Featured Music: Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Killer or Filler?

Three great new c.d.’s with local connections that you may or may not have heard of, I dunno.


Sometimes, when all the stars are aligned, it seems that no matter what you pop into the c.d. player sounds decent. Well, one of those days recently befell me. But instead of fighting to overcome it, as miserable ol’ me is wont to do, I just rode it out. Old age? Who knows. All that matters is that the following c.d.’s didn’t suck — at least on three or four recent spins.

Deadman Rocking

Dallas’ Deadman is one of those hot bands whose heat escapes easy explanation. They’re great, but are they as buzz-worthy as their resumé makes them sound?

They won the grand prize from among a crowd of 1,700 bands this past January at the Independent Music Series, as selected by the editors of Billboard magazine. One of their songs, “Ghost Story,” appeared alongside tunes from Tom Waits and Bryan Ferry on NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” and another number, “Rose Marie,” was featured on the NBC tv show Ed. And now they’re putting out a full-length produced at the Paramour Estate in Los Angeles by Mark Howard (U2, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson).

Judging by Our Eternal Ghosts, Deadman is indeed one great reason to hold out hope for the Metroplex’s developing a national profile. Still, the hottest thing going? Eh, probably not.

One immediate reference is Ghost of Tom Joad-era Springsteen, gospel wrenched from the blue collars of spiritually confused white folk. Lots of atmospheric synth washes, medium tempos, plaintive vocals, implied country-ish twang, and quietude. Gray permeates everything. Even the “rocking” songs arrive on storm clouds. Pretentious? Of all Deadman’s attributes, the one that stands out is the band’s ability to get all deep and dramatic and not come off like Keanu Reeves trying to play Macbeth. There’s honesty in the voices of frontpeople and married couple Steven and Sherilyn Collins. These two can talk Jesus, death, and gold — in between sorrowful harmonica solos, no less — and if you can detect a misplaced breath or gratuitous inflection, then you’re simply imposing your misplaced jealousies on the sound.

The biggest problem, other than a mix that shoves the singers’ voices down your throat, is that while the songs aspire to homey grace, they can’t hide their million-dollar souls. Everything’s too polished, too glossy, and way too refined for a record that, by all appearances, is supposed to be about something as simple in its complexity as this mortal coil.

You could argue that the band’s success lies in the Collinses’ aesthetic purity, their un-ironic posture, their taking the listener seriously. In this, the age of the in-joke, such an unorthodox stance is worthy of one big bear hug and profuse thanks. Check out www.deadmanonline.com for more info. Grade: B

Pleasure Principle

Liposuck 100 lbs. from Deborah Harry, cut her hair, dye it some noxious color, and do cut-and-paste stuff with the important parts, and — voila! — you got James Hall. Emaciated, brilliant, flame-to-your-moth frontman for New Orleans’ Pleasure Club, Hall, like Harry, can pull off that lazy-rap thing with a megaphone mouth better than most lead singers. And also like Harry, he’s built to be a frontman, so when he assumes the starring role in The Fugitive Kind, an Elmore Leonard novel writ Marshall-stack loud, he goes off. You can see him — his skinny, bright head atop a crushed velvet shirt buttoned to his navel — looking over his shoulder as he zigzags through traffic on the Gaza Strip, passing “warriors and kings,” “cops and criminals,” and “streetwalkers.” The big, lush rock sets in relief the dirt, the non-showerin’ mafiosi in thousand-dollar suits, the gents “turning angels into dust,” the captains of industry “drinking to the losers.” All of this sturm and drang is concentrated in a single song, “High Five Hit Me,” a piece of flash fiction masquerading as a billet-doux to the city’s greasy, bloated, pimply underbelly. Non-existent bass; methodical, stomping, bruising cyborg rifferama that falls out at some moments, leaving nothing but either up-tempo snap or tiny guitars atop a splashy, hand-clappy snare; whole lotta ’tude. Then, at song’s end, a Saturday Night Fever character possesses our skinny hero. “My hay-ah! Don’t touch my hay-ah!” Really, I don’t know what the hell he’s saying. But it’s in Brooklynese.

The song’s barely out the door before in comes a drum intro from former Fort Worthian Michael Jerome that sounds like Mick Fleetwood collapsing on his kit in a stoned stupor, raising his head for a breath, and then collapsing again. Those giant, inhuman guitars return, looking to crush your skull in slo-mo, then come after me. The great thing is that after merely two tracks it’s obvious that Pleasure Club has taken only two full-lengths to get this rock thing down. I mean, down. For more information, cruise to www.pleasureclubmusic.com. Grade: B+

Pantyhose Rock ’n’ Roll!

Speaking of taking listeners seriously, along comes another disc by famous Fort Worth rockers and legendary pantyhose fiends Sexy Trash. Some sample song titles: “Tuff Tuff Titties,” “All I Wanna Be is a Well Paid Whore,” “Chinese Rock,” “I’m a Boy, I’m a Girl,” “Jam in the Ass,” and “Cum Junkie.” The sound is a mix of really bad drumming, buzzing electric guitar, and quavering, psychobillyish vocals. The dangerous part is that these sexually confused yokels occasionally achieve viable, catchy rock-pop. A funny shtick with half-way decent metal? Count me in. Grade: C+ l

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