Mekons, you Rhett

A rock great lends his support to the Old 97's

Riders on the Range
Modern-day western swing is a misunderstood and fragile thing--go too far in one direction and it's almost like light jazz, go too far the other way and it approaches kitschy nostalgia; and so the line separating Bob Wills and George Strait and Cowboys and Indians is crooked and splintered, the intentions not always so obvious. But the second installment in Texas Monthly's Honed on the Range CD series, this one rounding up the best of the modern-day western swing practitioners, sets the record straight: it's the nature of this music that even the purists (including Leon Rausch and Johnny Gimble) sound no more "authentic" than the Ace in the Hole Band or jazzer Herb Ellis, so jumbled are the current influences.

The disc advertises these folks as "contemporary Texas swing" artists, and it gathers up the obvious suspects (Asleep at the Wheel with Willie Nelson, Johnny Gimble), the lesser-known heroes (Alvin Crow, Don Walser), plus several of Dallas' own (Cowboys and Indians, Tommy Morrell and the Time Warp Tophands, and Dave Alexander and the Legends of Western Swing). If the disc doesn't burst at the seams like the best of Bob Wills or Milton Brown, if the music now seems more pop than traditional, that's because these artists work outside of the context: Maryanne Price's "Oilwell, Texas" sounds like an outtake from a Yankee's revue, the late San Antonio tenor saxophonist Clifford Scott is more bop than swing, and the Ace in the Hole Band sounds incomplete without Strait. And maybe it's the homer in me, but it's ironic that Cowboys and Indians--the youngest of the bunch--come closest to capturing the raw spirit of Wills and Brown.

Honed on the Range, Volume 2 is available by calling (800) 926-7657.

Scene, heard
When Seal comes to Starplex on July 7, he'll bring rubberbullet drummer Earl Harvin with him; Harvin, as reported here a month ago, joined the soul singer's touring band after MC 900 Ft Jesus' recent European tour ended, and appeared with Seal on "The Late Show with David Letterman" three weeks ago. With Harvin on the road so much lately, rubberbullet has been put on hold and the band members have been off doing their own things--for instance, guitarist Aaron Berlin has been playing with the Buck Pets--waiting for his return. Mark Elliott of Leaning House Records also is planning to release the terrific and long-awaited recording debut of Harvin's jazz band, simply titled The Earl Harvin Trio/Quartet...

The long-defunct VVV Records label was once the imprint of choice for Dallas' new-wave bands, and it still ranks among the best of Dallas' indie labels, along with Star Talent of the late '40s and Direct Hit (home to Bedhead and Dooms U.K., among others). To celebrate its legacy, and in the spirit of the Live at the Hot Klub album, on August 12 at the Major Theatre there will be a reunion of the bands once on VVV--including NCM (fronted by current Enabler Neil Caldwell, who owned the store and label till two years ago), The Telefones (and The Teenage Queers, with Bobby Soxx as guest vocalist), Quad Pi (including Lithium X-Mas's Mark Ridlin), The Ralphs (actually The Rockin' Honky-Tonk Fools doing Ralphs material), The Devices (which would later become Loco Gringos), Fort Worth Cats, and The Ejectors. More details to follow...

Slowpoke, which released a terrific album (Mad Chen) last summer and then played maybe three shows to promote it, is slowly emerging from the black hole into which it disappeared. Frontman David Gibson retreated to work on his master's degree and medical internship, and the band has undergone a substantial personnel change: drummer Travis Williams just quit to join the experimental Denton band Muzinga Phaser, and Corbett Guest (formerly of Goth band Motherwell) has signed on as the new bass player. Next week, Grass Records will finally release the long-awaited split seven-inch with the Toadies (who cover the Talking Heads' "Not in Love"), and in September, Slowpoke will go into the studio with producer Chris Nagle (Joy Division, Wedding Present, New Order) to record the follow-up to Mad Chen. The album will be recorded in New York City at the studio owned by former Bongwater-Shimmy Disc mastermind Kramer. "But before we record," Gibson says, "we'll probably start playing live. When? I don't really know yet..."

This ain't the classifieds, but Earl--the band that rocks in the middle ground separating Morrissey and the Toadies--is looking for a drummer. Eric Spruce moved to Minnesota a month ago, and the band has been using a temp since then. Interested parties should contact John Branson at 381-3762...

The Grown-Ups, Denton's keepers of the flickering ska flame, are currently recording at Inside Tracks Studios in Hell's Lobby, with Brave Combo's Carl Finch producing. One track from the sessions, a cover of "Rampage," will be included on Moon Records' Spawn of Skamageddon compilation due in stores August 1. The band's next local appearance is in Denton on July 15, at the Good/Bad Art Collective.

Street Beat welcomes E-mail tips and comments at DalObserv@aol.com.

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