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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mr Brown: Goes with Red Stripe!

Last time I had a chance to catch Kris Brown's new reggae band Mr Brown, I could not stay up late enough for the show. But on Saturday (because of a death in the family of the original headliner), the band was picked to open for the Mau Mau Chaplains at the Flamingo Cantina -- my favorite indoor/outdoor club on Sixth Street. Now I had seen Kris play reggae before (in Family Sauce), but this was a serious venture into the land of the Yellowman and the Marley family.
Deke (left) and Kris Brown.

Kris had told me that some of his homeys from Cincinnati had come down to live with him and play music together, yet this was my introduction to reggae rapper Diedrich (Deke) Jones and guitarist P. J. Harrington (both of whom are also writing new songs for the band). The three amigos (including Mr Brown himself) were up front, with saxophonist (and flautist) Mark Wilson and trumpeter Ed McMains and barefoot bass player Michael Van Horn on row 2 and drummer Paul Mills bringing up the rear.

The sound is usually good at the Flamingo, and on this night the house was packed inside and upstairs on the back patio -- but the promised Winston's jerk chicken and such was not to be found. Some of the songs were familiar oldies -- 100 Monkeys, Don't Stray Far, Rub a Dub, and Boderation, the title cut from Mr Brown's forthcoming CD which was cut at Courtney Audain's Coinhead Studios. Others were brand new -- including the stunning "Give Back (Take Back)," written by PJ and Deke, "12 Months," and "Who Has the Roots." Deke raps in a pure Jamaican dialect (which takes a trained ear to fully understand), and he really got down on "Nah Cool Down" and "Mission Impossible." But the band really shone forth on "Fire Burn" and "They're Dancing," right in the middle of the set. And, indeed, a lot of people at the show WERE dancing and celebrating this joyful music that sometimes carries a heavy message.

Word is that several more reggae souls from Cincy will be migrating to Austin in the next few weeks or so.... Up there, the music scene (such as it is) is far too often mixed with violence, I was told, whereas Austin is the hotbed of peace and love. I had other commitments -- my old pal Steve Ulrich was in town -- and had to miss the Chaplains (except for a song or two while I was still visiting friends at the Flamingo), but what a band!

Dony and Donihoo!

Earlier in the week, I had gone over to Momo's to meet up with Andrew Walker and Kim Deschamps and their buddy Lee Winright (who like Kim plays with Charlie Robison and like Charlie is really from Bandera) but got there early enough to catch a set from Elizabeth Donihoo - whose band for the evening included the effervescent Dony Wynn on drums, Bradley Oliver on bass, and Cole Hanson on lead guitar - plus Jodi Lazo on backing vocals. Elizabeth, who has been around Austin quite a while, just released her first full-length (8-song) CD, "Dream," which I would attempt to classify as psychedelic Eighties music. And, oddly, I really liked it.
Elizabeth Donihoo; Lee Winright.

The Irish lass has a warm alto voice that reminded me right off of Margo Timmons except that Margo is the queen of cool while Elizabeth is sometimes giddy on stage, excited to be sharing her songs with a real audience (even though she has been doing this for a long time). Hanson has been her guitarist for a while and seems to have co-written much of the music, he renders it so smoothly. Six of the songs have one-word titles (a lower percentage than Sam Baker's song list, and he may be the BEST songwriter I have heard in a long time).

"Dream" was produced by Lars Goransson, whose body of work is way too long to list here, but includes the chart hot What Made Milwaukee Famous CD and the upcoming Future Clouds and Radar CD. Mark Younger-Smith (Billy Idol's less famous guitarist) mixed the songs and added his own touches. And Traci Goudie did the very cool CD design work and layout that should get at least some votes for best of the year in this category.

Elizabeth as produced sounds as much like Mazzy Star as anything I have listened to over the years -- lots of texture and fills, and that dreamy (what else?) sound that makes for great date music. "Secret," which opens the CD, is all lovey dovey "Let me fill you with the secret of a better place." "Believe" is more a question than a statement, and "Undertow" is what you might feel when you wake up and last night's lover (who could well be your only lover) is gone you know not where and you are all spaced out from the glow and yet have to face the coming day (and whatever it brings).

"Dream" is a true song of hope for a better love -- again, "Take me to a higher place" is the theme, but this time the woman is waiting on her man to lead (and dreams of what will happen when he does). "Fear" asks "how can anything last if what you say -- which cannot be good -- is true?" But really, it is a plea for the guy to dream of what might be tomorrow if he will just let loose of his fear of commitment. "We're All the Same" is memorable for Hanson's guitar solo and the pulsating title theme, and for Darin Murphy's duet vocals.

