Hot Sounds, Summer in the City

Oh shit, summer's here. And you thought the highs were going to stay in the '80s? Hah. Welcome to the jungle, baby. Now you're gonna die.

Anyway, being a born procrastinator, I didn't get around to a spring cleaning until what passes for spring down here in the subtropics was all over. And for me, a spring cleaning involves scooping up all the local CDs that have been piling up on my desk since the start of the year, culling the best I haven't already squawked about in print elsewhere and penning a few words about them.


Houston local releases

So away we go...

Hilary Sloan
Images from Hard Luck Town

Wow. We all knew Sloan, the sister of Miss Leslie of Juke Jointer fame, had this in her, but it's still always at least a little bit surprising when a huge talent truly comes into its own. Sloan sings like an angel and fiddles like that demon who kicked Charlie Daniels's ass on this all-too-short collection of twangy styles ranging from cowboy jazz ("If We're All the Same") to brooding, reverb-heavy Appalachian rock ("Valley of Shadows") to Sinéad O'Connor-ish Celtic-tinged dirges ("Midnight on the Stormy Deep"). When Sloan's dark, as on "Midnight...," she's really dark, and when she dances, she does so like nobody's looking, as on "Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." There's also an elegy to Rachel Corrie, the American activist crushed in the West Bank by an Israeli bulldozer. And "Hard Luck Town" is a cantering waltz to which anyone who has clocked a few years on this city's music scene can relate: "If I could get out of this town / oh Lord I'd find me a place where I could settle down," she sings in her honeyed alto, "Stop drinking and running around / if I could get of this town / this heavy and hard luck old town." This disc is a triumph, people.

Hilary Sloan plays Thursday, June 21, at the Last Concert Cafe, 1403 Nance St. Later that night, she will play the Big Top, 3700 Main. She is also playing June 23 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main.

Billy Cook
The Truth

Modern R&B singer Billy Cook is a superstar. Just ask him; he'll tell you as much. Houston's slightly more thugged-out answered to R. Kelly kind of deserves the accolade, as he's been singing hooks for many of the city's top rappers going all the way back to Big Mike's 1993 classic Somethin' Serious. (That's the 17-year-old Cook on "Get Over That.") The gospel-raised Cook does have an amazing tenor, even if he lapses into more than occasional melismapaloozas. "Rep the South Side" has a chilled vibe that suits the quasi-rural southern fringe of Houston, while "Rollin'" has a bit of a bhangra feel. Bun B drops in on the club banger "Slab on Blades"; Trae on a couple more; Chamillionaire on "Claimin' They Gangsta." "Lil' Strippa" builds a slinky pole anthem off a sample of the Isley Brothers' stellar cover of "Summer Breeze." Hard to imagine Seals and Crofts had jigglin', wigglin' apple bottoms in mind when they wrote that soft rock classic, but whatever, it works.

The Freddie Steady 5

A La Porte native and long-term resident of Austin, Freddie "Steady" Krc has worn many hats over the years. He's put in many years banging the skins for Jerry Jeff Walker, backed both Roky Erickson and Roger Waters, and released a mess of solo albums with a few different backing combos. He's also big overseas, especially in London and Prague, the capital of his ancestral homeland. Tex-Pop is a classic example of succinct truth in advertising. The underlying principles of power-pop — short, sharp songs, catchy melodies, copious jangle, snappy tempos, heaping helpings of harmonies — are energy-boosted here with generous shots of Texas essence (Texessence?), and the result is the perfect album for a Hill Country Saturday-night dance party. "Le Jardin de Lumiere" is a midtempo rocker that made me think of Rodney Crowell, while songs like "Tin Whistle & a Wooden Drum," "London" and "What's So Hard About Love" feature that pillar of both the British Invasion and Tex-Mex rock — the Vox Continental organ.

The Freddie Steady 5 releases Tex-Pop Saturday, June 23, at PJ's Sports Bar, 614 W. Gray, 713-520-1748. Jenny Wolfe and the Pack — young teenaged graduates of Natural Ear, Austin's school of rock — open the show.

