by Corteny Harding & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & efore we launch into a discussion of Bryce Avary, the Texan wunderkind who records as "The Rocket Summer," it might be useful to examine the fates of some of his predecessors. Behind Door A is a fellow young Midwesterner with similarly gigantic eyes, Mr. Conor Oberst. While his recent efforts haven't lived up to the "new Dylan" tag conferred on him by the media, he remains a respected and arguably quite talented musician. Behind Door B, we find Ben Lee, the Australian lad who sang about Evan Dando at 14, dated Claire Danes and recently toured with Har Mar Superstar. While by no means a great celebrity, Lee keeps recording and gets Har's sloppy seconds. Behind Door C, we find Radish. Remember Radish? Yeah, didn't think so. The teenage subjects of an over-the-top New Yorker article that proclaimed them to be the next Nirvana, they released an album, had a minor hit, then vanished into the ether. Try the cutout bin if you feel the need to hear them.
Which brings us to the Rocket Summer, the nom de rock of 23-year-old Avary. Born and raised in the Dallas area, he started playing shows at the tender age of 15. "I recorded my first CD at 16 and started sending out press packets to just about everyone," he says. Two years later, he cracked the commercial radio barrier. Avary set his sights far beyond playing dives in Deep Ellum, and eventually his hard work paid off. After wowing a monumentally jaded SXSW crowd in 2003, Avary ran off to Kansas to record his first full-length album, on which he plays every instrument. Lest visions of a Billy Corgan-esque tyrant begin to dance in your head, now would be a good time to point out that Avary is quite charming. Sometimes he moonwalks on stage.
Then comes the part that should be familiar to everyone who has ever read a story about an up-and-coming indie band. Avary was picked up by a small label, the Militia Group, and was sent on the road to open for every band under the sun, ranging from Something Corporate to the Polyphonic Spree. After amassing more frequent flier miles than a lunar orbiter, Avary headed back to the studio to record his new album, Hello Good Friend.
Let's be blunt for a moment: Hello Good Friend has the single worst record cover in the history of the universe. If you haven't seen a copy of the record down at the old Sam Goody, close your eyes and think about Corey Hart. If you're too young to know who Corey Hart is, ask your parents and be prepared for peals of laughter and jokes about sunglasses at night. The cover photograph makes Avery, who looks quite handsome in his other press photos, look like a 12-year-old with a destructive hair-product fetish. Try as hard as you can to get past the cover, though, because, as with books, you can't judge albums by their fronts, either (with Meatloaf and Andrew WK as notable exceptions).
Hello Good Friend is one of the most positive records released in a long time. Even the less-than-chipper songs are infused with such bounciness and cheer that you can't help but smile. Musically, the sound Avary cultivates sounds a bit like Ben Folds on a sugar jag, or like a young Billy Joel with more guitars. The lyrics bring to mind John Mellencamp or Bryan Adams (for those too young to remember him, he's the guy who owns the house where Lindsay Lohan fell down the stairs), with odes to small towns and young lovers saying goodbye. Elsewhere, there are songs about acceptance and forgiveness ("Story") and love songs ("Destiny"). It's not unique or groundbreaking subject matter, but Avary approaches it with such enthusiasm that the oft-tread ground feels fresh. "I just want to write songs that reach people," he says. "I know it's a clich & eacute;, but that's my goal."
Live, Avary is a polished performer who has had enough experience winning over crowds to feel comfortable in front of just about any audience. He has to do less and less convincing these days, though, because his fan base has grown substantially. He refers to his followers as "a family," describing their numbers as "modest" but their devotion as "cult-like." (So, "family" as in "the Manson.") Testimonials on his Web site echo these sentiments, with the most frequent statement being a proclamation of love from a pretty, small-town teenage girl. Beyond any music he may produce, Avary's greatest strength seems to lie in his ability to connect with his listeners.
With this, then, we return to the three doors the Rocket Summer could open and the paths that have been laid before him. Already too talented and established to suffer Radish's fate, he must now choose between modest success and stardom. If he eschews the styling products and deepens his lyrical content, he just might find himself filling Conor's Chuck Taylors someday soon. All he has to do now is remember that when the New Yorker calls, he needs to hang up.
The Rocket Summer at Fat Tuesday's with Relient K and Maxeen on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 7 pm. Tickets: $15. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.