King-size effort... Last week, I hastily tossed out the remark that Horseshoe's new King of the World -- which came into my hands minutes before deadline -- topped my list of candidates for local CD of the year. For once, a rash judgment has proven to be a good judgment. Now that I've had seven days to digest and reflect upon World's 74-minute jumble of moods, styles, textures and lyrical punch lines, my opinion (for the most part) hasn't budged an inch. Brimming with wry, inventive songwriting and an earthy, uninhibited sense of self-discovery, World ought to stay perched on its rung high above the Houston heap until year's end.

In fact, I'd venture to say that a fat portion of King of the World can -- and will -- hold its own against any Texas-bred rock release '96 has to offer. Its best moments are at least as impressive as Crow Pot Pie, this year's fine roots-twang effort from Denton's Slobberbone, and its ingredients are a good deal more varied. At 22 songs, World is a lot to swallow at once, its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach eliciting a mixed, yet ultimately satisfied, response. A hearty, overstuffed bundle of stylistic loose ends and random excellence, the CD's influences range from straight-laced C&W (Johnny Cash, Hank Williams) to longhaired, Southern-fried boogie (Little Feat, Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd) to late '60s psychedelia and British Invasion rock and roll (check out the tidy, Kinks-ish quality of the backing vocals). There's even an instance on World ("Germany") in which Horseshoe slides neck-deep into '70s folk-rock syrup, sounding momentarily like (egad!) America. Yet somehow, they emerge relatively unscathed. It seems no crazy idea escaped the studio -- and all of it made King of the World's final cut.

"We packed it," says Horseshoe vocalist Greg Wood. "I think there was only ten seconds left on the CD. The thing took so long to make that we figured, 'What the hell?' It's got demos, it's got outtakes, along with the finished stuff."

About the only thing King of the World lacks is restraint. The disc is in need of an editor. Efficient slices of brilliant, melody-driven hillbilly rock mark the CD's first eight songs, only to be followed by a hit-and-miss string of several highs and a few lows. Sloppy, half-assed throwaways (one track, "Summer," includes a flubbed first take) are thrown together with well-crafted, well-executed mini-anthems (one stellar example, "Saints," would have fit comfortably on a mid-'70s Skynyrd release) and quirky acoustic numbers.

Most of the material on King of the World was recorded in the Houston studio of Horseshoe compadre Randy Woodard, drummer for the Deadbeats, with the mixing done at Sound Arts. While the production is clean and professional, it's never obtrusive, adding to the CD's impulsive feel. Trimmed back to a more marketable length, King of the World could land Horseshoe in the good graces of a major label. Even as is, it's an audacious gob of hits and misses -- with many more of the former than of the latter.

Reunion on disc... Though foreign gigs have been commonplace, Houston's rockabilly rowdies the Road Kings have been trying to keep a low profile at home, as band leader Jesse Dayton nurses his solo career. But apparently, demand for Road Kings product has outweighed domestic concerns. The band has decided to document its infrequent reunion shows with an upcoming live release. This comes after low-quality bootlegs of performances began showing up in Europe and Japan, where the demand for rockabilly is huge. Live tracks will be culled from the Friday and Saturday shows at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, as well as from this spring's reunion gig at the club. Justice Records CEO Randall Jamail is recording the CD for release on his European label, Alter Ego. The disc, which will be distributed domestically by Justice (Dayton's home), will be titled, fittingly, Live at the Satellite. Expect to see it in stores come January.

Etc.... To clear up any confusion for those perplexed attendees of the October 2 Verbal Abuse show at the Abyss, that was not Houston's own Manhole warming up the stage, but a (rather lame) Los Angeles band with the same moniker. Our Manhole has been laying low lately, hunkered down in the studio working on new material with a fresh lineup that includes new members Greg Petito (ex-Stain) on guitar, Ryan McDonough (ex-Turpentine Dream) on drums and Michael Heath (ex-Disillusioned) on bass, along with founding members Alison Gibson and Eev Rodriguez.

Looking for an excuse to travel west? Local bands Pull My Finger and Shed have been picked to perform at Austin's Electric Lounge Thursday for the regional portion of the Ticketmaster Showcase for unsigned bands. A few jazz events worth looking into: saxophone ace Roger Eckstine will make a special appearance Sunday at the Boat Yard, and Wednesday, Tokyo-born classically trained keyboardist Keiko Matsui visits Rockefeller's with a contemporary jazz repertoire that is lush, well-crafted and finely detailed. The Austin-based Texas Folklife Resources is behind the free true country shindig Saturday at Miller Outdoor Theatre featuring local acts the Hollisters and Mary Cutrufello, along with Cornell Hurd and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Houston metal/rap outfit Aftershock celebrates the release of its heavy-hitting, self-titled debut Wednesday at the Urban Art Bar. And if it's bleak fun you want, dip into the numbing industrial madness of Thrill Kill Kult Sunday at Numbers. A brief scheduling note for those dim souls who haven't figured it out already: Rage Against the Machine's September 22 date at the Summit has been moved to Sunday.

-- Hobart Rowland

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Hobart Rowland