Trust your ears

Some cynics in this town are pretty good at trashing the local talent pool. So it becomes incumbent to step outside the box, or off the grid, to see what a real bad band looks and sounds like.

Around 10 years ago, just such a band showed up on a Fort Worth, Texas, cable-access channel. Complete, as they called themselves, after the initials C, M, P and T in their names, was an 11-car freeway pileup of sound, with a toothless lead singer who looked like a crankster carnie and three other assclowns (one wearing a Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat chapeau) who each pursued different muses with alarming vigor. The result sounded like some drugged Black Oak Arkansas fans channeling Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica album, without the artful panache. Don’t believe me? I don’t want to blow the surprise of seeing and hearing Complete any further for you, so go to YouTube and enter “Hoogie-Boogie Land” in the search box, or check out the tribute page “C’mon c’mon c’mon Sparky!”

While there may be a local band or two that approaches such ineptitude, this column would rather focus on the better side of the musical spectrum. And not only are there some obvious works that approach genius that emanate from this town, there are some hidden gems, too—gems that no one may ever hear, because their creators may be slightly too bashful to pursue the hard-boiled task of pushing their music on the so-called “right people” who can help advance a career.

For example, I have a friend named Rich Varone who works for a state-owned insurance company in a building near where I work.

Varone had been talking about this album he’d been working on for a few years, and one day a while back he whipped out a home-burned CD and said, “Let’s go for a ride.” So we did. He wanted some advice on how to sequence the 19 tracks on Witch Pricker, the debut of his musical alter ego Hell Bent for Heaven. I think I told him that what he had was pretty much good to go.

Last week, he called me again to tell me the CD was done. The enigmatic gray cover doesn’t really give a hint as to what’s inside. Varone’s songs contain dense thickets of pithy observations and funny non-sequiturs; the music is rooted in a late ’80s/early ’90s indie-rock sensibility—think R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” shot through with elements of Bob Mould and Dinosaur Jr., along with weirdly angled Zappa-influenced guitar bits. Some of the songs—“Radio Baby” and “Crop Duster,” for instance—are sparkling guitar-pop gems that could stand alongside anything on alt-rock radio in the early ’90s, while other tracks are more oblique, and some of them are song fragments that serve to move the album’s narrative flow forward.

Varone recorded Witch Pricker at Jim Bell’s 3rd Bedroom Studios, where local goddess Ricky Berger has been recording her debut. You can contact him at