Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The San Antonio Sound - the Next Generation

Probably the most enlightening musical revelations I’ve had this spring have come from all the great new music pouring out of San Antonio – the new Krayolas’ Americano album, the new Hacienda album, and two exciting punk groups, A Girl In A Coma and Pinata Protest.

Girl in A Coma – Jenn Alva, Phanie Diaz, and Nina Diaz – whose music was initially inspired by the Smiths and Nirvana, hit me like Latina spawn of the Runaways on first listen of their 2007 debut album Both Before I’m Gone and last year’s Trio B.C. The slash-and-burn chainsaw chords and aggressive vocals were expected, but they were delivered with enough grit, grind, occasional bilingual lyrics, and local Chicana references to qualify as a Nowhere But Sananto original. That sort of explains why filmmaker SA native Robert Rodriguez was falling over himself with his camera during SXSW filming Las Home Girls, and why GIAC’s latest 3 EP series, Adventures in Coverland, which includes cover versions of Selena’s “Si Una Vez,” Ritchie Valens’ “Come On Let’s Go,” Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” along with Beatles, Joy Division, David Bowie, and Velvet Underground send ups, wound up on Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records label. They were can have it both ways. “Si Una Vez” is particularly grabbing, capturing Selena’s passion and versatility and suggesting she might have had quite a career as a spirited punkette had she lived longer.

On their new album Plethora for SAustex Records, the band Pinata Protest – Alvaro Del Norte, JJ Martinez, Matt Cazares and Marcus Cazares - stakes out territory as the spiritual hermanos to Girl in A Coma. They are a straight up accordion-powered conjunto but work the polka beat with such furious aggro that they come off like the Pogues, if the Pogues came from South Texas instead of Ireland. Their ‘tude is hard and fast, with pauses now and then for something a lil’ more sentimental like “Love Taco.”

Hacienda - Abraham, Jaime, and Rene Villarreal and their cousin Dante Schwebel - really grabbed me on their first album Loud Is the Night, mainly for their lush harmonies that recalled the Beatles and the Beach Boys but in more of a contemporary context, like Fleet Foxes. This time out, on Big Red and Barbacoa they’ve emerged from their northeast San Antonio garage with a more polished sound that reflects touring and recording with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the coolest band to come out of Ohio since….well, a long, long time.

It was Auerbach who hipped the bros to Doug Sahm, the patron saint of San Antonio music whose definitive Tex Mex sound popularized by the Sir Douglas Quintet’s sixties hits “She’s About A Mover” and “Mendecino” set the standard by which all SA music has been judged ever since. Since Hacienda wasn’t familiar with Sahm, I’m guessing it’s Auerbach’s influence that’s responsible for the songs “Big Red” and “Barbacoa.”
Unfortunately, the music doesn’t match the localized lyrics, which come off as pandering. What’s more significant is the harmonizing, which comes off as more Beach Boys than Beatles this time around – “I Keep Waiting” and “Hound Dog” could have been tracks off of Summer Days (and Summer Nights). The album as a whole isn’t the revelation that their surprising debut was. But cuts like “Gotta Get Back Home” and the instrumental roller-rink groove of “Barbacoa” whet the appetite for whatever comes next from the Hacienda boys.

The Krayolas’ Americano is their best, most Santone recording to date, and honestly, the most San Antonio-sounding pop artists since Sir Doug himself. The Saldana brothers (David and Hector), Van Baines, Joe Sarli, Barry Smith and friends work a borderlands beate infused with plenty of pop and Beatleseque influences to transcend being a regional confectin. Their past three releases have all had their moments, especially their bilingual cover of Augie Meyers’ “Little Fox” with Augie his own self pumping the Vox organ that was the Sir Douglas Quintet’s signature; the Catholic Malinche tribute “La Conquistadora,” and a disturbing slice of the Mexico drug wars “Corrido Twelve Heads In A Bag.”

Americano shows the Krayolas wearing their Sixties pop-rock sensibility proudly on “Good Little Girl (She Don’t).” But it’s when the band digs even deeper into their hometown roots with the help of the West Side Horns and Flaco Jimenez that the music gets interesting. “Exit/Salida” is a direct descendant of Sir Doug’s “Nuevo Laredo,” groove-wise. The horns provide the hooks to the title track “Americano,” the punchy brass harmonies punctuating compelling lyrics that speak to SA’s cultural duality. It’s that rare track that once you start humming it, you can’t get out of your head. Flaco throws down some serious accordeon licks for the ambitious “Wall of Accordion,” a local ref to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. But it’s Louis Bustos’ soaring sax that makes the tune cook and smoke, rendering the accordion as almost an afterthought until Flaco’s backyard riffing on the next track “Soy La Pared” brings redemption. “Fruteria (The Fruit Cup Song)” which celebrates a San Antonio slice-of-life as a puro pop confection, “Home,” an introspective slice of life about an immigrant working woman, and the dirty blues of “Piso Diez” are all Krayolas, needing no outside musical assistance to hit the mark.

Not every track on Americano works, and their latest single “1070 (I’m Your Dirty Mexican) about Arizona’s new immigration laws isn’t even on the album. But what the Krayolas, Hacienda, Pinata Protest, and A Girl In A Coma have collectively achieved bears notice: Sir Doug is dead – long live Sir Doug; these bands represent the next generation of San Antonio music makers with a musical sense of place. The spirit of Sir Doug lingers, but each group has stepped out from under his shadow to create sound that are new and completely different but still come out puro SA. In other words, that South Texas groove is stronger than ever.
Una polkita anyone?

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