"Don't Know Why" may be the coolest song musically on the whole record -- it's a straight-ahead ballad that is classic Eighties Pop -- cuddle music if ever there was such (or at least the stuff that slow dancing was made for) ... and the lyrics pound home the idea - "Delicate and all, hold my breath and fall .... and undo... Save me (the funny thing you see), Save me .... " This theme continues in the final number, "Weave" -- ""What do you know that will save me?" Here we get the clearest glimpse of Elizabeth's passion for all things George Harrison, as you can almost hear a sitar hidden in the sound track (it's not there, though).

Just a short note about the three amigos (well, mainly about Lee, since I had recently written a lot about Kim and Andrew). But first, Andrew unveiled a brand new song, "Where Did Love Go?," one of several he has written on this visit to Austin -- and of course it was another great joy to hear this poet and his songs. Lee's songs run the gamut from hilarious stories to dead-serious songs that touch the soul. My favorite may have been, "Nobody Saw It Coming," a lament about the ever-eager TABC and its efforts to keep Bandera clean and sober (and close down music bars whenever it has the chance). He opened his set with "Goodbye Brooklyn -- Michigan," and closed with "Eight Pains," but in the middle of the set gave us, "Cherry Lane," a song about an ex-girlfriend and his ex-best friend and their lives just two doors down from his empty household.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Merci, Mercier!

Young Austin – if you REALLY want to get a hint of what Austin was like in the Sixties (which officially ended somewhere in the early Seventies), you can get over to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar on Christmas Eve for the Hot Greezy (Wheels) Gonzo Reunion. Okay, maybe you can catch Roky Erickson or Shiva’s Headband or even the Uranium Savages.

Mandy with Mark Viator; Guero's trees.

OR you could just go listen to Mandy Mercier - the one true heiress to Janis Joplin, another bluesy woman whose voice just broke your heart. Mandy's voice did just that to me the very first time I heard her sing – back at the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers’ gospel brunch at the long-defunct (and much missed) Empanada Parlour. Mandy had only recently started singing again after nearly succumbing to a killer disease – several months later, she released "Wild Dreams of the Shy Boys" - one of my favorite recordings of this decade.

I was sure that Miss Mercier just had to be a Louisiana Cajun – after all, she is a longtime close pal of Lucinda Williams – but the truth is she grew up in Connecticut, honed her musical skills in New York and San Francisco (and eventually New Orleans), and did not arrive in Austin until 1980. And found her home at the Armadillo and Threadgill’s – becoming a regular on Champ Hood’s Wednesday Sittin’ and Singin’ for Supper Sessions (which also featured Christine Gage, Jimmy Dale Gilmour, and Marvin Dykhius – and many others).

Mandy once told me she was the one who stayed up all night playing music and having fun, but unlike most of her guy friends got up the next morning and went to work. As either girlfriend or just good buddy, she probably kept bunches of our heroes alive and able to make the music we still revere (while nearly killing herself in the process). Blaze Foley was one of her buds, as was Ray Wylie Hubbard, whose "Run Out of Darkness" is the title track on her brand-new CD -- and, yes, the song is a great duet!
"Shy Boys" showcased Mandy’s songwriting and even her fiddling skills, but there is not a fiddle in sight on this serious blues album and only one of the songs is Mandy’s own. That song - "Get There" - Mandy wrote on her way to Nashville to Walter Hyatt’s funeral. Tying strings together, this version features Uncle Walt’s bandmate and Austin legend Champ Hood on guitar – just one more memory for those who loved him to share. For good measure, we also get Dana Cooper and Shake Russell singing backing vocals on the track.
Austin insiders will be pleased to know that the band for this recording is Tommy Taylor on drums, Andy Salmon on bass, Chip Dolan on organ, Marvin Dykhuis and Ben Cocke on guitars, plus Dan Earhart on piano and James Fenner on percussion – and Paul Skelton plays guitar on "You’ve Got to Move," the old standard (but as arranged by Mandy and Blaze) which closes out the CD. There is also Willie Dixon’s "Spoonful," Sippy Wallace’s "Special Delivery Blues," John Sebastian’s "Sportin’ Life," and Tom Pacheco’s "Wild Heart" – which is killer!
But the show stopper – and as a veteran of Mandy and band on Janis’ birthday – we get the Mandy Mercier version of Big Mama Thornton’s "Ball & Chain." No - Mandy does not sound "like Janis" – she just makes you feel the same way Janis did when she sings. It’s in her phrasing, it’s in her vocal power – but what makes all the difference is that Mandy is maybe the ONLY woman who has walked in Janis-like shoes and paid her dues – and survived [which is an amazing thing in itself given that our gal will admit herself that she has not always been her own body’s best friend]. And among living white woman blues singers, Mandy to me ranks right up there with my all-time favorite Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth) and maybe ahead of Mandy’s own girlhood idol - Maria Muldaur.

