Here’s a sad little not-so-secret. There just isn’t much of a music scene in Houston. We’ve had some great bands over the years (Fever Tree, ZZ Top, the Dishes, etc.) and some fine musicians spent time here (Townes Van Zandt and others), but it’s nothing like the Austin or Nashville scene.
So, when I receive a review copy of a record from a Houston artist, you can rest assured I’ll take a listen. In this case, I’m glad I did, because Leslie Krafka‘s new record is very good. The music and arrangements are top-notch, as you’d expect from anything produced by Lloyd Maines. Much of the writing and singing has a nineties-era Suzy Boggus vibe, and for those who didn’t know me back then, that’s high praise. Suzy’s recording of the Cheryl Wheeler song Aces is one of my favorite tracks ever. My favorite track on Leslie’s new record is South Texas Fall. This song is a 10 on anyone’s scale.
She does a great cover of Drunken Poets Dream that oozes girl-power (though I continue to lament the way many musicians and almost all of Hollywood play to the false myth of cigarettes as cool and rebellious (when they are, in fact, stupid, unhealthy and offensive to anyone nearby).
Wine Women and Song is another favorite of mine.
On·ward is set for release on May 3, 2014 at Anderson Fair (I’ve seen so many amazing shows there; Steve Fromholz being one that immediately comes to mind as a favorite). If you share my desire to support Houston musicians (and you should), check it out.
I’m going to tell you a little secret about getting your records reviewed by music bloggers. Those of us have been doing this for a long time get a lot of music for review. At the moment, I probably have 50 records in my queue for review. In fact, it’s not uncommon for records that rotate through my online sources, such as ReviewShine, to expire before I get around to listening to them. I’ve talked to numerous other music bloggers and almost everyone has a similar story. There is simply more music to listen to than time to listen.
Step One: Grab Me Quickly
So, getting your records reviewed becomes a two-step process. The first, and most important step, is to make it past the “20-second listen” and into the “whole album listen” stack. I’ll show you how this works, using ReviewShine as an example.
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The incoming music page for each reviewer at ReviewShine looks like that. There are a ton of records, and each band picks one song to lead with. The potential reviewer can click the play button and hear that song right from this page. This is the “20-second listen” stage. If a song is some combination of not my genre, not quickly identifiable as being performed by good musicians or just not good or distinguishable, I move to the next one. As an aside, let me say that I almost never hear music that isn’t good. But I hear a ton of it that sounds just like every other same-genre band out there. So even if you have a great record, it is critical to lead with something that will grab the potential reviewer quickly.
If a song grabs me, with a click I add the record to my inbox. From there, I can listen to the entire record. Songs that I have pre-approval to stream are labelled in green. I estimate that 75% of the songs I put in my inbox get some sort of mention, if not a full review.
Step Two: Do a Lot of My Work for Me
Once a record is in my inbox, it is accompanied (usually) by a photo of the band/artist and a bio.
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I don’t need a clever bio. I need facts and a summary I can cut and paste. I’m not looking for a Pulitzer for my record reviews. I just want to share good music. Quickly.
Tonight I was working through my ReviewShine queue, looking for something to write about. There’s some good stuff in there. Because I like alt. country (rockers playing twang) a lot, and Americana (too many old dudes waxing philosophical) much less, anything that has alt. country as one of the first listed genres gets a listen.
So let’s take a look at The Highballers. I like the name. The lead song, Lula’s Gone, has a twangy-but-rocking vibe. These are good musicians. Hear for yourself.
That is going right into rotation at Rancho Radio. The first song on the record, Fire and Smoke, is a wistful mid-tempo number, with a different good singer. So I’m getting hooked. Love Will Find You is another alt. country number. At first I didn’t like Down that Road Before, thinking it was another (producer-mandated) generic rocker. Then the vocalists (one male, one female) started trading off bits and I (mostly) came around.
And the bio had this, in exactly these words. Easy peasy.
The Highballers were born on the rock of guitarist/vocalist Kendall Jackson and vocalist Hope Hudson in 2007, forging a hard-edged, rockin’ country sound built on the duo’s male-female vocal harmonies. After several personnel shifts, myriad gigs and more than a few empty whiskey bottles, the band arrived at its current lineup of Jackson, vocalist Victoria Patchen, guitarist Sean Lally, bassist Michael Barrientos and drummer Drake Sorey.
Cant Stop Drinkin’ starts out with this line, which is good enough to guarantee multiple listens: “Honey, I’d drive you home, but I can’t stop drinking.”
I’ll Break Something More, is probably my favorite song on the record. Great story. “If I had a dime for every time you broke me down I’d buy myself a sheriff to run you out of town.” Holy moly, that’s fabulous.
I Need My Ass Kicked is that rare semi-novelty song that is actually clever. 80% of what is proposed as clever is anything but.
Here’s the bottom line. The Highballers can play well. They can write well. There’s not a bad song on the record, which is a rare and wonderful thing these days. This is a great record. Buy it here (@ Amazon).
YouTube has slowly but surely become the best music repository on the web. Whenever I want to hear a song, YouTube is the first place I search. This is especially true for live performances and older, harder to find songs.
Like classic soul.
Fortunately for the rest of us, there are people who find and curate wonderful channels full of good music. My favorite is Soulhawk. He/she has a vast and carefully assembled collection of classic soul music, much of which would otherwise remain in obscurity. It is not unreasonable to declare Soulhawk’s YouTube channel an audio museum full of priceless treasures.
I have always loved great covers of great songs (I have an entire Spotify playlist mostly consisting of great cover songs), and I’ve always loved the Grateful Dead (my oldest is named after a Grateful Dead song). Here’s a beautiful combination of the two.
Tom Freund, formerly of The Silos (a great band, at least at one time) is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from the U.S. Freund met Ben Harper when he was attending Pitzer College in Claremont, California. In 1992 the duo released an album, Pleasure and Pain. Later, he joined The Silos as their bassist, and moved to Austin, Texas. Yep, Texas.
One of the many standouts on the Accept No Substitute album, this excellent Dr. John-written ballad was brought to Delaney & Bonnie by co-producer Leon Russell. Lyrically, the song proved to be somewhat prophetic, given the material and professional problems between Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett. The music is a mixture of funk, rock, and gospel, and moves with a wonderful grace and effortlessness. (via AllMusic)
Delaney & Bonnie and Friends was a very interesting and eclectic band, whose members included, at different times, Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, George Harrison, Leon Russell, Bobby Whitlock, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, King Curtis, and Eric Clapton. That’s a pretty deep roster.
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