Every which way but loose

The Dallas scene flourishes beneath the chaos

Barrel-Chested, Slobberbone (Doolittle Records). Good reflection of a changing band, but still true enough to the affections established with Crow Pot Pie. If guiding light Brent Best is having any problems with his new lineup, it isn't showing in his songwriting.

The Ultimate School of Rock & Roll, Gene Summers (Crystal Clear Sound). Summers is another bona fide and overlooked hero who has been playing around Dallas his whole life, backing up visiting artists and entertaining the masses in big clubs like Guthrey's. The music on this collection, a reissue of Summers' important songs (such as the title track and "Nervous," released as singles and never before compiled), makes it very clear that Summers had a spark from the get-go.

The Quiet Earth, Keli Vaughan (self-released). Imagistic and aggressive, but no less intelligent or appealing, Vaughan's EP is a bracing shot of what you might call "new folk," six songs that seem both immediate and abstract.

Honorable Mention
The following albums hung in there until the very last cut, constantly being removed from the list and then--when some forgotten song was re-encountered or recalled--restored again, then removed (repeat).

The Twelve-Point Master Plan, Bobgoblin (MCA Records). Smart anti-pop.

Sincerity, Colin Boyd (Happy Cat Records). Longtime area folk fave Boyd gets tougher but stays sweet and--even more impressively--smart.

Group Dance Epidemic, Brave Combo (Rounder Records). Good dance music, with probably just a bit too much hokey pokey.

Crossin' the Line, Barry Kooda (Big Iron Records). This album of country songs is pure Kooda, to be sure, but it also shows his sardonic jokester side giving way to an older, wiser--and wider--persona.

Soul Conscious, Tony Perez (Ichiban Records). Supple contemporary soul from a smooth-voiced Hispanic that proves that buttah knows no color lines.

Happy Hour, Psalm 69 (self-released). Although she's been around the local scene for more than a decade, this is the first full-length album with Judy Hill at the wheel, and its rock format doesn't keep the music from showing the deep textures found in art that's been a long time coming.

Swinging and Singing, Johnny Reno (Menthol Records). Although the cocked-fingers-heeyyy lounge denizen is a pretty dangerous image to play around with--most of those people end up being considered assholes--Reno uses a palpable enthusiasm to cut the smarm and trend-mongering.

Absolutes, J. Paul Slavens (self-released). Put out solely to scratch a personal itch--to write and explore more classical compositions--this short album benefits from having to please no one but its maker.

King for a Day, Hunter Sullivan (Six Degrees). Smooth appropriation of the East Coast, Sinatra/Darin frontman formula, carried along by the still-choogling lounge phenomenon. Well executed but a bit overdone.

Golden Energy, the tomorrowpeople (Last Beat Records). Good, ambitious pop-rock from a band that might--if left to its own devices--live up to the expectations foisted on it.

Best local shows of 1997
It was a curious year for live music. People have been talking about the changing face of the concert scene for so long that it's easy to think of that discussion as part of the experience, like long lines in the rest rooms. Things, however, continue to change--even though mighty concerts still plod across the land. Those shows increasingly feature multiple acts--the better to maximize attendance--but even in this tougher environment, a dizzying number of shows were aiming for a shot at our hearts and wallets; just look at all the mediocre lineups of multiple electronica acts that were jockeying for what amounted to club space.

By summer's end we'd been so battered by the Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith, and Lollapalooza that when a show that might actually prove interesting was announced--Farm Aid at Texas Stadium--we were too stunned to react, so the show moved up to the Chicago area, where tickets sold briskly.

At times it was amazing how little it could all add up to: Lollapalooza is run by the very people they used to warn you about, and rap's Smokin' Grooves tour went stale in under a year. Naming the world's largest TV screen as the newest member of the band, U2 came to the Cotton Bowl, where it entertained audiences until it was time for them to go home. The Lilith Fair--not even slowed down by its association with the overbeaten dead horse of "women's music"--was the year's best concert experience, full of excitement, good vibes, and common cause.

It took two stadium titans to illustrate a basic tenet of rock and roll. The Stones were sloppy, seat-of-the-pants, and unabashed whores, but they still had an authority that made going to see them more than just a concert. Good or bad, the event was what you came to see; having seen it, you were free to go away. Fleetwood Mac played letter-perfect versions of their radio hits and cloaked their re-unification in sentiment and '70s nostalgia. The songs were immaculate, and the band--with the exception of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham--was utterly devoid of anything even remotely resembling spark or presence. Fleetwood Mac was the most disappointing live show in the area since the Eagles reunion.

Equally disappointing is the alarming degree to which the local live music scene just seems to scrape by. Go to any weekend hotspot, and it's the same: shot bars, cigar bars, daiquiri bars, tapas bars, and martini bars are all jammed, their patrons elbowing their neighbor amid the smoke and the din. Large packs of inebriates stumble across streets and along sidewalks. Amid all this money-flinging hustle, look in the window of the place with the stage: a couple dozen folks--with plenty of leg room and little wait for the toilet--watching some little group of fools or heroes. This year a number of bars closed--Naomi's, the Rehab Lounge, Schooner's, and the Lava Lounge, to name but a few--while the meat markets and cow pens seem to flourish.

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