Several members of the Hood family drove over from Lake Charles to celebrate the release of Mandy's new CD at her two-set show at Guero's beautiful garden -- and her very hot band included Taylor, Salmon, and Dolan -- plus the left-handed Mark Viator on lead guitar and Mandy herself on acoustic and electric guitar -- and fiddle in the second set.

TIDBITS: Earlier on Saturday I stopped by the GAT-5 collective to check out the work of Charles and James Ferraro

Stefanie Fix; Charles Ferraro's amazing art.

and to listen to tunes from Stefanie Fix and Jabarvy. The highlight had to be the unveiling of Jabarvy guitarist Charlie Narayan’s new song, "Ground Zero," though I have to admit that meeting Miss Fix was a joy and a delight. MUST GET to her Monday Free Radical Social Hour shows (with Jean Synodinos) – both women and full bands for FREE! Later on Saturday, it was over to a packed out Saxon Pub for the Leeann Atherton CD release and birthday party – which featured 13 people on the Saxon stage for "Mambo John" and backing vocals by the handsome Austin Atherton. [More on this show and Leeann’s new blues CD later.]

Finally, Sunday was the annual Empty Bowls charity event at Clayways on Burnet Road – where Austin’s best restaurants donate their signature soups, celebrities and ordinary folks make (or just sign) bowls for soup eaters and souvenirs, and some of Austin’s finest sing and play – including the red-headed Idgy Vaughn (WOW she’s pretty! – but so is Bonnie Whitmore and all of the OTHER women who graced the flat-ground stage).
Oh, and do not forget that Sunny Sweeney is about to hit the big time (signing a real contract and moving to Nashville). Just three more of her Sunday night shows at the Poodle Dog! Maybe your last chance to buy her a beer and thrill to the twang up close and personal (and get to hear her killer band).
Idgy Vaughn

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Skeletons, Phrenologists, Modestos!

Wicked Wednesday and Flanfire was on the prowl. First to Threadgill's Old No. 1 to see Marshall Jones and the Frontier Phrenologists; then to Trophy's for Grub Dog and the Modestos; and finally to Headhunters for part of the Lonesome Heroes' weekly showcase featuring The Skeletons. Familiar faces, totally new (for me) bands. But that's what Austin music is all about!

Phrenologists Stollack, Broeshe, Sproat, Jones,
and Hinojosa at Threadgill's.

Marshall Jones back in the day was the front man for Dark Holler, the strange collection of souls performing music from far-back yesterdays (or that had the feel of those days before women had the vote). Dark Holler played regularly at the Carousel and sometimes did gospel brunches back when the Nutty Brown only had the little stage. This night's collection of phrenologists included longtime Jones sidekick Garreth Broeshe on mandolin and vocals, Austin newcomer Sarah Stollack (Lonesome Heroes) on fiddle and vocals, classical and flamenco guitarist Aaron Hinojosa on banjo, and Jes Sproat (Jesse Dayton, Nash Hernandez Orchestra) on slap bass in his first show with the band. KUT's Folkways Saturday shows should love this band, which opened its second set (I missed the first one) with "Red Clay Girl" before moving to Jones originals "Slow Down," "Long Gone Daddy," and "Out on the Avenue." There were a couple of old Dark Holler numbers thrown in for good measure, plus a very cool duet with Sarah and Marshall on the Italian folk tune "Bella Ciao." I confess I am waiting for Marshall and the gang to cull together a real minstrel show replete with longer solos, various combinations of singers and instruments, and maybe even some old soft shoe thrown in -- there is enough talent here to give the Spankers some local competition. But Marshall -- you will have to quit those 4 am visits to your next door neighbor for what at that hour might pass as bad karaoke.

