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

Monday, November 14, 2005

Saturday night I took the bride out for a little "jug band" music from South Austin - first time I had gotten to see "new" fiddler Brian Beken, and I was impressed. We had to leave after the first set, but we will not soon forget the dueling twin fiddles of Beken and former fiddler (and current mandolinist) Dennis Ludiker - who were joined on stage by Boise, Idaho, emigre Noah Jeffries (who plays sometimes with Jason Boland, we are told) on mando (on an earlier song, Noah had played fiddle with Brian and Dennis stayed on mando). It was a special thing to see three young fiddlers so full of joy in their instruments and so talented as well. And remember, this was once Warren Hood's band!

Beken (who was the 2004 Texas flat-picking champion!) plays fiddle the old-fashioned way (standing up straight most of the time), while Ludiker is much more animated on stage (and on his one fiddle tune during our set showed some amazing quadruplets - these guys can play fast!). Jeffries, we are told, also plays banjo; these guys are roommates, and one can only imagine the jams they are having at home.

Not that either of the newbies takes away from flat-picker Willie Pipkin (who has been joining Champ's son with Toni Price on Tuesdays) or bassist Will Dupuy (one of the group's chief songwriters who always adds a touch of humor) or even the saddest man in all show biz (if you believe his song lyrics), crooner and guitarist James Hyland (whose voice just seems to get better, like Tennessee whiskey, with age). One of the saddest (for the boys, at least) songs was one called "Ain't No Likker in This Town," which fortunately for them is not Austin. More serious was a song dedicated to the late Champ Hood, "Ghost in My Hometown" or something like that. The title track of the band's new CD (which has colorful art on the cover), "Dark and Weary World," was probably written while the band was hanging out with the Weary Boys over a few (six packs?).

The band really shines on hot instrumentals (some with interspersed lyrics) - Beken's fiddle solos, Ludiker's mandolin, and Pipkin's penetrating staccato guitar, plus on occasion the thumping of Dupuy's doghouse bass - are a fine contrast to the twangy vocals from Hyland. After the warmup (including the venerable "$2 bill"), the band got very very busy on Blackberry Blossom (which leads into and out of Friend of the Devil), with Noah on fiddle along with Brian, and - well, some of the picking just leaves you speechless.

Opening up (the early show) was The Robert Socia Orchestra, featuring the handsome native Austinite Socia on acoustic guitar and lead vocals - trading in the electric guitar he slung for Southern Fried for years. Socia has a CD release party set for January 17, which will likely feature most of the players he had on stage (with maybe Brian Beken on some instruments as well) - Eric Smith on electric bass, Andrew Davis on cello, Andy Tindall on fiddle, Bruce James on keyboards, and Mike Forest on drums (snare only at Momo's). This (makeup for Brooke Axtell, on whom we are awaiting a progress report after her serious injury in a car wreck last week) gig was the new band's third - but they play again at Antone's this Friday. I did not get to hear much of their set (stuffing face across the street), but what I heard was NICE - and so are the two tunes available for download on the www.robertsocia.com website. We are just so blessed to be in Austin, where musicians write real lyrics about real life.

And speaking of real musicians - I got to see Colin Brooks playing lead guitar(s) with the amazing Brian Keane - plus my hero El Goins on drums and the solid Seth Whitney on bass. Brian, who writes funny songs and deep songs and silly songs and plays many many instruments, has become a musicians' favorite here in Austin. Sunday night, he opened with a song that must be called "Satan's Taco," and it split our sides. He closed with "Odysseus," a cowboy version of an old classic story, but in between he meandered between pure country ("Since You've Been Gone," for one) and such songs as "Anywhere" (which featured a duet with El Goins - for those who missed it!) and "Been a Long Day" (which featured some amazing work by Brooks on on guitar). I blinked twice and recognized "Nothing Compares 2 U," and the only thing missing for the evening was Brian on keyboards (or various other instruments). Brian's playing Wednesdays at Momo's as a regular gig for now, but he also has a special show at the Longbranch Inn (eastside) on November 21.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Brave Combo has been around for 26 years, with founder Carl Finch (guitar, keyboards, accordians) joined by Jeffrey Barnes (saxes, flutes, clarinet, and other instruments too numerous to name) and bassist (and tuba player) Bubba Hernandez for nearly 20 of those years. Trumpeter Danny O'Brien and drummer Alan Emert joined the band nearly a decade ago. Hernandez left the band earlier this year, and that's how this writer got committed to the band.

