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

Friday, June 30, 2006

Corinne Rose was on the bill at the Hole in the Wall on Thursday sandwiched in between Alice Spencer and Her Monkey Butlers (20's and 30's jazz, with Mark Rubin on tuba!) and Bryce Clifford (with Kim Deschamps playing pedal steel and Kullen Fuchs bringing his xylophone, keyboard, omnichord, accordian, and white trumpet - and maybe I forgot something else). So who is Corinne Rose? Not a gal named Corinne, to be sure.

I had forgotten (it had been a while) that the wonderful Maria Mabra had told me that one of the many West Coast (Portland, Seattle) bands she had graced was called Corinne Rose. But what we all want to know is how does a freckle-faced African-American princess get from Oberlin College in Ohio to the Seattle punk scene and end up in Austin singing her own gospel-tinged classic country songs and still playing drums without missing a beat?

I first met Maria when she was playing with Cade Callahan at the Gospel Brunch at Threadgill's. Over time she became friends with Mike Cherry and my pal Leo Rondeau and played some gigs with them (notably at The Carousel Lounge) ... but I really know little of her storied past. Corinne Rose (Austin edition) features Cherry on dobro, the very talented Jen Obert on fiddle, and Scott Stewart on bass -- and Jeremy Terry on lap steel (tho he was on tour last night). The band is working on a new CD featuring Maria's original songs - and powerful songs they are.

"Hello, Stranger" opened the show, and then "Grace" - and then some serious fiddle. After the band had warmed up (and gotten a few kinks in the sound dealt with), Cherry stepped up for a great duet on "Cryin' Holy." After some more fiddle (Jenny Fiddle has really upgraded her performance and she was always just fine), Scott moved over to electric bass for one song only, "Goodbye," [goodbye doesn't mean I don't love you anymore] and Maria showed her vocal range while guys in the audience gasped! [Folks, this is the Hole!]. Then Maria switched to acoustic guitar (no drums) for yet another of her originals, "For Your Eyes Only," which talks of faded memories and making believe. I actually saw people stop talking to each other to listen!

Then Cherry was called upon to do a cover of a Rube Waddell song (She's Got a Body?) - not the old baseball pitcher, but the San Francisco-based three-piece band that has been compared to the Bad Livers. Then Mike and Jen sang a duet on "Don't Call My Name" (now Jen is tall, but Mike is taller by much - and they were sharing a mike -- Jen is from Alabama and Mike from Georgia, and they twanged well together! Finally, Mike and Maria closed the set with a rousing rendition of Mike's "Stumblin' On" -- which Brennen Leigh covered on her newest CD in a duet with James Hand. The audienced wanted more - but Maria gently gave way for the late-night act -- Bryce Clifford and his merry men.

Now I have written a lot about Bryce lately, but I must add that the man bared his soul and tried out some of the many new songs he has been working on in preparation for getting back in the studio to record the followup CD to "Signal the Sun," which is STILL in my CD changer. The rhythm section last night was Zach Firnhaber on bass and Grubdog Mitchell on drums (and for a first-timer with Bryce, he was pretty darn good!). This was the kind of experimentation that I so frequently see at Momo's Club -- and a bunch of Bryce's rowdy friends kept egging him on and harassing him (with hoots, hollers, and heckles) joyfully to keep him focused. Early in the set he pulled out a rarely played chestnut called "Illusion," which he followed with a cover of the Wilco song "How to Fight Loneliness" (smile all the time). The set closed with a winsome version of Neil Young's "Razor Love" followed by a very extended "Open Mike" that featured some cool interplay between Kim, Bryce, and Kullen (on keyboard and more). Bryce is back at the Hole on Bastille Day with Beaver Nelson and more.

It was sort of a private public party on Wednesday when I trolled down to Woody's South to hear Natalie Zoe (and, as it turned out, old and new friends). It was supposed to be a birthday bash for my better half (but she had to skip out while getting some new tests done at Seton) and an opportunity for me to fork over a graduation present to Natalie's lovely daughter Sasha (whom her mom says is already a better singer than she is -- but moms brag). But Sasha was also unable to be there for VERY IMPORTANT reasons, and singing partner Mike Cross took the money and ran to another gig, so Natalie was all alone on stage WHEN SHE STARTED OUT.

