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

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Brennen Leigh is growing up. Catching her set at Beck's on Congress on Wednesday evening, I noticed first off she was wearing a stylish black dress for her solo outing .. no longer in blue jeans, and no longer hiding her own songs under a bushel. Despite the drip drip of spitting rain, Brennen sang the songs that have come straight from her heart and very active (and very old-timey) mind - mostly from her last two CD's, both made here in Austin. Do check out our recent review of the new CD, "Devil on My Trail," and catch Brennen (and some tasty vittles) at the Evangeline Cafe on Brodie Lane on Tuesdays at six.

Even better news later that evening was seeing the incredible Eleanor Whitmore (no longer in dreads, and with her curly hair a lovely shade of red) on fiddle backing sister Bonnie on stage at Beck's -- again, outdoors despite the raindrops that were miraculously held back from steady flows until later in the evening. Eleanor has moved back to Austin and full-time work as a musician ... and that will surely make studios and singers (including Slaid Cleaves) happy.

Friday night I slipped out to TC's Lounge on Webberville Road to see the debut of bassist Vance Abeyta with Tahni and the Toneheads. The joint was already rocking when I walked in and was ordered to the dance floor by the emcee for the evening, the lovely and lovable Yolanda. The sound was a little rough (things were behind schedule, so no sound check), but the energy was very high as Tahni, Vance, and drummer Neal Hampton blasted out songs from her new CD, Sweet Spot, and her earlier CD "Back Again." Best of all were the harmony vocals by the Hot Chocolates - sisters Tina and Carissa Allen (who later, I am told, were to sing backup for the soulful Phillip Alexander). Tina also sang one of her own originals and brought down the house - and Tahni brought up Ed Patterson for the duet on "Back Again" - this song is pure R&B as it asks the age old question, "Am I Losin' You?" I had to leave early, but Phillip gave me a demo pressing of his forthcoming CD, "Deep Young Bump."

Phillip's dad Kirk Alexander was the drummer for The Crimson Tide, some of whose members joined together with members of the singing group The Embers to form Amnesty back in the late Sixties - and later Amnesty reformed as a funk powerhouse (their biggest hit, "Everybody Wants To Be Free"). Phillip, however, will be known for his hunky vocals and smooth jazz-funk sound. He is playing at TC's again sometime in April.

Then on Saturday, I went to Ego's to catch a set by the Canadian Bryce Clifford, and stayed to hear some old-time honky tonk from James Intveld, who blew into town for a week of performances at the Continental Club (with Dale Watson), Ginny's Little Longhorn, and Ego's ... Intveld has been the lead guitarist for the Blasters, Dwight Yoakum's upright bassist, and an actor (dubbing Johnny Depp's singing parts for Cry, Baby, and costarring with Billy Bob Thornton in the upcoming film, "Chrystal." In the house for the gig were guitar biggies like Rosie Flores and Kenny Vaughn (currently lead guitarist for Marty Stuart, known in Austin for his work with Lucinda Williams and many others).

With a band that included the legendary Billy Dee on bass, Intveld banged out originals and classics while the large, boisterous crowd danced and twirled and whooped and hollered (as they had done for Clifford earlier - his set was very well received, including by a whole host of Canadians down for SXSW). Originals from his two CD's (a new one is on the way) included Somewhere Down the Road, Stringin' Me On, and Remember Me, and Perfect World. Classics included one of my very favorites - Stop the World (and Let Me Off) and many others. Intveld gave props to his band members, encouraging Dee and lead guitarist Rick Shea (once with Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men) to sing one of their own originals and plug their own CD's.

With family (from my 94-year-old still partying mother Eluida to our newest - born February 9 - red-headed grandson Abraham) in town, this was a very quiet SXSW week for me ... but what it was, was outstanding. More to come soon ....


