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

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Amber Voiland is a fixture at the Hole in the Wall, and on Christmas Eve, her band Love Buckit will be putting on quite a show (one I will miss to visit my daughter in south Texas). So on Tuesday night, when I learned she would be doing a short solo set at Trophy's, I braved the elements (this is one of many bars that have seceded from the city of Austin to escape the smoking ban) - and waited - and waited - and waited - until 1:30 in the morning, an hour after her set was scheduled to begin. Meanwhile, the lively huffing and puffing crowd was treated to the union songs (and love songs, too) of Jason Weems and Bill Davis (joined by Sick, the fiddler whose other gig is the Asylum Street Spankers). Davis' most memorable song was "Waxahachie," a paeon to celebrate the cancellation of the superconducting supercollider project. Sick, for the record, is promoting his January Monday shows at Flipnotics under the name the Sick Science Project - five weeks of pure craziness that will feature pals from the Spankers, White Ghost Shivers. Jazz Pharaohs, etc.

Amber's bandmates were in the house but not on stage, and so it was just Amber and her Korg. The Colorado native claims Portishead as one of her chief influences, and her final song, which she says she may call "Cereal" was clearly in that mode. My recommendation - catch Amber at the Hole - or perhaps sometime next spring at the much earlier in the evening Writers Who Rock songwriter showcase at El Mercado, where I had spent part of the evening.

Melissa Mullins, co-host and performer in her own right, had invited me after reading this blogspot - courtesy of one Rachel Lynn (whose music is growing on me). So I get there (late) and run into some of my own extended family who turn out to be her good friends. Melissa's set was solo electric guitar, and you could just sense her wanting to kick in with a full band. But I liked the energy. Next up was Vanessa Peters, a Dallas native who has been living in Italy and comes back to Texas once in a while to record. She has a band called Ice Cream on Mondays, and so you already know she is quite pretty and elegant and intellectualish. Songs from her forthcoming CD included "Easy," "Amelia" - a song about Amelia Earhart in part, and "Such Good Actors." Living in Italy is very nice, but here in Austin Vanessa would become a better guitar player - but then again, it is rural Tuscany!

Next up was my pal Sara Shansky, whom I know and like for her work with Steven Pile. Now this woman can play the guitar! Well, she IS from Boston by way of San Fran and Portland. And did I mention she is a lefty? Sara released her third CD earlier this year - titled "Inertia" - but the truth is that she is anything but an inert object. Truth be told, there is much more to Sara than she showed in the short set that comes out when she really gets warmed up and starts attacking her vocals the way she attacks her guitar. I think several of her six songs were new ones - which bodes well for her fans.... I also met Sara's friend Adam Kaye, a web designer (www.drwebstein.com) who donates a portion of his fees to the client's charity of choice.

I slipped away from El Mercado at the start of Melissa Greener's set to catch a little of Clifford up at the Hole - and especially to hear a little from Kullen Fuchs, who just got off tour with Ian Moore. The brassman (trumpet and a whole host of related instruments) brought out what I would describe as a bamboo xylophone/marimba instrument that made some sweet sounds. But I only got there in time for two songs - and a good visit. Next it was down to Ego's to catch the last set of the calendar year by the amazing Mother Truckers, who are finishing up recording a very hot CD at Ray Benson's Bixmeaux studios.

If you have not heard this California duo (with rhythm section plus Kim Deschamps when he is available), you are missing perhaps the next breakout band to emerge from Austin. Drummer Pete Langhans also hails from California; I first met him at Jovita's playing with Aaron Hamre - I hear he whacked hide for Carolyn Wonderland Thursday night, and last week he backed Wendy Colonna.

Teal Collins-Zee reminds one of the young Emmy Lou Harris and the funky Bonnie Bramlett rolled into one vocal dynamo -- and she plays a mean ukulele. Josh is a true gunslinger with more licks on his guitar than my cat has when he bathes himself. To celebrate the season, the band played - in addition to its regular set - Blue Christmas and It's Christmastime, Pretty Baby - which Teal smoked! while Pete was tossing drumsticks in the air and not missing a beat. It would be a very good idea to catch this band as often as you can while they are still playing weekly in Austin - because one suspects they will be doing some MAJOR touring soon.

