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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Gospel According to Austin -- and the Gospel According to SOUTH Austin -- are the subjects of today's column. And let me tell you -- the LORD Himself is tapping his toes to these tunes...

First to the music already in the stores and on the street -- especially at Maria's Taco X-Press every other Sunday morning - when P J Liles brings his Gospel Project to the stage. [Editor's Note: Construction has already begun on the New Maria's - and word is the old place will close down around April Fool's Day and the new one will open about two weeks later.]

The Gospel Project features strong vocals from PJ (the cowboy boilermaker poet, who wrote seven of the songs in this collection, some of which were previously seen on the South Austin Gospel Choir CD) AND from Deanne Smith and Michael Croos and also from percussionist Lynette Perkins. The record was produced by Liles, Croos, and Smith plus Tiger Davis, who recorded the music at Rogue Studio. Players include Tom Cobb, Richard Parke, and Norm Ballinger on guitars, Will Dunlap on baritone guitar and drums plus Milly Marlow and Jeff Martin on bass - but others may be in the group on any given Sunday. Parke, who also played flute on the record, was playing violin last I saw him with the band.

The CD begins with mournful versions of two songs in the public domain - Wayfaring Stranger and Wade in the Water; the band also does "Do Lord" and "Oh Happy Day," plus Liles' own version of the traditional "Noah." There is a little reggae gospel, "Zion," written by Garnet Silk, and "Everywhere I Go," by Mary Lee Kortes (but made famous by Amy Grant). All the rest are Liles originals (including "Pray for Peace and Love," cowritten by Eric Leikam, another SAGC veteran who also plays with PJ in Steelbeam.

A major highlight of this record is Michael Croos' beautiful rendition of "Oh Happy Day" -- his tenor voice just fills up the speakers... Another is the acapello version of Liles' "Tom's Cross." But all of the singing is good -- especially live during Hippie Church at Maria's... and, yes, there is a GREAT photo of Maria WITH ARMS on the inside of the jewel case.

Volume 5 of the Gospel According to Austin series - which includes a bonus CD that is a re-release of a 1992 recording by the late Reverend Dan Smith - is chock full of great stuff, including donations from Ruthie Foster, Billy Joe Shaver, and Carolyn Wonderland -- all from CD's that many collectors of Texas music may already have. Just having these songs together in one place makes the album worth the price. Every one of these cuts is a classic - but there is so much more in this rich treasure trove.

The Soul Stirrers began in Trinity, Texas, so they are here -- with "New Jerusalem," off their 1998 CD, "Live in Chicago," which should ensure that listeners attend their next Austin gig. Round Rock's Durdens provided their own song, "There Is a Balm," and there is also a cut from the Bells of Joy's "Second Time Around." The older members of the Bells also back up Johnny Nicolas in a rendition of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" that would make even satan himself bow down and worship. This song was specially recorded for GAA 5 and appears nowhere else.

The record starts off with the great yodeler - Don Walser - singing Jimmy Wakely's "Casting My Lasso," backed in a live performance from Bass Concert Hall in 1999 by the Pure Texas Band and the Kronos Quartet. GAA is donating 20% of the revenues from this recording to Don's medical care -- and any fan of this wonderful performer will HAVE to purchase this CD just for this amazing cut -- the yodeling is beyond belief for the uninitiated. Also on the CD are cuts from the Grassy Knoll Boys (guitarist David Hamburger is a longtime contributor to GAA) and Drew Landry (whose other home is Lafayette).

Papa Mali was excited to learn one day that the Gospel Silvertones were in town, and he made a few calls to his friends in the Iguanas, who had fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and got in the studio to record a version of "Nobody's Fault by Mine," a song he often performs with the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers. You will not find this version anywhere else. Nor will you get "God's Power," a WC Clark original, anywhere else -- but one listen and you will know that Austin needs to convince WC to record an entire CD of his original gospel songs.

No competition here, but if there is any song on this CD that stirs the soul and spirit more than Nicolas' powerful vocal and the tender mercies of AD Watson, JT Stewart and Willis Littlefield, it is the strikingly powerful original from the legendary Dale Watson, "Help Your Lord," on which he is backed by an amazing choir. Adkins says the song reminds him of Elvis' "In the Ghetto" for its sheer power and the quality of the vocal. This song and this recording should be played on every radio station in the free world. Every note of Dale's guitar, every word brings tears to the eyes and humbles the heart. The GREAT NEWS is that Dale has recorded an entire gospel CD that may soon be in the stores - and this cut will be on it.