Finch explained that he had seen Ann Marie Harrop playing bass with Guy Forsyth a while back and got her card. When he needed someone to replace Hernandez, he gave her a call - and has to date been thrilled with her hard work and talent (and maybe even because she adds a new dimension to the band's sex appeal). Ann Marie is still getting acclimated to playing with what one might call the Grateful Dead of contemporary polka bands, but her boundless energy and broad background in different musical styles makes her the perfect fit for this legendary two-time Grammy winning combo.

Friday night at Antone's was a powerful demonstration that Ann Marie, who may yet do some singing with the band (keep the light on, because this train will be coming!), has found her place in history (or herstory?). Folks, you have to be quick and ready because there is no set list (or at least not one that is rigidly followed). Even if there was, it hardly matters. To wit --
Brave Combo started out with a salsa tune, followed by something that sounded middle Eastern, then slid into the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" as part of a medley that included something I seem to recall from Doug Sahm. Barnes during this medley has moved from flute to clarinet to tenor sax to fifes (?) to digeridoo - and we have yet to hear a polka tune, with Finch all the while playing electric guitar.

So to introduce the Clarinet Polka, Finch moves to keyboard and plays - after insisting that people slow dance - the Charlie Rich hit "Behind Closed Doors." We then move from polka to cha cha to waltz and back to polka - an appropriately named Oktoberfest song called "Down at the Friendly Tavern." Barnes is back on clarinet for what sounds like music from India during which the multitudinous dancers joined in a circle to dance in the round. Next on the agenda was a song with a Latin beat, with Barnes moving back to sax. Then it is a speeded up Mozart tune, followed by the first appearance of the night of Finch on accordian for a cumbia song off an early Brave Combo record, "No No Cha Cha Cha." Then it's back to another polka, Hernando's Hideaway, and the Tic Tac Polka.

Sixteen (or maybe 21?) songs into the set Finch acknowledges the band's brand-new release, "Holidays," which opens and closes with New Year's songs plus Auld Lang Syne and then celebrates 16 other holidays in chronological order (including Groundhog Day, April Fool's Day, and Cinco de Mayo). The only song of the night from this hot off the presses item was "Vampire Twist," which we understand is getting some airplay in New York City (where the band will be for three nights later this month).

At long last, the Combo gets into the meat of the evening -- the Hokey Pokey (Brave Combo style), interspersed with Walk on Gilded Splinters, followed by the Chicken Dance and then a little Greek music followed by yet another medley that starts with Floyd Cramer and ends with Chopsticks. Then we move to Africa for a medley that includes "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." After a couple more ditties, the band closes with the Muddy Waters polka, "I'm a Man," and finally "Beer Barrel Polka." [Okay, so I'm a Man is really straight-on blues!!!!]

If you are exhausted just reading this, imagine how all the dancers felt (many of whom never left the floor) - and imagine how Ann Marie must feel learning all of these different musical styles in short order and not knowing from one song to the next what the tempo or even the beat will be five minutes later into the evening. Our gal, though, is ready for the task at hand. If you have never seen Brave Combo, you have missed one of the great experiences of your tender life. If you have not seen the new lineup with Ann Marie, you are delinquent in your visits (maybe you broke your ankle and do not want to be tempted to hop around on the dance floor).

The Gene Pool opened - and I missed the entire show not realizing that Antone's shows that begin at 10:00 pm in this case really began at 9:45 - not 10:15. I did catch the last number (their "gospel" song) and they were rocking the house and people were already on the floor. They, too, have a brand-new CD, "Third and Main."

