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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Blog entry No. 134 found me heading down to the Continental Club to catch the CD release party for Mario Matteoli (otherwise known as the lead singer for the Weary Boys). Backed by a band that included Matt Hubbard (one of my very favorite Austin musicians and super producer) on keyboards, Mark Ambrose on lead guitar and backing vocals, Jeff Johnston (of Li'l Cap'n Travis) on bass, and (fellow Weary Boy) Cary Ozanian on drums, Mario (he's the curly haired guy) crooned ditties from his new CD "Hard Luck Hittin'" (produced by Matt, Mark, and Mario -- and Cary), which he says is much folkier than the fare he belts out with his regular bandmates. This music seems straight out of Humboldt County ... it is rural and timeless ... and thus it is no wonder that he and Ambrose (who has recorded with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) have been hanging out swapping songs in public for the past year or so.

The Continental was abuzz for Mario and the Rosewood Saddles (the band, of course) ... and a few people even shook a leg on a couple of his songs... which include "Happy Birthday from Wyoming," "Come and Be with Me," "What To Do (Lord)," and the incomparable "United Nations" -- in which Mario sings of his little siter Jumpin' Jolie [also the title of the new Weary Boys CD] climbing trees in the backyard and all of a sudden all grown up. Mario urges the fat cat bureaucrats and diplomats to "leave the world alone, cancel all the invitations, (because) Jesus might be coming home." This song has a little of the feel of a Charlie Robison tall tale ... "I once was a whole human being, with two arms and two legs, I had a heart, one might say it was golden, but all of that gold has just melted away."

I really like "What To Do," which shows how so many young guys feel when they get up close and personal with a real woman ... one who challenges them and makes them aware that "all you know is nothing" -- and yet, just maybe, if you actually do take that step toward the "R" word you will have set forth on a path that requires accommodating another ... and not being quite so "free." Also known as "growing up" -- but only if it really IS the right person to be your lifelong best friend. The title cut, though, is as deep as Mario gets: he warns against the superficial in a dirge that beckons back to early Dylan ... "You might have money, but you've got no future, you've been draggin' through life, you been getting a free ride, and you can't stop thinking about where all it is leading, and you won't find a clue in all those books that you're reading." Mario even lets in a little about himself -- "I'll pretend that I'm free from sorrow, cause things just might look brighter tomorrow."

Mario has several Wednesdays (August 2, 16, 23, and September 6) coming up at the Hole in the Wall in addition to his Weary Boys schedule ... and a solo gig in San Antonio, too. The Hole is the first place I saw Mario performing solo (well, actually, swapping songs with Mark Ambrose and each backing the other on guitar) ... and it is a GREAT place to catch him now. But you can also catch Mario on Tuesday, August 1, at Threadgill's WHQ for the reenactment of the Concert for Bangladesh, which is being put together by Paul Minor and Darin Murphy. Also on tap soon at Threadgill's (on August 12) -- Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen (whom I first saw in 1970!). And by the way, I ran into Josh and Teal from the Mother Truckers, who were excited to tell me that Jason Roberts will be bringing his fiddle to their gig on Thursday (August 3) at Shady Grove -- KGSR and all.....

Though there was lots more good music at the Continental (another CD release, this one by Paul Minor, who was also backed by Hubbard and Johnston, followed by a Li'L Cap'n Travis show), I trekked over to Waterloo Ice House (6th and Lamar) for the last half of a show by Tahni Handal featuring the Hot Chocolates and her longtime bass player Vance Abeyta ... and a new drummer whose name still escapes me. The Chocolates are Tina Harris and her sister Chris, who has been touring with Ray Benson as an actress (and sometime singer) in "A Ride with Bob," Asleep at the Wheel's tribute to Bob Wills. Tahni, who once played lead guitar in an all-girl metal band, is FINALLY playing lead guitar in her own band ... and really bringing it!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jovita's on Sunday afternoons (soon to be Saturdays) has become THE place for teenager rock and roll. This day, it was The Frets (whom I missed but heard good things about --- they'll be back on Saturday, July 29; The Steps - cousins Will and Sam Thompson on guitars, the fabulous "Z" (Alex Lynch) on drums, and new bassist Stephen (I will get his last name soon) -- Austin High boys all (though Will is off to college here in Austin very soon); and Joyride - of which I will soon say more. Also present were members of the Pickpockets, who I am told will be playing at Swerve Coffeehouse very soon. [Other bands playing Jovita's soon are Rubber Monster and the award-winning Misspent Youth.]