The CD also includes songs from Tom and Sherry Green and the Kyle Family - who also graced Volume 1 of this treasured series. GAA's Greg Adkins and Phil Fajardo have added in some bonus tracks of note -- by Comanche artist Maria Nuani, Mexican gospel singers Mariachi Eli, the HIV-positive Sinikithemba Choir from South Africa, and octogenarian Johnnie Mae Dunson, whose cousin Alex Bradford wrote "I''m Too Close" (found on volume 1) and who was the longtime manager and songwriter for Jimmy Reed.

The Rev. Dan Smith was one of the last of the "sacred minstrels," and he was well past retirement age when he recorded these tracks with Texas guitar slinger Buddy Miller. This CD brings back memories of Blind Willie Johnson and Washington Phillips, whose last recordings were done fifty years earlier. His harmonica playing alone is worth the price of the CD, but this man had walked on dusty roads and preached the gospel for seven decades. His "I've Never Been to Seminary" was perhaps the chief highlight of GAA's Volume 2, Malford Milligan and Friends," and there is so much more. Rev. Dan was a contemporary of Pete Seeger and the Rev. Gary Davis -- but he also contributed to Julie Miller's first album, "He Walks Through Walls."

Backup vocalists include Shreveport native Victoria Williams and native Texan Julie Miller - plus the late Mark Heard (one of the pioneers of early contemporary Christian music whose songs are timeless) - as well as Bryan Duncan (another CCMer), King Cotton (who played Gov. Jimmy Davis in the movie Blaze), Willie Green, Jr., and Dexter Dickerson. Players include Scott Babcock on drums, Denny Cory on acoustic bass, Dennis Caplinger on fiddle and banjo, John Andrew Schriener on hammond organ and piano, and Steve Hindalong on percussion - plus George Ward and Michael Hackanson-Stacy on guitars.

When this recording is released (sometime between now and SXSW), it should ROLL off the shelves. Gospel music lovers -- heck, music lovers -- have such a smorgasbord of great songs here - many available nowhere else - that this collection should quickly outsell volumes 1-4 combined - in the first month or two. There is just way too much good stuff here.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Cathedral of Junk was the scene for an amazing mixture of music, art, and film on Saturday night sponsored by the Museum of Ephemerata (collectible memorabilia). Both entities help keep Austin weird - and delightfully interesting. Now I heard about this event from Lauren Gurgiolo (Pistol Love Family Band and Bright Lights Society, to name a few) - though it turns out another friend of mine lives at the house where the cathedral is in the back yard.

The official word is that this was the "first display" in the museum's upcoming Machines exhibition, which is to open at its Hyde Park quarters in March. Dubbed "Machines Mimesis," the hosts promised experimental hilarity as they imitated technology using their bodies and musical instruments. You have to see the Cathedral to fully appreciate this synergistic event - metal and a little concrete and all manner of weldables have been forged into a veritable adult playground (also suitable for accompanied children) who can weave through the inner workings of its lower level or climb stairways to its soaring heights (maybe 15 to 20 feet above ground level at one point and with several rooftop patios). Those who are curious but uninitiated can call creator-high priest (?) Vince Hannemann at (512) 441-6906 or e-mail him at cathedralofjunk@hotmail.com to arrange a tour -- the guy has a real job.

The Museum itself, located in Hyde Park, has its own amazing story - told in can you believe it all fashion by curators Jen Hirt and Scott Webel (who we are told is a direct descendent of the founder of the original museum, founded in 1929 in Tucson by Rolls Joyce, Junior, and the mysterious Madame Mercury Curie..... Research is needed for the emboldened here. [NOTE: the event itself was a fundraiser for a project being funded in part by your tax dollars via the city of Austin's Cultural Arts Division, and by a grant from the Texas Commission on Fine Arts.]

Okay - the event -- Hirt and Webel were omnipresent, performing readings, banging on pieces of metal and playing strange instruments - and making noise. Ditto the "house musicians" culled from the Pistol Love Family band and Neal Kassanoff and the Infidels - who were stationed throughout the Cathedral so as to represent cogs in the finely tuned walk-through music machine that pumped out a wide variety of eclectic music -- from traditional European and American folk to avant garde interpretations (industrio-hillbilly chamber music?) of the same. There was a special screening of the 1927 short film, "Ghosts Before Breakfast," made by German Dadaist Hans Richter, in which the most interesting characters are four bowler hats -- plus a screening of the "On no concerto," another 16-mm film from Lori 16 mm Varga (aka Lori Surfer Varga) - who also hosted the "Ask Vince" segment of the evening and played some theramin.

