Flanfire (Duggan Flanakin) is bringing LIFE to Austin music -- and telling the world how sweet it is!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Anne-Marie Harrop tonight - at Leeann Atherton's barn dance - took her first baby steps at becoming a real bona fide rock star. It was the debut of Anne-Marie's Cloud 8 Experience (featuring Perry Drake on drums and Jackson on guitar - complete with all manner of fuzz boxes and other distortion devices). Three songs - some compared Anne-Marie to Grace Slick, because her songs and her voice are so psychedelic (and her lyrics are aking to beat poetry). TONS of energy, showmanship, and personality. The audience was left panting for more but already drained and speechless. As a guy who kept telling Shelley King to make sure to give Anne-Marie a mike to sing into while she was playing bass for Shelley, it was more than gratifying to see her singing LEAD vocals and the very discerning crowd going wild.

But just as exciting for me was watching El Goins do three of his own songs and playing Leeann's guitar as pal Carolyn Wonderland (who later did three songs of her own) played lead and sang harmony vocals. El - Carolyn's off-and-on drummer who also plays with Patrice Pike and many others - has been spending much of his non-playing time in the studio. His latest project, for singer-songwriter Brian Keane, is due on the streets any day now. I got to hear the entire CD in El's living room (complete with breakdowns of the harmony vocals and some of the unmixed tracks), and it is just fine. El and Brian got Susan Gibson, Carolyn, and Wendy Colonna to sing harmonies, Eleanor Whitmore to toss in some fiddle, and Guy Forsyth to sing a duet with Brian - and that's just half of the extra participants here. Some of the songs remind you of the Jayhawks - but to hear the live version, just trot to Momo's on a Wednesday night these days. For those who don't know, El produced the "Loose Collection of Saints and Sinners" CD that was recorded live in a room at the San Jose Hotel in south Austin - and a growing number of other music bears his mark. But truth be told, El's best work might be his own songwriting - and his cooking.

Yet another highlight was Canadian refugee Andrew Walker's set, which featured some great licks by fellow Canada refugee Kim Deschamps (due to leave soon for another tour with Charlie Robison). Kim, too, played a few songs, including a steamy 12-bar blues with a slide. Andrew says he has moved into a haunted apartment - but I will let him tell the whole story when you come to his next gigs. Maybe the Long Branch on Monday night?

The Keller Brothers closed out the evening with another hot set of music folks can dance to. Drummer Corey is on the road these days with Marcia Ball, while gunslinger Mike just got back from Minnesota, where he's recording with Doyle Bramhall I. Leeann (who also did a short set with Jackson, Sunny, and El Goins on drums) sang a couple of songs with the Kellers (and pal Scott on bass) and it was very good.

Others playing included the traveling duo Butterfly Sky (Ruth and Greg), who were joined on harmonica by none other than our hostess with the mostess Leeann. SMOKIN'! The Sky are hanging out in the Austin-San Marcos area for the deep winter and hope to find gigs at house concerts and non-sucky venues. San Antonio's Sean Palen - a modern day Tim Buckley - also shared several of his intense songs on acoustic guitar. This is an Air Force veteran who just started playing out in public 18 months or so ago and is already drawing a following.

Earlier in the day we stopped by the wonderful Maria's and chowed down quickly to get more time on the dance floor. And why not? Gurf, Papa Mali, Scrappy Jud, Bhudda Mills, Nick Connelly, Sarah Brown, Carolyn W, and Shelley King - with special guest also on guitar - were all so glad to see the sunshine that they sang and played even better than normal. Slaid Cleaves was just one of many musicians in the audience.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Unstrung Heroes -- saw it on TV last night for the second time. What an amazing little film. Stars John Turturro and Andie MacDowell as a Jewish couple with two children. He has lost his faith after learning that his wife has cancer and become even more of a control freak. His son Steven, seeking affirmation, ends up living with his two eccentric uncles - played wonderfully by Michael Richards of Seinfeld fame and Maury Chaykin (who later played Nero Wolfe). Director Diane Keaton (yup!) lets us see Steven as a timid little geek (age 12) who gains confidence as he learns how to live in the face of his mother's illness and his father's emptiness. The uncles also are transformed into more caring real adults in the course of the film -- which teaches the lesson that God's benefits can come to us as we reach out to even the least likely.... and that love heals.

Caught the Brennen Leigh band last Tuesday at Evangeline Cafe, and we all made plans to spend Thanksgiving night over at Ginny's Little Longhorn with their pal Dale Watson. Candye Kane showed up to sing a couple of songs with Dale, and Brennen herself did two duets and one of her own new honky tonking songs. Surprise of the night was meeting a contingent of Kentuckians who are planning to relocate to Austin as one big extended family - an entourage that includes a band called the Zombie Cowboys. You have to search hard to find them on the web - but we listened to a song or two and they did not suck. They have applied (as have many others) to play at SXSW next March - their previous band was rock and roll. Dale - for the record - was already playing a BUNCH of Christmas songs. As usual, he has a busy December schedule. We enjoyed the addition of a fiddle player to his band -- added another layer of goodness to the sound.

