Texas is one of the few places where country music can evolve and even prosper outside Nashville's evil influence. For proof positive of the artistic benefits of working outside the confines of Music Row, look no further than Kimmie Rhodes.
In the simplest biographical sketch, one could say that Rhodes is a housewife and mother who lives near Austin and makes albums, writes songs and plays occasional shows. All that's true enough. But it hardly gives you any idea of how Rhodes has become, as her new album suggests, Rich from the Journey.
And what a journey. Rhodes is a West Texas gal who came to songwriting and music later than most; it seems her primary motivation for picking up a guitar is that, simply put, she had music in her that had to come out. She has since gained a cult following among Texas music aficionados in the Lone Star State as well as in Europe, and her songs have been covered by her neighbor and friend Willie Nelson, not to mention by NashVegas stars such as Trisha Yearwood. And for good reason. There's an appealing purity to Rhodes's music, a purity that's matched by her clear, ringing bell of a voice.
As one listens to the modest yet friendly tracks on Rich from the Journey, one sometimes trips on sentiments that seem a bit too naive. Yet Rhodes has the same gift found in Dolly Parton's early songs: a love of and reverence for the simple things in life, and a way of expressing them that can conquer even cynical ears.
Rhodes, unlike some musicians, doesn't put a Berlin Wall between her artistic and personal lives. Her family is part of the music. Her husband, Joe Gracey, was once Austin's most influential progressive country DJ (before he lost his voice to throat cancer) and the scene's first adventurous record producer. He serves the same role with Kimmie, while their son, Gabe, is a gifted multi-instrumentalist who adds a layer of richness to her recorded songs. This is the kind of music you could take home to Mom and know she's gonna like it. -- Rob Patterson
Kimmie Rhodes performs Thursday, May 4, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. For more information, call (713)528-5999.
Blackhawk -- "Country," when defined as twangy tales of love gone bad, melodramatic and mundane relationships, and emotional invalids who cry tears in their beers for the ones that got away, has no place in Blackhawk's repertoire. This band prefers an attitude that's a little bit country and a whole lotta rock.
This stance has gained a following. Henry Paul, Blackhawk lead singer/guitarist, was one of the original members of the Outlaws, a Southern rock band from the '70s that quickly attracted a crowd, opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd, before signing a deal with Clive Davis of Arista Records as the label's first rock band.
Paul left the group for a solo career, reunited with some of his Outlaws in the late '80s and then in 1989 formed Blackhawk, which includes co-writer Dave Robbins, plus Bobby Huff, Dale Oliver and Randy Threet. (Former member Van Stephenson is battling cancer.) The band's 1994 self-titled debut included the hit "Every Once in a While." Since then, 14 singles have landed on the country Top 40 charts, and Blackhawk has scored a double-platinum record.
Blackhawk performs from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 6, at Robertson Stadium, 3100 Cullen, at the University of Houston, and will perform the National Anthem before the Houston Marshals' Spring Football League game with the Miami Tropics. Game tickets, $5, $12, $18 and $25, which include the concert, are available at Ticketmaster outlets or through the Marshals' office, (713)522-4603. (Cathy Anne Pletcher Baker)