Is Country Music Ready for Sturgill Simpson?

Photo by Jason Wolter
Sturgill Simpson at a recent show in Houston
So the big new noise in the increasingly noisy -- or static-y -- genre known as Americana is this Kentucky guy Sturgill Simpson. With 2014 appearances on Letterman and Conan and a first-ever Grammy nomination for his sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Simpson has been branded (not by him, but by those who take it upon themselves to brand such things) as a new hope for country music, a Waylon/Outlaw Movement throwback, a loophole through which we can crawl back toward the Holy Grail: legitimate, old-school country music that sounds like, well, country music rather than background noise at a Young Republicans meeting.

If you live in Houston and remember the old Whiskey Wednesdays at Mango's and later at Fitz, you probably thought young Robert Ellis would eventually fulfill this role, but, well, he's gone in another artistic direction.

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Euphoria Morning, Chris Cornell's Unexpected Masterpiece

Photo by Jim Bricker
Chris Cornell, in 2014
This summer, we saw one of the most exciting tours of 1994 come through Houston when relatively recently reunited bands Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails became a tag team for a super show full of all their greatest hits and songs from their new records that nobody cares about. By all accounts, it was a barrel of fun.

However, the 21st of this month marks the 15th anniversary of the release of one of the most enigmatic releases associated with those bands: Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell's first solo record, Euphoria Morning. Unfairly maligned upon release and forgotten quickly thereafter, it remains in the top tier of Cornell's output. In fact, I'd argue that it is his greatest album, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog releases included.

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The 10 Best Bad Music Videos of the '90s

Last month we talked about all the kitschy bad music videos that came out in the '80s and now tickle the fancy of pop-culture geeks like myself. This time, let's focus in on the '90s, which were great because everyone thought they had figured out how to make music videos into art.

Videos of the '90s were completely overloaded with highly cinematic, imaginative concepts, but only a few turned out truly exceptional. The majority look as dated and kitschy as their '80s counterparts, not to mention you can use them to peg trends in cinematography from a mile away. Ever notice how the lighting in Fight Club looks super-'90s? Music videos suffered from the same problem.

So let's take a look back on the best of the worst, the most fun examples of the shitpile that was '90s music videos. As a whole, the decade wasn't quite as hilarious as the '80s, but it did have its own distinct flavor and charm.

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The 10 Best Grunge Albums of All Time

Categories: Flannel File

Photo by Mark C. Austin
Pearl Jam at the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival
Kids of the '80s have to face the fact that it's time to put that "Beat It" jacket in cold storage, because the '90s are officially all the nostalgia rage. While the editor of this blog was vacationing last week, he happened to take in a screening of the very funny The World's End, whose plot pivots on the Soup Dragons' "I'm Free," and whose soundtrack is flush with prime Britpop from big guns Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Blur and Pulp to bit players the Housemartins and Saint Etienne.

On these shores, Britpop's sullen, lank-haired Yankee counterpart, grunge, is as omnipresent as it's been since The New York Times attempted to educate its readers in alleged Seattle slang like "hangin' on the flippety-flop." Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Mudhoney have released excellent to better-than-average albums within the past 12 months, and Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt is due next month and already drawing raves from the likes of Rolling Stone. Even Nirvana is back in record stores, sounding more visceral than ever thanks to the brand-new In Utero reissue.

Often grossly oversimplified as a hybrid of punk and metal, grunge turned out to be an extension and/or reinvention of plain old classic rock, the multifaceted kind of music Led Zeppelin and The Who used to play. Either way, the shadow it cast over current rock is so pervasive it borders on suffocating, but scrape off all the barnacles of watered-down derivative crap and you'll find grunge produced plenty of bitchin' tunes. (Maaaaan.)

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The 10 Lamest Bands of the '90s

Categories: Flannel File

Photo by Groovehouse
311 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, July 2012
Talk to some people (we guess) and they'll tell you that '90s nostalgia is the only kind of nostalgia that matters. Sunday, the decade of Reality Bites, Doc Martens and frosted tips -- which, seriously, is the name of a San Francisco-based '90s cover band -- will definitely be back in full effect when alt-rockers Everclear, Live, Filter and Sponge descend on the relatively new Midtown rooftop bar Proof.

That sounds like a more than decent show, especially at that price. All four of those bands produced at least one song that dominated rock radio and has kept being spun to this very day -- except maybe for Sponge's "Plowed," and that one certainly deserves to be. (Stay tuned for an interview with Everclear's Art Alexakis a little later on today, too.)

But let's be honest: Within the '90s-rock spectrum, as far as quality is concerned, the Summerland groups (in our opinion) all land in the first couple of tiers. Others were a lot, lot worse.

But who, you ask, might those be? Wouldn't you know it, recently Rocks Off put that very question to a few of our writers.

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Happy Birthday, Kurt Cobain: Where Would He Be Today?