In other news, Austin singer Brooke Axtell will not make her Momo's gig next Saturday, and in fact she is fortunate (as are we) to be alive after being a passenger in a vehicle that was hit dead on at 60 mph last weekend. She was knocked out cold for over an hour. Reports on her progress are spotty, but she was released from the hospital and is in a quiet place to recuperate.

Speaking of Momo's, Austin School of Music vocal teacher Renee French will have her own CD release there on Saturday night. "Two Way Mirror" has 11 songs she co-wrote with various friends, including guitarist Van Wilks ("Deep Like a River," a song Van had scratched out years ago but never recorded, has been updated by Renee). My personal favorite on the CD is "Bedroom Window," which features Joel Guzman on accordian; I also like "Turn These Tides" and the confessional "Shadow of the Light." Renee is a balladeer who clearly has made many friends -- Roscoe Beck plays bass throughout the CD, along with pianist Eric Daub, Steve Samuel (Natalie Cole's drummer of choice), guitarist (and producer) Dave Sebree, saxophonist John Mills, and cellist Shawn Sanders. Plus CD photos by Todd Wolfson and cover art by Billy Perkins

Now I was AT Momo's on Thursday to catch the CD release party being held by Austin newcomer (via California and Oregon) Steven Pile. What a band this skinny fun-loving troubadour assembled for the gig (which I had to leave early to honor a time commitment at home) - Brian Keane on keyboards, El Goins on drums, producer Stephen Doster on guitar along with Sara Shansky (Steven's singing partner dating back to his Oregon daze), and Brad Hauser on electric bass plus tenor and baritone sax. As a bonus (well planned, to be sure), the lovely and very talented Rachel Loy stepped up to play bass while Brad was on horns. "Home for Right Now" reflects the lad's travels. I was around long enough to hear personal favorites "Honey Bee" and "Faultlines," which I envision having been sung decades ago by Al Jarreau. Steven obviously is a good guy, evidenced by the fact he toured with songwriter-novelist Dao Strom during the summer and that the amazing Wendy Colonna was in the house for the show. [Well, in fact the crowd was chock full of musicians and others of great taste - ]

Other tidbits picked up - Rachel Loy is readying an EP release very soon. Wendy is off to New Mexico and then Louisiana before the holidays. The new Tahni and the Toneheads CD is about ready for release. And El Goins has still not gotten around to recording and releasing any of his own songs since tossing one of them onto the San Jose Hotel saints and sinners project far too long ago.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Roscoe Beck may be the best bassist I personally know - and I know a LOT of bass players. I ran into Roscoe Sunday night at the Antone's tribute to Sam Cooke, which celebrated the release of Peter Guralnick's biography, The Triumph of Sam Cooke: Dream Boogie, which coincided with the Austin Book Festival at which the author and Cooke's gospel colleagues, the legendary Soul Stirrers, provided a gospel book brunch.

The Soul Stirrers opened the evening, singing Cooke compositions "A Change Is Gonna Come,"
"Touch the Hem of His Garment," "Wonderful World," and "That's Heaven To Me," and many more -- and thoroughly entertaining the crowd (many of whom were dancing) . [I may have missed "Wade in the Water" and a couple of others that we owe to brother Cooke - songs we Austinites tend to associate with the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers and/or Malford Milligan.] On "Amen," lead singer Willie Rogers went out into the crowd and enticed people to belt out the chorus - and some of the amateurs (including the fabulous Tiffani) were quite good!

The current lineup - who have become major favorites of Gospel According 2 Austin producer Greg Adkins - has performed in Austin on several occasions, and they just seem to be getting better.

