Lonesome Onry and Mean has been spinning local sensation Buxton's upcoming release Nothing Here Seems Strange for almost two weeks now.
And we're sorry, but we still don't get it.
Maybe we are old and jaded and out of it, but to us it sounds like a bit of Clem Snide or Mumford and Sons lite, only in our opinion Buxton doesn't have the chops, the vocal abilities, or - probably the most important dealbreaker - the memorable lyrics of those comparable bands.
We're not implying there's some calculated scheme to make the record fit a Mumford template going on, but LOM's biggest complaint after hearing the album a couple of dozen times is that nothing sticks, not even "Blown Fuse," which we assume will be the single New West Records pushes to college radio when the album finally hits the street in January. (A remix in Los Angeles pushed back the expected September release date.)
While "Blown Fuse" comes the closest to sticking with us and it's a nice enough, interesting enough track, we've thrown it at our aural wall two dozen times and we still don't find ourselves singing it in the shower or unable to get it out of our insomniac brain at 3 a.m. And that's what good songs do, they make you remember them and don't let you go to sleep without a battle.
They somehow keep calling you back. Check out Jason Isbell's "Codeine" or Shelby Lynne's "Old No. 7" if you don't get what we're talking about.
There have been maybe 15 Americana records this year LOM has found loaded with unforgettable songs, filled with great hooks and instantly memorable lines we wish we'd written. Prime examples would be Isbell's Here We Rest, KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) by Hayes Carll, Rod Picott's Welding Burns, even the recently released Revelator by Houston's Sideshow Tramps. So far at least, Nothing Here Seems Strange doesn't enter this rarified air.
LOM was talking with a highly recognizable face in the Houston music scene about the album at the Big Top a few days ago and, assuming he would like the record, asked him what we were missing, why it wasn't sticking with us. He shocked us by replying, "I've heard it and I don't get it either."
And then an even bigger shocker: "It's all about aesthetics, not about songs, right now," he opined. "It seems like no one in our age group and in our audience cares all that much about lyrics, it's just about the overall sound and feel, the dynamics.
"It helps if it's some really angst-y woe-is-me stuff, which is probably Buxton's strongest point, but honestly, you could just as well be singing the phone book," he continued. "And I think ultimately quality lyrics, writing great songs, is the biggest problem with a lot of bands trying to break out of here.
"I think we all want to see some Houston bands succeed wildly, that we're pulling for the home team, but at the end of the day there have to some great songs to make that happen."
Admittedly, Buxton is a young, developing, relatively inexperienced band with plenty of growth potential. The band is typically categorized as Americana or alternative country, and nominated for Best Americana in this year's Houston Press Music Awards.
But looking back at the genre's flagship artists, bands like Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Son Volt, and songwriters like Todd Snider, Strange pales in comparison with all those artists' debut albums. All of them contained songs that were instantly memorable and still feel right after all these years.
Frankly, Buxton's record pales beside Carll's first album, the locally produced Flowers and Liquor. Carll may not have been the most polished singer and performer at that early stage, but he had songs that hit and stuck.
New West label head George Fontaine, whom the Houston Press recently named as Local Benefactor of the Year in our annual Best of Houston issue, was taken aback when we voiced our opinion of the album to him over the phone Thursday. LOM laid how we viewed the album straight on the line to him and wanted to hear his take.
"They played in Athens last night and by all reports were very well-received," Fontaine explained.
Buxton is en route to the CMJ convention in New York City, where they will perform at a New West showcase with Houston labelmate Robert Ellis.
"They're a young band, I think they made a good, inexpensive record, their work ethic is solid, so we're hoping that not everyone feels the way you do," Fontaine said. "I've lived with that record and those songs for almost two years now, all the way from the earliest demo stage, and I like it a lot. And I like the reaction they get in their live shows."
"We don't really know what will happen with the young bands we've signed," he added. "Obviously we hope they grow and expand as artists, but who knows what their next record or two will sound like, what direction they may go in since they are all so young."
Fontaine noted that his signing a slew of young bands here - most recently bluesy rockers Grandfather Child - and in Athens, Ga., where he spends a lot of time teaching at the University of Georgia, is part of a company strategy to develop new talent.
"It's always been a joke that New West is a label where you go to die," he laughed. "We've got John Hiatt, who is actually working his tail off for us, we've got Buddy Miller and Delbert McClinton, Steve Earle, and if someone of that quality and stature comes along we'd certainly take a look.
"But we recognize that a youth movement has to be an integral part of our long-term strategy," he said. "And we like all the young bands we've signed, we like the idea of developing from within. I especially like developing locals in Houston and Athens, two towns that have been good to me and that I care a lot about."
"Now the issue becomes which bands have the work ethic and the drive and determination and creativity to get out on the road and develop something that translates outside of the hometown."
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On the subject of bad press, the always gracious and thoughtful Fontaine said, "It comes with the territory and hopefully you're mature enough to grow from it, learn something that will help you next time. Robert [Ellis] only got two stars in USA Today and was upset about it, but that's part of the seasoning all the young bands will have to go through if they're going to be successful in the long run.
"Not everyone is going to love you."