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Are Valley bands actually any good? Ask the pros

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Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 12:00 am

Many music industry people have never heard of McAllen, much less the musicians that play here.

A four-hour drive separates the Valley from the closest major American city. Big acts play concerts here sporadically, if at all. And the local music scene is tough to crack, with fans and bar owners preferring cover songs to original music.

It's difficult to jump from the Valley to music stardom, any artist here will agree with that.

So Festiva brought outside opinions to McAllen. We enlisted five people, with varying involvement in the music industry, to review local songs. Our reviewers, with a wide range of tastes and backgrounds, all found songs they liked. And of course, they also found songs they didn't like.

Starting in October, Festiva has profiled about three local songs each month, posting them for free download on the Internet. The series, dubbed Festiva's Infinite Playlist, involved all genres of music. And all 15 songs came from Valley-based talent.

Here's a look at what people who have never heard Valley music (or in some cases even heard of the Valley) thought of the play list. Listen to the songs as you read by going to If you like any of the songs, they are yours to download for free.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following opinions do not represent those of Festiva. And please remember, a little constructive criticism goes a long way.



A-    The Black Tora - "Hearts On Fire"

B+   The December Drive - "Pretty Little Girls"

B+   GoLightly Project - "Caught Up"

B+   Shawn Elliot - "Bittersweet"

    Arrgh!drey - "Derby"

B     The Jericho Machine - "Portable Sun"

B     Kim Snyder - "Sleepwalkin'"

B     White Zebra - "The Tiger's Envious Grin"

C+   Dignan - "They're Outnumbered"

C+   Methmare Motorcade - "Skin"

C     Driving The Nails - "Days of Mourning"

C     Future - "Crunk Tonight"

C     Stillborne - "Remedy Ultra"

C-    Highway 7 - "Blame It On Me"

D+   Broken Poetz - "Any Way You Want It"

TRACK 1 Dignan - "They're Outnumbered"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Melodic indie rock

For fans of: Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Band of Horses


Dignan tours more than any band on the local music scene. With the exception of California, name a major American city and they've played there. The five-piece band from McAllen also represents the Valley in Austin at South by Southwest this week, one of the music industries biggest events.

The Critic says: If I heard it come on over the speakers at a Starbucks, I'd tap my foot. Overall a polished track that blends a distinct melody with off-beat spaciness - but in a way that works for the most part. I wish the sound would crescendo rather than explode the way it does near the end, but ultimately a solid effort. B+

The Mom says: It's got a real pretty background and the voices blend nicely, but I don't think they have much energy. It's kinda weak. D

The Producer says: I was immediately drawn in to this song's dreamy yet playful intro, which had my head bobbing from the downbeat. However it bobbed for about 8 bars too long while waiting for the lyrics. When they did come in, their universal subject matter proved that this song would connect with a broad audience. Although lacking in a solid hook, "They're Outnumbered" is one of those album tracks that quickly becomes a favorite. B+



TRACK 2 The Jericho Machine - "Portable Sun"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Alternative rock

For fans of: Pearl Jam, Nickleback, Audio Slave

The Jericho Machine ranks as one of McAllen's top up and coming rock bands. The trio has music playing on local radio stations.

They've also opened some major shows for national acts, including Alien Ant Farm on South Padre Island and Alter Bridge in Mission. Front man Robert Perez powers the group with deep song writing and strong vocals, sounding a bit like Eddie Vedder. The Jericho Machine released debut album Educated Donkey last year, and the group plans to tour outside the Valley in the coming months.

The Musician says: Good sound, vocals and production. Musicianship is good, although I think the guitar solo is a little over the top for the song. A

The Mom says: Now they've got a really strong singer. I like this one. Good guitar and the singer sings with passion. A plus for a parent, I could understand most of the words. A

The Fan says: Radio friendly rock! [Hell] yeah! Congratulations Jericho Machine, you guys are going to make it big. You will be playing along with acts like Nickelback and Hindered in no time. This is not a compliment. This song is uninspired garbage, custom made to fit into a specific radio format. NEXT! F


TRACK 3 --- Driving the Nails - "Days of Mourning"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Industrial rock

For fans of: Nine Inch Nails, Orgy

Driving the Nails has become a staple in the local music scene, weathering a storm of line up changes. In 2007, the band almost completely rebuilt itself. Last year, the industrial rock group started building momentum, releasing this once rare song on MySpace and through Festiva's Web site. The band has currently started work on a new full length album.

