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Music Reviews

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September 11, 1996

Things That Show

Kris McKayKris McKay, Things That Show (Shanachie 1996) - Yet another talented singer/songwriter from Austin? Is the well bottomless? Apparently so, as Things That Show features McKay's considerable singing and interpretive talents.

Meet Kris McKay. After a stint in drama school at the University of Texas and a stab at the 9-to-5 working life, McKay fell in the crowd at The Beach, a club that fostered Austin's 1980's wave of "new sincerity" bands like the Reivers, True Believers, and the Wild Seeds (of which McKay was a member).

Her debut solo album was released six years ago on Arista Records, and sank without a trace. Says McKay, "It was just the wrong time for that record. There were about four triple-A stations in the country, and believe me, I visited all of them."

Kris McKayThings That Show (her second solo release) follows years of heartbreak and hard work as a frustrated musician. "Even though I had a lot of great people giving me support locally, I was really near my breaking point," admits the 32-year-old Texas native. "Things seemed to be moving in slow motion for me and I wondered if they were every going to move in real time."

Things That Show should help right McKay's career. McKay performs a number of covers on the album, including "Weakness In Me" by Joan Armatrading, "How Cool" by Matthew Sweet (who also contributes supporting vocals), and "Loose Diamond" by Jo Carol Pierce.

Kris McKayThe album's standout tracks are "Swinging Door" (an original), and a wonderful track called "Tear Stained Eye," which features supporting vocals by fellow songstress Kelly Willis.

McKay fits the Texas singer/songwriter mode to a T. With smart production work, skillful use of the studio, and an original voice, McKay deserves a wider audience. (However, I suspect she may be targeting a lesbian audience, based on the album cover.) McKay knows how to make a record, and Things That Show deserves an audience.

HootieHootie & The Blowfish, Fairweather Johnson (Atlantic 1996) - The Columbia, South Carolina quartet of Hootie & The Blowfish reached the big time with 1994's Cracked Rear View (which has sold 13 million copies to date). On Fairweather Johnson, the band jells in a rich-sounding album with greater sonic depth.

Hootie was formed in the late 1980s when four University of South Carolina students started playing gigs around Columbia. The band consists of Mark Bryan on guitars and piano, Dean Felber on bass, Jim "Sonnie" Sonefeld on drums and percussion, and Darius Rucker on lead vocals and guitar.

What began with burning live performances and three independent releases soon grew into a national phenomen. Despite the quartet's success and marathon touring, Fairweather Johnson does not have a rushed sound. Says Darius, "We wrote most of the songs on Cracked Rear View when we were 23 and 24. We wrote these at 29 and 30. We've done some growing up. That's the difference."

The new album was recorded at The Site studios in the scenic hills of Marin County, and was produced by Don Gehmen (who has also worked with John Mellencamp, Tracy Chapman, and Bruce Hornsby). The recording includes Peter Holsapple (formerly with Continental Drifters and the db's) on keyboards and accordion, and John Nau on Hammond organ. In addition, singer Nanci Griffith adds backing vocals to a pair of songs.

While I respect the success of Hootie, I generally find their smooth sound too homogenized. However, one track is a drop-dead single - "She Crawls Away," which features backing vocals by Glen Phillips (from Toad The Wet Sprocket). "She Crawls Away" is a moody, mischievous song that should dominate the pop charts as a single.

Fairweather Johnson is exactly the album you'd expect from Hootie - unpretentious, polished, and likable. Fans, old and new, won't be disappointed.

Patsy ClinePatsy Cline, The Birth of a Star (Razor & Tie 1996) - On this collection, Razor & Tie Records (a burgeoning label with sights set on the Zeus-like Rhino Records) releases 19 tracks originally recorded in 1957-58 for the CBS T.V. show, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. Recorded with Godfrey's Broadway-based house band, the songs show Cline's tremendous vocal skills, and smart wit.

By way of history, Patsy Cline was still playing regional clubs (in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. area) during 1956. Godfrey saw her on T.V. (she has auditioned unsuccessfully for Talent Scouts in 1954), and invited her back to New York. The rest of the story, as they say, is history.

Godfrey (whose show was a precursor of today's Star Search) hit it off big-time. Patsy's first number on the Talent Scouts was the bluesy, "Walking After Midnight" (which she later recorded as a hit record for Decca). During the next year, Cline made numerous appearances on Talent Scouts, performing such songs as "Your Cheating Heart," "Try Again," and "Two Cigarettes and an Ashtray."

After Patsy left the Talent Scouts, she enjoyed national chart success with such songs as "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy." Following Patsy's 1963 death in a Tennessee plane crash, her husband abandoned the Birth of a Star tapes when he sold their house to country singer Wilma Burgess. The tapes remained unlocated for many years, and weren't discovered until years later when Burgess sold the house.

The recording quality of Birth of a Star is fine: not dated or stilted. Of course, Patsy's terrific voice comes through front and center. The sessions don't have the great Owen Bradley touch, but have more than a mere historical interest. Enjoy Birth of A Star.

-- Randy Krbechek

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