Next up was my baptism into Grub Dog (drummer to the would-be stars here in town since arriving from Sacramento a while back) as singer-songwriter -- a role he has long played back in his hometown. Indeed, the jacket to 1998's "Grub Dog and the Amazing Sweethearts" tells us that Grub began breaking drums for his dad's country and western band when he was just 7 years old - and writing songs on his guitar by age 13. The Sweethearts were a little bit punk, and the Modestos (home to Boone's Farm, which Grub did not provide) included Pete McPherson on lead guitar and vocals, the fabulous Miss Darlene on fiddle, Omar on bass, and Jamie on drums - and lots of Pearl and Blue Ribbon to keep the juices flowing. Grub opened the set with "Heartbreak

Grub Dog with Miss Darlene; Pete McPherson.

on the Bandstand," then after a drunken bar band song (the kind that sounds better the later in the evening you hear it) pulled out "100 Blues" and later quieted all of Trophy's (an amazing feat!) with the stunning "Red Heart" - which was followed by Pete singing his own "Etheline" and then "Whiskey Straight." This band will make you buy more beer on one song and then want to sober up on the next one -- and did I mention Pete plays some pretty fair country guitar? Grub and the band fill up the Hole in the Wall on December 5.

Rich Russell and the amazing Landry have found a home away from home at 8th and Red River with their weekly country showcase at the tiki bar (with karaoke outside on the patio at the same time) Headhunters -- and there was a raucous crowd around this night, many of whom had come to hear The Skeletons, the most minor-key oriented country band I have ever heard. It was hard to know what to expect -- the female drummer with the tats and Julia Roberts smile - Amanda, or Manda Lynn, is wed to lead singer Old Blue (aka leather-jacketed Jeremiah); the female keyboard player Joy (the serious one); the Asian

The Skeletons Crewe!

beauty Patricia with her green silk dress on fiddle (lots of tremolos and notes that sound like they came from the score of "House of Flying Daggers" but sometimes like the soundtracks of some high-grade horror movies); and the almost too quiet rhythm (acoustic) guitarist (Jocko?) and mugging bassist (Vince, aka Chinzo?).

It was mid-November, but early on you thought it was Halloween all over again, as the band led off with one minor key number after another -- "Phantom Train," "The Devil's Arms" (not the actual title), and "Spiderwebs and Mist" (about a cemetery man, the last rebel angel who fell) -- folks, this band even turned Ernest Tubb's "Thirty Days" and Elvis' "Blue Moon of Kentucky" into minor-key songs and closed out with a minor-key "God Bless Johnny Cash" (which brought back memories of "Ghost Riders in the Sky"). The lead guitar sometimes sounds a little like Duane Eddy, but we have also learned that Manda Lynn took her spouse up to Graceland for the pilgrimage not long ago (yes, I believe they have also been to Tupelo). To get a better idea of this band, you have to check out their myspace page -- musictheskeletons -- and gawk at their Halloween show photos (maybe also check out the Evil Patricia pages, but that requires a little digging). Wish I could announce the band's next gigs, but we are clueless on this point. But they have found a special niche - with a really cool sound - and deserve to be heard by anyone with an ear for the eerie. Or for that matter, by anyone who likes good music.

Okay -- it is Saturday morning! So sue me. I took off Thursday to go hear Wendy Colonna open for Suzanna Choffel at the Cactus and stuck around (as planned) for two sets of some of the most amazing music I have ever heard in Austin (or anywhere). John Thomasson and Jeremy Brook (bass and drums) and Stephen Orsak (guitar, xylophone) melded with Suzanna and her electric guitar on a journey to the center of her heart that was so very properly introduced when Wendy offered up Leonard Cohen's wonderful "Suzanne" (takes you down to a place by the river ....) And Friday night I went bar-hopping (Hill's Cafe and Maria's, really) with my 3-1/2 year old grandson Caleb - who is already working the crowd to make new friends and learn more about music.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Oh, Suzanna!

Sophisticated, sultry, and yet soothing -- Suzanna Choffel (a regular at Momo's Club) has her CD release party on November 16 at the Cactus Cafe -- and what a show it will surely be. First, for openers, there's the She Rocks calendar girl, poet priestess Wendy Colonna - capable of setting fire to the stage without lighting a match. But who, you may ask, is this Suzanna girl who (it turns out) grew up right here in Austin, went off to New Mexico to learn her trade, and now works at the Austin School of

Suzanna Choffel: El Goins caught wearing Bobby's shirt after inviting
his old bass playing pal to the gig!

