Music compilations are something of a dying breed these days. Sure, there are some great choices to be had in the Best Music Compilation category in this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards, but the essence of the compilation has been greatly diminished in the years since CDs were superseded by the advent of mp3s and streaming services. That wasn't always the case, though. Once upon a time, North Texas had a rich tradition of such releases, the killer Tales from the Edge series and the many offerings from One Tone Record's Buzz-Oven.
I recently stumbled onto a compilation CD that features some of the great names of the Dallas music scene of the past two decades, thanks to a bit of aimless Spotify clicking and searching. In fact, I was in a Pleasant Grove mood, and sure enough, there was an oddly named album with "Only a Mountain" on it that I hadn't been aware of previously. Before I listened to The Art of Leaving for the millionth time, I checked out the Sunny Teriyaki Hamburger Brekafastcompilation, taking in every track. And that was just one of many surprising connections I found with our current music scene, delivered from a comp some 13 years prior.
I really don't know how I missed grabbing a copy of this stellar set of tunes when it was originally offered. In 2001, I was an active fan of many area acts, especially the Old 97's, Sorta, Sparrows and Chomsky, which are only a few of the bands to have a song on this surprisingly great album.
Cobbled together and released by Robert Jenkins, a Dallasite who was looking to get his new label, Summer Break Records, off the ground, this 17-song collection is a true time capsule. Locals of a certain age can fondly reminisce to this record, or the younger Deep Ellum regulars can now get a taste of the local indie-rock scene from back when the Toadies could only celebrate Rubberneck's seventh birthday and the Granada Theater mainly just showed movies.
"The CD was meant to be our first release and a calling card of sorts for the label," recalls Jenkins, who named the album after a do-it-all mom 'n' pop cafe he regularly drove past. "We actually put out Salim Nourallah's band the Happiness Factor's Self Improvement?as our debut, and the comp ended up being our fifth release."
Pulling the final tracklist together proved a challenge, for one simple but not exactly negative reason: "I kept hearing new bands I wanted to include," Jenkins says. "It was a very fruitful time for the Dallas scene, and I wanted people to get a feel for the type of music our label would be releasing as well as make a very good snapshot of the local and regional scene."
Indeed, there are some gems from acts that weren't exactly local on the Sunny Teriyaki comp. One of the stand-out tracks, "Mariposa" by Austin's Prescott Curlywolf, is a fantastically melodic slice of punk. While Jenkins wishes the group "would make a comeback," it's another band featured on the album -- a beloved Dallas group -- that he wishes could attempt a comeback. But the tragic 2007 death of Carter Albrecht ended the promising run for Sparrows, the group he led.
Albrecht and Danny Balis played in both Sparrows and Sorta, and each band has a tune on the compilation. The Sparrows track, "Freedom of the Press," is a rootsy, forceful post-punk tune that wonderfully relays the energy of the band. Both Jenkins and Balis, the owner of Deep Ellum's Twilite Lounge and a member of Calhoun, have understandably strong feelings when it comes to Albrecht and the Sparrows, specifically.
"I wish the Sparrows and Carter had a chance to get more attention," say Jenkins. Balis, who was deeply scarred by the death of his close friend, adds, "Sparrows should've been the next important thing."
It's only fitting that in 2014, when it's hard to get enough of the Old 97's, that this compilation offers three 97's-related offerings. To go along with the well-known "Holy Cross," there's a Rhett Miller solo-track, "Stopping Me is You," and a track from the 97's rarely-recorded side project, Ranchero Brothers, "Sweet Thing Pine Bluff." It features Miller and Murray Hammond in drunken, western style.
Tunes from Chomsky, Lil' Cap'n Travis, Fury III and Pennywhistle Park crank the nostalgia factor a great deal, but Jenkins, who has been managing bands and booking shows for years, is busy with Pleasant Grove right now, as he prepares to help them release their 2015 album on his newly minted We Know Better Records.
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Balis, who has helped curate Twilite Lounge's jukebox, possibly the best one in Dallas, has now seen a couple of generations of bands come and go in this area from the perspective of fan, musician and club-owner. Back before everything went digital, he liked the idea behind a physical sampler CD because it gave him "a feel for a scene by listening to a mixture of bands on one album from a particular region." Thinking of the comp that Jenkins put together gives Balis some ideas on which current artists he would put on a local comp right now.
"I'd put Whiskey Folk, Madison King, the Hazardous Dukes, the Roomsounds and Somebody's Darling on one side," he says. "Then I'd add a B-side of Fort Worth bands, such as Calhoun, the Orbans, Oil Boom, Quaker City Night Hawks and Leon Bridges. I would listen to that shit all day."
The album is a fine representation of music that meant something to many over a decade ago, yet still holds a special place in many hearts now. Jenkins promises that shows and album announcements will be rolling in soon for Pleasant Grove and other bands that will record for his new label,.And after listening to Sunny Teriyaki Hamburger Breakfast, it's easy to believe he'll offer up something worthy, whether it's heard in the here and now, or accidentally discovered in twenty years on some space-age floating musical cloud.
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