Over the past few days, Austin, Texas, has been invaded by a host of representatives from the music industry.
From unsigned bands hoping to get their big break to record label PR-types and their current flavor-of-the-month acts to promote, Austin's South By Southwest conference acts a centerpin convention on the music industry calendar. While the residents of Austin are enjoying a smorgasbord of bands to go view at night in their local clubs, I thought it appropriate to spotlight a couple of acts hailing from Austin this week:
The Damnations TX
Half Mad Moon
There's something very Indigo Girls-ish about Austin's The Damnations TX, led by transplanted New Yorker half-sister singer-songwriters Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly. The most obvious parallel, of course, is that they're two warmly twangy-voiced women who harmonize beautifully with each other while leading a folk rock band. And like the Indigos, they refuse to be pigeonholed into one style. Half Mad Moon opens with an almost Monkees-esque throwback rocker "Unholy Train," moves into a contemplative "down on the range" style cowboy hymn in "No Sign of Water" and then offers a drumpounding "yee-haa" number in "Down The Line." There are a couple back porch Appalachian banjo pickers as well as rootsy rockers that get the blood pumping quite nicely.
The sisters claim influences from punk to country and call bands like X, The Minutemen and Kiss as personal faves. Those eclectic tastes serve to temper their own brand of folk-rock into something modern and yet at the same time pleasantly familiar. This is a great easy listening album that's a little bit country without the cliche slide of steel guitars.
The first time I popped this disc in, I thought, "Wow, this woman is really together for a newcomer — her guitar sounds are deliciously crunchy, her lyrics cutting — instantly promoting a leftist lesbian agenda with humor and intelligence."
Then I looked at the bio and realized that Meg Hentges should have it together — she's no newcomer. And the album has been marinating for some time as well. Hentges fronted the underrated (and often hysterically funny) lesbian folk-rock outfit Three Nice Girls in the early '90s. And the songs for this CD were actually recorded three or four years ago.
Marination and maturation aside, on Brompton's Cocktail Hentges has substantially updated her sound from the Three Nice Girls' folksy flavor, but not her politics. "This Kind of Love" is a perfect hit single with a guitar bite reminiscent of Jennifer Trynin's 1995 breakthrough hit "Better Than Nothing," if radio was brave enough to play lyrics like "at every high school in the Midwest/all the queers are at the bottom/just above the poor and pregnant, just below the future farmers."
"Sleepwalking" gets in a guitar riff that's almost Dire Straits-ready as Hentges complains "I love you to death but I'm bored."
"Bob on the Waves" takes a darkly humorous stab at those who refuse to be more environmentally friendly: "let's go to the beach for a swim/with the tar in the sand and the whales washing in/bob on the waves/I am saving nothing."
"God's Lake" restructures the heterosexual, Christian middle-class world as a group of houses surrounding God's mansion and lake where, beyond a brick wall, there is nothing, no other way to live or be. She uses a Dan Bern-esque humorously spoken revelation about having to buy 7½ size shoes when you're really a 7 before realizing that you don't have to settle for things that don't fit — and that the brick wall is an artificial barrier and "this is not all there is ..." It's a well-structured metaphor and a good rockin' riff song to boot.
One of the best tracks on Brompton's Cocktail is "Tattoo Urge," a slowly accelerating "train riff" song about "things you can't take back again." It builds a great image for anyone considering tattoos: "think of the woman, she's covered in Joes ... the Joe-n-me stretching from hip to hip/the other Joes up and down both her arms/and a Joe in a heart over hers — 17 Joes in all/A living breathing monument to her ex-husband Joe."
Where this album falls flat is when Hentges isn't on a socio-political rant. The handful of songs that focus on standard relationship fodder don't have nearly the intensity or interest of the rest. But for those not offended by a liberal agenda, this is a solid modern rock record worth seeking out.