A Progressive Texas Stew
Denver Listener | Denver | 12/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In retrospect, the Bee's Knees' eclectic yet distinctive sound during their mostly regional run amid the "progressive Texas seventies" is hard to categorize even by today's multi-cultural standards. At times the Knees were folk-n-funk (Bill Withers without the social consciousness), blue-eyed soul and straight ahead Texas rock (Michael McDonald AND Tom Johnston), soft rock and jazzy R&B (Michael Murphey by way of T-Bone Walker) -- and yet the Knees' sound was all of a piece. These guys weren't monkeying around to show off their considerable chops; every song was delivered with craftsmanship and conviction, as well as that elusive requirement in music-tough Texas: genuine soul. It was a period when everything was up for grabs musically, and because the Lone Star State has always been a melting pot for styles -- where roadhouses bump up against hippie elements, not to mention the state's sophisticated blues-jazz traditions -- the Bee's Knees emerged from Dallas' hot Greenville Avenue scene with this inevitable sonic stew. I had to admit as a twenty-year-old that, when I bought their second album, "Pure Honey," on the heels of the hippie-folk first disc, I wasn't quite prepared for the horn-and-keyboard driven R&B sound (though the common soft-rock denominator binds these releases in spirit, as do the dreamy melancholy closers on each disc). In that sense, "Pure Honey" didn't exactly whet the palate of a typical undergraduate at the time (a period when Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe were starting to get airplay, even in Waco, Texas). But thirty years on, this album -- combined with eight bonus tracks, all from the first release -- capture a classic sound from a time now sorely missed, yet it's a sound that more than endures. Roger (?)'s soaring lead vocals might easily have landed him his own contract and career, but however that history developed (or didn't) I'll leave to more knowledgable reviewers. Just know that this reviewer is no nostalgiac, and when a record from a "regional" band that fell through the cracks sounds this distinctive and affecting three decades on, it's saying something. Especially in Texas."