Short Cuts 

Texas singer-songwriter masters postmodern pop.

Overdub

Davíd Garza

(Lava/Atlantic)

On his first two albums, Texas singer-songwriter Davíd Garza played a brand of caffeinated, highly danceable pop music built on infectious Latin rhythms and intelligent, heartfelt lyrics. But on his third album, 1995's Blind Hips In Motion, he opted for a drastically different sound that relied on lots of production quirks and drum loops and severely downplayed live instrumentation. A transitional record, Blind Hips was thudding and lifeless, its songs overburdened with weighty sonics. Garza's follow-up, the inconsistent This Euphoria, opened up his sound a little more, with a few songs like the effervescent "Discoball World" (a big hit in another universe) and the reggae-flavored "Slave" recalling the energy and liveliness of his earlier work.

Overdub, his fifth album, takes Garza one step further in this evolution, combining the rhythmic delights of his first two albums with the studio experimentation of his last two. It's his most cohesive and musically adventurous album to date, and it shakes and rocks down unpredictable avenues. The opener, "Drone," is no such thing: It bounces around as Garza sings in his rubbery voice about how the newness and excitement of being a musician have worn off. Elsewhere, "Blow My Mind" pogos about until it hits an instrumental coda that takes on a life of its own, and "Easter Lily" contains one of his best pop hooks yet.

Curious, though, is the attitude of many of Garza's lyrics, in which bitterness contrasts the songs' lightheaded pleasures. The catchy-as-hell first single, "Say Baby," laments his inability to get his songs played on the radio: "If they ain't down with your dublingo/If they don't hear no single deejays won't play your jam unless you say 'baby, baby, baby.'"

Such cynicism can be jarring, especially on an album that sounds this lively and upbeat. How unfortunate that Garza is so pessimistic about his career when his music has never sounded so good. -- Stephen Deusner

Grade: B+

Bait and Switch

Andre Williams

(Norton Records)

Raised by an aunt in one of the worst housing projects in Detroit, R&B singer Andre Williams hustled his way into the music biz while still a teenager. Best known for his work at the Fortune label in the mid-1950s ("Bacon Fat" and "Jail Bait" were his biggest singles), Williams forged new ground as a front man. Fully aware that his vocal abilities weren't up to par with the leading talents of the day, he talked or rapped his lyrics over a tight backup band. Unfortunately, Williams eventually faded from the scene after an 18-month stint with Ike Turner's band left him a full-blown junkie.

It took several decades, but Williams managed to clean up and get back to business. Much in the music world had changed in the years since he'd been gone, but "Mr. Rhythm," as he was known in his early days, soon carved himself a niche -- in the punk arena fronting garage-rock bands. Over the past four years, Williams has released three albums, performing with indie-rock bands such as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Demolition Doll Rods, and the Sadies. His own indie debut, Silky, turned a whole new generation on to his risqué -- but rhythmic -- vocal delivery.

With his latest release, Bait and Switch, it's clear that Williams' raunchy rap has only gotten dirtier over the years, and when backed by the all-star band producer Billy Miller assembled for this project, the results are, ahem, spicy -- and rated triple-X.

Williams speaks with authority on the autobiographical "Soul Brother In Heaven and Hell": "If you stick it in/You gotta take it out/Everybody knows what life is about." Cool snaps and a bent guitar riff hold the track together as Williams falls apart, screaming "Get off your ass," then recovers nicely for the next song, a duet with Ronnie Spector. The two breathe new life into Ike and Tina Turner's "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," while labelmate Rudy Ray lends his talents to a sleazy version of the Crawford Brothers' "I Ain't Guilty." Lonnie Youngblood holds down the sax duties as Robert Quine (ex-Voidoid) provides searing guitar licks that punctuate Williams' vocals with power and panache.

Sassy, boozy, and extremely fun, Bait and Switch puts Andre Williams right back on top. R&B ain't dead yet! -- Andria Lisle

Grade: A-

AM Gold

Zero Zero

(Jade Tree)

Former emo musicians deciding to make electro-pop is as common as a stand-up comedian deciding to take a drink of water onstage. Throw in an unhealthy dose of poorly utilized humor and you have a mini-movement on your hands. Take Zero Zero as a prime example: Half of revered hardcore/emo (or "screamo") movers Lifetime take off to the land of kitchen-sink studio wizardry and fill an album with bouncy, exotica-sprinkled sounds and cutesy adolescents-in-their-20s vocals. They use their Irony 101 skills and newly discovered dollar-bin laughs (including the backbone to Hall and Oates' "She's Gone") to make it sampler-unsafe for everything in sight. Fittingly, the whole package is wrapped in eye-popping album art that looks exactly like a Looking Glass greatest hits album.

While I don't find this approach amusing, I do find the music to be enjoyable. I derive extreme pleasure from a great big silly hook in pop music. These particular songwriters have hooks and chops to burn, along with enough energy to keep the album from lapsing into the pointless noodle-noise danger zone. If you are going to be a flash in the pan, the least you can do is sound as fun as Zero Zero.

-- Andrew Earles

Grade: B-

Laser Beam Next Door

The Silos

(Checkered Past)

What happens when a touring/bar band unexpectedly makes a highly listenable record that invites repeated plays and more than casual appreciation? The Silos probably would disagree with the bar-band label and the unexpected part, but that is what seems to have happened on their latest, Laser Beam Next Door. The band's previous recordings never sounded this straightforward and rocking. The Silos are down to a three-piece now, based once again in New York City, with guitarist/singer Walter Salas-Humara penning most of the tunes and contributing lead vocals on all selections.

The record is a compendium of familiar-sounding riffs and choruses from mid-'70s to early '80s rock radio which somehow avoids sounding clichéd and cheesy due to the band's strong performances and Salas-Humara's songwriting chops. The band seems sincere without being stupid about proudly playing this brand of lumpen rock, a kind of thinking man's Bachman-Turner Overdrive (not that the world needs something like that just right now). Even on the two Spanish-language songs there is no weary whiff of world beat, just a couple of rock tunes sung in a different language. The Silos aren't arty minimalists, but they do prove that paring down and simplifying can sometimes be a good commercial -- as well as artistic -- strategy. -- Ross Johnson

Grade: B+

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