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V/A - Local Customs: Lone Star Lowlands

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Artist: V/A

Album: Local Customs: Lone Star Lowlands

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Jul. 13, 2010

Lone Star Lowlands , the second installment in the Numero Group’s Local Customs series, collects material recorded in the Port Neches, Texas Lowlands studio between 1969 and 1974. Located in the center of east Texas’s “Golden Triangle” (home to Janis Joplin and Johnny and Edgar Winter), Lowlands was opened up in a strip mall by Mickey Rouse, professional accountant and amateur musician, in late ‘69, and made most of its money recording commercial jingles. What Lone Star Lowlands collects, needless to say, is the rest of the studio’s material, largely the work of aspiring local musicians hoping to market themselves with a well-cut demo single. None of the acts here ever hit it big — the obscurity is, of course, part of the raison d’être of Numero’s project — but most of the material here is unabashedly commercial. Indeed, there’s nothing quirky or unexpected about any of the artists represented here, who come across not as outsiders or provincial dilettantes, but aspiring professionals trying to respond to a rapidly changing music scene.

While a number of genres (blues and boogie rock, hard rock, jazzy pop) are represented on the album, the bulk of the material is mellow folky pop, a less hip, more “adult” counterpart to Crosby, Stills and Nash or Joni Mitchell. While a look at the track line-up suggests a large group of different musicians, the music collected here is largely the work of a close network of associated musicians; this, along with the common producer/engineer (Rouse), gives Lone Star Lowlands a more cohesive feel than one might otherwise expect from a selection of singles. The strongest among them are Mother Lion’s “Simple House,” a perfectly constructed pop-rock mini-epic that recalls The Looking Glass’s “Brandy,” and Boot Hill’s “No Control,” a knockout fusion of Led Zeppelin blues metal and King Crimson-ish noodling.

Two names pop up again and again, dominating the collection — those of Bill Swicegood (who played keys with Mother Lion) and Bobby Welch, both of whom are represented under several different monikers on the collection. Swicegood’s contributions are consummately professional, but somewhat stodgy, tending toward buoyant and sappy acoustic pop (Insight Out’s “Live My Life Today,” Sage’s “Everyday is Saturday”) — polished but pedestrian feel-good flowery fluff that would fit right in on early ’70s AM radio. Welch functions as a sort of youthful counterpart, representing the late vestiges of teen-oriented bubble-gum psychedelia (Mourning Sun’s “Let’s Take a Walk in the Woods”) and some no less bubble-gummy stabs at country rock (“Benashaw Glen”). Had they been more successful, both would have likely been dismissed as terribly un-hip and commercial (as would most of the artists here), but in this context their music is a fascinating and highly enjoyable record of the time, a forgotten double or mirror image of the period’s popular music.

By Michael Cramer

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