This was truly an EVENT -- one that in another lifetime might have required chemistry. Another is the upcoming Orange Show tour of Art Adventures in Austin (which will include the Cathedral) which is sponsored by Houston's Orange Show Center for Visionary Art (www.orangeshow.org).

Meanwhile, I have been blessed with copies of some wonderful Austin-created gospel music -- including PJ Liles' Gospel Project CD, which is available already (review forthcoming ASAP) and the forthcoming Gospel According to Austin, Volume 5 -- which features previously unrecorded songs by Dale Watson, WC Clark, and lots more that I am not quite ready to tell you about -- PLUS an entire bonus CD that is mostly a 1992 recording - done by guitarist Buddy Miller with the late gospel singing preacher the Rev. Dan Smith. Now that's enough of a teaser.....

Friday, January 27, 2006

Next month the Velvet Spade - 902 Red River - will celebrate its first birthday, and those who enjoy a comfortable couch, great live music, and a variety of beverages (plus a HUGE outdoor area that will be fabulous in the spring, fall, and evenings in much of the summer) should raise a glass to toast owners Brad, Chad, and Wesley Womack and adopted brother Tony Nooner for turning an ancient Austin edifice into a sumptuous club of gigantic proportions. The guys also own the Chuggin' Monkey and Dizzy Rooster on Sixth Street - but the Spade is the place THEY hang out with friends - and so might you. The Spade has an indoor stage in a cozy room with 10-foot (at least) ceilings with a nice bar in the middle and a fireplace on one side of the large open area - with a pool table nook off to the rear. But OUTSIDE there is a terrace and a fountain and when the flowers bloom (if we get any rain) the venue will really come alive. The owners are looking for music that appeals to grownups -- all they need is a shuttle service.

We were there on Wednesday night to catch a double set by Melody Mann, my pals who are in the final stages of mastering their new CD, "Hard Road." The band includes vocalist Kelly Williams-Mann, a Corpus Christi native not afraid to cover Janis Joplin; Buffalo-born Thomas Mann - my choice for No. 1 keyboardist in the city this year; Bill Crock on guitars; Scott Beardsley on bass; Jeff Jeffries on dums - PLUS Kevin Gibbs on sax andDavid Gilden onb trumpet. Trust me - it's the horns that give Melody Mann its special sound - but all of the players are worth listening to. One of my favorite numbers is Kelly's ode to a Corpus Christi hangout - Inza's Lonesome Coyote Saloon; another song tells of Jesus in Chicago -- Kelly sings the blues and the band SMOKES. Thomas' OTHER band - Free Brass Cartel - will be gigging again on March 3 at The Bugle Boy in LaGrange - well worth the drive!!!! What we have here in Melody Mann is Kelly's bluesy sound backed by her jazz piano genius husband (who likes to throw in a little ragtime now and then) and a lot of hot players. The band is playing Alice's Restaurant on February 4 (Saturday night) and Momo's on Monday, February 6.

Hanging out at the club -- which had a nice crowd for a Wednesday evening -- was my pal Bryce Clifford and his buddy Clint - guitarist for Youngmond Grand (whom I MISSED at the Hole last night thanks to a very early dental appointment that left me tired by ten).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Brennen Leigh's forthcoming CD, "Devil's on My Trail," marks a quantum leap in her discography that is evident from the opening notes of the opening cut, "Desperately Alone," which feature the honky tonk piano of the legendary Earl Poole Ball (whom I first heard on a Flying Burrito Brothers album a long, long time ago). This surefire country hit also features the pedal steel of Marty Muse (Robert Earl Keen, Dale Watson, Derailers, Dwight Yoakum, and a long long list) - plus brother Seth Hulbert on acoustic guitar and Lisa Pankratz on drums. "I'm sick and tired of waiting for the time to fly ..." - the opening lyric - lets you know Brennen can write songs in the classic country tradition. But there's lots more where this one came from.

Brennen wrote 10 of the songs on this 15-song collection, including cut 2 - "Waitin' Out the Rain," which features her own fine mandolin picking, brother Seth on guitar, along with producer David Murray and (there's that word again) the legendary Roscoe Beck on bass. A little yodeling on this one to close it out. Brennen covers Fargo buddy Brooks West's "Still Think About You," a wistful ballad that is highlighted by Murray's guitar solo and an electric solo from Robbie Gjersoe. This is a beautiful song.