Well, not for long. Some gal named Georgia was in picking up takeout and Natalie recruited her to play tambourine on a couple of songs. By that time my pals Thomas and Kelly Mann showed up for the non-party and he had just HAPPENED to have one of his keyboards in the truck, so even though Natalie had never met either of them, she graciously got blessed to have this fine jazz pianist join her on stage. [Later Kelly and Natalie did a duet of "Me and Bobby Magee" and somewhere in the set her friend Tito got up to so some backup vocals.] But then it was the diva alone again, and we persuaded her to reach back into her jazz repertoire -- and she blew us all away with tunes from Chet Baker and Theolonius Monk. Other young friends also joined the party - and by the way did I mention that Miss Zoe first off sat me down at table with her elementary school chum Lynn and her family and I was totally able to relax and let Nancy's medical team take very very good care of her and get some rest for my soul.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I first met LZ Love at the Gospel Brunch at Maria's Taco X-Press -- but until Friday night I had never heard her full-band show. What a mistake - to wait so long to hear the woman that blues guitarist Tommy Castro (who plays on her new record) calls his favorite singer and whose website is graced by glowing comments from the likes of Hilary Clinton and Maya Angelou.

The scene was Ruta Maya Coffeehouse, at yet another in the wonderful series of Austin Daze music bonanzas (the "opening" act was Warren Hood with Marshall Hood and Willie Pipkin on acoustic guitars). LZ had in the house a band consisting of Charlie Prichard and Adam Raven on guitars, Ed Miles on drums (and wonderful backing vocals - Adam also sang some), and Rob Jewett on bass. I was hanging out with Russ and Wendy from Austin Daze (be ashamed of yourself if you do not read this wonderful newspaper - www.austindaze.com ) and with my pal Kris Brown, who had just come from subbing for Sunny Coleman with Leeann Atherton and Jackson at Maria's -- and Kris was stoked!

Before I continue on LZ, let me say that Warren has cut his pony tail and looks all the better from traveling with the Waybacks (and he will be back on the road most of the rest of the summer). Warren is also working (slowly) on a new CD with Marvin Dykhuis (who else?), but he says the difficulties of the two getting together in the studio ensure that it will be a while. I have been watching Warren's career for a few years and it is always stimulating to hear him. And it is always a joy to catch up with my old pal the bassmaster himself ... dreads and all!

Saturday night was another night for old friends, as I strode over to Ginny's Little Longhorn to see the Brennen Leigh Band (with Brennen, brother Seth, Vance Hazen on bass, Timmy Campbell on drums, and Danny Spurlock on his custom steel guitar) play lots of Graham Parsons and Johnny Cash and a little of the Louvin Brothers and even Brennen Leigh. In the house were songwriter Leo Rondeau (two of whose tunes are on Brennen's newest CD) and piano player Damian O'Grady from Miss Leslie & Her Juke-Jointers (who will be back at Ginny's on July 15). There were lots of lovely ladies in the house as well - doubtless checking out the handsome Johnnies in the band -- and a couple of Cajuns from Lafayette who are longtime Brennen Leigh fans. Lots of good times.

Back to LZ -- This is a woman who has sung backup for the likes of Luther Vandross, George Benson, Joan Armatrading, Bonnie Raitt, and a laundry list of names you would know .. and her new CD, "My Higher Ground," features Castro, Michael Franti, Shelley King, "Boom" Carter from the E-Street Band, and Eric McCann (Raitt). Now, lots of folks have strong voices, but LZ has a strong character - forged by growing up with five siblings and a single mother who is lauded in one of LZ's songs, "Mom." She moved to Austin a few years back from San Francisco (LZ grew up in Chicago - but her mom was from Louisiana).

It is WAY too late for me to give a real accounting of LZ's show on Friday - but suffice it to say that it was every bit as much the power of her spirit as the power of her voice (and the power of her backing band - WOW!) that wakes up the spirit within and turns up the ear volume. On one gospel song LZ sat the band down and just took off.

It continues to amaze me that I meet new friends, hang out with them for a while, and one day get out to one of their shows - and get blown away by their gift. That's why I write ... many of you folks are wondering why I have been so slow to get to one of LZ's many many shows. Others will hopefully take this belated commentary as their own cue to stand in her presence.

One final note -- Russ Hartman has been putting out Austin Daze for eight years now under what for many of us would consider very difficult circumstances. Three-plus decades ago, I wrote for an underground paper in Washington, DC, and this is the first paper I have seen in years that captures some of the spirit of freedom and zest for life that we tried to put out there during the Vietnam era. The interviews alone are priceless - better and more indepth than you get in most other papers - and the commentary is pithy and timely.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sam Baker is already working on a new album - the followup to Mercy, which actually debuted in 2004 but has hardly been heard despite it being one of the best collections of songs I have heard in a very long time. Gurf Morlix, who shared a bill with Sam and Canadian songwriter Andrew Walker at Cafe Caffeine on Friday night, says that Baker's writing is the best he has come across since Mary Gauthier, whose most recent CD, "Mercy Now," Gurf produced. Sam actually showcased this CD last June 30 on KUT's Eklektikos, and you can catch half an hour of this magic that includes some amaziing conversation. Sam, who grew up west of Fort Worth, had to learn to play guitar left-handed after nearly getting blown to bits in Peru in 1986 by the Shining Path (those sitting next to him died, and Sam has had 18 operations to put his body back together). The blast also took away much of his hearing ... but clearly upgraded his inner hearing to a level few reach.

