MEM SHANNON 7/5, FITZGERALD’S While the life of this New Orleans bluesman makes for a great story, the music on his debut album, A Cab Driver’s Blues (Hannibal), fails to match its inspiration. Before recently taking on music full-time, Mem Shannon drove a taxi while playing the blues on the side. Judging from the album’s scattered snippets of taped dialogue between Shannon and his various fares–many complete assholes–he’s got plenty of reason to have the blues. While the ad-libbed end of “Taxicab Driver” humorously taps into occupational hazards–“We got doctors and lawyers in town this week, tips won’t be that big this week”–for the most part Shannon opts for traditional blues subjects (failed love, financial troubles, etc). He’s a decent guitarist who thankfully avoids rockist grandstanding, and he sings with a nice, soulful grit. But ultimately there’s nothing to set him apart from other modern blues practitioners. ROBBIE FULKS 7/5, SCHUBAS On his debut album, Country Love Songs (Bloodshot), this leader in Chicago’s insurgent country scene combines anti-Nashville cynicism with a fairly deft grasp of the basics. Though Fulks sometimes lodges his tongue too deeply into his cheek, for the most part the humor connects. Any Pennsylvanian worth his salt will appreciate “The Scrapple Song,” a celebration of the lowest of all pork by-products, but lines like “The Buck starts here / With Hank sure to follow,” are universally irresistible. “Every Kind of Music but Country,” as in “She likes…,” is a sentiment most people, including myself, have expressed at one point before realizing the error of their ways. But the album’s real highlight is “She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died),” a song about a suicidal Norma Desmond. Scroat Belly open. BEDHEAD, STARS OF THE LID 7/5, EMPTY BOTTLE With its new album, Bedheaded (Trance Syndicate), this Dallas quintet has widened its scope beyond static guitar-pop exercises. Though in the past the band’s VU-inflected minimalism generally delivered a nice melodic languor, the new album, while still hypnotically repetitive, focuses more on developing melody and dynamic range. The mewling sounds can explode after a lengthy buildup, as on “The Rest of the Day,” or just strum along softly like a doped-up Seam, the band Bedhead most resembles. Austin’s Stars of the Lid create sumptuous, undulating sheets of effects-treated guitar sounds. Their debut album, the aptly titled Music for Nitrous Oxide (Sedimental), stands out against their native region’s more typical roots-rock machinations, but a similar primitivism rears its head via the group’s lack of digitalia. If it’s not a guitar then it might be a didgeridoo, cello, or harmonica, but regardless of the source Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie create lulling slabs of pure, floating sound. The group will issue its next album on the local Kranky label, home of the somewhat like-minded Labradford. Windsor for the Derby also appear. DEF LEPPARD 7/5, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATre With their sixth studio album, Slang (Mercury), these semiforgotten metal pop tarts have turned musical schizophrenia into an unhealthy obsession. Def Leppard merely throw 11 diffuse stylistic darts and pray that one lands on the chart. Their expected metal lite is mixed with funky if stiff appropriations of Aerosmith, stale power balladry, quasi-ethnic strains, harmony-laden slow jams–really!–and poppy heartland rock, yet none of it connects with any power. These guys have always been extremely calculated, hit-hungry hard rockers, but this new record clearly shows that they couldn’t be more out of touch if they tried. Equally wretched alt rockers Tripping Daisy open. TAILGATORS 7/6, FITZGERALD’S For years Don Leady, one of the founders of Austin’s late great LeRoi Brothers, kept this trio meaner and leaner than all comers. The Tailgators blended swamp rock, zydeco, and rock ‘n’ roll into an irresistible, gritty whole, using impenetrable monster grooves to hold it all together. But on the band’s latest, It’s a Hog Groove! (Upstart), the only real “groove” is in the album title. The stylistic turf hasn’t changed much, but the rhythmic perfection of past lineups–particularly the Keith Ferguson and Gary “Mudcat” Smith team–proves elusive on the new album. PATTY GRIFFIN 7/9, PARK WEST On her spare debut album, Living With Ghosts (A&M), this Boston singer-songwriter beats her like-minded competitors with sonic purity and careful restraint. While Patty Griffin’s wordy songs are often filled with bile leveled against shitty ex-lovers–surprise–her singing is what makes the difference. Though clearly inspired by Rickie Lee Jones, Griffin wails with a soulful power more akin to folk-rock teenyboppers like Jewel and Alanis Morissette. But Griffin knows how to use her voice; the others open wide and jump into a self-indulgent abyss. She appears with Billy Mann and Jann Arden. SOUL COUGHING 7/10 & 11, DOUBLE DOOR On Irresistible Bliss (Slash) Soul Coughing have transformed their post-hip-hop pop into something more organic and naturally funky. With fewer samples and more evocative textures, the band’s music works much better than it did on the debut. Even ultrairritating vocalist/guitarist M. Doughty has curbed his stupid rap tricks–although with arms flapping akimbo, he’s still a nightmare to behold live. Trans Am open.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Bedhead.