Categories: Flannel File

Last year on this date, in honor of what would have been late Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain's 45th birthday, I wrote a blog supposing where the grunge icon would have been in 2012. It got a lot of traction, and people loved and hated it. Imagining him as a dubstep DJ was really for grins and shock value. I mean, who would have thought Dave Grohl would be Dave Grohl as we know him now? The future is funny that way. For all we know, Cobain would be playing a solo noise show at Super Happy Fun Land tonight.

Had he not died in April 1994, by his own hand -- or at the hands of sinister forces working for Courtney Love (insert maniacal laugh) -- Kurt Cobain would have turned 45 years old today. The rock icon killed himself at the age of 27, not only leaving behind a daughter to fend for herself against the wiles of her widowed mother, but also abandoning a future that music fans can only shake their heads and imagine with great shattered expectations.

Still, some have written him off as an immature, drug-addicted suicide casualty who couldn't hack it at fame. Society has a way of lionizing people who have died in their prime. Who is to say that some of the most prominent members of the 27 Club -- Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Cobain -- would have done things as groundbreaking as the work they did before their deaths, had they lived on?

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'90s Rock Doc "When We Ruled H-Town" Premieres Tonight

Remember the '90s? When it comes to Houston's rock scene, a lot of people don't. Sure, local bands were drawing large crowds to venues like the Axiom, the Vatican and the Unicorn, but much of the music of that era never made it outside the Beltway, and those clubs have been closed down for decades.

Unlike the underground hip-hop classics that were being pumped out in Houston at roughly the same time, the city's Clinton-era rock scene has largely receded from memory. For those of us who weren't there, it almost seems never to have existed at all.

That's unacceptable to J. Schneider and Brent Himes. The two of them played smogged-out shows together in the punk/funk/??? band Taste of Garlic in the early- to mid-'90s, and now they've co-directed a feature documentary about the wild, passionate scene that they remembered. The film is called "When We Ruled H-Town," and it premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Rice University Theater.

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Rock vs. Rap: Who Really Ruled H-Town?

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The early to mid-'90s were good times for underground music in Houston. At clubs like the Axiom, the Vatican and Fitzgerald's, an eclectic mix of punk, metal, funk and ska bands like deadhorse, Sprawl and more regularly played packed shows in front of 500+ fans.

Much has changed since, but those of us who were stuck in junior-high detention back then are in luck. A fascinating new documentary called "When We Ruled H-Town," co-directed by J. Schneider from bong-toting rockers Taste of Garlic, takes a nostalgic look back at those heady days in the pre-Napster era when it seemed inevitable that someone, ANYONE from Houston's thriving underground rock scene would blow up big nationally and put the city on the map. That scenario never quite happened, but it wasn't for lack of talent. Check out the film's premiere on Thursday to learn more.

There was much more bubbling up from the underground in Houston in the early '90s than just rock, of course. The Geto Boys were helping to kick off the rise of Dirty South hip-hop, and DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click were hard at work twisting rap in an incredible new psychedelic direction. Ask anyone about Houston's musical legacy of the past 20 years, and these names are bound to pop up.

There wasn't a lot of overlap between the rock and hip-hop scenes, but that's not to say there was none at all, according to Schneider.

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Rockabilly Filly Rosie Flores Slings a Working Girl's Guitar

Rosie Flores, known these days affectionately by many as the Rockabilly Filly, has had several careers: Punk rocker, cowpunk alt-country badass, potential country star, rock and roller, and rockabilly queen. Born in San Antonio, she spent her teen years in San Diego before striking out to find a career as a performer, writer, and guitar player.

Over the last four decades, the Bloodshot recording artist has released 14 albums and is set to release her fifteenth, Working Girl's Guitar, in the next few months. As a producer, she has just finished an album on legendary early rock and roll singer Janis Martin, known as "The Female Elvis."

Flores' trio will be rocking the Continental Club Friday night. Rocks Off caught up with her at her home in Austin.

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Friday Night: Toadies, Helmet & Ume at House of Blues

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Photos by Marc Brubaker
Toadies, Helmet, Ume
House of Blues
July 20, 2012

The '90s were in high demand in Houston on Friday night. Up in The Woodlands, the Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, Cracker and more packed 'em in to relive some of the decade's best one-hit wonders.

Downtown, the Clinton-era jams were a little harder. Texas' alt-rock kings, the Toadies, rolled into House of Blues on a co-headlining tour with Helmet, and they brought Austin's Ume along with them. If you'd seen any of these bands before, you knew this was a hot ticket.

Ume's set at Free Press Summer Fest was one I was disappointed to miss, so it was great to see them back in town again so soon. One of the best bands that Houston has lost to the brighter lights up 290 in the last few years, the three-piece fronted by guitar-shredding dreamgirl Lauren Larson came ready to make some new fans. It was nice to see the venue already full when they went on.

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