It was back to Canada at Ego's on Sunday night (rain and all) for a set by singer-songwriter Andrew Walker (who lived in Austin for a while and is in town for another week this time) and then a special treat - Canadian Juno Award (winners to be announced April 2) nominees Elliott Brood, which started off as a duo, Casey Laforet on guitar and Mark Sasso on guitar and banjo and ukulele but added drummer Steve Pitkin after he served as engineer on their debut CD. Songs include "Cadillac Dust" and "Alberta" - very Canadian stuff. These guys play what they call "death country" - dark, gritty folk music built around whiskey-drenched vocals and lyrics evoking images of love, loss and murder. Legend has it that the original Elliott Brood was an unfortunate man whose murderer stole his songs after killing him - yes, things get a little hairy in the deep north woods.

Walker was backed by fellow Canuck (but emerging Texan) Kim Deschamps on pedal steel (and on a 1930 lap steel made in Alberta, Canada, that is quite an instrument) on a dozen songs, starting with a cover of a Mance Lipscomb classic (all the other songs were his own). "Drivin' Out of Texas" is one of his new ones (not on his 2003 CD Floating Shift), and it features his harmonica playing, but "Devil Angel" shows by its very soul that this is a man who knows the loneliness of the vast expanse that is our neighbor to the north - a songwriter on a par with Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor. On "The Long Way," Walker says he "can't believe that I just stuck around here half my life...." Another song, set in eastern Montana in 1910, tells of "homesteading on the Milwaukee Road" and reminds me oddly enough of Jimmy LaFave singing about "On a Bus to St. Cloud." Walker's music is quiet and reflective - he was very glad to have picked up a copy of Sam Baker's amazing 2004 release, "Mercy," one of the most beautiful collections of songs I have ever heard. When you look him up on the web, go to andrewwalkermusic.com and myspace/andrewwalkermusic (because there is a guy from West Virginia by the same name)....

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Dony and Tahni show is finally on the road - and soon to be on airwaves worldwide. Louisiana native (and world traveler during 25 years with the late Robert Palmer) Dony Wynn (who is also a regular columnist for Austin Daze!) has co-produced (with engineering by Boo MacLeod and vocals production by Bobby Thomas) a CD -- Sweet Spot -- with 12 very distinctive songs, all but two of which are originals penned by former metalhead (all-girl band Tantrum) guitarist Tahni Handal, whose prior Austin-made CD was quieter and more reflective than this collection of rock and roll, pop, and kitchen sink sound that has more hooks than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and more gimmickry than MacGyver.

For me, this CD works very very well indeed! Think back to the Sixties for inspiration for these tunes. But this is a CD all about the PASSION of a woman torn between the love of a man and the desire to fully live her own artistic life. And Tahni is waaaay out front with her zeal - making this an absolutely essential work for anyone with a feel for the passionate.Tahni and her latest collection of musicians will be playing at TC's Lounge on St. Paddy's Day and down in Luling for another wrestling show (details will soon be up on Tahni's website -- www.tahnitonehead.com ).

More gigs are surely in order - and we are still awaiting the formal CD release party (sometime well AFTER SXSW, to be sure). Longtime Tahni bassist and pal Vance Abeyta will be back on stage for upcoming shows - he's been in New Orleans and on the road a LOT with blues guitarist Bryan Lee. My old bud James Bruce shot the cover photos and was also involved in a video of "Messing Around."

Players assembled for this compilation include Chris Maresh on bass, Wynn himself on drums and percussion (well, why not!), Danny Bennett (Woody Russell, etc.) on lap steel, Ted Roddy on harp, David Perales on violin, Riley Osbourne on keyboards, and Larry Chaney and Billy Harvey joining Tahni on GUITAR. Backing vocals come from Wynn, Tina Allen, Colleen Schoonmaker, and Emme Lou Handal - she's the YOUNGER babe on the CD cover. Complicated productions, lots of unique instrumental sounds (just listen for them), and tons of harmony and deep background vocals -- this is hightone production that some may feel at times is even too much to comprehend -- but who cares? This music is all about the SONGS!

The BEST song on the CD is the first cut - Take a Look! This is pure R&B FUNK - complete with four "Oh yeahs" courtesy of Mister Wynn and a bunch of whispered background vocals craftily placed. This song, which showcases Tahni's own lead guitar, is about a "superman superhero supercharged dynamite electrical power" - Tahni herself, to be sure .... an ode to self-empowerment after being knocked around. If you aint dancin by the fourth chord, you aint got no soul! DO catch Emme Lou's subtle contributions here (and throughout the CD - she's the one who knows how to LAUGH!).

