Killer or Filler?
New stuff by a young, folk-inspired bluesboy, a precocious rapper, and a veteran hard rock band prove that Fort Worth’s music scene is as productive and lively as ever. –– Anthony Mariani
Vincent Neil Emerson’s self-titled EP
“You can smell the heartache on my breath,” declares singer-songwriter Vincent Neil Emerson on “Lady Luck,” the opening tune of his new self-titled EP. More dramatically, you can hear the heartache loud and clear in this cherub-faced musician’s extraordinary voice. Fitting somewhere between the nasal mournfulness of James Taylor and the cheeky self-awareness of Sufjan Stevens, Emerson has a beautiful, lilting delivery that, like his delicate and silky acoustic guitarwork, takes its time making a point but doesn’t bore with that unhurried ease.
The EP offers a tasty plate of lo-fi coffeehouse folk-blues, just Emerson and his ax (barely) keeping each other company in a hushed studio. “Two Hearts” is even sadder than “Lady Luck,” if that’s possible, as Emerson ponders split personalities and wrecked romances. Believe it or not, tempo and mood start to pick up with the next tune, “Easy to Die” –– Emerson plays a series of quick repeating chords like chimes while he sighs, “I’ve been dreaming lately of the life I used to know / Where the world was an easy place to be.”
The EP’s slightly more upbeat closer, “Southern Belle,” begins with the priceless couplet: “I fell in love with a nice young girl / Who came from hell.” The aristocratic young Dixie woman in question spends a lot of time pondering whether Emerson is too much of a loser to bother with, but listeners know better. This young musician is a keeper, an artist with that rare ability to keep you hanging on every minor chord change and bluesy inflection. –– Jimmy Fowler
Wrex Washington’s WrexIsh
Though Wrex Washington is still performing with the on-again/off-again group Mt. Olympus, the young rapper spent most of the past year or so doing his own thing. In mid-2013 he put out his freshman album, The Wrex Files, and just a couple of weeks ago, he released the EP WrexIsh. Produced by Ishmael Davison and recorded at G1 Studios in Westover Hills, the short-player puts Wrex front and center while saving room for collaborations with YKK and Dru B Shinin’, co-frontman for Mt. Olympus and LionEye.
“The Road Again” is a bittersweet, mid-tempo lament on the tribulations of being uprooted. Minor-keyed, reverberating piano chords fill the entire song, adding a distinct feeling of gravitas. A few seconds in, high-pitched kick beats and shimmering synth lines lighten the mood and propel the music forward. The song alternates between YKK’s soulful tenor crooning and Washington’s introspective rapping. Lines like “Whether I came from Chad or Sudan, either way 2014 see a hundred grand” allude to the lost history of many African-Americans while simultaneously offering a defiant retort. Sober lines like “Trying to change the world, start with the man in the mirror” reinforce the fact that this song isn’t a rant against society but a call to action. And a cliché, but his delivery sells it.
“Mutant Face” opens with bright Motown-flavored brass lines. A female chorus of “I promise, promise to you” in high falsetto permeates the remainder of the song. Washington touches on images from pop culture to social commentary in seemingly stream-of-consciousness rapping that captures the angst of seeing problems but having little power to solve them.
With his album and EP, Washington is benefiting from his experience with veteran rappers Dru and Young Zeus, among others, and is highlighting his personal journey. He’s got stories to tell, and the more time he spends on his own, the more likely his style and sound will evolve into something uniquely Wrex-ish. –– Edward Brown
The Dangits’ Come Alive
When I think about the cult-like followings that European hard rock bands like Turbonegro, Truckfighters, and the Hellacopters have built among American fans, I wonder what would happen if an American hard rock band like The Dangits was able to constantly tour across the Atlantic. After all, Europeans have a record of going crazy for hard-charging bands from Texas. In their four years of togetherness, The Dangits have perfected the Texas version of European hard rock. On their new LP Come Alive, they strut like a post-apocalyptic Camaro outfitted with brand-new headers and even bigger machine guns.
While the Come Alive hell-ride occasionally veers into the kind of anthemic, party-hard punk that wouldn’t be out of place on a Big Boys record (the title track and “In the City,” for example), The Dangits mostly stick to their tried-and-trusty paces of Motörheadian rock ’n’ roll: no-brakes beats spray-painted with Brandon Smith’s greasy, overdriven solos and fueled by frontman Mike Noyes’ snarl. The Dangits aren’t reinventing their own wheels, but these songs sound as if they’re riding on better tires and with shinier rims. –– Steve Steward