Heart Of A Champion (Asylum)
The title resonates throughout Houston as a passionate declaration from then-Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich following the team’s unlikely path to a second consecutive NBA championship in 1995. That phrase didn’t originate with Rudy, but it was printed on a proverbial flag afterwards. Paul Wall gets that; his albums (this is technically his 5th) have always been a sort of table of contents of Houston lore. This one is probably less of a Houston-centric album than any of his previous work, but fittingly, the standout tracks on it are all loaded with Houston rappers. Guest apperances are front and center, and the quality of Wall’s lyrics and delivery directly correspond (consciously or not) with who appears on the track with him. While the club bangers on here (“I’m On Patron,” “My City”) only function as exactly that, it’s the lyricism around the rest of the album that leaves something to be desired, with chasing paper, hustling, looking good, wearing jewelry and… well, there just isn’t a whole lot being said. Lil Keke brightens up the record on “Showin Skillz,” with his characteristic swag (which Wall cites as a major influence), as does his former/current partner Chamillionaire. The entire record is produced by Beanz N Kornbread and Travis Barker; handing the entire thing over brings something about in the way of continuity, yes, but it also limits the vision. Some of the beats (“Heart Of A Hustler” and “Live It”) have an ugly, frenetic swing to them that just doesn’t work for a hip-hop album. Wall sounds his best when he takes a step back and comes through with the swagger that got him here, but a lot of the swing of these beats just rushes him. Maybe it’s a technicality, but it does come through in the overall tone. The exception would be the album’s best cut, “Smoke Everyday,” featuring Devin the Dude and Z-Ro intersecting melodic lines of singing and rapping in a way that brings out Paul Wall’s best. Not sure the same can be said for “Iced Out,” on which local jeweler TV Johnny steps up to the mic for an inadvisable round of spitting. Bring a towel.
“Are We Still Rolling?”
by Phill Brown (Tape Op Books)
As a wet-behind-the-ears tape operator working in London’s Olympic studio in the late 1960s, Phill Brown saw it all and saw it quick. Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck and Led Zeppelin were just a few. Refreshingly, this diary of his work up until the present day is not rooted in name-dropping. Instead, Brown takes us through his career with a dusting of mild-mannered observations, with his focus primarily on the technical aspects of his work. There are stories, to be sure, and Brown remembers the details vividly, but he puts them to paper in a matter-of-fact sort of delivery that makes it all sound very normal to him. And in fact, it is: Brown started at Olympic as a teenager, and in that sense, he has truly lived his life in the studio. What makes this book work is Brown’s seeming invisibility. He is injected into the stories of course, but the focus is never on him, even in the writing. What results is a sort of technical fly on the wall who sees all, hears all and wrote it all down. A fascinating look into the watershed recording techniques developed in the ‘70s leading right up to the present day.
By Lance Scott Walker