Music? Before you read any further, just promise yourself to go hear this unique talent - who marries R&B with cabaret music and original rhythms culled from around the globe -- but while listening to the sound, you had best also check out the poetry in her songs. Plus she is like Reese Witherspoon -- the girl next door with brains and beauty and "it".

BULLETIN! Suzanna's "regular" drummer (and good friend) El Goins will NOT be performing with her (or anybody else) for a couple of months -- Austin's drummer in demand (Patrice Pike, Carolyn Wonderland, and a very long long list of others) is taking a much needed SABBATICAL out near Pepperdine. We wish him well. But we got to see El and bassist John Thomasson with Suzanna on Friday night at Momo's.

It's really great that Suzanna's new CD - Shudders and Rings - is coming out in the fall -- because this is music you want to listen to after making a pot of tea and some cinnamon rolls and curling up by a warm fire (maybe with your sweetie) and maybe later throwing in some brie and wine for good measure. The CD features Suzanna on vocals and guitar and lots of percussion (glockenspiel to pencils) with Stephen Orsak [who also recorded and engineered) on guitar and synthesizers on most of the tracks - plus Rene Rodriguez on acoustic and electric bass, with James Harwood (Seven Percent Solution, Five and Dime Ship) and Chris Trafton (Robert Socia band) swapping out on drums and extras added by David Fincher, Tim Girardot, and Damon Knight. Mark Hallman geets credit for adding the final touches on the dozen poemsongs.

A sampling of the lyrics -- From "My Fill" -- "True love is selfless and yet selfish still and your body is a country I've never traveled to, yet my curiosity is bringing me to you." -- From "Weeds" -- "We create our cages because we're too scared to be free .. my heart is a garden and my mind is a weed." From "The Challenge" -- Life has a way of holding anything that's meant to be, meaning what you make of it -- has a way of holding anything you want to see, meaning what you take of it..." [Suzanna also answers those wanting to know about her goals and plans and yet prefers to share her dreams.] From "Since Friday Night" -- "My love can yield a harvest of plenty, My love can cover an ocean with stars...." [but this guy, who did not call, is not likely to find this out]. From "Subtle Boy" -- "Some people waste a lifetime with someone who shuts them down, But how could I possibly shut when I'm so very much opened up by the love you bring around?"

Suzanna says she would love to hear people compare her with Sade - and all I can say is that "Since Friday Night" and maybe a couple others are songs Sade would love to cover... Truth be told, I have never heard anyone quite like Miss Choffel -- and I fully expect her to be playing only the best venues in years to come.

The Dread Pirate Roberts Band
Okay, so I went to Momo's to see Suzanna and then hung around for yet another hot set by Black Water Gospel -- whose music is like eating the richest of bread puddings or maybe "death by chocolate." But what a surprise right in the middle of the evening from Austin newcomer Adam McInnis and his band-in-progress (heck, they are still looking for a drummer, and bassist Ryan Payne was playing his first gig) The Dread Pirate Roberts Band. Adam is a New Yorker (well, New Jersey) who went off the the University of Central Florida to score a film degree and then spent hard time in Los

Brian Batch, Adam McInnis, and Jason Miller.

Angeles until he woke up and realized while working booking shows for a club that far too many folks out "have all these big elaborate music pages with huge pictures and tons of friends but either don't have any music (other than what you hear on their site), can't play any of the songs themselves and need a track, or don't have enough songs to fill up a 30 minute set. [Now that hardly describes the Austin music scene, but apparently LA is just FULL of Ashlee Simpson wannabees.]

Adam is a partner in a music production company, and somebody got the bright idea of relocating to a place where musicians actually can play music! So after the typical harrowing trip east, he quickly settles in and finds some people who can help interpret what I quickly dubbed as Adam's "Gentle Soul Music" -- what a wonderful voice this guy has! And what lovely songs! With Jason Miller on lead guitar (nice sounds) and Alpha Rev's Candice Sanders and Brian Batch on keyboards and fiddle (plus superb vocals), Mister McInnis may be giving Ed Jurdi some competition for the Michael McDonald white guy passionate soul singer award of the year.

A highlight of the evening's set (which was well attended by friends of the band!) was the cover of "Stand By Me," with Candice, Brian, and Adam each taking a verse (Batch's falsetto raised the Momo's roof about two feet!) and Brian and Jason each taking solos -- but Adam's own songs, like "Sweet Surrender" and "Forever Love" and "In Your Eyes" were also crowd favorites. Adamd and friends have been in the studio and hope to have a CD ready for a January release -- but meantime, keep an eye out for this gentle soul music maker.

