Tuesday, October 12, 2010

CD Reviews

Paula Held


The debut release by Paula Held is a long time coming. It seems she’s been dabbling in music her whole life, but it wasn’t until she moved to Austin that she assembled a world-class group of players to lay down Drive. What she’s released is an adult contemporary jazzy record the likes of Joni Mitchell or Norah Jones.

“I Need To Drive” begins the album with a song that would be perfect for an easy cruise down one of Central Texas’ backroads. The second track, “Shoop Ta Sho” sounds like it could double musically for Rickie Lee Jones’ “Chuck E's In Love.” I love the descriptive wordplay of “Watermelon Moon Eye.”

My favorite track on Drive has got to be “Tumbleweed Heart.” It reminds me of “Sweet Butterfly” by Stanley Smith. It’s one of those unexpected love songs. “He had a tumbleweed heart, across the desert he whirled, and he spun like a top till all at once he stopped for a sagebrush girl.”

The entire album is certainly a departure from what I’m used to hearing from Austin bands. A welcome one. I’d place this more in the “timeless folk” arena. Held’s music seems it should be played in a listening room, like the Cactus Café (where her CD release show occurred recently).

Also, The cast of players on the Stephen Doster produced Drive is pretty impressive. It includes local players the likes of Doster (guitar), Chris Maresh (double bass), Red Young (keys), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Dennis Ludiker (strings) and J.J. Johnson (drums).

Held is donating 10% of all CD sales to local charity Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM). For more information on Paula Held, visit her website

The Mother Truckers

Van Tour

World Records

Any album that begins with an old-school sounding rocker celebrating the end of the world would fit into the category of interestingly different in my book. But then you add that it’s a release from the good-time blues and country-twinged dual-vocalist group The Mother Truckers and it all makes sense.

If you’re a fan of Austin music you’ve heard of these folks. They’ve been in town for the last five years (transplants from California) and in that time they’ve built quite the following. In fact their official fan club is called “Go Truck Yourself!) I first caught them at Scholz Beer Garten in 2007 during a party hosted by Texas Music Magazine. Their live performance is as interesting as the fantastic lyrics and vocals of husband and wife team Teal Collins and Josh Zee. And while you can’t bottle a live show, they did a pretty good job of capturing the feeling on tape with Van Tour.

As mentioned, “Alien Girl” kicks Van Tour off with a bang. Collins’ sexy powerhouse vocals almost make you forget she’s talking about blowing up the world… well… at least she’s taking us with her. They slow the rock down for “Keep It Simple,” which evokes a classic blues jam. A science lesson is given in “Size of the Sun.” Speaking of sun, the fun-in-the-sun memories of California come out in “Summer of Love.” And anyone who’s been in a band will appreciate the tongue-in-cheek rocker “Van Tour”

The key to The Mother Trucker’s sound is the fantastic guitar playing of Zee. That, along with the backing of bassist (and Austin music veteran) Danny G and drums by Pete “The Beat” Langhans, make for a full sound.

My favorite track is “Break-Up Sex” where Zee comes on like a carnival barker bekoning Collins’ sultry singing. “You know you make me crazy, and I know I make you crazy. But, you know I love you.” Incidentally, this song is part of an online poll if you’d like to hear and vote.

The album ends with a sweet little ditty called “Half The Time” which pretty much sums life up with the lyrics “Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing and the other half I don’t care.”

If you’ve not heard The Mother Truckers yet, Van Tour is a nice introduction, but I really recommend you catching them live. For more information on The Mother Truckers, visit their Website -

Trashy and the Kid

Songs In The Key of Blow Me

Immoral Records

Unapologetic, somewhat vulgar, angry, and self-deprecating… these are a few words that would describe the Austin-based punk band Trashy and the Kid (TATK). But that should be pretty apparent when considering the name of the album… Songs in the Key of Blow Me.

For those who know the band… you’re aware above description is actually a compliment. With their first full-length album, TATK presents eleven tracks of Alice Cooper meets Guns and Roses meets Iggy Pop punk rock and roll. Five of the songs on this album are revamped versions of songs from their Run For Your Life EP. I’m glad they included them because the band members are vastly different then those on the EP and a quality studio production really fleshes out the songs well.

The album kicks off with “Poledancer’s Circus” where they welcome their “wicked children.” Other titles which have titles as interesting as the songs are “Rampant Sex on the Hell Train” and “Little Dirty Daughter,” both improved tracks from their first EP. The other three from the EP that appear here are “Kid,” “Dar Al Harb,” and “Run For Your Life.”

The funny-to-me “Cult Next Door” reminds that no matter how bad you think someone is… they’re likely better than someone else’s neighbor. If you’ve ever wondered what serial killers may be thinking perhaps “Lara” is the song for you. “Hands are Tied” explores an S&M relationship. “I Don’t Give A F@#$” sounds oddly like Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” They also do a rocked-out Dresden Doll cover with “Half Jack.”

