I want to know what happened to the kittens. "Innocent as two kittens in a thunderstorm," is the metaphor Tim Hudson uses to describe two lovers who struggle to keep their love intact despite the storm of challenges that taint its purity in his ballad, "Stillborn Romance."
I'm a sucker for kittens in trouble. My wife's library for children she keeps at school has a book about an innocent kitten in a thunderstorm (I forget the name) that I spotted one day - that I had to read to know the end (the kitten was eventually rescued). Even this story for readers in the first grade (and retarded adults) had a dark aspect that reflects the pervasive truth that faces us all: the experience of the negative force majure of life always takes a little innocence away. The mere act of getting out of the storm into a dry place makes us different after the first time this happens, even if someone helps us to get there. And every struggle serves to make innocence increasing impossible to hold on to.
This metaphor used a little differently applies to the musical journey taken by Costal Bend through their two fine CD's Souls From Victoria, and Victoria Days, available at costalbendsongs.com. Instead of the thunderstorm as the antagonist; for artists like Costal Bend, the apt phrase might be, "innocent as kittens with very unsafe plushy toys," or, "innocent as kittens on extremely dangerous playground rides." Musical artists imagine producing work within a certain segment of American culture that looks like fun but is programed to pierce their flesh or shatter bones in extreme examples. Fortunately, Costal Bend has merely fallen victim to minor injuries.
Their first record, Souls From Victoria is outstanding. Concept records are my fave, although Souls is somewhat different in that the thread that weaves the songs together; Texas, Victoria specifically, in the somewhat misunderstood genre of "Texas Music," and all that stuff is fairly well-traveled territory for me to get excited about. What is stand-out to me is the epic that dominates the entire offering, "Souls From Victoria," which superbly defines what I think Texas Music truly is about as well as any song I've ever heard; the biplor nature of its people and culture, that is both sublimely loving and horrifically, senselessly violent.
It is now more common for the corridos of la frontera del norte to chronologue the BIG events in little people's lives. Proper Texas music strives to tell a story about heros and villians often done very badly, as in the all the times I've heard Willie-wannabe's story of the Alamo, or hat bands like Pat Green's simpering odes to blue bonnets and keg beer. Tim Hudson hit gold on 'Souls; the story of the 19 gentes from Mexico that smothered to death while trapped in a tractor trailor parked in Victoria. They were as innocent as kittens in a thunderstorm. The yearly tragedy of people who try to cross the desert pampas of south Texas only to die from thirst and exposure is only one of many such sickening dramas unique to this state that keep the pens of writers busy all the time. Only people that can imagine their suffering cries and can make music can play a tribute that is so grand in its humanity as this, and do it in a way that doesn't rape the dead for song fodder.
Even though 'Souls is the kind of narrative the greats Billy Joe Shaver, Steve Earl, Robert Earl Kean, James McMurtry and other like the late Towns Van Zant used to famously traffic in, the other songs on Souls also are remarkable either in fashion or performance. "Fast Road to Austin" is the kind of should-be standard that Pecan Street drunks can smash store-fronts and light dumpsters on fire to, and is performed in such a way as to bring credit to the honky-tonk bona fides of the group. "Hallmarks of Progress" is a thoughtful yen to a greener earth - a theme that is often done in a maudlin or cloying way - that is both well-writen and performed with feeling and committment.
Jeffery DiLeo's tele-style guitar mayhem on 'Fast Road is impressive. Matt Wickham is a staggeringly talented drummer, and as my friend, I am once again reminded of how proud I am of him. Dan Easton's bass work is yoemen enough in the somewhat restrictive style he is playing in for him to avoid being killed in a combination bus-airplane accident or spontaneous combustion.
I had to mention this expressly for readers and listeners that Angie Caraway and Dee Dee Hudson are especially gifted musically, and are terribly under utilized in this group. I hope they get more play on projects coming up.
I even hear my close friend, Debbie Copeland playing flute, who is not mentioned in liner notes.
Tim Hudson as the leader of Costal Bend is firmly in control, it seems. The question is whether or not he can he can realize his potential. He has a strong and distinctive singing voice that reminds me of Warron Zevon. His writing is capable of greatness. One would imagine that we would have to look no further than the next album to see this artist flower. But back to the kittens.
When Coastal Bend made Victoria Days their second effort and recent release, demons must have been whispering in their ears: "be more commercial"; "improve production"; "CD art, graphics and concept are too expensive"; "make your writing more main stream." Because, despite obvious achievement in those areas, and even more that ostensibly increase the chance people will listen (according to folks who know about these things) I found this record less charming, moving or interesting than 'Souls.
It isn't that Victoria Days is not a fine album; it is. The writing is solid as are the performances, and indeed the production and engineering is improved, but it lacks the "soul" of its predescessor. "Victoria Days," is equal to the bands potential, and "Stillborn Romance" supplies the human staple, but for some reason the work does not connect with my definition of Texas Music in that what's beautiful is sometimes hard to look at, and this enigma is difficult to express on this band's musical and personal jouney.
I can hear DiLeo, whose playing had sounded as if he just got through scraping cow shit off his boots attempting (albiet compentently) to make Big Rock leads as an example of where the band left behind its identity and authenticity. The music does not make a song powerful unless it is combined with subjects and illiteration that are up to the aspiriations of the other. Indeed, sometimes music cannot fly except on the wings of soaring lyrics. Thematically, I believe Costal Bend can do better than this.
Actually Victoria Days will probably make Costal Bend more popular and successful. All the songs rock harder live than anything on Souls. I just wish the subjects were more about serial killers, matricides, eccentrics, and racial strife. Maybe Costal Bend had to change a little as a result having to survive the maelstrom. It sounds corny, but I feel the best way to make great music is to be follow one's human compass. I expect great things from Costal Bend, and look forward what's next from Tim and the rest of this intriguing band.