TIDBITS: So after Momo's I headed over to the Hole in the Wall to catch what turns out to be Ricky Stein's last band show at the club for some time -- and what a powerful show it was! Drummer Josh Weinolt is moving to (of all places) Denver, Colorado - too much of a commute for a weekly Austin gig, and Ricky is also working on his debut CD (though he will be doing solo shows - next up, November 27 at Flipnotics) and does have a Wednesday night gig next week at the HOUSTON Continental Club --
Phillip Morris, Ricky Stein and drummer Josh Weinolt
rock out at the Hole in the Wall.
with Houston's own Scattered Pages (whose lead singer, I PROMISE YOU his name is Kurt CobURn, and in fact the whole band, sounds a lot like Dave and Ray Davies and the Kinks at their vaudevillean best). This band (along with the Welgerms - formerly Son Of Man) opened for Ricky on Friday -- and though I missed much of the evening, friends (including Le Sex Goddess herself) said the whole evening was just very very fine. But one cannot be everywhere all of the time!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kim Deschamps: Singer-Songwriter!

Canadians Kim Deschamps, Bryce Clifford, and
Andrew Walker and the Yellow Rose of Texas;
Calvin Russell with Kim and Andrew.

Most folks around Austin (Toronto, too!) who know transplanted Canadian Kim Deschamps as the pedal steel and dobro player for Charlie Robison, the Cowboy Junkies, Blue Rodeo, and what has become a parade of younger bands in the Austin area (the Mother Truckers, the Texas Sapphires, Bryce Clifford ... the list goes on of people whose music he has made better by his presence).
On Monday night, for the first time in a while (anyone remember Kim's band with Willie from the Jug Band and drummer Ram Zimmerman that played a few gigs at

Momo's well over a year ago?), Kim sat in with Austin outlaw Calvin Russell and fellow Ontarian Andrew Walker, who is back in Austin for several gigs in November (including the Edge City songwriter showcase on November 16 at the Alligator Grill, along with Abi Tapia and Adam Carroll).

On this night Kim was sandwiched in between Russell, whose songs (in Ram's words) hit you like "a left hook right in the mouth," and Walker, whose style is akin to Michael Fracasso and Jimmy LaFave. He offered a variety of his tunes ranging from the very jazzy "Night Crossing" (which is on his 1988 Canadian CD, "Take Me Away," to newer songs about Santa Monica, California, and the Land of Milk and Honey, and livened up the breaks with a variety of stringed tools from his playpen. Just for openers, on the 1988 CD Kim is credited with playing guitar, pedal steel and lap steel guitars, bottleneck slide, Greenfield Hawaiian guitar, baritone guitar, dobro, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, harmonica, electric piano, and bass.

The bottom line -- it's about time for Kim to find the time to lay down tracks to showcase songs he has written since moving to Texas several years ago. He's gutty, gritty, and has a ton of stories. And, as usual, he did not take a single song off during the 2-hour set, contributing to Calvin's and Andrew's songs -- and to three songs from Bryce Clifford that were originally going to be done during the break (which never happened). Bryce, incidentally, played Andrew's Gibson acoustic - and the results were so good he may have to get one of his own.

As for Calvin Russell, let's just say he was very generous with the audience and his colleagues -- just as he is when playing before packed houses in European venues. It's kinda crazy -- the guy is a big star in Europe and yet only the "in crowd" seems to even be aware of his existence in his own hometown. Still with his jut-set chin and crackling wit, the maestro brought out oldies like "Rats and Roaches," "A Crack in Time," "I Want To Change the World," and the clearly autobiographical (as if the others are not!) "Country Boy" (even if there ain't no country any more). [Editor's note: LOTS of Austin musicians did come out to the show, many to see Calvin .. including my old pal (and fabulous jazz guitarist) Pat McCann and fellow Troubadillo Ron Erwin.]

Calvin kept looking intently at Andrew Walker during every song the youngster in the trio contributed to the set - some of which ("Old 81," for example) were from his 2002 Canadian release, "Floating Shift" (previously reviewed by Flanfire) and others were newer songs that Andrew has been laying down in the studio for a forthcoming release. Andrew will be sitting in with the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers this Sunday and playing at Casbeer's in San Antonio on November 15, and crooning with Shelley King at Artz' Rib House on November 22 - and he is doing a show in the Waco area, too.

