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The Tontons may break through with CD

7 p.m. Feb. 13

The Kessler Theater, 1230 W. Davis St., Dallas




Make Out King and Other Stories of Love

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Posted 6:09pm on Wednesday, Feb. 05, 2014

Houston has to have the most underrated rock scene in America.

While Beyonce and H-town hip-hop have broken through on a global level, the rock scene can’t seem to escape beyond the I-620 loop. In a more just world, The Suffers — fronted by the powerhouse Kam Franklin — should be at least as well known as Sharon Dap or Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. And Featherface, whose swirling, dreamy guitar pop-rock has an undeniable appeal, would be right up there with them.

But it’s the Tontons who might actually lead the charge. The four-piece, fronted by the charismatic Asli Omar, is what you might get if Anita Baker fronted Blondie, a blend of jazz/soul-inflected vocals meshed with kinetic, hooky guitar pop. And it’s all on shimmering display in the band’s new disc, Make Out King and Other Stories of Love (available Feb. 18), an album that builds on the promise of the band’s last release, the Golden EP in 2011.

While such uptempo tracks as the opening Magic Hour, the single Veida, and the careening Bones 1 prove the Tontons make pop as punchy as a round with Mike Tyson, Make Out King possesses a variety of textures that underscore their strengths.

More moody songs like Paradise and Wild Kind as well as the bluesy Bones 2 and the melancholy closer, Ruins, not only feature some of Omar’s sultriest vocals but they are showcases for the warm Stratocaster sound of guitarist Adam Martinez.

When talking about the Tontons, Omar understandably is often the focus — she has palpable presence, a distinctively soulful voice, and that big ‘fro — but she’d be less impressive if not backed by the tight threesome of Martinez, his brother Justin on drums, and bassist Tom Nguyen.

Longtime fans might bristle as there’s nothing as left-field here as the ’20s-flavored Charlie from Golden, as dramatic as the show-stopping Leon from their 2011 self-titled album, or as fiery as Sea and Stars from 2008. Still, while it might be true that Make Out King drives more down the middle of the rock ’n’ roll road, there’s no arguing that it’s one sweet ride.

Maybe that’s what they need to do to get the world to start taking notice, which looks like it could be happening.

Paste magazine named the Tontons as one of the “12 Texas Bands You Should Listen to Now”; and there’ve been recent mentions in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone. Spin is streaming the album on Tuesday .The group is taking advantage of this exposure with a tour with Austin’s Bright Light Social Hour that lands Feb. 13 at Dallas’ Kessler Theater.

Maybe the Houston scene won’t be such a well-kept secret much longer.

Cary Darling, 817 390-7571

Twitter: @carydar

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