Late last night we went up to Graffitis on Howard Lane (nosebleed country for South Austinites - we are talking Wells Branch area here) to catch the first out of the box gig for the Aaron Hamre Band. Aaron had moved here last June after leaving LA and ended up finding two guys he grew up with in Santa Fe to be his bandmates - drummer Miguel Velasquez and bassist Uppy Ethelbah. The boys are headed back "home" for the holidays to play some gigs and polish their sound -- we are talking three-piece classic-style guitar rock and roll (akin to Rush and Zeppelin and other power rockers) with a little of that New Mexico magic. The band is still very rough, playing songs but not yet fully playing sets - but they are getting there. The rhythm is down, and now the band can start working on adding color and tone to create the secret place they want to take an audience of war-weary working folks. Aaron in another lifetime played SXSW and hopes to bring this trio back there next March. They will be playing gigs in town starting in January ... so get serious about catching the act.

Uppy is also a longtime friend of the guys from Tiny Livestock, which played at Graffitis earlier in the evening. The Woodall brothers (Brady and Daren) and longtime pal Paul Martinez all hail from Albuquerque but reconnoitered here in Austin (sound familiar?) and play around town.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Finding Neverland -- Perhaps the first time in a long time at least that we have gone to a "sneak preview" - and well well worth the visit to the theater. Finding Neverland is the story of J. M. Barrie and the discovery of Peter Pan as he gave of his own life to a widow and her four sons. That giving to a family is desperate spiritual shape cost him dearly but won us all one of the most delightful stories ever told. It is not important whether the story is true to the facts, because we get the message. The sad thing is that Barrie's wife was so self-centered that she could not share in the joy of giving out of one's own need to be a blessing to those truly needy. Johnny Depp's next movie will be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- and Charlie will be played by the young man who plays Peter in this movie. One can hardly wait till next July -- and the good news is that Gene Wilder's portrayal as Willie Wonka will not be challenged in the upcoming film, which is truer to the original story. Depp is a great artist, and yet I wonder if even he realized that his Barrie role was a portrayal of godly behavior --doing the right thing without regard to scandal and without regard to the personal cost.

Saturday night we went up to Round Rock to Saradora's - a great coffeehouse in a building chock full of Texas history (at least the history of the legendary Sam Bass). There we heard Seth and Brennen Leigh [Hulbert] and some of their friends (Leo Rondeau opened). Brennen keeps writing new songs - and the best thing is she is playing more guitar so that Seth (in these duos) can play more guitar leads. It is good to see these two beginning to mature as artists. Oh, BTW, their folks were in town for the gig - all the way from western Minnesota.

Today a pal of mine from the Washington, DC, area said he had taken a German friend of his to see Slaid Cleaves - and they were wowzered out of the small club into nirvana. Ivan Brown was "on" bass, and I do not know who all else was in the band this trip -- but I was glad to see my pals enjoying one of Austin's finest.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The CD of the YEAR -- has to be the brand spanking new Natalie Zoe offering, Seven Chords and the Truth. Caught Nat at Waterloo on Friday and visited with co-producer Fred Remmert, who was beaming at the work he had coordinated (but had to leave early to get back into the studio on another project).

Let's face it. Natalie Zoe is no newcomer to Austin - she was voted best solo performer here in 1977 (when she MUST have been 10 years old!). She's also had stints singing background vocals for Don Henley and opening opening for and/or singing background vocals with Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams, Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, and Malford Milligan (in many different bands). She has her jazzy side (check our her Never Too Old to Swing), her funk side (often with brother Malford), her folk side, her rock and roll side, her gospel side - she's just one chord short of being an octagon.

Which is why the title - Seven Chords and the Truth -- eleven of Natalie's own songs with a plethora of Austin's top musicians playing and singing with her. Every song is airplay worthy in one format or another, but the title song is perhaps the best of all.

Start with Papa Mali and "Uncle Crusty" - a guy who sounds a lot like the former lead singer for Storyville - on lead guitar and backing vocals. Add regular Selton Cole on bass and Les Fisher on drums (two of the guys who played with her at Waterloo), Paul Brainard on guitar (Alex Valentine handled the chops at Waterloo), and Sniz Robinson on congas and percussion. This song has a psychedelic feel (Greezy Wheels, anyone?) that just about every Austin (and other real) musician can relate to well.

