Spirit of '96

Last year showed pop still has more than a ghost of a chance

Steve Wynn at the Galaxy, October 11. This is what rock 'n' roll's all about: the crash, the fire, the buzz of amplified noise, the heroic vocals that presume to cut through even that din, the kind of roar that compels you to leave your earplugs in your pocket and revel in the sheer impact of the song. Wynn--who as of late had been scratching a more acoustic solo itch--rewarded the 30 or so fans who showed up with a rip-roaring tour through both old Dream Syndicate favorites and his own solo work and didn't let a light turnout keep him from sending the lucky few home grinning and high. Incandescent.

The Slip, Rick's Place (Denton), October 18. When Edie Brickell joined a couple of her former New Bo bandmates at Club Dada in March for what was conceived as a one-time memento, the two weekend performances of the "Slip" essentially were onstage rehearsals of nevertheless promising new power-rock songs and a welcomed resurrection of signature Bohemian here-now improv. After several appearances in Dallas and Seattle, the group returned for a rough-edged benefit concert at The Majestic Theatre October 17. At the next evening's barely-announced gig at Rick's, the Slip masterfully executed a full set of the riffy new material, and distilled (albeit slow) versions of Bo classics such as "Forgiven" and "Strings of Love," as well as the requisite invention.

Bob Dylan, Bronco Bowl, October 25. A rapid acoustic-electric oscillation of original masterworks such as "All Along the Watchtower" and "Rainy Day Woman," as well as a ramblin' Deadlike cover of "Alabama Getaway," with a faithful band, in the acoustically friendly--even to notoriously muddled Rob Z.--environs of the cozy Bowl. And Bob smiled.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Sons of Hermann Hall, October 25. This Texas treasure didn't shine quite as bright as he did August 31 at Deep Ellum Live--Mary Cutrufello's added spark was missed more than you expected--but the Sons show was still better overall, an object lesson in the importance of vibe and the appeal of this white clapboard dance hall: cozy confines and a crowd of enthusiastic, knowing fans who nonetheless were as devoted to dancing as they were to listening. Somehow the lesson in human short-sightedness implied by the hundreds of people streaming out of the August show after the Old 97's played intruded into appreciation of the music; Gilmore deserves better, and in October he got it.

Fever in the Funkhouse reunion, Club Dada, December 14. Nostalgic? Yes. Redundant? Sure. A crafty publicity stunt to market their new collection of (mostly) rough old demos, Then Again? Probably. But "crusty relics", as one of our, ahem, respected colleagues prejudged [The Met, December 11]? Not hardly. We forgot how elevating Fever's white-trash biographies set to country-fried dance rock could be, particularly the cyclic finger-picking of guitarist Chris Claridy. The songwriting and performances on the Then Again CD are far more mature than on the shorter tenderfoot effort Life Stories and Jam (cassette, 1989), which heretofore has been the only official record of the Fever that funked.

Honorable mention
Los Lobos, Caravan of Dreams (Fort Worth), April 21.
Porno for Pyros, Deep Ellum Live, June 27.
Southern Culture on the Skids, Orbit Room, November 13.
Wilco and Son Volt, Trees, November 6 and 12 respectively.
Cottonmouth, Texas, Dark Room, November 30.

--Matt Weitz and Alex Magocsi

The best Texas albums of 1996
Blessed or Damned
Dale Watson
Hightone Records

If you could somehow run water through a speaker while it was playing Dale Watson, there's no doubt that plants nourished thataway would grow faster, stronger, and greener than their less-favored neighbors; Watson's twangy take on country music is that potent. Shades of Merle, Buck, and Bakersfield, folded together and baked in the kind of heat that shimmers at the edge of a desert, mixing sand, asphalt, and legend. Real country.

Walk in the Sun
Sue Foley
Discovery Records

Next Blues, Chapter 15. Yeah, she plays like a man, but you can start out that way and still end up like Bonnie Raitt, so take heed: Sue Foley has the ego, the talent, and the perspective to not only be a star, but to be a real interpreter, and she has that Canadian take on things (North) American that's extra-bright, like a TV with the contrast and tint turned all the way up. Although her previous work was good, this album holds a piece of the true cross in its blue mix of the original, the archetypal, and the archival.

Offspeed and In There
Drain
Trance Syndicate

Somewhere in the southern half of Africa, a 20-year-old college student sits in a town that was once a principal city in the ancient state of Yoruba; he's wearing a Donald Duck T-shirt and listening to a (formerly) East German artist's machine-generated version of that area's traditional rhythms on a $400 French tape deck. Drain--brain-child of Butthole Surfer King Coffey--celebrates rather than bemoans this fact.

Happy Feet
8 1/2 Souvenirs
Continental Records

You wouldn't expect Django Reinhardt's ghost to be a puny one, and I don't think that Cafe Noir would restrict access to it even if it was, but Happy Feet is proof positive that our own beloved jazzbo/classicist synthesists haven't kidnapped the inspiration that shade affords: there appears to be plenty of gypsy jazz to go around. For the cigar smokers out there, think two words before sliding that foully smoking penile approximation 'twixt your lips: European lounge. (By the way: a real donkey's wouldn't smell that bad.) Agile.

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