Will and the boys will be off to New Orleans soon to open for Dash Rip Rock and play a couple other gigs (this IS summer vacation!), and they are wrapping up some demos in studio. This band has rocked Antone's on numerous occasions with their own original songs (whose lyrics may well be audible on CD but sometimes get buried in the wall of sound at live shows). Will, BTW, just landed a gig at South Austin Music, so drop in, buy some gear, and give props. The Steps will be back at Jovita's next Sunday before heading into the floodzone that once was a great American city.

Joyride came together thanks to the Austin Rock and Roll Music Camp -- about seven months ago, I am told. Drummer Chris Copeland (the pride of Anderson High) is sixteen - the old man of the band; on bass it's Kai Roach, who will be at Austin High soon; the hotshot (and I do mean prodigy!) guitarist is Max Frost, who will be in ninth grade but is still thirteen -- this kid is already playing interesting add-ons to the Hendrix and other licks he has been working on -- and he is brave enough to sing some backing vocals even as his voice is in the process of changing. I was not totally floored -- after all, Jonny Lang was about the same age when he emerged from the Keller Brothers basement in Fargo to become an overnight sensation, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd was just 15 when he broke into the bigtime music scene. So Max has at least a year or two before he should be blowing people away (and after his voice restructures itself). Max just "has it" - and he has been playing guitar for five years already (and studying under Sid Sanchez).

Okay, so good so far. But none of this is the reason I absolutely IMPLORE my music-loving friends to spend next Sunday afternoon (July 23) AND the following Saturday (July 29). After The Steps left the stage this afternoon, this little brunette wearing a top with a cross I think it was fake embroidered on the front started setting up her band. Cute kid - about (it turns out she will be in eighth grade this coming year and is indeed thirteen -- the same age Leeann Rimes was when she hit the big time!). Learned her name is Althea Capra (Soucie-Garza, but only to her friends and family -- mom and dad are my sources for much of the following information.

Okay -- Joyride just won the South Texas Ten Under Twenty competition held by the Texas Music Project (back in late April). That was shortly after Althea spent a week learning songwriting at a workshop taught by Jimmie Dale Gilmore (who acknowledged that even though she was decades younger than anyone else in the class, she is not a "kid" as a musician!) but long after she began taking voice lessons from Kelly Gray (whom the fam credits with helping Althea make HUGE strides in her vocal performance). Althea's stage presence reminded me of Shelley King - she is totally in charge! Her vocals, however, I described as Maria Muldaur meets Bonnie Bramlett (meets Grace Slick -- this gal LOVES classic rock!).

All of a sudden Althea was belting out "Jesus Just left Chicago" -- the ZZ Top classic -- and I staggered back out of the side room (well, actually, the main dining room) to get in front of the amps to hear her better -- to make sure I was hearing what I was hearing. Then she said the band was shifting gears - and she squeezed out the lyrics to one of her own songs that reminded me of the old Jefferson Airplane. [The band is named after a song she and Max wrote - Joyride - which sounds like a hit to me. ] This is what happens when music-loving parents take their four-year-old daughters to ZZ Top concerts! Althea's voice is a joy to behold - and her songwriting is way beyond her years.... And, yes, the band did a bunch of shows at Antone's that gave Clifford himself opportunity to mentor her and her bandmates - maybe his final proteges!

Joyride has been invited to a gig opening for Greezy Wheels later this fall (details once they are firmed up) -- and yes I love the Greezys very very much -- and maybe Sweet Mary will persuade Althea to pick up the fiddle (violin it used to be) that she laid down a while back (she's now working on guitar and piano). Now it would be nice if this lovely young woman has the luxury of time to have a real life as she learns the art of singing to audiences of all ages ... but somehow I suspect this is not just another kid's band. There's too much talent here.

On a side note -- what a weekend. Watching the Neil Young Ryman Auditorium show as filmed by Jonathan Demme and listening over and over to my brand-new replacement copies of all of my Gram Parsons music. Every time I listen to songs like "A Song for You," "The New Soft Shoe," "$1000 Wedding," and all of the other songs he wrote, co-wrote, or just made his own (like "Love Hurts" and all the other Boudleaux Bryant tunes he covered, or the Tompball Glazer-Harlan Howard classic, also recorded by Kinky Friedman, "Streets of Baltimore"), I just have to get on my soapbox and remind folks that this is the man who gave us so much of the music we enjoy today ... he was, to me, the Vincent Van Gogh of alt-country music.