North Dakota's Leo Rondeau (who now lives in Austin) wrote "You'd Be Wrong," which features Charlie Rose on bass, Jenny Obert on fiddle, and Danny Hawk on steel guitar (along with Murray) -- this is classic beer drinking music, with super solos that make you want to dance. Brennen's "Like A Freight Train" is next - a shuffle with Gjersoe on electric guitar and Brad Fordham on bass, plus Seth and Lisa.

Next is the soulful ballad "Memories of Yesterday," with Fargo native Matt Raum on mandolin and fiddle plus Seth, Brad, and Lisa (Matt writes books on mandolin playing and plays pretty well, too.) Then it's gospel time, with "Don't Let Go of That Rail, John," a Brennen tune which features the spoken words of James Hand and the dobro of the amazing Cindy Cashdollar (plus Brad, Lisa, and Seth). You'd think this song was forty or fifty years old - but, then, many other Brennen songs seem like classics of one genre or another.

Dan Rather's daughter Robin and her hubby (Murray) penned the quiet ballad, "Weather Blows In," which features a lovely cello solo by Danny Levin (of Tequila Mockingbird) plus Cinday, David, Seth, and Brad and drummer Don Pryor. Next up is a duet with James Hand on a Mike Cherry song, "Stumblin' On," which brings back memories for me of the early Porter and Dolly days when I was a teenager listening to KWKH and the Louisiana Hayride. Riley Osbourn's piano and Hawk's pedal steel fill in on top of Murray's work on all other instruments.

The acoustic "Give It Up to Jesus" features Seth, Brad, Lisa, and Cindy -- and this is yet another hundred-year-old song that Brennen must remember from a former life -- this is a sing-along song for large audiences on warm summer nights at Kerrville and similar places. You car hear brother Seth's harmony vocals well here and on the old favorite (off Brennen's debut record), "Pieces on the Ground," which this time features Roscoe Beck on bass plus Murray and Lee Potter on various percussion and some mighty fine pedal steel work by Danny Hawk. This was the song I wanted to hear Brennen do on "Nashville Star" as a classic but they yanked her way too early.

Brennen plays dulcumer on "Carolina," which features just Brad on bass and Seth on acoustic guitar - perhaps his most notable work on the entire CD. [My only complaint about the album is that we do not hear enough of Seth's flat-picking guitar - or his slide guitar, either.] Tom Pittman shows up on banjo on the Leo Rondeau story ballad, "Mountainside," which also sounds like a song from the 1800's and is in the classic murder ballad tradition - but with quite a twist. Lisa, Brad, and Seth add much to this rendition - another taste of Seth's guitar that leaves you wanting more.

We are already in bonus territory with the gorgeous "Carry Me," one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. Brad, Lisa, and Seth are all there - along with a fabulous guitar solo by Robbie Gjersoe (that reminds me of Buddy Miller's work with Emmy Lou Harris). The last cut is a rocker with the Weary Boys backing Brennen - this is where our gal explains "That's Why I Sing." I should mention that some of the recording was done by Brendan Burke and Sal Hurtado at Fire Station Studios in San Marcos. The CD is dedicated to the late Colden Naslund, another Fargo singer whose duet with Brennen (on her first CD) of the Steve Earle song, "I'm Still in Love with You," was a highlight that even today touches the heart. Colden passed away last February at the tender age of 26.

I caught up with Brennen, Seth, and Lonnie Key at Ross' Old Austin last Saturday night, and Brennen and the gang will be playing at Ginny's Little Longhorn on February 4!!!! The CD is already getting some airplay on stations like KUT - but it will not be available in stores for a few weeks at best. My best bets for airplay are Desperately Alone, You'd Be Wrong, and Pieces on the Ground - plus (from what I hear) Like a Freight Train - on country stations and just about everything else (but especially Memories of Yesterday, Caroline, and the gospel tracks) on folk stations. Cherry and Rondeau play together in a band recently renamed, "Railroaded," with bassist Josh Hoag.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Ginger Leigh has finally got her "Sugar in My Coffee" CD on the shelves - and one presumes coming off the shelves as people listen and purchase this fine recording, done in conjunction with Merel Bregante (longtime drummer for Loggins and Messina who married Austin's Sarah Pierce and opened a studio here a while back). About 300 people showed up at Momo's Club last month for her CD release, and I finally caught her new set at Momo's this week. Backed by Nina Singh on drums, Will Landin on bass, and Hedda Layne's Troy Lee on guitar, Ginger rocked the house, interweaving songs from "Sugar" with older material that in my humble opinion now seems sharper and sassier than ever.