The BEST nonoriginal song on the CD is the second cut - the R&B classic "99 pounds," written by Memphis soulman Donald Bryant for his eventual spouse Ann Peebles back around 1970 (look hard for the originals on Hi Records). The screaming lap steel of Danny Bennett and the driving beat make this a MUST-PLAY for the airwaves. If you did not know the history of the song, you would swear Tahni wrote it herself about herself. The third cut, Tahni's version of the Cream classic "Strange Brew," which features Perales' witchy fiddle and some cool keyboard work (Riley O), is a definite crowd pleaser at live shows (and shows her psychedelic roots).

"Don't Mess Around" could be a huge hit or even a miss, depending on how you hear the song. Dony says he went for the ragged PO'ed sound from a woman who is just plain tired of being messed with by a man who lacks faith in the relationship .... Intro and outro guitar here is Larry Chaney, while Billy Harvey provides what Dony calls the "stilted rhythm work" -- there is a lot of keyboard here, too .. and the lyrics are knockdown dragout -- this is also the first of many cuts that showcase just what a marvelous percussionist Dony is.

The BEST rockin' blues song on the CD (whoa, I've said that before!) may just be "Walk the Line (with me)" -- which opens with some VERY funky guitar and harmonica by Ted Roddy mixed in around the keyboard. "I've got things to do, places to go and things to be -- and all I'm asking darling is for you to walk the line with me." [How many Austin women (or other women, or men?) have this same lament?] That's Tahni's motto -- get on board or get off the train .. I cannot wait around forever to live my life. One solid listen and you KNOW she means bizness - she IS going places with her life and music. Catch the harmony vocals at the end of the song -- and snap your fingers to the beat! This is just pure energy.

But then there is "Wish Me Well," which just might be the best ballad on the record -- "Take my hand, and walk with me ... take my heart, don't kiss and tell, Take my love and wish me well." What an anthem to love as nurturing one another ... Maresh has a little acoustic bass here right in the middle of the song ... to give us pause to think about our answer. This song has the feeling of a Moody Blues orchestral number.

"Mister, do you have a dime? Can I call my baby, get him on the line? Did I go too far this time?" That's the opener to "Redemption Day," where Tahni asks God (but WHICH God?, she wonders) if she has crossed the line ... and hopes for her redemption for her crimes of the heart. This is a woman who has been to some very dark places who is emerging in her healing to seek out the light and is not quite sure it will all work out all right. Right in the middle of this song is another moment of reflection and quiet desperate prayer ... "Have I been blind?" Dony captures the mood of this song with the wistful violin and some "strange" sounds emanating from Riley's keyboards.

The tables are turned on the next song, when Tahni asks one of her so-called counselors "Do YOU Believe (in anything)?" This could be a Shawn Colvin number (think "Sunny Came Home"), but with her own twist -- "feed a soul and have a revelation." This song just WAILS! And then comes the "rain" that introduces the very quiet, Beatlesque "I Still Love You" (like I loved you yesterday, more today). Maresh's bass line here is so polished, and Dony's drums are so precise that you feel the soul within the artist finding a place of calm joy.

OKAY - so she's at peace and in love. HUH! The all-out stomping "Got to Get Over You" is her other side coming to the front -- "I've stood on my head for you, been down on my knees. I've done everything to make you happy... I work all day, come home at night, I work so hard to make things right ... There was a time when I was so young and free, but now this love is killing me." Dony says he COULD have recorded this song as a straight 12-bar blues but he took a risk to take the song way out of its "comfort zone" to give it an extra freshness and vitality." The guys have to LOVE playing this cut. [That's Emme Lou's laughter that opens the cut.]