The wonderful Emmylou Harris sang with Neil Young at Ryman and of course was Dolly Parton to Gram's Porter Wagoner (for all you old folks - that's Faith Hill to Tim McGraw to younger country fans, or Kelly to Justin to you American Idolators) -- and I have loved Emmylou since she moved to Washington, DC, over 35 years ago and started a music club where I first heard Richard Thompson and Ray Benson (and many others).... My pal Dee Miller was her babysitter on nights she would sit in with the Seldom Scene at The Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland -- and what treats those nights still are in my memory.
It is always interesting going to to a Natalie Zoe show - because just about every time you go she has different, and usually very interesting, players alongside her -- even if she has to drag them out of the audience. For example, rumor has it that Natalie pulled Kevin Hollingsworth away from his wife's birthday dinner party at Woody's South last Wednesday to join her onstage .. and he loved it. Tonight (Saturday) the perky one was playing outside at North by Northwest (NXNW), a cool bistro up in the Gateway area (360 at Stonelake - and remember this place!) whose claim to fame is their own home-brewed beers!

Her guest of honor was young guitarist (and we hear he plays just about everything else) David Scher, who is Berklee-bound (we have been told) next month. Joining the party was percussionist Peter Kaplan, a pre-Katrina New Orleans emigre to Dallas (can you believe it?) who was to be gigging with Scher later in the evening at Eddie V's (I think). Mind you, Scher is a longtime friend of the family (who may have coaxed the elusive Sasha - Natalie's sometime backup singer and fulltime daughter - to come out later than I was able to stay) -- but Kaplan had never even MET Miss Zoe until just before the show. Of course even winging it he was pretty much fun and added a lot to the show. Natalie gave Scher extra time to sing while she underwent a wardrobe change in mid-gig, and the lad took full advantage of the opportunity.

Scher was superb accompanying Natalie on songs that ranged from the Chet Baker jazz classic "But Not for Me" to the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" but he really shone while performing his own compositions, including "What Is This World Coming To?" and "I Thought about You." It never ceases to amaze me first that Natalie runs across so many very different talented musicians and second that she gets them all to play on stage with her (well, now, that's not so hard a stretch!).

Had to leave the show early despite very good company (KK and Doc), but I was desperate for tamales and birthday cake ... and hanging out with old friends.... In other big news about Austin's young talent, The Steps are playing an afternoon show on Sunday, July 16, at Jovita's.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Alice's Restaurant on a Sunday afternoon with Mandy Mercier sandwiched in between Byrd and Street (the early set) and Slim Richey and a host of others (playing for Bert's Birthday Bash). The drive down to Alice's is easy going on US 183 to SH 21, a little trickier going down IH-35 and cutting across Buda to Niederwald -- but always well worth it if you like to eat, listen to good music, and hang with real down home folks.

Mandy, who has a new CD almost ready for release called "Run out of Darkness," played without a mike inside the main restaurant (it was hot outside) - with Paul Skelton on guitar too. There may be folks out there who have never heard this woman sing - all I can say is that she has the voice of an angel, the purest and most compelling vocalist that I can even remember, a voice that makes you cry sometimes just from the pathos that comes from the depths of her oft-broken heart. [She also plays a mean fiddle, and will be backing Dana Cooper on Tuesday at the Saxon.] Those who know all too well may remember that sometimes it has been hit or miss, but the woman looks healthy and her biggest vice these days (she says) is 3 am ice cream pints. Well, and a coupla cupsa joe a day.

Mandy sang a bunch of old favorites - Homeless (honoring longtime buddy Blaze Foley), some Lucinda (her old running mate), some Emmy Lou, some Calvin Russell, a song of hers honoring Uncle Walt, and such -- and some songs that may be on her new CD, including "This Beautiful Day" and "The King of Hearts," both of which were just wonderful on Sunday. The CD release was to have been hosted by Clifford Antone, and the event may yet be held at Antone's -- but there is no definite word as of today. But she is playing at BB Rover's on July 22 (I will be out of town, I think) ... so I suspect she may hold off on the release party until September. But who knows? Mandy was all but written off for dead from a dread illness a few years back, but she learned from being sick and was very sweet to the missus today (who starts a new treatment scheme tomorrow that we trust will bring victory in Jesus).

[NOTE: Mandy says the new disc is mostly a BLUES record that features Dana Cooper and Shake Russell and as an extra bonus some guitar tracks from the wonderful Champ Hood -- and the title cut is a duet with Mandy's really old friend Ray Wylie Hubbard (who wrote the song).]
A full moon, the Nutty Brown Cafe, and Charlie Robison -- what a perfect combination for a lovely and joyful evening with an old friend. Well, in fact, several old friends. Charlie's band has both Kim Deschamps on pedal steel (lap steel, mandolin, etc., too) and Kevin Carroll on lead guitar -- Kevin is working on a new recording, BTW, while Kim's lovely spouse Karen has seen her own music business mushroom in recent months. Then there are fixtures Scott Esbeck on bass (and backing vocals) and Keith RobiNson on drums - professionals extraordinaire all.

