No rest for the wicked. On the heels of last week's Houston Press Music Awards showcase and ceremony comes this weekend's two-day Free Press Houston Summerfest, not to mention George Strait, Green Day and Chris Isaak. Suddenly, it's not hard to believe at all that Houston can make a go of it as a bona fide music town — or maybe it already is. Going through the stacks of recent local releases, it certainly seems that way. Most of these are available at local record stores or will be soon, but the best way to track them down is probably online (see box).
Trust us, there's more where this came from.
recent Houston releases
Buxton, "Feathers"/"Flint": As of this two-song EP, released on 7-inch vinyl, Buxton is no longer a baby band. The La Porte quartet adds a ragged roots-rock edge to the sunny indie-folk of last year's A Family Light LP on both songs, which in turn grapple with some very adult situations in the lyrics. They're not quite up to Wilco's level of alt-country angst, but give 'em a couple more years.
DJ Lion-O & the Naked Troubadors, Dirty Desires: Some people accuse dance music of rampant hedonism, and...well, songs like "Eightball Queen," "Stripper Girl" and "Dance Naked" probably aren't going to change anyone's mind. Lion-O and friends' music is a little chilly for such pleasure-seeking titles, but there's enough steamy guitar to get Depeche Mode and Ghostland Observatory fans off the makeout-room couches and onto the dance floor. Maybe.
Electric Attitude, Laser Laser Laser Beams EP: Electric Attitude may hail from Houston, but there's some serious Detroit mojo running through the quartet's veins — the Detroit of the White Stripes and Electric Six, not Iggy and the MC5. Cross-breeding Blake Shepherd's lusty, high-pitched yowl and sprawling guitar with thumpingly precise rhythms — the band's MySpace page credits a drum machine, the EP jacket live human being Adam Gilleland; it could be either one — "City's Gonna Get You, Sucka!" and "Pistolwhip" stop off at Little Steven's Underground Garage on their way to the dance floor. Potent stuff.
Robert Glasper, Double-Booked: Houston-born pianist Robert Glasper is in demand — Double-Booked is bookended with voice mails from jazz eminence Terence Blanchard and Roots drummer ?uestlove both requesting his services. The first half of his third Blue Note CD, out August 25, is pleasant cocktail-brunch piano jazz recorded with his trio; the second half belongs to the "Robert Glasper Experiment," which brings in Mos Def, neo-soul crooner Bilal and DJ Jah! Sundance for some funkier excursions into Rhodes-dusted R&B territory.
Chase Hamblin, A Fine Time EP: In a word, Chase Hamblin's five-song A Fine Time is fab. Its heavy post-Sgt. Pepper's vibe extends from the pristine production and sweeping melodies to Hamblin's Lennonesque vocals and flowery lyrics. But it's no blatant Beatles knockoff either — the shifty surf guitar in "Think of the Good Times" and Nuggets-like psych-pop of "Never Let You Go" make sure of that.
Hell City Kings, Road to Damnation: Show up at a Hell City Kings show and you might get hurt. The Houston five-piece's new full-length comes on like a full-on brawl between the Misfits, Turbonegro and Social Distortion, all chainsaw riffs and lyrics obsessed with death and destruction. It's music for binge drinking, making bad decisions with the opposite sex and most likely waking up in jail. With titles like "Scumbags and Scallywags" and "Soundtrack to the Apocalypse," you were expecting Death Cab for Cutie?
Smoking Spore, Smoking Spore: Noise has no idea who Smoking Spore is — this CD just showed up in a paper sleeve with the band's Web site written in Sharpie — but he has a feeling if you sniff around Last Concert Cafe long enough, they'll probably show up. These four improvisational guitar jams have a strong whiff of Hendrix and Joe Satriani, so they do go on a bit, and your patience may be affected by how many spores you've ingested yourself.
Springfield Riots, Say When EP: In the not too distant future, it's not hard to imagine a song or two from this Houston quintet's Say When EP showing up on one of those high-school water-cooler CW shows like Gossip Girl or 90210. The shimmering melodies and lush arrangements will no doubt remind hipster kids of Pitchfork faves like Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes, while thirtysomethings can appreciate the musical allusions to My Morning Jacket and early-'90s shoegaze outfits such as Ride. Either way, several songs on Say When, organ-fueled drunken waltz "Hollow Romance" chief among them, are first-rate examples of contemporary indie-rock songcraft.
Thee Armada, Sweet Tease EP: With Sweet Tease, Thee Armada seizes the upper hand from Mechanical Boy in their continuing struggle to become the first Houston band to break through to pop radio. Honestly, Noise is at least ten years too old to really get into this sort of Fall Out Boy/Panic! at the Disco mall-rock, but we'd still bet "Train to Tokyo" or "Magnet to Misery" could win a few rounds of KRBE's nightly "New Music Face Off."
The Tontons, The Tontons: Through no fault of their own, the Tontons have backed themselves into a corner. Expectations surrounding the local quartet's first full-length have grown so great that delivering anything less than another Daydream Nation will probably be counted as a disappointment in some quarters. Give them a break. Yes, Asli Omar's beguiling vocals ("1816," "Leon") could cover up a lot of greenness if they had to, but her three bandmates' musicianship has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year too. The indie-rock roll of "Dancing" (where Omar coos, "I'll fix you if you let me"), spaghetti-western gallop of "Cocked Eye Cowboys of Coleco County" and fuzz-bomb blast of "Desperados," to name three, show there's real talent here. The Tontons pass their first real test with a solid B+.
Brian Courtney Wilson, Just Love: Slow jams for Jesus. Signed to the gospel wing of the House That Beyoncé Built, Houston's Music World Entertainment, Wilson gives inspirational music a decidedly contemporary R&B gloss. Most of the songs on Just Love are reflective ballads similar to Maxwell or Avant — or Luther, for you older listeners — but "No Other" injects some hip-hop bounce that should get worshippers on their feet.
Johnny Winter, The Johnny Winter Anthology: Beaumont-born guitar slinger Johnny Winter was always more of a straight bluesman than hard-rocking "Frankenstein" brother Edgar, and this hefty but flawed Shout! Factory anthology (one of many released this decade) makes that abundantly clear. Missing are the more acoustic musings from early Winter albums like 1969's Second Winter, as well as anything from the three superb records he produced for and played with Muddy Waters on. What is here, though, especially the live stuff — "Good Morning Little School Girl," "Hideaway," a medley of early rock and roll hits — positively smokes.
Where to find these artists on the Web:
DJ Lion-O & the Naked Troubadors:
Electric Attitude: www.myspace.com/electricattitude
Robert Glasper: www.robertglasper.com
Chase Hamblin: www.chasehamblin.com
Hell City Kings: www.myspace.com/hellcitykings
Smoking Spore: www.smokingspore.com
Springfield Riots: www.myspace.com/springfieldriot
Thee Armada: www.myspace.com/theearmadamusic
The Tontons: www.thetontons.com
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Brian Courtney Wilson: www.myspace.com/brianwilsonmusic
Johnny Winter: www.johnnywinter.net
The Tontons play 1:10 p.m. Saturday, August 8, on the Summer Fest stage at Free Press Houston's Summer Fest in Eleanor Tinsley Park, 1800 Allen Parkway. Chase Hamblin plays 12:35 p.m. Sunday, August 9, on Summer Fest's Free Press Houston stage, and Buxton plays 4:20 p.m. on the Summer Fest stage. See www.pegstar.net or www.freepresshouston.com for ticket information.