Rhythm & Views

The Damnations

The Damnations' 1999 Sire Records debut, Half-Mad Moon, introduced the rest of the world to a Texas phenom. The band had been tearing up the Austin roots-rock scene with their pals in the Gourds, but going them one or two better, taking similar live-action energy, quirky melodies and unpredictable tempo and chord changes into a world of girly grit, then burnishing them with intuitive, sister-tight harmonies. The Damnations got as far as The Tonight Show before Sire sold out. Then the band sank into obscurity, along with the label's assumption that Americana was the next big thing. Let's hope Lost Highway Records has better luck.

For their part, sisters Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly apparently have kept right on rockin', with the help of multi-instrumentalist Rob Bernard and drummer Conrad Choucroun.

Without the genre constraints presumably imposed by Sire's major-label expectations, the band last week released an independent recording more like its early live shows, for which fans gladly checked all expectations at the door.

On Where It Lands, the raging punk "New Hope Cemetery," which could almost have originated in the repertoire of the Cramps or Nashville Pussy, appears cheek-to-jowl with a Sparklehorse-treated, Lennon-McCartney-like "Animal Children," and only a few tracks away from "Root On," which would be a swell fit on a Kinks record. By rights, the discontinuity should be jarring; that it isn't is a measure of this band's unpredictable wizardry.

As good as their original tunes are, the Damnations would be worth a listen if only for their impeccable taste in covers alone. Doug Sahm's "Wanna Be Your Mamma" and Mike Nicolai's "Catch You Alive" were lost treasures before being reimagined by this band's live shows. The Damnations finally document "Mama," (and their own long-time house-rocker, "Corona") on Where It Lands, where they also debut Kevin Russell's pretty, poetic ballad "Steeple Full of Swallows."

That Boone plays generous amounts of Wurlitzer organ on the record, which makes it somewhat disappointing that there's nary a soul cover (a regular treat in the band's performances). But we can't have everything. Clever, gutsy songwriting, chalk and watercolor harmonies, thrill-a-minute dynamics and kick-ass fun will just have to do.

The Damnations appear Thursday, March 21, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For information, call 670-9202.

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