Last year, my kids' bands teamed up for an idea to attract younger local followers. They sent sampler CDs to the entertainment editors of about two dozen area high schools and asked them to review the music in their school newspapers.
To prove they weren't entirely self-serving, they included a list of nearly 50 local bands the students might seek out on their own. The pitch: it's fine to write about Lady Gaga or Radiohead, but why not be the innovative and daring writer who introduces readers to the best music acts playing here at home? The kinds the cool kids in movies like Almost Famous and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist follow; the musicians they could enjoy regularly at Houston's abundance all-ages shows.
My kids never heard back from any schools last year. But, I thought I'd shamelessly jack their novel idea for my own purposes here with Rocks Off. So I asked several area high schools if they had music-loving students willing to share their thoughts on some recent albums released by local acts.
A handful of awesome, forward-thinking teachers from the Fort Bend, Houston and Katy school districts volunteered some of their best and brightest, as did St. Pius X, where my own high school journalism teacher, Mrs. Gagne, is still being an inspirational and influential force in the lives of students. Shoutout to Mrs. Gagne!
So, with many thanks to those teachers and their students, here's hoping these reviews turn some of their peers on to what's happening in local music.
Theresa Grayson, Live 2 Love By Yasmeen Yahya
Theresa Grayson is a saxophone wiz that is sure to captivate music enthusiasts, and potential fans, with the smooth, resonating sounds on her album Live 2 Love. Her desire is to "create a feeling of warmth and happiness" and that is exactly what she does for the listener.
Jazz has, in present-day, been degraded to the status of elevator music. With the power of the emotion embedded into her music, Grayson throws that discredit back in the faces of those originally discontented by jazz.
On Live 2 Love, Grayson includes covers of favorites like "Locked Out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars, as well as "Natural Woman" by the soulful Aretha Franklin. Grayson reinvents and refashions these songs in such a way that they seem to evolve into something different, yet still give the listener a reason to bop along in familiarity.
The original tracks on the album set the foundation for a talented woman on her way to the top. In an industry dominated by pop, the Houston-raised saxophonist paves the way to make a name for herself and her music in the contemporary instrumental genre.
Yasmeen Yahya is a senior at Clements High School. She has been co-editor-in-chief of her school magazine for two years.
The Jones Family Singers, The Spirit Speaks By John Johnson
It's gospel music for sure, but what makes The Jones Family Singers' music different? Well, first it's their diversification of harmonies. There are several solos on their album, but different voices combine to give the effect of a large choir with that full sound you would expect.
Not only are the voices great, but the instrumentation also has a strong presence in each song, not to mention the inspirational messages of every song. The music has the feel of a Sunday service but also the quality of a top-rated musical group.
"Made Up My Mind" is probably one of the best tracks on their album, The Spirit Speaks. It reflects the influences of various musical genres on their sound, such as jazz, the blues, along with other traditional gospel music. Another aspect of the song that stands out is the background guitars. While the bass regularly pushes the tempo and hypes the energy, the lead guitar simultaneously carries a melody that sets the tone for the entire track.
Every song on their album may sound like a different band, but it's all the work of The Jones Family Singers. However, there are some aspects of each song that leaves the band's signature, like the bass riffs and clean electric guitar, which tie all of their songs together and deliver a great sound.
Perhaps the best parts of the album are the vocal solos. There's a lot of talent in this group and it shows, and it's definitely an album that you want to give a try. Overall, The Jones Family Singers provide songs that are enjoyable anytime and for anyone.
John Johnson is a senior at St. Pius X High School and plans to join the Air Force.
The Wheel Workers, Past to Present By Karina Melrose
Being a music nerd, listening to the Wheel Workers' newest album, Past to Present, really piqued my interest. Not only did the band produce a nice crisp sound, their witty lyrics made me want to keep listening to the next track.
This unorthodox band has managed to break away from the typical beat we hear on the radio today and created their own. The harmonies in each song give the overall album a soothing tone.
Even though the hard-rock aspect the band uses in their songs may come off as "too loud" for the quieter listeners, the smooth vocals combined bring a nice offset to the tracks. It's not your typical "rock on" band, but the intelligent lyrics will satisfy your brain.
If you are a music lover The Wheel Workers is a new band you should look into. If they keep making music like this, I will definitely become a diehard fan.
Karina Melrose is a senior at Furr High School, ready to graduate and pursue a career in law.
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The Mighty Orq, Soulful City By Lia Markantonis
In The Mighty Orq's Soulful City, an album named impeccably for the captivating blues culture it exemplifies, independently produced and locally supported music shines.
Performing the majority of music and vocals himself, Orq enthralls the masses, especially local listeners well-acquainted with Houston. "Cigarettes in Heaven" and "Houston Blues" intrigue as pieces of homegrown culture that not only open my memory to the blues of local artists that I grew up hearing in Houston's West Alabama Ice House, a social hotspot my father owns and operates, but also to time spent with my stepfather, a native Houstonian who always sings at home as well as in a local cover band.
Comprised of original lyrics laid over instrumental music of few elements, Mighty Orq's soulful riffs are irresistible in "Me and the Devil" as well as his cover of the gospel song, "I Saw the Light."
Within the album jacket, he gives credit to organizations that make his work possible, such as the Houston Arts Alliance and The Houston Blues Society. Sincere thanks to these for empowering their local artists; it is a gift.
Lia Markantonis is "Greek, British, a part-time singer and a full-time worker. I'm a St. Pius X High School junior."
The Dead Rabbits, Our Day Will Come by Grayson Schoenfeld
The Dead Rabbits have created a wildly unique sound that blends power-packing punk with fast-paced bluegrass, sprinkled with a seasoning of Spanish influence. The loud, soulful vocals cut through the mix and deliver aggressive yet humorous lyrics. Heavy-hitting electric guitars clash with acoustic bluegrass and flamenco lines in a manner reminiscent of the Charlie Daniels Band. A talented drummer keeps the songs racing, and impressively tight.
Their music is a neat symbolic union between the Latin/folk roots of the South and the punk hustle-and-bustle of the city. In songs such as "Doin' Time," the vocalists show off their ability to deliver an upbeat and rather beautiful tune, in contrast to songs such as the album opener "Hold Your Breath." which demonstrates the lead vocalist's raw power.
Beyond the music that they have written, the Dead Rabbits' album, Our Day Will Come, is exceptionally well-produced. The engineering sounds consistent, polished and dynamic. It captures both the peaks of the erupting amplifiers as well as the softer troughs of the delicate mandolins and violins. All in all, the Dead Rabbits present an incredibly refreshing sound that is sure to intrigue.
Grayson Schoenfeld is a senior at Taylor High School. Multiinstrumentalist, audio engineer and music producer, he also writes for his school newspaper. He plans to take his skills with him to Austin in order to pursue a career in the industry.
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