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Halfway through the slinky, snaky “Tomboy Rock Star,” Marc Anthony Thompson— a/k/a Chocolate Genius—mutters under his cigarette-stoked breath, “And you keep calling room service ’cause you don’t wanna be alone.” It’s a killer line, delivered with wisecracking ease that tightropes between empathetic, flat-out funny and downright cruel. In short: classic Chocolate Genius. Since 1998’s Black Music, Thompson’s emotional, enigmatic songs, loaded with mordant wit, humanity, and smarts and liberally pin-pricked with chitlin-circuit showmanship and brooding alt-rock sturm und drang (imagine, if possible, the spawn of Arthur Lee, Solomon Burke, and Paul Westerberg), have been awarded a level of approval far exceeding his sales or name-recognition status. But he deserves to be heard by more than insiders or the hipster musicans (Marc Ribot, Oren Bloedow, Meshell Ndegeocello, Van Dyke Parks, Stuart Matthewman) collaborating on his third CD, Black Yankee Rock—which, bolstered by Craig Street’s nuanced but firm production, glides seamlessly between dreamy atmospherics and ’70s folk rock.
Just as underheard and overlooked (though a recent stint opening for Fiona Apple indicates that he, too, has an A-list appreciation society) is Austin’s David Garza. On his self-produced ad hoc best-of set The Thousand Roses, Ltd., culled from the four-CD retrospective A Strange Mess of Flowers, the singer-guitarist hops from Tex-Mex meets T. Rex strut (“I play in Spanish, I rock in ingles“) to guitar-stacked arena-rock dramatics to a rockabilly-bounced Stevie Ray Vaughn cover. The guy’s got a serious jones for muscular rhythms, but Garza’s tremulous vocals, ripe with references to Robert Plant and a less fragile Jeff Buckley, provide a grandiose glamour. Like his Brooklyn brethren CG, he’s not reinventing the wheel. But that doesn’t make his material any less compelling or bold.