The Critic says: Either the vocals were too lightweight for the lyrics, or the lyrics were too dark for the vocals. The song didn't leave me as depressed as I felt it should, which was, in a word, depressing. C-

The Fan says: This song is trying too hard to be dark and moody. Try going outside guys. Or at least open up the blinds. I do like the guitar solos though. C

The Producer says: Lead singer David Rodriguez has a clear vision of what he wanted to say musically, and achieved that vision with this song. That counts for a lot. It shows great passion and dedication to have self-produced the entire song.  But with a professional production this song could go places. The best thing the band can do is put together a steady band and practice, practice, practice! I'm very interested to hear where they are now with this project as I hear great potential from this track. C


TRACK 4 The GoLightly Project - "Caught Up"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: R & B

For fans of: Timbaland, dancing in the club

After a brief split last year, Dewayne Golightly and Jonathan Rodriguez have started working together again as The GoLightly Project. The duo, which released a Latin/reggaeton album a few years back, has posted some new songs on MySpace. They have even polished and made changes to this track "Caught Up." But the beat and the hook remain largely unchanged. The GoLightly Project has not released this song on an album, but that could change soon.

The Critic says: I'm not a dance-track guy, but this song has a good groove and catchy chorus. Lose the "all right, getcha drink!" shout-outs in the middle and I'd consider playing it at my next dance-heavy house party - which subsequently would be my first dance-heavy house party. B

The Musician says: To paraphrase my friend Chocolate Genius, anyone with ProTools, a computer and a keyboard thinks he's a musician and a songwriter. This is a perfect example. C-

The Mom says: It was catchy and polished. They had really nice voices. I thought it was danceable and it had me boppin'. I don't usually like rap but this was palpable. A

Average grade: B+



TRACK 5 ---- Kim Snyder - "Sleepwalkin'"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Jazz/Soft rock

For fans of: Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Fiona Apple

Kim Snyder has released a lot of music compared to most Rio Grande Valley musicians, ranging from original albums to cover songs to tribute music. Currently, there doesn't seem to be a new album on the horizon, but the Kim Snyder Trio stays busy. The group often pops up at Sahadi's or the Renaissance Hotel in McAllen.

The Fan says: Peggy Lee. The song screams Peggy Lee to me. Believe me, this is a compliment. The vocals are beautiful and haunting, yet warm and inviting at the same time. The standup bass brings an old 40's/50's feel to the track, while the distorted drum track makes it distinctly modern. Consider me a fan. A

The Producer says: I really enjoyed the originality of this industrial jazz track. When the beat first came in I was expecting a completely different track from what it turned out to be, though it was a nice surprise. Kim has a clear identity, a great voice, and a good sense of structure. Overall the performance, songwriting and execution were spot on. This song has a very creative and unique blend of styles. B

The Mom says: I thought the music was too loud, but I could still understand the words. It had really nice music. It was reminiscent of the Mommas and the Poppas with no Poppas. B-

Average grade: B



Track 6 --- Methmare Motorcade - "Skin"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Hard rock

For fans of: Guns N Roses, Thrice

Methmare Motorcade has re-recorded this song since we put it up for download. The track, written by the band's lead singer and front man Ramsey Ramirez, departs from Methmare's normal brand of hard-edge alternative rock. The new version of the track will appear on Methmare's soon to be released debut full length Shattered.

The Mom says: This is really bluesy and very good guitar. I think he has a lot of potential, but I don't think his voice is strong enough. I like the lyrics though. I thought they were intellectual and thought out. He made the social commentary about her drinking and all that. I thought the message was good, but if his voice was a little stronger it would have been more dynamic. B

The Fan says: When you find a band with a worse name, call me. Unfortunately, their music does not make up for their name. Just another radio rock clone band. Puddle Of Mudd called, they want their song back. D

The Producer says: "Skin" gave me chills from the first note, and continued to deliver throughout. This important "it factor" is the distinction between a hit and a flop. A spectacular song with great execution that held its own stripped down, which is the true test for quality song writing. The effects on the vocals were more distracting than cool and took away from this otherwise good sounding production. I'm excited to hear the band's new material as I feel I could be a legitimate fan of Methmare Motorcade. A-

Average grade: C+



Track 7 ---- Broken Poetz - Anyway You Want It


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Rap rock

For fans of: 311, Sublime, Cypress Hill

The MCs in the Broken Poetz have rapped on the local scene for years. In early 2008, Broken Poetz brought in a drummer, bassist and lead guitarist. The rock powers the rap sound, and the Poetz have spread it through the local music scene, playing both hip hop and rock shows. "Anyway You Want It" is the band's second recorded song ever, and it will appear on the group's debut album The Art of the Broken Flow, due this year.

