Elaine Greer played a nice set of harmless poppy folk songs at Red Cat, and it was quickly apparent she isn't quite ready for HPMA - her guitar playing is extremely basic and she has occasional rhythm issues. It didn't help that she played this set as a duo; drums and bass fill a lot of holes. The attitude is there, maybe the lyrics are there (very hard to hear her vocals clearly) and Greer seems like a nice, earnest artist who might eventually become the next Maria Taylor, but Sunday it seemed like she was barely past open-mic stage in her development. We walked to Dean's to make a quick comparison with Glenna Bell. We've never been a fan, but her stage presence, vocals, and ability to keep time made it quickly apparent we hadn't been wrong in assessing Greer's greenness. Greer has lots of potential, but no business being in the Best Female Vocalist category this year in my opinion. So, of course, she'll probably win.
It was clear from the stout roadhouse groove Dixie Trahan's band fell into immediately that they were from Texas. Trahan's specialty is that Nashville radio template, and she never strays far from the Lee Ann Womack style with big pipes and a competent if by-the-numbers band. The only problem is zero originality. You've heard this before. While Trahan and her writing partner/husband have a few original songs in the set, it didn't take Aftermath long to realize we were essentially listening to a cover band. A good cover band, but a cover band nonetheless. And the vibe was "let's line dance." We walked to Martell's to catch part of the Snake Charmers and left two songs later with the impression that this is another band that has no business being nominated for anything but "Loud." Hustled over to Dean's and caught the end of Ozeal and the Eulypians' set. The place was packed, Ozeal was up on the bar barking it out, and the crowd was way into it. There was more excitement on stage and in the crowd than all the places we'd been in the past two hours.
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Back at Martell's, Mitch Jacobs and band are tonkin' and twangin' hard. Jacobs goes into his Johnny Cash voice and does a restrained opening to Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" before unleashing his band. The crowd is suddenly his, and ready for him to work his way through his signature song, "Jukebox Music." Aftermath sprinted over to Hard Rock in time to catch the last few songs of Small Sounds. Very impressive. These guys have tightened up and muscled up since the last time we saw them. Katie Stuckey followed, and in fact had three Small Sounds members in her band. As best we can tell, Stuckey hasn't been playing many gigs (one friend of the band said she's "kinda been on hiatus"). Two songs in, Stuckey still sounded like she was trying to knock the rust off, which continued for a couple more songs before Aftermath left. Too many mid-tempo soundalike songs back to back, not much spark, electricity or magnetism. Her few semi-rockers were loud, muddy and mildly irritating.
Fortunately, Los Skarnales and the end of a long day lay just ahead. When the curtain went up at House of Blues, Felipe Galvan and his vatos did what they always do: explode like a neutron bomb. The Skarnales have stage movement down to a science, with three horns jiving at one mic and front man Galvan leaping and dancing in his white patent leather shoes. This was the largest crowd we'd seen all day, and the most active. The floor of House of Blues was a sea of gyration. Los Skarnales seem to bring out all types, the vatos, the bikers, the death metal hardasses, even the cool society girls out slumming. Galvan worked himself and the crowd into a heavy sweat before strolling offstage to a roar of "Uno mas, uno mas." The stage manager gave his approval for an encore, which turned into four more songs. The last time, Galvan looked at the stage manager for permission to do another song, the guy just threw up his hands, looked at the crowd, looked at his watch and gave the go-ahead. It was the highlight of a long, long day of music and walking.