The next cut, "Eyes Wide Open," is by far the BEST of the BEST on this record --- with Chaney's "dense, scary wide guitar" and "Pink Floyd whaleish noises" from Harvey. But this song has the whole message of Tahni's philosophy ... "Life just seems to happen, there are no guarantees.. Just keep your light on and your eyes wide open... we've been changing, we've come so far .. cherish all your memories, cherish all that you can be." And, too, "It's not always easy to be forgiving, not always easy to be kind, but if we embrace each other we make the best of times." The effect of the song and the guitar work is just gorgeous!

Finally, the record ends with Tahni solo on acoustic guitar and a song about just looking at her little girl is so reassuring -- that "God Is Watching (over me)." "Something to believe in, as we step into the night... as we step into the light ... " Somehow, we, too, know that the end of this saga of tortuous passion, loss and gain, trust and confusion, will end up all right....

Even though Dony closes the CD with what sounds like a spaceship taking off while a dog is barking in protest. There is after all that part of this south Louisiana kid who in his tender teens walked into the weird wacky world that Little Richard helped create and found his rest and relaxation halfway around the world in Malaysia (from which he gets his trademark attire).
Steve Ulrich is coming back home to Austin - April 1 (how appropriate!) at Ruta Maya with Mark Ambrose, Brian Beattie6 and Steelbeam .... Then on Thursday, April 6, the brave and rowdy will gather at Trophy's, including Duane's Burden (featuring Matt Silaski on bass, Perry Drake on drums, and "Duane?" on slash guitar) - and there will doubtless be other gigs. BIG NEWS - the traveling minstrel Matt Williams will be at the Trophy's show along with other "special guests." [Bring your own chemical toilet.] The occasion is the release of Steve's brand-new CD, partly recorded during his sojourn in Guatemala but mostly done here with the afore-mentioned Mister Silaski. Perry Drake is on drums and Silaski on bass where being played except as noted below.

This record celebrates the life and music of Huddie Ledbetter, who was born outside Shreveport but became famous after being let out of a Texas prison Governor Pat Neff (whose MOM has a park named after her). Leadbelly was a HUGE influence on the very young Steve and remains one today... The new CD - "Leadbelly and Me" - starts off with the legendary Leadbelly tale of heavyweight champion (and native Texan, son of former slaves) Jack Johnson's revenge on the owners of the Titanic who would not let a black man on board. The basic tracks on this cut were laid down in Panajachel, Guatemala, by Chris Jarnach; the song features Ted Lindland on banjo and vocals, and Silaski added additional harmonies. This cut has that old-timey feel - you'd think Pete Seeger was singing harmonies.

Steve is an Austin legend - a man who MUST be seen, a man who shared stages with Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley (and lots of others, too). Next up on the CD is the Beth Richard (Quatropaw era) song, "Rachel's Dream," with Steve in dark voice and backed by Tony Velasco on bass and Richard Parke on violin. "Joy Today" - which Steve says comes from God - follows an introduction by Steve about his getting picked up by Joe Ely's chauffeur on the way to the Kerrville Folk Festival. Steve says the song was inspired by and written for Stevie Ray Vaughan but put away after his tragic accident until he had a good experience on a bad day in Guatemala.

Then it is back to CLASSIC Steve (aka Steve Duckfoot, Zeus Muldoon, and Steve Convenience - the guy who brought us Salamander Man and many other folk tales) - he's "Savin' My Nickels" so he can play the lotto. Mark Ambrose is on guitar with Steve on this one - a great, funny song.

Goodbye Old Buddy features Jarnach on accordian, (Michael) Jackson on mandolin, Tony V on bass, and Brad Clifford on drums. On Leadbelly's "Good Night Irene," Parke is back on violin, and then Steve goes back to the "Kerrville Security Blues," another tale of the folk festival follies and foibles (with Tony V). Then it's back to solo Steve for Leadbelly's "Midnight Special." Next up is another original - Light a Little Candle, with Jarnach on organ. For good measure, Steve throws in a new version (solo and bluesier) of his classic "Jaded and Bored," and closes with perhaps the best cut on the entire record - his paean to the beautiful Senora Ulrich - Elizabeth.
I am fast becoming EGO's-Centric. So on Tuesday - after stopping by to catch part of the set at Threadgill's Old No. 1 by Jenny Reynolds and Jud Newcomb (always a pleasure to hear him play acoustic guitar, and Jenny is pure sweetness) - I dropped into the South Congress establishment to visit with my pals from The Texas Sapphires and stuck around for most of Bill Kirchen's weekly gig. Jeff Hughes was in the house (DO get to the Spoke for Chapparal when you can!), and during the later part of the evening he could be found cutting a rug with Sapphires songbird Rebecca Lucille Cannon.