The Producer says: The "Alpha-male-rock-star" lyrics were well written and told a consistent story throughout the whole song. The Brian Wilson influence is strong and the band certainly accomplished a great Beach Boys-style production of this tune. However, the more modern lyrical content is at odds with the vintage feel of the production, as if they were two different songs. The story being told by the lyrics (cocky and sexy) is quite different than the story being told by the music (laid back and chill). While both great in their own right, together they sound incongruent. The ability to create a cohesive sound is one of the finer points of producing a song, often referred to as "the vibe." It's what makes a great production. C

The Critic says: If that song "Butterfly" by Crazy Town had a lovechild with a rough draft of Eazy E lyrics, this would be the result. The lyrics and style made me wonder if they were making a parody of the trashy sex-rap-rock cheese that plagues the radio. (I hope they were.) "I'm gonna take you back to the hotel, and I'm gonna rock your body real well." Well, you better, because you are not rockin' my ears. Um, if this is off a comedy album, A. If they're being serious, D.

The Mom says: To me, it was poor quality and the words were stupid. I didn't like it. D

Average grade: D+



Track 8 --- The Black Tora - "Hearts on Fire"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Rock

For fans of: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden

When "Hearts on Fire" joined the play list, this band was called Warryor. The trio from McAllen changed its name in February, aiming for a more distinct moniker to tackle national fame. The band has recorded a full-length album produced by former Quiet Riot lead singer Paul Shortino, and the Black Tora will soon launch a national tour, probably opening for a larger band.

The Fan says: This band screams 80's metal, and so does the music. This song is a blast. Taking cues from Iron Maiden, Motorhead and early Metallica, "Hearts On Fire" is a fist-pumping, head banging, throw up the devil fists type song. These guys aren't trying to be progressive. They are trying to rock. A-

The Producer says: Awesome. Classic metal at it's best. These guys definitely know who they are and what they're going for. They pulled off the vibe in all areas of this song. From the tones to the vocal performance to the lyrical content, everything was cohesive and true to itself. I would have loved to hear the vocals much louder and more present in the mix to display the great performance. While the drums didn't quite live up to the big metal sound of the 80's, the guitars nailed it. Overall really well done and I'm excited to hear the new material. A-

The Musician says: From what I understand of this genre (admittedly, that's not much) these guys are doing a pretty good job. The only thing that's missing is a bunch of guys drinking in one hand and raising the other in a clenched fist. B-

Average grade: A-



Track 9 --- Highway 7 - "Blame it on Me"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Country

For fans of: Sugarland, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum

Highway 7 combines two women from Canada with a locally-based backing band. They've started playing more local venues, including the country powerhouse gig at the Mercedes Livestock Show. Plans for the future will certainly include more touring.

The Musician says: This is a perfect example of how Nashville killed country music. About 15 to 20 years ago, someone walked into that town and said this is how you can sell more records. The plan was so successful that every person who could strum a guitar and go through beauty pageant school thought they could do it. Just because you can strum, wear cowboy boots and sing (and in this case a little flat), does not make you a country singer. For the record, Patsy Cline, Randy Travis, Vince Gill and Dolly Patron are country music examples. Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood are not country, no matter how many records they sell or awards they win. I thought Texas knew better. C-

The Producer says: "Blame It On Me" is a classic, country-pop song with broad appeal due to universally relatable lyrics and great hook. The vocals were pitchy at times but overall the performance was delivered with conviction. The shrill harshness of an acoustic guitar recorded direct was the only distraction in this tastefully produced and appropriately mixed song. I'm looking forward to seeing Highway 7 on CMT in the near future. B

The Critic says: In spots the background and lead vocals just don't mesh as seamlessly as I wanted - which surprised me given the singers are related. But it's hard to rip a bright little tune like this that's just trying to make us good ol' folks nod our heads and tap our feet. B-

Average grade: B-




Track 10 --- The December Drive - "Pretty Little Girls"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Alternative rock

For fans of: ‘80s dark wave

The December Drive has played its last show. The group had a farewell gig in December at Cine El Rey. It marked the end of one of the Valley's most prolific bands. In the past eight years, the guys made four EPs and two full length albums. They also released their latest full-length, Games, at that final show. The band says it has not broken up, and there is no behind the scenes drama. They've just stopped playing live as the December Drive.