Charlie opened with Good Times and New Year's Day from his newest (2004) CD, then went back in time, playing favorites from every one of his recordings. He even played a little lead guitar, trading off riffs with Carroll, and introduced little sis Robyn Ludwick (who had opened the evening with her wonderful original songs - more later), who sang (and danced) on a song about an angel from Amarillo. He told a dirty joke during the middle of oldie "You're Not the Best (But You're the Best That I Can Do)," and talked about politics (zipping his lip) while introducing his rendition of Kinky Friedman's "Wild Man of Borneo" (soon to be available on a compilation CD that will support the Kinksta's gubernatorial campaign). And on "Sunset Boulevard," Charlie Sheen disappeared in favor of Monica and Bill (the odd couple of the 90's).

The highlight of the set -- with about 800 in attendance -- had a good number of the crowd singing with (or instead of) Charlie on "Loving County," a tale of woe about a man and a diamond ring that was not his to give. It's my favorite Charlie song and has been since 1998 (or was it very early 1999?) when I first saw him at the Satellite Lounge in Houston and bought one o fhis tank tops for one of my girls (who LOVED the record as much as the shirt). The crowd kept singing to "Bar Light," Charlie's adult nursery tale, and quieted down for El Cerrito Place before erupting again for the "finale," John O'Reilly. Of course, Charlie played another song after that before really closing with the crowd doing most of the singing on "My Hometown."

My first big surprise of the evening was looking up during Robyn (Robison) Ludwick's set to see old pal Matt Slusher on lead guitar (and occasional mandolin). Matt (an original member of the South Austin Jug Band) has also been working with Kerrville New Folk winner Gordy Quist on a demo and doing other work in his home studio as well as playing here and there - and with Robyn quite a bit. Kim Deschamps is set to join the band for their Austin City Limits Festival set, I am told. Smart woman, that Robyn - who got Bad Liver Danny Barnes to produce her 2005 CD, "For So Long," from which most of her set was taken.

Robyn also persuaded hubby John "lunchmeat" Ludwick to play bass on her record, with Mark Thomas Patterson on drums. Guests included Warren Hood (fiddle), Chip Dolan (B-3), the legendary Marty Muse (pedal steel), Jon Dee Graham (lap steel), Rich Brotherton (mandolin), and brother and sis-in-law Bruce and Kelly on harmony vocals (along with Carol Young from the Greencards). Not bad work - but then Robyn's songs are well worth the effort. As Matt explained his joy in playing in her band, "it's all about the songs."

Robyn herself says that, "The lyrics and storytelling of this album are mostly autobiographical while touching on themes such as life, love and sorrow in American folk with a 'swig' of Texas country." In my view, she sings like Charlie (in a storyteller voice) but writes like Bruce (well, not "What Would Willie Do?," but more like "Rayne, Louisiana" and "Angry All the Time"). Her record is sultry and dark but with lighter touches and her live show was mesmerizing at times. In upcoming weeks, she's opening for Bruce and Charlie and for sis-in-law Kelly Willis, and playing other notable gigs as well -- then it's off to Europe for a week in October. Who knows? Maybe little sister will catch on and be as well known as both her brothers combined. Okay - I am NOT going to review the CD here - but I will direct you to her website, www.robynludwick.com, where there are both excellent reviews and some downloads.

Squeezed in between the Robison family band leaders was the all-Wimberley quintet, Texas Renegade, which does feature twin brothers on bass (Eli Carver) and various stringed instruments and vocals (Tyson Carver) - plus songwriter and lead vocalist and guitarist Andy Bertelsen. Drummer Matt Pigg and harmonica player (wow he good!) Kasey Klepfe round out the band. Their debut CD, "3 a.m." has been out for a while, and the boys are headed back to the studio on July 10 to start work on a followup. Just to show you they are Wimberley boys, the bank is planning its First ANnual TXR and Friends float trip in Canyon Lake for July 29 -- with details coming soon at their website, www.txrenegade.com .

They debuted at least one song from the forthcoming plastic near the end of their set - it's called "Fight over You." They also covered "I'm In" (Radney Foster) and Like a Rolling Stone (yeah, that one!), and a song Jeff Plankenhorn did on his debut CD (Mary Magdelen). The boys will be back in Austin on July 28 for a FREE show at Hill's Cafe (another nice outdoor Austin venue that is supported by a fixture restaurant). I liked these guys, who have lots of merch to sell, too.

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