The Church of Philadelphia
The Church of Philadelphia EP

This moody and gently dramatic sextet doesn't really sound like anything else from Houston right now, and they are not, really — they hail from The Woodlands. They remind me a bit of another (partial) Woodlands export — the Arcade Fire. Especially when the Arcade Fire is at its most anthemic and orchestral, more on their infrared, arena-friendly Joshua Tree/Springsteen end and less on the ultraviolet Talking Heads/early New Order end of their spectrum. The Church of Philadelphia's melodic-‘n'-melancholic music is hushed, and oddly autumnal, its ambient Eno-esque organ texture, plinking piano, acoustic guitar and heavy cymbal wash very much at odds with the feel of a Houston summer. Call their music "aural November." (This EP was recorded in cool, rainy Portland, and it sounds it.) And that is definitely not a bad thing — "This Time Around" coalesces all this best, and is one of the better rock singles to come out of this area in the last few years. The song and the band are a great fit for the Paste set, and both are far better than the often mediocre music that mag touts every issue. Come to think of it, both Paste and The Church of Philadelphia share the same fault — they are both at least a little bit too polite. I don't often make this criticism, but The Church of Philadelphia could stand to be a bit more grandiloquent and flamboyant. "This Time Around" appears to be headed for a climax as gloriously reckless as that of the Arcade Fire's "Wake Up," but instead, the song pulls back and settles for a safe landing. So I'm gonna go down on my knees in The Church of Philadelphia and light a candle for more huge choruses, out-of-nowhere tempo changes and esoteric bombastica, please.

The Church of Philadelphia opens for Canada and the Papermoons Sunday, July 1, at the Proletariat, 903 Richmond, 713-523-1199.

The Octanes
Lucky Seven

This trio of local roots-rock all-stars (guitarist Adam Burchfield, drummer Steve Candelari and either of the two upright bassists Buddy "Demon" Bradley or Nick Gaitan) have the cure for the high gas price blues — revved-up, rockabilly-tinged hot rod rock. After stints backing Sonny Boy Terry, Snit Fitzpatrick, Tony Vega, Dave Nevling and Kim Carson, Burchfield steps front and center in this seven-song collection. Burchfield's fat hollow-body guitar tone, musical interests, pompadoured black hair and general appearance, and even his voice (a little bit), put me in mind of a younger Dave Gonzalez of the Paladins, and Lucky Seven reminds me a bit of that group's first album, which came before they truly learned to swing. Not to say the Octanes can't swing — "Brandin' Iron Blues" is exhibit A for the defense against that charge — it's just that few roots-rock bands did it as well as the Paladins circa Years Since Yesterday. Burchfield's singing is serviceable; his lyrical skills better than that. "Life Sol" and "Something's Gotta Change" both show a knack for penning memorable choruses.

The Octanes perform Sunday, June 24, at Blanco's, 3406 W. Alabama, 713-439-0072. They are also playing Tuesday, June 26, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9666.

KB Da Kidnappa
Spittin' Venom

Sick of shallow, cartoonish rap about candy paint, Vogues and drank? Want to hear cerebral lyrics delivered with 100 percent conviction, lived-in and lived-out ghetto tales with a moralistic bent over innovative beats? Look no further than Galveston-born, Trinity Gardens-bred KB da Kidnappa, a K-Rino protégé and a former member of the Street Military clique. KB has a distinct voice/delivery — he enunciates crisply, and his sheer volume has earned him the nickname "Thunda Lungz." "Wood Grain Grippin'," a collaboration with Z-Ro and Trae, charges like a rhino — it'll make you want to smack your granny. Big Doc slangs a mess of interesting beats — "Wood Grain" and "Go Grind" are intricate tapestries of fire, while "Don't Be a Slave" features synthesized steel drums in a milieu that is far, very far, from Margaritaville.

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