Going backwards on the CD, we find "Peace Tonight" - featuring Kaz Kazanoff on sax in the jazziest (torch song) cut here. Next back is a paean to her daughter Sasha Ortiz - a featured backup vocalist (along with pal Rashay) at the Waterloo gig - called "Little Bird." Folks, this song alone is worth the price of the CD - thanks to an incredible mandolin solo by Warren Hood. The message of the song - I have heard it said, "give your children two lasting things - One is roots - and the other is wings."

Back up one more to the very bluesy "Broke Down Daddy," featuring Rob Roy Parnell on harmonica - plus a chorus of "party animals" all saying goodbye to a ne'er do well former boyfriend who prefers his "comforts" (Southern and all) to his woman. Then we all cry to "Every Teardrop" - one of several songs here featuring the Grooveline Horns. This is pure funk, the kind of funk you get into when you suddenly learn you man is splitsville without warning.

Then it's "Winter" featuring the inimitable Nick Connelly on piano and organ - a melancholy song that asks, " Is it really lucky to be so damn old?"

Perhaps the rockingest cut on the record (the R&B kind) is "Judge & Jury" - with Nick Connelly AND Papa Mali AND a heckuva chorus featuring Sasha and the gang. Then it's "Nocturnal Reverie," with some hot guitar licks from L. C. Steels - a quiet song about that time late into the early morning before dawn when the songwriting juices often get to flowing.

Back up another one to "Texas Sunrise,"which is just Nat on guitar and Brian Standefer on cello - a different version than the one she recorded in 1993. Song No. 2 is "Do Me Like That," another raucus Grooveline horns cut with Papa Mali too and the hot backing vocals on the chorus. More funky R&B. Leading off the CD is "Tell Your Story Well," with David Grissom on guitar - a song that looks into the eyes of the homeless and suggests that we are all in need of a little humility because the signs they are holding up "could be yours or mine."

Natalie - for the record - comes across these days as a combination of a very young Emmy Lou Harris (in, for example, her Gram Parsons days) and a very sassy Tina Turner in the Eighties and early Nineties. After too many years of standing in the shadows and playing to empty houses in a certain bar on South Congress (and god knows what all else), Seven Chords and the Truth should (if anyone in radio has any sense) turn her into a BIG STAR!!!!!!!

Here's my deal -- go and listen - best in person. You WILL be a winner!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election night - What to do? Easy. My friend Laura and I headed down to Brodie Lane to the Evangeline Cafe to catch the delightful Bonnie Whitmore and good pal Seth Hulbert (sis Brennen had flown back to Minnesota to vote at home) and chow down on some Lake Charles style Cajun food. Bonnie's singing partner Jamie Blythe is on vacation in California. It was our first time at the cafe - and I tested the shrimp etoufee, which was pretty good, but not as good as the fabulous etoufee served at the Piccadilly Cafeterias (nearest ones are in Houston). But the pistolettes - AHHHH!!!!! Tres bien! Ditto the ancient recipe bread pudding, which was simple (raisins inside, pecans outside, but mainly just good pudding!). Best of all, Evangeline serves both Dixie and Abita beer and Community Coffee. We will be back to taste other dishes. When you show up, give a nod to owner Curtis Clarke.

Those who have not had the pleasure of hearing Miss Whitmore (sister of fiddle-playing Eleanor and daughter of folksinger Alex; her mom Marti is an opera singer, for the record) are really missing something special. Tonight her set list included covers of Stacey Earle, Susan Gibson, Gillian Welch, Alison Krause, Jenny Reynolds, Kim Ritchie and others plus a bunch of her own compositions, many of which (of both) are on her brand new CD, "Picking Up Pieces." The folky format gave Seth lots of chances to showcase his own guitar playing talent - to considerable applause for the duo, who need to be performing on larger, more lucrative stages (perhaps as Bonnie and Blythe - which adds Jamie's strong songs and great harmonies).

The evening was still early, and Toni Price was at the Continental Club, and Warren Hood had told me on Sunday that both he and Willie Pipkin were playing (with Matt Giles) with Toni. It had been a while since I got out on a Tuesday to see Toni (who was in great form tonight), and I had been told that the crowds were down thanks to the five dollar cover. Balderdash! The encore for the evening was an old Stanley Brothers song with Toni and Warren both taking verses and Warren playing fiddle like his father used to do. Matt's Gibson always sounds good, but it was Willie who was tearing up the fretboard with chops galore. If you have not been to Hippie Hour in a while, get there next opportunity. It's the second generation (with Willie and Warren instead of Champ and Rich Brotherton) - and the energy is as wonderful as ever.

Top bet for Wednesday - an early (7:30 pm) show with folksinger Andrew Walker (the very recently transplanted Canadian) opening for fellow Canuck Kim DesChamps and his latest band.

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