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

Monday, August 22, 2005

Steelbeam's signature song, "Boilermaker Blues," is NOT about an alcoholic drink. It is instead a celebration of the (mostly) men who climb way up high and risk their lives to build the infrastructure that makes our system functional -- bridges, oil rigs, water towers, skyscrapers, and the like. Songwriter/poet P J Liles, who fronts this industrial music group (not the sound, but the image), is himself one of those guys who works outside - and it shows on every line of his smiling, joyful face. Bandmates Eric Leikam (currently the engineer for the Kevin and Kevin show on KGSR when not DJ'ing in his own right or writing and performing his own music), Steve Gavigan (whose other recent gig is backing the legendary Glenn Yarborough), and Kyle Judd (the guitar stud of the Shelley King Band and the Jessica Shepherd Band) are the group's core members. Saturday night at Maria's Taco X-Press (yes, we are waiting for Walgreen's to give the green light for startup of her new building) the band was joined by powerglider Kevin Hollingsworth on lead guitar (Kyle had to leave early to play with Shelley, Jessica, and Steelbeam itself at Poodie's) and Will Dunlap on baritone guitar.

As usual, the mood was upbeat, and the house was rockin' despite the continued intense heat of the late August afternoon. The band has a brand-new six-song CD, "Fit That Steel," which features two songs by South Austin stalwart Steve Ulrich (who's off in Oregon getting hitched on Labor Day), one by Leikam, a second Liles song, and "Redneck Ways," a longtime Steelbeam favorite penned by the late Stevie "Guitar" Sparks. Steelbeam began a few years ago as a side project for guys and gals who were also singing in the South Austin Gospel Choir. Much has happened in the lives of band members since that time - some joyful, some painful - but the band has gotten tighter and more focused on making blue collar music for the people. As Liles warbles, "Computer city needs some good old-fashioned blue collar sound."

Sunday afternoon it was still hot in Austin - and up in Wells Branch, where we trekked to catch a live set from the Jessica Shepherd Band (with Judd on guitar, Perry Drake on drums, and Greg Bumgardner on bass -- too many notes, Jessica kept saying of his playing). The travelingirl (six trips to Australia, where she is much better known and revered than in her native Texas) had a lot of fun with the audience, giving away CD's to two women in the audience who were brave enough to sing the chorus to her "Party Palace" ode to the beauty shop live and on stage while getting all the words right. Lots of songs from her (sadly) only CD to date and from what we hope will soon be her second CD -- plus some great covers both of Texas artists and of Sting and Van Morrison (Moondance!!!!!).

Sunday night it was back to Momo's Club for the Bonnie (without Blythe) show, and to no one's real surprise, the blonde bassist (playing her blue acoustic guitar this night) had recruited two wise gentlemen to accompany her right out of the musician-laden audience. Steven Pile has just completed his Austin debut CD, "Home for Right Now," which was produced by Stephen Doster and features such players as Brian Keane (keyboards), El Goins (drums), the absolutely fabulous Brad Hauser (bass, bass clarinet, and and upright bass), and Doster himself - plus Sara Shansky on backing vocals on many songs. There are also appearances by cellist Brian Standefer, trumpeter Paul Brainard, Guy Forsyth on harp, Bukka Allen on harmonium and accordian, and Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle/violin. Not a bad band. We are still listening to the CD, and will report more in depth closer to his CD release date, but "Faultlines" is a really really good song.

Also joining Bonnie was Gareth Broesche on mandolin -- (I think I spelled his name right!) -- the guys really filled Bonnie's songs out nicely. Bonnie and Blythe (Jamie) just got done opening at the Cactus Cafe for the Austin Lounge Lizards and will be opening for Patrice Pike at Momo's this Friday - with special guests on stage with them, to be sure. Hopefully, one of them could be Bonnie's sister Eleanor - Please, TCE, send her down for a meeting or something to get her here.

My bud Bryce Clifford joined the party in time for Warren Hood and the Hoodlums (minus a very busy Andrew Nafziger, who showed up in time to visit but not play). No prob -- Warren got to use his one-time replacement from the South Austin Jug Band instead -- the incomparable now 21-year-old Dennis Ludiker, who took Warren's place as fiddler and moved to mandolin both to make room for new fiddler Bryan Beken and to fill the void left by the departure of founding member Matt Slusher. The long-fingered Ludiker is absolutely ludicrous -- Nafziger playfully says, "I hate him" (for being so good so young) -- he lit up Hood's originals "Black Cat" and "Can't Be Mad/Sad WHen You Are Near" (or whatever the song is really named) just as much as Warren did on his fiddle/violin solos.