The night continued as Austin legend W. C. Clark - himself a huge Sam Cooke fan - just tore up the stage, opening with a few of his own songs and then switching to Cooke originals done in WC style. WC even sang "Cupid" (draw back your bow) - and "Bring It On Home to Me." Now, I have a problem in fact remembering which songs W. C. sang by himself and which he did sort of duet style with red-hot Ruthie Foster, who says she learned Sam Cooke songs (both the gospel stuff and the sultry secular stuff) at her mother's knee. The list included "Another Saturday Night," "Twisting the Night Away," "I'll Come Running," "Win Your Love for Me," "Having a Party" (a big favorite of my lovely spouse), and "Today I Sing the Blues." I do not recall hearing "You Send Me," Sam's very first secular hit single, or my own personal favorite (whom many of us also know as a Pretenders hit), "Chain Gang." But so what? Ruthie and W. C. ended the night with a smokin' version of the Willie Dixon classic - often a major part of Sam's own shows - "Little Red Rooster."

The Blue Monday band backed our singers - Derek O'Brien on guitar, Riley Osbourn on keyboards, and Roscoe Beck himself on bass - plus a drummer whose name escaped me. Which brings me back to Roscoe's new CD (for which he has a major release event on November 16 - starting at Waterloo Records at 5:00 pm and ending with a show at (where else?) Antone's featuring the band Beck and Call -- with Mike Cross, Brannen Temple, Riley Osbourn, and David Murray - a classy, classy group indeed. But wait! There's MORE -- Roscoe says at least SOME of the many artists who played on his CD will also be making personal appearances.

So who might that be? Well - guitar players for the 10-song cycle (all songs written by Roscoe, with two co-penned by Cross -- this for the faint at heart is Mike Cross from Forlini and Cross, NOT the fiddle player from North Carolina with the same name) include the legendary Robben Ford (with whom Beck has played for many years), the legendary David Grissom, the legendary Eric Johnson, the immensely amazing Greg Koch, and oh yeah some dude by the name of Mitch Watkins (plus Beck himself doing rhythm fills on "Come Back Baby").

Drums are handled by either Temple or Tom Brechtlein (Chick Corea, Robben Ford, Jean Luc Ponty), and John Calarco (Koch) on one cut, with additional percussion from Jose Galeano (Grupo Fantasma); keyboardists include Beck himself, Osbourn, and Neil Larsen (Rickie Lee Jones, Kenny Loggins, and many more). Horns are mostly John Mills and Eric A. Johnson, but Paul Ostermayer does some tenor sax work on the final cut (more later). Also in the mix are harpists Kim Wilson (another Texas legend) and the even more legendary James Cotton (who now calls Austin home).

Some of these songs reflect difficult moments in Roscoe's personal experience, including the opening "Wasn't It Fine?", which features a searing vocal by Mike Cross and background vocals by Jacqui Cross (leading lady at the Zachary Scott Theatre). Next up is "Outrage," a cut originally included on the "Texas Guitar Slingers" CD which benefitted victims of domestic violence. Then it is Malford Milligan singing Beck's "Say What's On Your Mind," with Cross providing harmonies. Next it's Beck and Cross singing together on "Together All the Time," and then "Rockin' Like 2 a.m." by Cross (with Wilson's harmonica penetrating the senses). The Crosses are together on "Come Back Baby," and then it's another instrumental, "Cotton," featuring both Ford and Grissom on guitars. Cut 8 is "Think Twice," with Ruthie Foster singing the deep blues and Koch providing a wah-wah solo that cuts through the fog of our brains. This is a GREAT CUT -- but perhaps even surpassing it is the next song in the cycle - "Rhumba Nhumba #9," with vocals and a verbal introduction by the great Omar Dykes. Maybe it's just me, but Omar singing the telephone book would be soulful. Finally, it's "Blues for a New Day," a third instrumental featuring piano and bass by Beck and Mitch Watkins on guitar.

It may be that we owe the Dixie Chicks for this wonderful collection. Roscoe was their bassist on their 2003 Top of the World tour and can be heard on the live CD that was made during that tour (one of the best "country" records in my own collection!). Remember - this is the guy with TWO Fender basses with his signature - the 1997 five-string and the 2004 four-string; he also writes the column, "Mastering the Five-String Bass" for Bass Player magazine. I beg of you - if you have never seen Roscoe Beck play, and especially if you are a Beck fan, do not miss his CD release party on November 16.

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