Home groans

Will this year's best local records survive the millennium?

Ronnie D. is the last remaining flame of a once-mighty conflagration, a one-man Million Dollar Quartet. More Bad Habits may not be Dawson's best record of the decade -- that honor goes to Monkey Beat!, perhaps only because it signaled the resurrection -- but it's still the best Rock and Roll Record released here or anywhere else this year, and Dawson's one of the last of the good guys. I know this because a few months ago, my wife and I were invited to attend Dawson's 60th birthday party, during which he and an old friend turned Dawson's Lower Greenville den into a Waxahachie hootenanny. He and his pal strummed and sang through the night, resurrecting old country standards and old pop ballads; around them sat a few family members, some old friends, and two very lucky guests who, on this night, sat inches away from the man who is Rock and Roll.


Centro-matic's Will Johnson showed off every side of his personality on two great albums this year.
Centro-matic's Will Johnson showed off every side of his personality on two great albums this year.

Drink With the Grown-Ups and Listen to the Jazz
The Deathray Davies
(My-t Records)

I got the same charge listening to The Deathray Davies' debut -- otherwise known as John Dufilho's first record, since he wrote and plays everything here -- as I did upon first hearing Go Metric USA's Three Chords By Two Verses only a year ago. Something about the golly-gee pop of both discs that recalls Britrock circa 1968 (at least someone still listens to the Kinks), with a decent dose of pet sounds thrown in for good (vibrations) measure. Sure, it ain't "original," but what is in these cut-and-paste-and-cut-again days of post-pre-post-modernism (dude, it's just a pop song)? Indeed, those artists worth revering are those who rescue the good stuff from the dustbin of pop-music history and abandon the detritus; taste counts for everything in these tasteless times. And Dufilho's debut outing (he has since fleshed out the Deathrays with the likes of Peter Schmidt and other homebodies) is made up of the good stuff, whether it's the merry-go-round rock of "Elephants" or the choogaloo fuzz of "Divine Sarcasm" or the melodramatic melodicism of "Set to Stun." So you can sing along with the whole lot three spins after the fact -- damn, that's the brilliant fucking point. May never listen to this again, but that's only because I've already memorized it.


Dixie Chicks
(Monument Records)

Swear to God, these aren't the valentines of a homer or the apologies of a bandwagon-jumper. Look, it's actually possible to dislike Wide Open Spaces and adore Fly. Why? Because one disc sounds like the sell-out (or buy-in) move it was meant to be (every note likely went through extensive marketing surveys), and the other like multiplatinum award-winners willing to melt down all the accolades. Not that Fly ain't a Young Country commercial break in places -- the opener "Ready to Run" was apparently written on a bar code, and "Heartbreak Town" diminishes whatever momentum the album builds toward the end -- but in all, it appears that Natalie Maines, Martie Seidel, and Emily Robison have merged their top-of-the-pops desires with their top-of-the-notch chops.

Turns out they haven't completely dyed their roots: Martie and Emily still own this band -- yes, it does make a difference when the band can actually play -- even if the label's dying to turn Natalie into country's own Edie Brickell. Nice to see that women's-lib thing finally stuck in country; these women don't need men, unless you're talking producers and ex-husbands. And "Hole in My Head" is, hands down and then way up, the best Zep country song since "Hot Dog."


At the Gypsy Tea Room
Earl Harvin Trio
(Leaning House Records)

What a windfall for Dallas that this region can claim someone as deeply gifted as drummer Earl Harvin, not to mention his flankers, keysman Dave Palmer and bassist Fred Hamilton. Never mind that the trio isn't around often; they go their separate ways to meet the demands of other projects, such as Harvin's work with Matt Johnson on the forthcoming The The disc. But when they come home to roost, supported by the venerable Leaning House label, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that, yes, even Dallas can spawn great jazz. The double-disc At the Gypsy Tea Room is just such a reassuring boost. Recorded at what may be Dallas' best live-music club, the sounds are as subtle as they are satisfying. Palmer pushes a template the three of them weave spells around, twisting and turning each song until it's something that can't be found on any set list. From the bright staccato smoothness of "Albino" to kool-factor assertions of "Geraminals Rising" (picture the early hours of a Fellini cocktail affair) to the brooding low-end seduction of "Morning Psalm (compliments to Hamilton), this act can do no wrong, live or otherwise. And this record proves it...again.


Welcome To Eleven Hundred Springs
Eleven Hundred Springs
(13 Recordings)

This is the band that made Monday night in Dallas not such a vacuum anymore, a bring-in-the-week party soaked in cheap beer and priceless standards. The top of the week -- every week -- saw young Matt "The Cat" Hillyer and his boys take the stage at Adair's to help their audience cope with the hell of a working week, and they did it with cheerful aplomb. Eleven Hundred Springs' debut may not pack the punch of the sweaty, rolling live show at a downtown honky-tonk -- even the group's subsequent live disc couldn't do that -- but it'll definitely get you through Tuesday, Wednesday, and those other godforsaken stretches.

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