SAME SPOT, earlier night - caught a set at Ego's by People Skills which featured bassist Tony Velasco electrocuting himself (hood and all) to the band's "numbers" song. Yup - the soon to be first-time father had hooked up electrodes to shall we say some vital areas and as the song got hotter, so did he. Just remember that killing even a criminal is no laughing matter ... Tony and guitarist Russell Beach shared most of the lyrics, but lead guitar player Freddie Cruz took the vocal lead once during the set and was excellent. The honorable Grady B. Humble keeps the time for this fantastic four - which on stage reminds one of an older and hopefully wiser (R U kidding?) version of The Steps (see review from a week ago of their Antone's gig) - except that these older dudes may have more energy than the high school quartet. People Skills will be back at Ego's twice in January (9 and 23).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

So, back we go to Ego's. First, gotta love the swiveling, rolling chairs that make it easy to move from table to table or around the table to sit and visit with lots of different folks without leaving your own seat. Kudos to Ego's for getting the smell out along with the smoke (though Clifford did use a smoke machine in one song!). But so what - it's all about the music, and the Saturday night lineup was Clifford (featuring Bryce Clifford), then the Texas Sapphires (who are already mixing and mastering the CD they did with Lloyd Maines), and finally Gina Lee and her Texas swing band that was simply sensational!

Clifford (known in Canada as Pedestrian Status) has been around for awhile, but guitar-slinging brother Bryce has been spending lots of time in Austin (and why not, when you can get Kim DesChamps to play pedal steel with your band?) since coming here with brother Brad (who is back in Canada caring for a very ill friend) to record the new CD "Signal the Sun" with Kim (a CD previously reviewed by Flanfire). Bandmates Zach Firnhaber and Daniel Jones provided a solid rhythm section (bass and drums), leaving Bryce and Kim to handle the leads. Missing for the evening was trumpeter Kullen Fuchs who is on tour with Ian Moore - and I suggested that Bryce bring up a girl singer at least on a few songs to provide harmonies and improve the view.

Just so happened that in the house for the evening was the gracious Rachel Lynn, who lent her voice to Signal the Sun and who only recently ended her long residency at the Red-Eyed Fly. So I was graced to receive her demo CD of four songs featuring her voice and guitar. What a nice woman to meet - she says she is doing a song or two on Monday at Ego's for the Johnny Stranger Show and Ego's Christmas Party. Also in the house for part of the evening were Josh and Teal of the Mother Truckers -- whose last Ego's show of the calendar year will be on Tuesday following Redd Voelkart -- yet another evening of musical bliss to be sure.

Bryce will be off to Canada over the holidaze - visiting family and friends in Toronto and his more rural home environs and hopefully finding material for a few more songs that showcase the "northern sound" of his home country. If you have not gotten "Signal the Sun," once again I urge you to do so -- these songs are good, and the music is warming even when sad.

Next up (now I had gone to Antone's and returned and only missed half the set) were the Texas Sapphires - well, once again, you KNOW how I feel about Rebecca Lucille, Billy Brent, and their band mates. This time they showcased a new pedal steel player (whom I did not meet). As always, this band demonstrates the pure joy of making music together. Look for the new CD to hit the streets, stores, and music venues sometime soon - maybe February, but surely in time for SXSW and not-SXSW events in March.

No sooner than I saw the likes of Sweet Basil McJagger walk in the door did I decide to stick around for the Gina Lee show. I first saw this keyboard genius playing with Cade Callahan during the Sunday gospel show at Threadgills a while back, and the esteemed professional is also playing (and singing) these daze with the Derailers. The well-respected Texas immigrant (who paid her dues in Levelland) always has great performers at her side, and Gina herself does not disappoint - doing old standards like Roly Poly and Detour - there's a muddy road ahead, plus Blue Moon of Kentucky -- and lots of other dancable music (many of which are originals from her CD "Where Ya Been?") that kept many people OUT of their seats (including our pal Rebecca Lucille).

The band featured Bostonian Tom Umberger on his beautiful (and very well played) Guild hollow body electric (jazz-style) guitar plus a trumpet player whose name I did not get but who "blew" people away in the audience - plus a rhythm section of Brandon Ryan on bass and Chris Stelly on drums. Gina and the band will be up in her home state of Nebraska over the holidaze but if you enjoy great Western swing, you will like this band. Now back to Sweet Basil -- the Derailers will be playing once a month at the Broken Spoke starting on January 21. I first saw the Derailers in 1999 at the old Dessau Hall in a bill that also featured Terri Hendrix playing with Lloyd Maines and Glen Fukunaga - now that was a different lineup - but Sweet Basil is helping put the real spice back into this classic band. Go. Dance. Enjoy.