No one in the band grins as much as the gum-chewing Mike Keller - the blues man in the bunch who kept bringing out classics of Fifties R&B days like "You're So Fine" and "You Got Me Running" -- with bassist Nate Rowe thumping along and new drummer Damon Llanes (brother of Rudolph Llanes, of whom we wrote good things earlier this summer) bringing his crisp and flawless licks to the fore. Damon is playing with Mike Barfield - former Hollisters front man - at the Continental Club starting next month.

Yet it is no accident that the guy Warren places in the middle of the stage is the timeless Seth Walker, who blew us away from his first round song, Guy Clark's "Baton Rouge," to a soulful version of "You Don't Know Me," to his own "Meet Me in the Middle" to a gospel tune that got people clapping and swaying to the music. Why there are not a thousand people out every time this group gets together baffles the mind -- who cares if it is late on a Sunday night? The Dead Zone and The 4400 aren't THAT good!

BTW -- I can now reveal that the new name for the old Indian Cowboys is "The Gallows." That's Mike Cherry, Leo Rondeau, and whomever else they can rope in to play -- catch them every Saturday at five or six at the Carousel Lounge - where even the sober can see the pink elephant.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Alice Spencer is back -- and she BAD! And that's GOOD! Playing Tuesdays (except August 30) at the Hole in the Wall (10:30 pm or so), Alice and her Monkey Butlers -- Mark Rubin on tuba, Pops Bayless (of Shorty Long), Ben Saffer on clarinet (whom we remember from Alice's old Victrola ensemble that played in the basement at the old Empanada Parlour), and Joe Cordi on keyboards -- fill up the room with joyful sounds of music from the halcyon days of speakeasies and bathtub gin. Starting off with "Chauffeur Blues" (which we remember Maria Muldaur singing up close and personal), Alice took the audience on a musical journey aided by her eloquent quartet of soloists and raconteurs. The set list included "Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)," "Shine On Harvest Moon" (featuring a banjo solo), "My Blue Heaven" played way up tempo after a sultry intro, "Honeksuckle Rose," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Fascinating Rhythm" (a crowd favorite), and even tunes penned by Bayless and the Bad Livers (one of Rubin's many ventures). One thing's for sure -- Alice, "I'll See You in My Dreams."

Folks, Alice is sassier, sultrier, and sexier than she has ever been - and unlike her Victrola daze, she's on foot in this band, dancing around and even getting folks up to dance to the music. Brand new Austinite Ty Cobb (the harmonica player, not the Georgia Peach!) was beaming as he danced with his lovely lady ... and both earlier bands -- Bryce Clifford (a Toronto boy who grew up listening to good jazz) and Gloucester, Massachusetts, import Stephanie Cornell -- stuck around for at least most of the Monkey Butlers show.

Cornell had a bunch of rowdy friends at her set, her last gig in town until she returns from Beantown hopefully with new Fenway memories. Two of her songs were so new she had not yet named them, but our favorite was "Ghost Story." Her music kept us in a mellow mood.

I had met Bryce Clifford at a Sapphires show at the Carousel Lounge a few weeks back, but had missed his CD release at Ego's, and this was my first chance to catch him live. He had a hot (though admittedly not fully rehearsed) band featuring Zach Firnhaber on bass and Daniel Jones on drums (both from Crawling with Kings), Adoniram Lipton on keyboards, James Ryder on acoustic guitar and harp, and special guest Kullen Fuchs on trumpet, pflugelhorn, and melody horn. Kullen, who is playing with Ian Moore and Will Sexton, just got "back" to Austin after leaving the University of Kentucky where he had been working on his Ph.D. in trumpet (okay, he's just a Mean Greenie from North Texas!).

Bryce opened with my favorite of his, "Woodstock, Ontario," and followed with "College Street," another song about his homeland from his new CD, Signal the Sun. A very cool number in the set was the R&B classic, "Tracks of My Tears," which allowed each of the soloists an opportunity to shine (Bryce plays lead guitar). But we really like "Home," and the lyric "And if my heart should fail to bring you home, I'll blame myself." The music was good old rock and roll with some softer sides - and the trumpet added a wonderful touch throughout. The sound was a little unpolished in places, but even Bryce was having so much fun he knocked his mike off the stage.