Last Saturday I went out to Jollyville City Limits - the brainchild of Austin musician Bourland and D. P. Dunn that began in 1995 and remains a project of some members of the Austin Songwriters Group - to see Rich Restaino both solo and with members of his bawdy bordello band, "The Late Fees." What can I say? After Rich entertained folks with his witty songs from the CD reviewed earlier by Flanfire, some guy named Fingers McKnuckles (Rich on guitar) and Jimmy Z (on vocals) and sidekicks Hunt Stillborn III and Wylie E. Peyote [yes, the band was missing its female members] eulogized the music of Dion and Bo Diddley and the prescience of Rocky V and the "virtues" of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. All kidding aside, my favorite tune of the night was Rich's live debut of his tribute song to Hunter Thompson (which is on his CD).


From the ridiculous backward to the sublime -- last Thursday I was invited by pal Ric Furley out to see Mundi, the neoclassical ensemble for which he plays percussion (his other big current gig is with Sabbath Crow, which is not that unusual since metal is after all loud and fast classical music). Music director Darrel Mayers plays guitar, with Carolyn Hagler on cello, Mario Gonzalez on bass, and Bruce Colson on violin. Mundi spent part of the past summer touring Spain and performing in ancient Spanish churches - which is doubly fine given that their repertoire includes cantigas composed in

Cellist Carolyn Hagler; violinst Bruce Colson.

honor of the 13th century Spanish King Alphonse (the Alphonse Suite) and two other centuries-old Spanish compositions -- plus the title cut, "The Book and the Flower," and many more awe-inspiring numbers (some of which are Mayers' own).

Best of all, the event was held at the Artisan Ballroom at the Barr Mansion (well, the Spanish tapas and wines were good, too!) - one of the most beautful venues I have ever seen (a 40-foot ceiling, a waterfall, a huge mural of Adam and Eve in the Garden, a wooden stage, and an all-glass front that opens out into the mansion's lovely gardens. I drive by the Barr Mansion many times a year (nice countryside out east of town) but never even knew this place existed -- but I want to hold my next festival there (once I inherit my fortune).

In music tidbits -- did I mention the brand-new Bells of Joy CD (available at Waterloo and online) that features the Original Bells of Joy with Kimmie Rhodes, Willie Nelson, Bobby Rush, Chip Taylor and Joe Ely? Folks, this HISTORIC compilation is the first NEW release in over half a century (and a couple or so of the ORIGINAL members are still "running for Jesus" on THIS recording). Bells of Joy (the record) includes ten standards (Willie joins in on "I'll Fly Away," and Joe Ely on "Sinner Man"), an original by A. C. Littlefield ("Any Way You Bless Me," featuring Bobby Rush), and Chip Taylor's "Son of Man" - plus the song "Bells of Joy" featuring Kimmie Rhodes (which she wrote with the band). Can we all give a BIG AMEN to Dialtone Records?

Ahh -- the problems of being a music lover in Austin! Friday night Momos Club opens at 8 with the beautiful Suzanna Choffel, and the boys in Black Water Gospel play at 10 (with Matt Mollica on Hammond B3 and Son Volt guitarist Brad Rice), but at the very same time the Welgerms (formerly Son Of Man - this band features the songs of Schulenberg native Ronnie Guentzel, cousin to the Ginn Sisters, and features the blazing sticks of Carter Acevedo and Moshe on bass) are on stage at the Hole in the Wall ( before Ricky Stein and his new mother-approved haircut).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ghosts in the Hill Country?

Karla Manzur with entourage; a ghostly Kim Deschamps; Mistress Stephanie at her ghoulish best!

The Hill Country String Quartet proved once again on Halloween that it is a premiere avant-garde ensemble capable of pulling off spectacular performances. The quartet - violinists Thomas van der Brook and Joseph Shuffield, violist Jessie England, and cellist Valerie Fischer - provided the backdrop for a virtual candy store full of innovative pieces with assistance from actors, other musicians, poster designers, sound and lighting geniuses, and other composers and arrangers of music. AND they did it all with flair - full dress Halloween! [The group was equally spectacular, we are told, at their debut last spring at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.]

The hour-long performance (which was repeated later in the evening) began with Maurice Jarre's stirring "Eyes without a Face," the eerie music box driven soundtrack from a 1958 French horror movie (with Karla Manzur playing the music box and wearing the porcelain mask like the one used in the movie). Next was the world premiere of Kim Deschamps' "I and I-35" (for pedal steel guitar and string quartet), followed by a rendition of Franz Schubert's "Der Erlkonig," Goethe's poem set to music that included vocals (in German) by Stephanie Stephens [whose other gig is the punk-rock cabaret act, Mistress Stephanie and Her Melodic Cat]. Very impressive here as well were the woodcut-looking drawings that also show the English translation of each line of the song (courtesy of Jennifer Drummond, whose credits include "Waking Life").