Rather than try my own hand at praising Sam Baker and his songs, it is better just to repeat what others have said:

Lawrence Kay -- "Song after song creeps up and pulls you in .. each a quiet, haunting, curious jewel... I honestly think only Guy Clark comes close to this guy, in terms of his self-assurance, his clarity of vision, and the consistent high calibre of his output."

Maverick: "This is more than music. This is a shuddering wake up slap in the face.... At his most poignant, he will choke you up; when the fire inside him recalls the whole unadulterated ugliness of what some human beings do to each other, you feel his anger but sense that while shock and disbelief caused him to write down his feelings, they are nonetheless, swaddled with genuine love and forgiveness.... This is songwriting that is so powerful an outpouring it kind of leaves you struck dumb. He digs much further than most care to venture, to communicate on a level that can be quite unsettling for its ability to make you examine yourself."

Tony Peyser: "It's like there was a storm, a couple of huge oaks fell down at your local park and you suddenly saw another big tree behind them in full bloom."

Did I mention that Jessi Colter is but one of the many guests on his CD, which was produced by songwriter Walt Wilkins (whose songs have been recorded by Ricky Skaggs, Pat Green, and numerous others). Folks, the Texas songwriter did not die out when Townes left us. This poet has been touched in a special way and was spared so that we could learn from his tender heart. I had met Sam a while back at Momo's Club during a Bonnie Whitmore-Walt Wilkins show - and he remembered.

Gurf, by the way, is also working on a new CD which he says may be out by January. Walker (previously reviewed here) has been working with Gurf on a forthcoming project during a brief stay before returning to Toronto where he lives. It was of course a joy to hear Gurf playing some quiet solos for Sam and Andrew (aren't those the names of the young twins on Seventh Heaven?) and to see the myriad of musicians who had come to sit at the feet of the masters -- Brent Malkus, Jackson, Leeann Atherton, Russell Beach, Melissa Gruener, Bryce Clifford, Kim Deschamps (whose lovely wife Karen had organized this gig for us), and many others.

Tidbits from the evening -- Beach will debut with his new trio, Las Damas, which features Alison Willis (lead) and Sarah Glynn (drums), on June 14 at the Red-Eyed Fly (about 10:30 or 11) - you may know Sarah from Echoset and Alison from various punk pop incarnations. Gruener is opening for Dar Williams at Poor Richard's in Dallas next Wednesday and is at Ruta Maya opening for Kacy Crowly and the fabulous Sarah Dashew next Thursday (Sarah also plays at the Saxon Pub along with Guy Forsyth next Friday).

So I was on the way home and drove by Threadgill's only to hear the magical sounds of Cyril Neville and Tribe 13 - still playing after midnight. Naturally, I pulled into the parking lot, jumped out of the station wagon, and virtually ran to the outdoor venue area. At long long last I get to hear my bud Kris Brown (whose new reggae album, produced by fellow Tribe 13 member Courtney Audain, is nearly ready for release) strumming on his guitar and singing backup vocals. The Caesar brothers - Cyril's nephews - are on drums and keyboards, while Cyril and his lovely wife lead the band; okay, Cyril did get behind the kit for the final song and showed his Neville Brothers stuff ... and the band also has a young gunslinger name of Jimmy (James) [I forget his last name] who laid down some very interesting sounds and brought a passle of his buds (on their way to a later night party, to be sure).

Courtney is just as excited about Kris' new CD as he is about his other newborn -- Steve Carter's new reggae album which features a previously unrecorded Merle Haggard song, "Since I Gave Up Cigarettes" -- Carter has played with Haggard, Freddy Powers, and Willie Nelson -- his country band, Stop the Truck, is a band that must be heard. His other band is the Mau Mau Chaplains. Audain, whom I know through Papa Mali, is well known for his work on bass and steel drums (his childhood instrument in Trinidad) but is about to break out as a producer.

I apologize for not writing earlier -- I have been to a few good shows -- and I do hope to be back at the keyboard soon. Notable in recent weeks -- Jackson's CD release party and watching my bud Ann Marie Harrop belt out a couple of songs in Polish during her band Brave Combo's recent appearance at Jovita's. And the trumpet player who Bryce Clifford had with him last Sunday at the Hole in the Wall made that set one not to be missed -- though we will miss Bryce during his upcoming visit to his Canadian homeland (but he will be back at the Hole on June 29 along with Little Alice and Her Monkey Butlers).

One final note -- Brent says that the Texas Sapphires are opening next Friday at Threadgill's for the South Austin Jug Band -- I hope to be there.

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