For the record, we caught Eliza Gilkyson's first set down in San Marcos on Sunday night at the wonderful venue, the San Marcos River Pub -- backed by son Cisco Ryder and Mike Hardwick. Heard her Cactus show the night before was with quite a few pickers and excellent. Ran into Jimmy LaFave at the show - with his very handsome son.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Thomas Mann may be the next big thing in keyboard players in Austin -- he's young, he's from Buffalo by way of Atlanta, and he has a great partner in wife Kelly (Williams) Mann who is the lead singer in Melody Mann - and, yes, folks, she's a Corpus Christi girl who dragged her man back to the Lone Star State. [More on this later]

Which reminds me, we were at Momo's on Thursday to catch the Austin debut of the Heidi Little Band (minus a lead guitar player); logistics fouled them up, and they did a short set, following everyone's Austin childhood sweetheart Rachel Loy (whose beatiful older sister Sarah sang with her, showing her joyful belly that is just two months from delivery of child No. 2). Rachel, for the record, is now on tour through the Southeast and up to New York warming up new crowds, but will be back before the swelter season ends (later this month). Truth be told, Rachel's smile and joy on stage overwhelm her music to the point that you forget what she is singing and just bask in the pheremones of good vibes [Sarah once wrote that driving her car she feels like a 16-year-old boy though she is a 22-year-old professional woman -- well, watching her sing makes me hearken back to the days I WAS a 16-year-old boy.] Oh, yeah -- the band did do "Watching the Detectives" and a bunch of other songs, some from her new CD.

Ran into Brian Keane at the show -- he opened for Hal Ketchum at Gruene Hall on Saturday night and is back there with band next Saturday afternoon -- I will be on South Padre Island and will have to miss the show, but you folks get on down and dance a little. Also there I ran into a keyboard player named Rolf who introduced me to his new bassist Ross and told me about their new project "Danub" (from the old SNL Eddie Murphy skit, he explained) which will be jazzy and a little bit funky as well. So Ross, who hails from Maine and had been living in St. Thomas (paradise, for those who know), just moved to Austin because HIS GIRLFRIEND IS FROM TEXAS AND WAS HOMESICK! [More evidence that you can take a girl out of Texas, but you cannot take the Texas out of the girl.!]

Expect a lot more from the newlywed Miss Little at her upcoming Saxon Pub show on the LAST LEGAL SMOKING IN THE BAR DAY in Austin (August 31) -- well, except for those few clubs who installed smoke controls (the list will be forthcoming) and have a few more years of puffing left. Heidi meanwhile is in the final stages of recording at Pedernales .....

SO back to Melody Mann -- but first, a plug for Kevin Montgomery (last barn dance). I got an e-mail from him this morning early (that Norton tried to hide in the deleted messages box before I ever saw it, but I was too clever by half) that his video of "Tennessee Girl" would be debuting on CMT between 9 and 10 am today. Sure 'nuff, I turned on my set to watch the end of Johnny Cash (sorry I missed it) and there was ol' Kevin, big as life and driving a HUGE red pickup truck WITH TEXAS PLATES, pickin' and grinnin' and showing lots of Texas scenery. Do catch his next show in town - loved Al Perkins' pedal steel on the CMT video cut.

My buddy Brent Allen from the Austin Songwriters Group had introduced me to the Manns when they opened for The Illustrated Band (which is back in bizness thanks to Dave's decision to keep plucking that bass for another year) at Antone's a while back. By the way, the ASG has announced its 2005 song contest [details at http://www.austinsongwritersgroup.com/2005SongContest.html ]

So I get to the gig at the Alligator (we were really there for the gumbo - too!) and all seven pieces are wailing away on the sultry "Stormy Monday." Besides the Manns, there is guitarist Bill Crock, drummer Jeff Jeffries, bassist (and quite good!) Scott Beardsley, plus Dave Gilden on trumpet and Kevin Gibbs on saxophones. The mix runs from Little Feat covers to pure New Orleans to just plain funky, and Kelly has a Bobbie Gentry quality that we want more and more of (though she started out cold as a real adult who decided one day to become a singer and belted out Joplin and Allman Brothers sounds, hiring her future hubby as a piano player in what must now seem another lifetime). In short, Kelly can growl! The band will be back at the Alligator (which is really a great room for bands with horns because of the depth of field) on Friday, September 2. If you like great keyboardists (or may be looking for one for your next studio project) and that full band sound, check them out. And did I mention (PJP and TS are you reading this?) that Thomas is an Irish boy from Buffalo with a HUGE family, half of whom are (what else?) on the police force there.

One more thing -- Leo Rondeau and his band are no longer the Indian Cowboys. Next time I will fill in the details of the new band name -- but they are still playing every Saturday at 5 pm at the Carousel Lounge.

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