Finally, I want to put in a reminder that on Sunday (December 18) at Alice's Restaurant there is a fundraiser concert for Slim Richey and Francie Meaux-Jeaux who lost a home and most of their stuff to a fire a couple of weeks ago. Anyone who has ever heard Slim play the guitar (or Francie the bass) or who is a friend of friends of theirs like Leeann Atherton - and who likes to EAT - would do well to truck down to Niederwald and chow down on great food, great music, and a great time to be had for a very good cause.
WOW - I went to Ego's and when I got home my clothes did not smell. Which is very good news, given the quality of great music being played there on a regular basis.

My musical evening actually got started at Jovita's where I stopped in to see old friends Eric Leikam and Shelly Knight (and the fabulous Antone) and catch some of the tunes Shelly has put on her brand new CD, "Shelly Knight and the Livin' Dead," which features Eric on bass, Fred Schultz on lead guitar, and Andrew Wood on drums. The band is part of a five bands for five dollars blowout at the Red-Eyed Fly on January 7 - and I believe I heard Shelly say that the price of admission will also get you a free CD. [Also on that venue are the Addictions!] Shelly and Eric wrote all the songs on the CD, and Shelly got extra help from guitarist Kyle Judd, bassist Sean Backius, drummer Brian Reed, and Riley Osbourne on organ.

The CD is pure rock and roll (Shelly is an aficiando of power rock like Led Z and Big Brother). The first song on the CD that in any way reminds one of the earlier "Eric and Shelly" CD is "Radio," and it is followed by "15 Years," a song which shows forth Shelly's sassiness [as much as the first three songs show her angst]. Now, Mister Schultz has some chops (at Jovita's he did quite well reprising Big Brother leads). Shelly is a long-time friend and neighbor of the Addictions' Beth Richard, and her vocal style has gained from that association. Shelly is - or at least was - the top FM-radio DJ in Austin - that is, until Majic 95.5 FM let her and three other key staffers go as a pre-Christmas present (thus allowing the Christmas music month to cloud the fact that these people no longer work there). There are quite a few good songs here - including "Runaway Mama" and "To Love You." But one hopes that Shelly will realize that she is more Annie Lennox and Pat Benatar (whom I just saw on an old Dharma and whazziz name rerun) than Janis Joplin and Nancy Wilson.

It was only a short jaunt over to Ego's (of which I will write more in a separate entry), but after Clifford's set there I popped over to Antone's to catch Austin's hottest (keep your teenaged daughters on a short leash!) high school boy band - The Steps. [Well, they DID win a recent battle of the high school bands by a wide margin, and the Thompson twins -- okay they are first cousins, with Will IV at 17 and Sam at 15 both on guitar -- will one day soon be wearing Rod Stewart/Roger Daltrey shirts. The band also includes Alex "Z" Lynch (also 15) on drums, and this kid is already a real pro, and the rubber-legged Travis Perlman (whose other gig is as a co-lead singer for the high school punk band Swift as Snakes) on bass.

This Austin High quartet has the energy of the early Who, the musical tightness (especially instrumentally) of the early Kinks, and, yes, they ROCK! Now, at Antone's I felt they were not always getting their vocals across through the mike, but who cared? The place was JUMPIN! Mind you, these kids were opening for SOULHAT, an Austin legendary band that began playing under that name at about the time the two younger members of The Steps were being born. And the sizable number of SOULHAT fans were lovin' these kids - hardly realizing just how young they are. Will's dad and Sam's as well were beaming at the applause their kids were getting - and if the other dads and/or moms were there, they were, too. Watch for an upcoming gig at the Flamingo Cantina or any other place around town. Did I mention they write all their own songs?

I did take the time to get a great shoeshine while waiting for the band to start playing - one of my favorite things to do at Antone's.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Candlelight Ranch is a retreat founded in 1999 so that children struggling with terminal illness, disabilities, or economic and social challenges could experience the beautiful natural environment found just off SH 1431 between Lago Vista and Marble Falls. Last Sunday, supporters of the ranch got an early Christmas present -- the release of a CD produced by Stephen C. Meyer of The Lodge recording studio in Marble Falls entitled "A Texas Hill Country Christmas." Even better, several of the artists who lent their songs and voices to the CD were in the house at Threadgill's World Headquarters for three hours of heavenly music.