The Musician says: In this case, these guys know how to use a computer, ProTools and a keyboard. Song structure, production and musicianship here is good. Not my cup of tea, but I would pay money to see these guys. A

The Critic says: I'd plop it on an alt-80s mix, sandwiched between New Order and Oingo Boingo tunes. You know that scene in any '80s drama where the leading man hops in his car and speeds through the night, to "mull things over"? This song would be playing on the radio of his Trans Am. And I mean that as a compliment. B+

The Fan says: Think New Order meets Nine Inch Nails. Now, take every possible good thing about those two bands. Then, add in a band like Breaking Benjamin. You get December Drive's "Pretty Little Girls." This song takes radio friendly metal vocals and mixes it with typical and derivative new wave/late 80's industrial guitar and keyboards. Not a terrible song, but not something I would listen to again. C

Average grade: A-


Track 11 ---- Shawn Elliot ft. Will Da Real 1 - "Bittersweet"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click and save as)


Genre: Hip hop

For fans of: Jay Z, Talib Kwali, Mos Def

Shawn Elliot spends his days working at a middle school, where he organizes concerts, dance groups and other positive activities. Elliot, who grew up in South Florida, advocates working in the community and mentoring youth. "Bittersweet" is the first track off his most recent album Abstract Me. He's currently working on new material with R & B singer Lamar Jones, due later this year. Elliot has already posted some new tracks on his MySpace page.

The Musician says: As good as any hip hop I've ever heard and it has a better message. I guess there is truth in advertising. A

The Critic says: Lose the intro, or make it fit tighter to the music. (It's all out of sync.) "Bittersweet Symphony" lends itself well to rap - and the remix during the verses is nice. But overall I couldn't help but think this was just a similar but inferior little brother to the "Dirt on Your Shoulders"-"Bittersweet Symphony" mash-up that's been floating around the Internet for several years. B

The Fan says: The song begins with a cappella rap, then after a few seconds you notice they are fading in The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." The voice you hear is Will Da Real One, and it works really well with the intro of "Bittersweet Symphony." The rest of the song doesn't work as well as the intro, but it is still an interesting mix. B

Average Grade: B+


Track 12 ---- Stillborne - "Remedy Ultra"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Hard rock

For fans of: Sevendust, Killswitch Engage or Mudvayne

Stillborne is another band popular on the local rock scene. They've been making hard rock music and playing it in Edinburg, McAllen and Mission. In 2009, the band plans a tour and a new album release.

The Critic says: This is one of those "nu metal" tracks where the instruments wallow down low and let the vocals do all the real work. But while the lyrics sound deeply personal, I gotta knock the lead singer for reaching above his range. If you can't sustain the high notes, like really sustain them, then don't go up there, man. Rearrange the guitars to carry more of the melody and keep your voice in its wheelhouse. I wouldn't listen to it again, but I'm sure I'll hear my teenage son blasting it in the future when he goes through his inevitable "teen angst" phase. C

The Fan says: If you like bands like Sevendust, you will probably like these guys. If you don't, then don't bother. However, even if you DO like Sevendust, be weary. This song has an unnecessarily long intro and poor vocals. D

The Musician says: The name pretty much sums it up. I've always wondered how anyone tells these types of bands apart, aside from Rage Against the Machine or possibly Mudvayne. The musicianship is good, but the vocals are a little off. Oh! They're supposed to sound like that. C-

Average Grade: C


Track 13 --- Future - "Crunk Tonight"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Hip hop

For fans of: Ja Rule, 50 Cent, T.I.

Future has seen much success after the 2008 break up of local hip hop group Dem ATM Boyz. He has launched singles onto the radio and opened on the main stage at the McAllen Convention Center before T.I. His debut album, The Legacy Begins, will drop soon. And he will also open for Akon on South Padre Island during Spring Break.

The Fan says: When I read the title of this song before listening to it, I was really hoping it was a joke. No one names one of his songs "Crunk Tonight" and takes himself seriously. But here we have Future's "Crunk Tonight," a song that sounds like every other gangster rap song you hear. Lame. D

The Producer says: Classic crunk songwriting that even Lil' Jon would be proud of. "Crunk Tonight" is well executed and fits the mold well. A new mix would definitely add some much needed hype and excitement to the track. B+

The Musician says: This is more like the past. It's another case of misogynistic hip hop. Y'know, I get it, everybody likes to get their groove on and have sex, but hasn't this song been done over and over and over and over and over? Take a lesson from Shawn Elliot. C-

Average grade: C


Track 14 ---- Arrgh! Drey - "Derby"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Acoustic/folk

For fans of: She & Him, Regina Spektor

College has temporarily stunted this budding duo's growth. Audrey and Cameron Scott, siblings from McAllen, make up Arrgh!Drey. And right now, they are limited with Audrey away at school in San Marcos. But they have plans to record a debut EP this summer, when the semester ends.

