A View From the Judges Table: Week 4 of The Shiner Rising Star contest.

Shing Rising Star Competition: Week 4
August 12, 2010
City Tavern

Another Thursday night in the Metroplex meant another evening of the Shiner Rising Star contest last night.

Whereas the majority of the competing bands in the previous weeks have been North Texas products, last night featured a couple of acts that trekked quite the distance to take their shot at the Shiner Records recording contract.

City Tavern, whose staff has experienced some true heartbreak this week, boasted a packed upstairs showroom as the Beaumont's Slow Rollin' Lows, San Marcos' Kyle Wayne Kutscher Band and Denison's own Jesse Sims Band inhabited the stage, in front of the judges panel, which included KHYI-95.3 FM The Range's Brett Dillon, station GM and owner of Shiner Records Joshua Jones and me. Again.

Overall, the talent was evident. But compared, side by side, with last week's trio of the Kerry Davis Band, the Chris Rivers Band and the force of nature that was winner Shutdown Town, this week's roster fell slightly short of the incredibly high bar. By just a tad, really.

Not that such a distinction is all that meaningful, as only one band will end this competition with a record deal. And, unlike the preceding weeks, I left the show last night without having a clear-cut favorite.

On the more cheerful side of things, each band from this night shared something with the crowd that one of the other bands didn't.

Proffering distinction and being able to fully display one's vision are absolute musts for a band, when participating in an endeavor, such as this.

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The young, power-country trio, and the evening's first act, the Slow Rollin' Lows, rocked an earnest, yet accessible sound. Led by lead guitarist and singer, Pug Johnson, the trio wasn't the liveliest act, but they had no difficulty in scoring points with their Lucero-meets-power-pop brand of electrified country. Sure, "power-pop" can typically indicate disaster for a band attempting to sound truly country, but the nasal, almost Hank III-like vocals of Johnson kept the set grounded and lent the polished tunes a bit of grit. Their cover of "Stay All night, Stay a Little Longer" was a fun choice, as the band effectively placed their beefed up, slightly bluesy, sonic signature onto the timeless cut. But the choice of song itself, an outlaw-country classic, foreshadowed the rest of the somewhat uninspired cover choices for the evening.

With each band being required to play one cover each, the night's roster chose to stick to the relatively safe, outlaw-country bin, for their choices.

Raise your hand if you've recently heard a random bar-band in Dallas play: A) a Waylon Jennings tune, B) a Johnny Cash Tune, or C) a Willie Nelson tune.

Everyone's hands up in the air? Mine too.

Well, those were the three artists whose songs were covered by last night's three bands. All three are legendary artists, to be sure, but not exactly the choices of a band looking to really kick down the door with the statement they're hoping to make.

The Kyle Wayne Kutscher band was up next, and the four-piece, led by the self-proclaimed, "big ol' farmboy" Kutscher, impressed as a group of individual players, especially in the case of the rhythm section. The smoothness of Kutscher's voice was a pleasant surprise, and the band ended on a high, with their most enjoyable song of the set. As I stated in my comments to the band, the way in which every one of their movements seemed to be very heartfelt and in-the-moment, struck me and left a very favorable impression with me. In their case, an over-amplification of energy would've only served to hide the sincerity of their presence.

As 10 pm began to roll by, I immediately began to have flashbacks to a couple of weeks ago, when the bulk of the crowd was raucously and obviously there to support the night's final band. Two weeks ago, it was the Keller Hicks Band that elicited hearty and copious amounts of love--which didn't earn them a win--and this week, it was the Jesse Sims Band whose fans, indeed, raised the roof. The five-piece band displayed the fullest sound of the night, thanks to being the only band busting out with a keyboard. Sims also offered up the night's most well-written originals. As was noted, in-front of the adoring crowd by Joshua Jones, the down-home, monotone vocals of band's leader and namesake, isn't exactly the greatest voice you're likely to hear, but it's effective within the framework of the band, and it provides a great contrast when his fiancée, Rachel Cassady, joined him in harmonies.

After all of the gear was rolled away, the boys from Beaumont, the Slow Rollin' Lows are the band that will keep rolling onto the next round, where 4 Left Turns, The Big Benders and Shutdown Town await them.

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