It's right there on the packaging sticker—the only thing on Rachel Bazooka's head-spinning, 97-minute, double-disc debut release, Colorbl nd, that features any words at all—and it reads quite clearly: This CD, unlike any before it, boasts the so-called "Dallas sound."
Wait. The what? Never heard of it.
It's not exactly a secret: For better or worse, Dallas' rock scene has never had a single sonic styling to call its own. Other genres have, sure, if we must trudge those waters again. Deep Ellum made its name thanks to the likes of legendary bluesmen Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter. And, in the past year and a half, the Dallas hip-hop scene has become something of a sorta-respected national hotbed for hip-hop (OK, club-hop) thanks to the so-called D-Town Boogie movement promoted by the likes of Dorrough, Lil Wil, Fat Pimp and newcomers Big Hoodboss and Trai'D.
But the rock scene? A single sound? Nuh-uh. There've been blips along the radar here and there—signs that a singular, definitive sound was bubbling up—but those rarely lasted. That partly explains why, although it's perhaps a gaudy move, Rachel Bazooka's laying claim to "the Dallas sound" can't really be argued against. Because here's the deal: No one's claimed it before. And no movement's been strong enough to merit such a title—certainly not to the degree of Seattle's grunge movement, Detroit's Motown sound or Nashville's forever country-tinged demarcation.
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"There was this guy named Jon Nitzinger in the '70s," explains Rachel Bazooka's Bucks Burnett, long a fixture in the local music scene as a musician, producer, record store proprietor, advocate and, most recently, eight-track tape museum curator. "He was the first guitar hero this city ever had, and to me, he personified the Dallas sound: super poppy, nasty-ass lead guitar. Great voice too—nice and bluesy." Add the far more recognizable name of Stevie Ray Vaughan to Nitzinger's and, once upon a time, Dallas seemed primed to be the blues-rock hub of the universe, Burnett says. "Used to be, at least," he continues. "Then in the '80s, I guess it was The New Bohemians. And, in the '90s, I guess it was The Toadies. In the '00s, we haven't found it."
So, in the five years it took Burnett and his Rachel Bazooka co-conspirator Hubertus Winnubst to finish their massive debut, the two decided that the '00s sound might as well be theirs. It's not like anyone else, in their eyes at least, has made a case for it.
There are counter-arguments to be made there, no doubt. Surely, The Polyphonic Spree has inspired other outfits (read: faux-marching band punks Mount Righteous) to go the bigger-is-better route. And the area's affection with the alt-country/Americana sound? Go ahead and blame it on The Old 97's. Meanwhile, there exists a local neo-soul trip to freak out on, thanks to Erykah Badu and, more recently, the Dallas-born, Los Angeles-based N'dambi. Along those lines, one can certainly argue that, if gender's a narrow enough genre-modifier, the successes of Badu, Edie Brickell, Lisa Loeb, St. Vincent, Norah Jones and, on a much smaller scale, Sarah Jaffe prove that Dallas has always been a women's scene. And in the suburbs? It's all mall-punk, all the time, thanks to The Rocket Summer's lead and Forever the Sickest Kids' even bigger follow. Each of these scenes has experienced moderate success. The problem there? Well, for starters, they've all done so concurrently.
"That can be a good thing, though," Burnett says. "It's diversified. Personally, it might sound a little cheesy, but I'd like to see the Dallas sound just be associated with really great songwriting."
On Colorbl nd, that much works well enough. It's quite the diverse disc itself, touching on folk-, blues- and psych-rock from track to track, jumping from genre to genre without much regard. And thanks to Burnett's classic rock-meets-oddball pop sensibilities as the disc's producer, there is something of a common thread running through this impressive debut.
But is that theory—that good songwriting alone suffices as the catch-all—enough to truly connect The Paper Chase with Midake or The Crash That Took Me with True Widow? Probably not. It doesn't help either that, other than in the hip-hop scene, very few of these local music success stories come with its artists proudly boasting Dallas as their home.
So if Rachel Bazooka wants to claim the title, it's not like anyone else has necessarily earned the right to get in the way—even if, as Burnett confides, his motives in doing so weren't quite along these big-picture lines. Rather, he says, he was just looking for a way to appeal to local shoppers who might stumble upon the disc in stores. Colorbl nd, after all, boasts as clever a packaging as any other release, local or otherwise, this decade. The double-disc features no words—not on its outside covers, not on its inside covers, not on its would-be liner notes insert, not on the discs themselves. There aren't any symbols either, for that matter. Just solid colors—shades of green, blue, orange, red, pink and yellow. So, on the sticker that comes on the album's plastic covering, Burnett went the bold route and slapped "The Dallas Sound" on there.
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"I had to put something on there to appeal to people," he says. "It's really just something that would look good on a sticker. But then I thought, 'Wait a minute. I've never seen this description before.' So why not? I'm kind of proud of that. Someone should have claimed this 20 or 30 years ago and didn't."
Now he has. And bands across the region should be slapping themselves silly because they didn't think of doing so first.
"I've spent 25 years trying to bring cool stuff to Dallas," Burnett says. "I feel like I've done my part to keep this town interesting."
No use in stopping now.