Pete Droge and the Sinners
Find a Door

Pete Droge is a moody sort with a talent for devising simple, pleasant-sounding musical trappings for a rather ugly mess of emotional quandaries. Much of the charm -- and the power -- of the Portland native's subversively addictive debut, Necktie Second, came from this uneasy union of comfort and chaos in songs that often hinted at the more confessional work of laid-back troubled souls such as Gram Parsons and Jackson Browne. Droge pens lax-grooved folk-rock ditties with hooks that smoothly inhabit the memory banks and lyrics that are often as chemically imbalanced as the music seems chemically relaxed -- i.e., the swingingly sullen hit, "If You Don't Love Me, I'll Kill Myself."

Droge has said that the themes on the new Find a Door are even darker than those on Necktie Second, but damned if I can hear it. From the refreshing idealism of the perky, white-soul rocker "Mr. Jade" ("You need love that's gonna last a lifetime / So you can have it made in the shade Mr. Jade") to the boozy self-contentment of "Brakeman" to the cutesy innocence of "Out with You," most of Find a Door skips along on a near-giddy vibe -- for Droge, at least. With the aid of his fine band, the Sinners, he kicks up the musicianship and the momentum, the leaden pace of his last release replaced with a jumpy, midtempo groove. Find a Door also benefits from a mild decorative touch: rousing brass accompaniment colors "Mr. Jade," while slick slide guitar illuminates "Wolfgang" and the shamelessly Top 40 "That Ain't Right." These are modest extras, but they're fun nonetheless, adding dimension to Droge's proven formula.

Make no mistake, problems of all kinds -- torn relationships, substance abuse, complacency, depression -- inhabit Find a Door. But they're balanced with a healthy degree of optimism, the occasional caring word and the sort of radiant melodies that can cure even the nastiest case of the blues. (*** 1/2)

-- Hobart Rowland

Prescott Curleywolf
Six Ways to Sunday

As Kinky Friedman warned us in "The Ballad of Charles Whitman," "There's still a lot of Eagle Scouts around." Somehow, I think he may have been anticipating Prescott Curleywolf.

If you've caught one of the handful of Houston performances by Austin's enfants terribles since their self-produced CD, Dang, came out last year, you know that it would be hard to find four young Americans who look more wholesome and clean-cut -- and whose sound so totally belies their appearance. On Six Ways to Sunday, the group's major-label debut, Prescott Curleywolf continues to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the field of highly original, hard-driving, drug-crazed rock and roll. "Spaceman" begins the album by pounding the listener with sledgehammer guitars and screams about waving around bloody shirts. "Celebrate Ray," a cynical, sardonic anthem for stupid little people living stupid little lives, is reprised here from Dang. The rest of Six Ways to Sunday offers new samples of the band's collaborative songwriting talents. Credit for the tunes is given to the group as a whole rather than divided between the individual members, which implies there's no point in singling out any one member of Prescott Curleywolf for his own particular brand of dementia. Trust me, these are four equally sick puppies. (***)

-- Jim Sherman

R.L. Burnside
A Ass Pocket of Whiskey

Recorded in one afternoon in the Holly Springs, Mississippi hometown of 69-year-old blues great R.L. Burnside, A Ass Pocket of Whiskey documents a single noisy, spirited session between Burnside, his sideman Kenny Brown and the punk-bred blues reconstructionist trio, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The pairing of the Blues Explosion -- led by a white Ivy League dropout turned downtown New York scuz who only poses as a hard-living blues rocker -- and Burnside, the last of the real down-home badass blues men of the Mississippi hills, is strange. But somehow, it seems appropriate. And the moments of pure musical chaos caught on this CD -- both cross-cultural and cross-generational -- sound entirely within the realm of both acts.

Along with Junior Kimbrough, Burnside is the primary exponent of a blues tradition from the remote woods of northeastern Mississippi, one completely removed from the familiar 12-bar boogie of Chicago blues. Burnside's blues build linearly around one raw riff that drones on, free of chord changes, in a way that's closer to trance music than the guitar-solo blues of beer commercials. On A Ass Pocket Of Whiskey, the unsophisticated toughness of songs such as "Goin' Down South" and "Shake 'Em on Down" makes for thrillingly punk-styled blues. It's just the sort of thing the Blues Explosion approaches from the other direction.

With its unorthodox accompaniment (including wheezy theremin, keyboards and Spencer's trademark shouts), this CD is probably not the most fitting introduction to Burnside. But the oldest man ever to record for the hip indie label Matador would no doubt gladly sacrifice juke joint obscurity for the chance to appear on MTV's 120 Minutes. (*** 1/2)

-- Roni Sarig

Country Dick Montana
The Devil Lied to Me
Bar/None Records

Have you heard the one about Country Dick Montana?
He's dead.
But before the wildman who single-handedly inspired San Diego's way-weird post-punk movement died of throat cancer last year, he assembled a lifetime's worth of friends and musical collaborators to record a pounding, growling, profane assault on all that's decent. Montana spent his life pissing on convention from a high altitude, and his final statement is delivered with considerable volume, pressure and accuracy. And despite the heaping portions of gleeful raunch served up here, there are moments of exquisite tenderness -- especially "Anywhere" and "I Wanted You to Know" -- delivered in Montana's deep-throated growl. Fortunately, the sentimentality is immediately followed by the raucous lunacy that marked Montana's career. Mojo Nixon raises frenzied hell with his longtime friend and drummer on "Green Door," while Candye Kane proves that her biggest-slut-in-the-business persona makes her the perfect backup singer for Montana, who was a bigger slut than she'll ever be.

Don't cry for Montana; he had more fun in his 40 years than the rest of us put together could dream of. His self-produced musical autobiography is a celebration, not a somber obituary. Get severely altered and grin all the way through "Trendy Shitbag" and "The Only Whore Around." Rest assured, Dick would have wanted it that way. (**** 1/2)

-- Jim Sherman

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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Hobart Rowland
Roni Sarig
Jim Sherman