really expect 'neath the Teflon hulk of the Astrodome? The HLS&R, which also includes a horse show and a carnival, opens today and continues through March 8; for details, see the special section elsewhere in this issue. The 'dome, Astrohall and AstroArena, 8400 Kirby, 799-9500. More info: 791-9000; $2-$20 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).

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Clay McNear
Contact: Clay McNear