Next up was Benjamin Britten's "Rhapsody," a piece written when the composer was just 18 ... Drummond here provided an amazing movie accompaniment that featured in one set a girl in white in a peaceful paradise and in the other set a younger child with a sword comforting dead and dying soldiers and the eventual use of a dove to bring the younger child out of the war zone and into the peaceful serenity of the girl in white's world. What we saw was what looked like pieces of very ancient film being weaved together (sometimes with one film part filtering through the other) -- and with occasional clues as to what it all meant.

Then former Red Elvis (and current leader of ZeeGrass) Zhenya Rock stepped up on the stage to perform his own "Girl from Ukraine" using the bass balalaika, the regular balalaika, a power tool, and looped tracks all blended with the Quartet to tell quite a story in several movements. This was followed by perhaps the most dramatic piece of the evening -- a dramatic blending of Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen's String Quartet No. 3 (Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik's Funeral March) with a radio-style reading of the Ray Bradbury short story, "The Next in Line." Quartet violinist Shuffield had adapted the story for actors Amy Downing, Ben Wolfe, and Jose Villareal, and Buzz Moran provided foley sound effects to complete the eerie drama, set in a small Mexican village in 1950, in which a man and his wife visit a crypt with unearthed mummies whose families were unable to pay their grave rents.

On "Sus Ojos Se Cerraron," the classic piece by Carlos Gardel, Argentinian composer (and tango expert) Norberto Vogel created a special arrangement for the Quartet complete with vocals (by Karla Manzur), accordian (Mike Maddux), double bass (Tom Benton), and clarinet (Ben Saffer in his second appearance of the evening) - and with Jessie England moving to piano. The strong vocals by Manzur (who is married to van der Brook) were translated into English once again with projections created by Jennifer Drummond onto a small movie screen that prior to the show had provided tidbits about the American Legion Hall - the scene of the evening's extravaganza performances (which also included downstairs piano mood music by Hollie Sabine Thomas of Future Clouds and Radar).

The celebration of the dark and macabre ended with a rendition of Charles Ives' "Hallowe'en," in which all the musicians - including guest artists Chuck Fischer on bass and Peter Stopschinski on piano - play in entirely different key signatures to create an environment appropriate for tricking and treating. The stopper of this number, though, is the pounding tympani from the back of the room that feels like bombs bursting in air. The overall effect of this show is so astounding that all we can do is wait expectantly for their next performance.

Dana Falconberry - Catch Her While You Can!

To recover from this high energy explosion, my buddy and I drove over to Epoch Coffeehouse on North Loop, where outside on a huge concreted area (maybe an old tennis court?) a small series of lights had been strung so that folks could watch intertwined performances by Austin newcomer Dana Falconberry and two members of the jazz group Terremoto -- Austin's Michael Longoria and Albuquerque's Luis Guerra -- with the lovely Bonnie Whitmore (compleat with petticoated polka-dotted dress and roller skates) on both electric bass and cello. [There may have been another musician or two involved, but we did miss half of this show.]

Falconberry counts Patty Griffin as one of her new Austin friends, and it is easy to see why the two get along. With her face painted for Halloween and wearing pixie-like pants on this chilly evening, Falconberry moved from electric to acoustic guitar to sing her uncomplicated songs that tell stories of love and regret and much more with her untrained but very honest voice (well, she could be Patty's younger sister!). Dana, who plays at the

Dana with Bonnie Whitmore

Peacock Lounge (at 515 Pedernales) in East Austin on Thursday night with Jeremiah Birnbaum and John Embree and opens for Taj Mahal (!!!!) on November 9 at the One World Theatre, is a major talent who just happened to choose Austin to birth her new material - some of which is recorded on the six-song CD, "Paper Sailboat." Longoria and Guerra just by themselves (with the aid of some looped tracks) put on quite a show -- but Austin will have to wait until NEXT FEBRUARY for these guys (whose music is already gettiing rave reviews from the BBC and is being aired on National Public Radio) to show up at the Elephant Room for a real live concert. Indeed, this little show was the perfect complement to the string quartet in that it, too, was very creative and not your ordinary cup of Austin java. Good advice: Catch Dana Falconberry while her shows are inexpensive!

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