This CD is a MUST GET collector's edition - if only because it features TWO Christmas songs written and sung by the legendary Freddy Powers and Bill McDavid. Freddy is now 74 and has Parkinson's disease and does not perform any more without his band -- but he nevertheless showed up at the gig to sign autographs for CD buyers and to tell why he supports the ranch.

Just as exciting was the 45-minute plus set by Gary P. Nunn - which started with a tender rendition of "London Homesick Blues," aka "Home with the Armadillo" for those who only know the song and not its real title. The set included his contribution to the CD (a song he did not write) plus "Road Trip," "Friends for Life," and a whole bunch more. Gary P. had driven all the way from San Angelo for the gig.

As if that were not enough, we had three songs from Marble Falls' own John Arthur Martinez, including his rendition of "What Child Is This?," which he sings in English and Spanish, his own "What a Christmas It Was," which is autobiographical, and a song I got to see JAM do live on Nashville Star -- Big Old Armadillo - which he as always finished off with lightning speed.

The music started with an hour's worth of wonderful songs from Barbara Malteze and Kevin Higgins - the core of the Cosmic Dust Devils, who double as caretakers of the ranch property. Higgins has a song he does and a song she does on the CD -- both are excellent! A personal favorite was Kevin's "Monahans," another was Barbara's "One Good Heart from Two," but by far the highlight of the set (and perhaps the whole afternoon, from a power music viewpoint) was Barbara's scintillating "The Night Life Ain't a Good Life, But It's My Life." SMOKIN!!!

So it was almost an afterthought that we also got a very fine set by Shelley King and her band, featuring the amazing Clark Perry on percussion and snare (pretty talented for 1-1/2!). Shelley told of a Christmas adventure that included sleeping in the van during a snowstorm out in the middle of nowhere between the Hill Country and El Paso on I-10 - and how the very next year she wrote, "Let's Stay Home for Christmas."

Other performers on the CD include Thomas Michael Riley, Mike Blakely, Ben Beckendorf (a Hill country blues and jazz hero), Walt Wilkins (whom I last saw on a bill with Bonnie Whitmore), saxophonist Elliott Fikes (who used to tour with Little Anthony and the Imperials but settled in the Hill Country a while back), and Debby Walton - plus a beautiful testimonial song by a girl named Jessa. If you are interested in the CD, you might call Stephen or Sue Ann Meyer at (512) 756-7128 - and you might even like their studio, which sits on a 260-acre ranch between Marble Falls and Burnet.

On Saturday night, we traveled out to La Grange to the Bugle Boy (again, a GREAT PLACE to really LISTEN to live music and interact with the players -- just take SH 71 to US 77 in LaGrange and turn right toward town and the place is just up on the right -- it's an old Army barracks that once sat in Bastrop but was purchased by the Sons of Hermann and moved). The occasion -- the Free Brass Cartel featuring for the first time the guitar work of (Michael John) BLAKE of the Illustrated Band - and as usual the keyboard pyrotechnics of Thomas Mann (who also wrote all of the songs not from legendary players - Theolonius Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others - plus a medley of Christmas songs that really swung). Of course, this band is all instrumental (well, almost) and features the rhythm section of Kyle Clayton (whose other gig is Violins, Etc.) and Travis Woodard (who also plays with the Gene Pool) and Travis' high school buddy Paul Luedke. This is a very creative band with guys who really enjoy playing real jazz --- and Mann's own songs stand up well against the classics. Blake, for the record, does not have a history of playing jazz but those who have heard him elsewhere would know that he has the chops -- and just imagine what could happen tomorrow with this quintet.

For the record, Jamie Blythe has been in town the past few days - she's been out in Burbank and is headed to Chicago where she may be doing voiceovers for big-time dollars -- but we will always enjoy her lovely vocals and bright-eyed smiles when she deigns to visit here again. Bonnie is working on putting together her own rock band, but after hearing "Ain't Misbehavin'" from her one more time, what can one say but she and Jamie together bring us back to a simpler era of great songs with big production numbers. These women belong in a 1950's movie set -- or alternatively in the most modern of environments. C.atch the duo - with Seth Hulbert on guitar - at Tavern in the Gruene on December 15

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