The Critic says: If this band takes the stage dressed as pirates, then the group name is a winner. (If not, well, um, best of luck getting your demo tapes listened to, gang.) As for the actual song, it was catchy and melodic. The singer has a welcoming voice - reminds me of the Kostars...if anyone but me is old enough or dorky enough to remember that particular Luscious Jackson spin off. B+

The Producer says: "Derby" is a great coffee-shop soundtrack for a rainy afternoon. However, there wasn't much to draw me to this sleepy tune; the melodic and rhythmic package could definitely use some embellishment. Audrey's voice is cute in its own right and she tells a decent story. The tones were appropriate, clear and well mixed. B

The Mom says: It's ok bar music. Nice folk guitar. It's just kind of plain, kind of average for folk music. B

Average grade: B



Track 15 ---- White Zebra - "The Tiger's Envious Grin"


> DOWNLOAD IT (right click the link and Save As)


Genre: Rock

For fans of: Interpol, the Pixies

White Zebra seems to be everywhere in the Valley at the moment. Whenever an indie rock or progressive band comes, the guys from Brownsville get on the card. And they've gained respect among other big names on the scene. When Dignan's drummer broke his hand recently, that group turned to White Zebra's percussionist to fill in. With some members away at college, the band plans to resume writing and making music later this year.

The Musicians says: A warehouse may be a great place to rehearse, but it's a terrible place to record. The drums are way too loud. The best part of this song is the end, not because it's over, but because it finally sounds like a song. C

The Fan says: Typical indie band name aside, this is a great song. The layers in this song are fantastic. I am fan of the main guitar riff. The drums drive the song and the bass line accents the music perfectly. My only concern, the song is a little too long for its own good. A

The Mom says: It had a boom, boom, boom thing I didn't like, and I thought it was uninteresting. B

Average grade: B


Go back to the top

Josh Erickson

"The Fan"

Occupation: Student

City: Vancouver, Canada

Josh Erickson, a political science/media communications major at Simon Fraser University in Canada, is an avid music fan. The 20 year old has attended nearly all of North America's major festivals, including the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Sasquatch Music Festival, Vegoose Music Festival, Pemberton Festival, Bonnaroo, and Bumbershoot: Seattle's Music and Arts Festival. Erickson has attended more than 80 concerts and seen more than 250 bands. He also plays bass for the Vancouver-based group Rags to Radio. His favorite artists include Rage Against the Machine, Faith No More, Gogol Bordello, Madness, The Specials and Modest Mouse.

George Gumbs

"The Producer"

Occupation: producer/mixer/engineer/song writer

City: Los Angeles

George Gumbs has worked with veteran producers including Rick Rubin, Neal Avron, Ryan Hewitt and Joe Chicarelli. His credits include albums with Sparta, Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park, Weezer and Nine Inch Nails. He can be reached at and on Facebook. Mention this article and get 30 percent off your next mix!

Neil Simpkins

"The Musician"

City: Philadelphia

Occupation: Drummer

Neil Simpkins has played drums for close to 40 years. His experience spans a variety of styles, including jazz, blues, country, rock and fusion. His education includes the Burklee College of Music's instrumental performance program. He also studied music composition at the University of Pennsylvania. He has played or recorded with several Philadelphia-area musicians including Philly Gumbo, Zydeco A Go Go, Patty Smyth, Patsy Foster, Birdie Busch, The Nite Lights, and Chubby Checker. For more info visit

Margo Quaintance

"The mom"

Occupation: Mom/media specialist for a suburban middle school

City: Chicago

Margo Quaintance is my mom. These days, her favorite bands and songs have all become oldies. Quaintance runs a library and media classroom for elementary through middle school children near Chicago. In the ‘60s and ‘70s she attended several Beatles concerts among other classic rock groups.

>> Brad B.

"The critic"

Occupation: Former daily newspaper entertainment writer

City: Chicago

Brad B. worked for three years as an entertainment/music writer at a daily newspaper in the Midwest. He reviewed concerts, covered a local music scene and interviewed national bands. He currently works in public relations, but he still listens to a good amount of music.


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