Mp3: The Tontons, “Sea and Stars”

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At 19 or 20, Asli Omar, vocalist for local psych-blues-rockers Tontons, might just be the finest young female vocalist in Houston, possessed of pipes that can shift gears between languid breathiness and heretofore undiscovered metal-melting alloys. You can hear elements of Bjork, Billie Holiday, the Amy Winehouse family of singers (Nina Simone, Esther Phillips, Shirley Bassey), and Norah Jones, but ultimately Asli Omar sounds like Asli Omar. She has the big it factor, a voice you can instantly recognize as hers and hers alone. (Actually, and probably nobody will remember this band, but she reminds me more than a little of Melora Zaner, the singer in the briefly legendary mid’80s Nashville proto-grunge band Raging Fire.)

That said, this Zeppelin-conjuring song as a whole has the feel of a demo. There’s a nice guitar solo, but in the end the song lacks the epic finale Asli’s voice requires.

But putting on my fantasy record producer’s cap, I’m damned if I have any ideas on how I would do better by Omar’s voice. A string section? A jazz band? Dueling grand piano, played by Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway’s ghost? Hmm – maybe all of that together might do. Grade: 85.7 – John Nova Lomax

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