ANNOUNCEMENT -- Sarah Dashew will be in A-town in middlemarch (La Zona Rosa on March 14 for the Ray Benson wingding and other gigs besides, and back in town in June with her full band show -- and her new CD is already available!]

Jeff says his band will be headed to the south of France on Bastille Day (July 14), his own birthday the next day, and yet another day or so to play a HUGE festival - and that the band by invitation will be introducing Jesse Dayton and Brennen Leigh to the crowds there. Jeff also introduced me to Albuquerque singer Marty Herrera (named after Marty Robbins, to be sure), who will be joining Chapparal on stage for a few numbers Thursday night. Marty also sang a couple of tunes during Kirchen's set - backed by Andrew Nafziger on lefty guitar. But more about the Texas Sapphires (so named because an old R&B group still holds claim on Sapphires).

The new CD will be out in early April, but you can already hear three of the cuts at ...
http://www.myspace.com/thetexassapphires -- Dirty Tattered Houseshoes, The Emerald Outlaw, and Bring Out the Bible. The band - Brent Malkus on guitars and vocals, Rebecca on vocals, Jeff Joiner on bass and backing vocals, Paul Schoeder on mando and banjo, and Ram Zimmerman on drums - was joined for the evening by the irascible (just kidding) Kim Deschamps on pedal steel and dobro. This band just keeps getting better and better -- do get out to the SXSW Barn Dance at Freedom Oaks to catch their set! That's March 19!

I first saw Bill Kirchen the night he fell off the stage at Emergency in Washington, DC, during a show in 1970 that featured Asleep at the Wheel (out of Paw Paw, West Virginia at the time) and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen (all the way from Berzerkeley, California). Who cared? This was an historic event - the Commander's first show in Washington, and the place was packed with people who may have been just as wasted - even though Emergency was a teen club (run by Emmy Lou Harris and her friend) that served no alcohol and supported by suburban parents who wanted their kids to have fun in a non-drinking environment.

Tuesday night was just like the doctor ordered - Bill on guitar along with Paul Skelton from the Cornel Hurd Band, the legendary Sarah Brown (didn't know she played country, didja?), and Tom Lewis on drums. For the few who do not know, Bill is the driving force behind the classic tune, Hot Rod Lincoln - and his version of the song has always included his take on half of the guitar players (and a few others) in the known world. [Sideline -- I was at a medical facility today and my NURSE, upon learning from me that I had been to see Bill last night, said she had lived in Washington and used to go to see Bill - her very favorite - and he would imitate all of the Washington area guitar players during his set. Well, it IS his trademark! Needless to say, BJ will probably be in the house at Ego's NEXT Tuesday.]

Other Kirchen favorites included A Tombstone Every Mile, Hillbilly Truck Driving Man, and my personal favorite, Tompball Glaser's classic, Streets of Baltimore (my own personal favorite version has long been the Emmy Lou duet with Gram Parsons from a live show done for a New Jersey radio station in 1973). Best of all, though, Bill coaxed his wife of - well, they were together in 1970 on that infamous tour of which I spoke earlier - a lot of years - the very beautiful inside and out Louise - to sing a couple of numbers.

Bill and I visited about our daze in Washingtundy Sea, and he allowed as how he will be playing a show at the Kennedy Center late this month with the Rosslyn Mountain Boys (which includes my old pal Bob Berberich). But WE are privileged to just go to Ego's - nice parking lot, great bartender (and super country dancer), and one of the prime examples of the breathability enabled by the smoking ban (which I still think goes too far, but does make some formerly smoke-filled clothes not so smelly any more).

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