Although “Cult Next Door” is pretty fantastic, my favorite track on this album (and live for that matter) remains “Dar Al Harb.” It begins with a Winston Churchill’s words of hope from December 24, 1941. But the sing-along worthy lyrics are what captured me from the beginning.

“General Custard was a hell of a man. He walked into the bar with his soul in his hand / And sure I believe that it will all go to plan / I built this house why make me burn it down?”

For me, “Dar Al Harb” took special meaning when, at their CD release party, a fan dressed in his military uniform was screaming word for word and ended up on stage with the band.

TATK’s bio on MySpace mentions they conceived this band after hearing just how bad “Cold” by Crossfade was. Trashy and the Kid is coming to save rock and roll… or perhaps keep it from being “saved” and making sure it continues to survive in the hearts of the fans and fears of the parents.

Find out more about Trashy and the Kid on their Website (

Alejandro Escovedo

Street Songs of Love

Released on June 29, Alejandro Escovedo’s new offering is everything a fan could hope for and much more. Twelve fantastic Escovedo-penned tracks with that signature Tom Petty-meets-Ray Wylie Hubbard feel to it. It’s rock and roll with a punk vibe to it.

Austinites may already be familiar with these tunes, as Escovedo and his band The Sensitive Boys worked them out during a two-month residency at Continental Club in late 2009.

He has been touted as one of music’s “best kept secrets.” I always thought that was a foolish phrase. Nobody wants to be a musical secret. There are no secrets, just bands you’ve not been introduced to as of yet. Escovedo is ten albums deep into his career that has spanned 40 years. Those who know good music know him. Be it from his family lineage (he’s Uncle to Sheila E. and brothers Coke and Pete are amazing percussionists), his previous bands The Nuns (1970s), Rank and File (1980s), or the fact that in 1998 he was named “artist of the decade” in No Depression magazine. If you’ve never heard of him, consider this review to be an open invitation.

Best-kept-secrets aside, Escovedo is well known and respected in the music community. This becomes pretty apparent when considering the guest vocalists on Street Songs of Love. The Boss himself (Bruce Springsteen) lends vocals on the fun jam “Faith.” Ian Hunter (Mott The Hoople) helps with powerful love song “Down In The Bowery.” He also taps local up-and-comer Nakia Reynoso to do some background vocals.

Street Songs of Love begins with “Anchor,” a catchy love song with a nice chugga-chugga rhythem to it. “This Bed is Getting Crowded” is an in-your-face infidelity song. The title track is probably my favorite song lyrically. The aforementioned “Down In The Bowery” sounds like the Rolling Stones could have cut it. The trippy “Tula” has a snakelike charm to it. The album ends with a wonderful instrumental entitled “Fort Worth Blue.”

The track that really caught my ear is “Tender Heart.” The lyrics are infectious and the music hit me like the first time I heard “Everybody Wants You” by Billy Squier. “I got a tender heart / you want my tender heart? / I got nothing you need / and everything you want.” Incidentally, upon first listen, when this song came on my three year-old yelled from the back seat “Turn it up, this is my favorite song.”

If you don’t listen to me, listen to my daughter… she knows good music.

You can pick up Street Songs of Love pretty much anywhere in the world but it you go to his Website you can pick up a digital version plus physical CD for just $13.99. Learn more about Alejandro Escovedo at

Ugly Elephant

Ugly Elephant

In 2008 a jazz-meets-funk instrumental band called Ugly Elephant formed after a conversation between musicians at Austin’s Eeyore’s Birthday Party. The five piece band has been playing around town at venues like Ruta Maya, Headhunters, and Red Eyed Fly. On Thursday August 5 they will be heading into their three-night at three-venue CD release party.

I’m not really a jazz enthusiast. My knowledge of jazz is pretty much confined to The Cosby Show and the times I wander into the Elephant Room. That is to say, I enjoy the genre, but I’m not the guy who can pick apart a freestyle jam. I do appreciate the collective sound it produces. I’m a dabbler.

Ugly Elephant’s debut self-titled CD is something I could truly get into. I’d call it “accessible jazz.” It’s more jam band music that happens when musicians who truly have an extreme knowledge of their instruments and craft get together and let loose.

The first track, “Africa” kicks in with a nice baseline before the wa-wa guitar and horn fills it out. “Dorkus Rex” features my favorite moment on this CD when it breaks the freeform jam to play about 30 seconds of a 1960s sock-hop groove. “Whole Lotta Nasty” features a killer guitar jam. The final track, “The Metal Song” comes in full force, but then pulls back into a flute and keyboard driven track that would make Ray Manzarek smile.

If you’re into fun free-form funk and jazz fusion you’ll dig Ugly Elephant. The band is made up of Dave “DJ” Johnson (drums), Chris Hart (guitar), Tim Girardot (keys), Austin Simmons (bass) and Mitch Quintanilla (saxophone).

The CD Release weekend bengins Thursday August 5 when at 10p they’ll have a listening party at Nomad. Friday they’ll play Headhunters and Saturday Ruta Maya is where they’ll be. See more on their MySpace Page -

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