>The Small Stars' roster includes "Guy Fantasy," "Buddy Llamas" and "Richard Steele" (think about it), the alter egos of Fastball's Miles Zuniga, Jeff Groves and friends, who all remain in costumed character on stage. Surprisingly, their second record,Tijuana Dreams
, brings not jokey lounge-lizard shtick but great pop-rock with dashes of Tex-Mex. In the first half, songs like "Let's Hit the Town," "Day Job" and "Girl Trouble" address the sort of post-graduation Austinite ennui all too real to thousands who grab a diploma but never leave town, disappearing into jobs at offices, coffeehouses and used CD stores. It's all covered in a coat of shimmering pop.
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The CD's second half takes a turn toward Mexico with tales of drug busts, grain alcohol-soaked nights and rolling dice. Highlights here are "That's What God Made Whiskey For" (with guest vocalist Joe Ely) and "Carnival," in which an illicit affair takes on a fun, magical tone amidst cotton candy and rides, set to a melody straight from the Drifters. "Carnival," in fact, is the finest track on Tijuana Dreams. At this point, the Small Stars' self-described mixture of "Frank Sinatra meets Mott the Hoople" is still a humorous side project, but their recorded effort hints at something that will outlive the ruffled-shirt-and-sunglasses stage look.