It was a little more than two years ago that Dawn Miller (formerly of Wayward Girl) was talking to pal Aden Holt, owner of local indie label One Ton Records, about an idea she'd had: a local band compilation that would rework the soundtrack to the mid-'70s hit Broadway musical Grease, perhaps best known in the form of its 1978 cinematic release starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.
"I was just hanging out, playing pool, and [the movie] came on the TV," Miller says. "I think it was, like, the second album I ever bought, and I remember hearing it constantly as a kid."
"It just kinda faded after that," Holt says of the idea. "I was pretty busy there for a while with other projects. Then last year, I brought it up again and said that I'd help her out with recording it, and she said, 'Cool.' We decided to really go for it, and we encouraged all the bands to really do something different." Holt is pleased with and proud of the results--to be titled Sandy Does Dallas--turned in by bands as diverse as Ugly Mus-tard, UFOFU, and the Toadies. "We got one of two things from the bands," Holt explains. "Either they really sound like themselves--perfect representations--or they've really stretched out and explored new territory."
From the first static-laden, distorted notes of the Dooms U.K.'s rendition of the title song, it's clear that, as the song itself says, "conventionality belongs to yesterday." So does the original's premise of high school as an innocent, fun time; from Caulk's dark, knotted "Summer Nights" to Static's howling "Alone at the Drive In," the vein being tapped here is high school in the modern age, where kids pop undercover narcs and off each other in jealous rages.
Unlike the movie soundtrack, there's not much retro-imitation on Sandy, but the bands have taken a page or two from the bald presentation of emotion--yet not necessarily the emotion itself--of the '50s (Slowpoke's unlikely mixing of hard rock and doo-wop on "It's Raining on Prom Night"). Spyche sings "Hopelessly Devoted to You" as if there's nothing in the world more pathetic than hopeless devotion. ("I really wanted to do 'Hopelessly Devoted,'" Miller admits, "but Spyche wanted to do it, too, and she's so great I just said, 'Go ahead.'"). And Course of Empire's "Blue Moon" is a melancholy reflection haunted by Link Wray in a luau shirt.
The record release party for Sandy Does Dallas is slated for Halloween night at Trees, so "'50s prom night" is the theme. Bands are being encouraged to dress in costume--as outrageously as possible--so if you want to see Pervis with pompons or just check out a fast-moving (each band will play only three songs--its Sandy cut and two others of its choosing) parade of topnotch local talent, be there. Regrettably, Doosu--which contributed the closing "We Go Together"--will not be performing, as frontman Casey Hess is in the hospital.
Holt is pleased with the album. "There are so many good bands that there's been a huge amount of excitement about it locally," he reports. "But I've also gotten calls from as far away as Albuquerque, so I'm hoping that we can turn it into something bigger."
Ride a sea horse
Local harpist Cindy Horstman--whose experiments with her instrument have caused it to be perceived as a vehicle for jazz, pop, and even blues--has welcomed Arlington guitarist Lewis Hutcheson to her Seahorse Records. Seahorse was started in an attempt to jump the brick wall many local talents run into when they try to become something other than local talent: distribution and support. You can wow 'em in Tempe for three nights, but if they can't hear you on the radio and find you at their local record stores, it's almost impossible to build an audience.
The success of Fretless, Horstman's second album, compelled the harpist to, in her words, "get serious about a label." Not long thereafter, she attended a National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD) convention that further opened her eyes. Until Hutcheson's Space and Time, however, Hortsman's operation was a one-horse stable.
"Lewis came up to me and said he had this album that he didn't know what to do with," Horstman explains, going on to note that though the album doesn't bear the Seahorse imprint, the label will handle national promotion and distribution while Crystal Clear Sound does the same regionally. Space should have a good shot at finding broad appeal. On this collection of jazzy, ambitious songs of which his playing recalls a more organic, calmer Allan Holdsworth, Hutcheson's technique alternatingly billows and wafts like smoke through tunes ("Ode to a Cowgirl," "Sea of Dry Ice") and avoids the masturbatory whiff that plagues many artists with technique but no soul.
As for Horstman, Fretless is currently being played on some 40 radio stations, primarily on the East Coast, and just got a very warm review in the October issue of Jazz Times. Horstman is currently awaiting an album of Christmas songs due back from the manufacturer "any day now," and is about halfway through the recording of her fourth album, working with the same team as before--a talented roster that includes Andy Timmons on guitar, the phenomenal Larry White on pedal steel, and bassist Mike Medina twiddling knobs.
"It's such an incredible team," Horstman enthuses, "and I'm so excited about the response we've gotten nationally." Hopefully Lewis Hutcheson will soon share her excitement.
Junky Southern's exceptional and generally lauded midyear release Pawn Shop From Heaven--on local label Parallax Records--has thus far garnered sporadic national distribution and air play. The album will go into a second pressing of 1,000 to accommodate an unusual Shiner Bock-sponsored arrangement with Indie/Midwest Records to distribute the CD to 100 Texas Blockbuster stores regardless of prestock orders, says Junky frontman Reed Easterwood. Junky Southern performs at Trees: Thursday, November 7; and Saturday, November 8, during the Wake Up Dallas festival.
Spot's Halloween show at Club Dada will supposedly be the last for the popular power-pop trio, which received quite a lot of attention with the single "Moon June Spoon," only to see that momentum dissipate when original indie label Ardent started messing around with Interscope...
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Folkie-cum-mountain man Bobby Bridger--one of only four musicians who have made all 23 Kerrville Folk Festivals--will make a rare appearance Saturday, November 2, at Malvina's Coffeehouse at the Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church. This will be his only appearance in Dallas this time through, and the first performance of the third installment of his Western historical trilogy, in which he assumes the character of Buffalo Bill Cody...
Fans of Corn Mo and Mauve Oed--the dynamic duo that truly puts pop rocks in the skim milk of modern music--will be happy to learn that the twosome (reunited after an extended hiatus) will be appearing November 2 at the Kharma Cafe in Denton...
Fans who find their love of comparative analysis intersecting with their appreciation of Uncle Tupelo may wish to note that two upcoming shows feature the spoor of that band's breakup. Wilco plays Trees November 6 and Son Volt November 11. As your English teacher used to say, compare and constrast.
Street Beat thanks Alex Magocsi for his help in assembling this week's edition and urges you do the same at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.