I first heard Ginger years ago in a now-demolished eatery at the upper end of the "drag" - it was the Ginger and Sarah (Dashew) Band, and they made you laugh as they bounced all over the musical marketplace and told stories in between songs. Ginger is a huge giver of her time and talent to making Austin (and much of Italy, I am told) a better place to live, as I have continually learned over the years.

[Editor's note: Sarah has a new CD out soon, "Jealous Girl," and had one of her songs featured on the TV show "My Name Is Earl" -- curiously, one of the songs on HER new CD speaks of "cream in my coffee" -- and I am eagerly awaiting Sarah's return to Austin to showcase this new music and celebrate life with this woman who has overcome so much.]

Sarah co-wrote one song on Ginger's new record - "Close Enough," and another with business and personal partner Cindy Hill - the amazing "Mexican Man." The rest are all Ginger-ly done... Brad Gilley plays drums on the CD, and Stewart Cochran (Will's bandmate with Jimmy LaFave) tickles the ivories -- check out the website (www.gleigh.com) for other players.

To tell the truth, I was not paying that much attention to who was on stage (though I had ID'ed Nina, who arrived early) until the second song of the set, when I perked up to the bass solo on "Crumble" and said, "That's Will Landin!" Next up was the soulful, churchy "Time To Move On," and then "Passion and Deception" (another cut off "Charge Laughing," Ginger's prior CD named after an e.e. cummings verse). The title cut is a talking poem about Ginger's travels, life and times that always gets back to her hot desire - "I want YOU!" "Whisper" is one of two cuts that appears twice on the CD - the long and the radio edit version. "Mexican Man" tells a little of Ginger's life story and lets all of us know that she is at peace with her crazy quilt life that others might find conflicted if they go by legalisms -- the best news in the song is that Ginger is happy with herself (something clearly reflected in how she deals with others).

Ginger's set at Momo's followed one by Rachel Loy (backed by her beautiful two-time mom sister Sarah Lear) and pals Chris and Brad. Watching Rachel and Sarah on stage brought many thoughts to mind -- cheesiest among them that the Loy sisters are far better musicians and better representatives of Texas than either the Simpson or Duff sisters (Jessica and Ashlee and Hailie and Hilary) -- yet they are the ones making the least money. Shows to go you just how absurd the "business" is -- but the good news is that Rachel will be wowing audiences for the next forty years while those who choose fame may fade away). Rachel, however, reminds me much more of another central Texas icon - Leigh Nash - both bubbly and deep at the same time. [Leigh, BTW, a new mom, has a solo CD ready for release sometime this spring!]

Rachel started her set solo on guitar and completely quieted a chatting crowd with a song that might be titled, "Humanity," and then brought up the band for songs like "Parachute Boy" off "Love the Mess" [she ended her set with the title cut, which again reminds me of Leigh's "This Beautiful Mess" from the second Sixpence None the Richer CD]. Noting a baseball-capped youngster in the audience, Rachel dedicated "Silly Girl" which is her attempt to remember her days as a 12-year-old. My favorite lyric of the evening is from "Inconsolable" - yet still so full of hope - which Rachel again did solo (with Sarah backing on vocals). Back to the band for "You Gave Up on Me," in which Rachel showed her chops on bass to the fullest extent of the night. On her blog, she has recently lamented being dumped by both her label and her ex-boyfriend, but her fan base is probably growing every time new audiences get to watch her live.

Earlier in the week I fulfilled a pledge to Matt Hubbard to catch his Monday show at Ruta Maya - and boy was THAT a good idea! Matt played harmonica, keyboards, drums, and trombone (at least) during the evening and had Charlie Pritchard and Landis Armstrong swapping out Telecaster and Stratocaster licks all evening long. [Folks, Landis has this Strat that is absolutely AMAZING! -- No wonder El Goins continues to rave about his work recording The Breathers last CD!] Vocalists included Mario Matteoli of the Weary Boys (for whom Matt is recording a solo CD even as we write) and the lovely Paula Nelson - plus fellow Small Star Vic Oden (sic). The next Small Stars show in Austin will be January 21 at the fabulous Carousel Lounge - an ideal video shoot for this amazing band of imposters. Later that evening I stopped by Ego's to catch up with Tony and Charlotte (new mom yet??) Velasco and hear a mostly acoustic set from Tony's band People Skills -- and Tony, Russell, Freddy, and Grady B sounded better than ever.

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