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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Two Dads Who Rock!

Nathan Hamilton's Six Black Birds
Once upon a time Nathan Hamilton was winning folksinger awards at Kerrville (back in his Tuscola days). But deep down lay the soul of a rocker, as his band No Deal would prove over and over again (check out live at Floore's Country Store). With the release of "Six Black Birds," fans finally have the rock and roll record they have dreamed of. Thanks also to Whip In's Dipak Topiwala, executive producer extraordinaire, and to Sarah Bork Hamilton for her great eye.

Much as one likes his bluecountry "Texas Sapphires," and not forgetting his punkrock daze, Billy Brent Malkus is first of all an ABSOLUTE MUTHA of a rock'n'roll guitar player. Chepo Pena (who played with fellow Sapphire Rebecca Lucille Cannon in Sincola and also with David Garza) handles the bass, and Adam Tyner (Rockland Eagles) is on drums. Producers Darwin Smith and Erik Wofford add their magical touches, but the real extra energy here is provided by five-time rocker dad Matthew Mollica on the Hammond B3, farfiza and piano. You just gotta see these guys LIVE to get the full treatment!

Musically, this record R - O - C - K - S! But lyrically, Hamilton may have reached deeper into his own soul than ever before. Texas Music Magazine once said that, "Hamilton specializes in lyrics that expose the raw emotions and feelings of characters and the situations people find themselves in."

Here, though, the raw emotions and feelings are his own -- and nowhere are the rough edges more sharply drawn than in the album's final (and only acoustic) cut, "Hanging On" -- "I fixed the hinge, stopped the squeak that kept me from a dead man's sleep, I kicked my shoe across the room to watch it fly and startle you, I saw a smile that you tried to hide, And the tension broke for just awhile."

Indeed, this entire collection of songs is largely about the rocky road of love that leaves us scared and broken and fearful and yet hopeful that somehow we can go on together despite all the terrible stuff we have said and even done -- that the faithfulness counts for something, that it can still be "you and me still hanging on." It's also about learning first why and then how we must love even our enemies else we can let our hatred consume everything we do love. [Remember, though, the artist's license to mix the real with that made up to get his point across, and do not read too much into things, puh-leeze!]

"The Cut," for example, is a dirge that speaks of loss, first of temper, then of hope, then of love -- and it all begins because "I don't mean to be so angry, Truth be told I am just scared, Lashing out at anybody, That has the bad luck of being there." But there is also cleansing -- "And the envy in me, I have lain open the cut, Sucked the poison with my mouth, Turned my head with both eyes shut,,,," Musically, the darkness here is amplified by Mollica's mournful B3 (and which reminds of me his work with Black Water Gospel).

Indeed, Hamilton's admits in "Sooner or Later" we all hit the wall -- a song with a James McMurtry feel until the angry power of Malkus's guitar blows you into the next county. Similarly, in "Teeth," Hamilton insists that, "Even the sweetest of saints show their teeth sometimes" when confronted with those who "wll cram your nose with cocaine and pack your head with lifes .... cover you with roses and fill your cup with wine," but "while they're offering you riches, they'll be stealing your ass blind." But does this "explanation" really work at home?

The anger really soars in "Burn," which begins with a call to torch today's corrupted and perverse society because it's "time to show them we don't care and set it all aflame." And yet later he turns to a more personal matter, a desire to give a bruised love a new chance: "Come on, grab the match with me, Strike it once and we will see, A burning light for you and me, That leaves us fertile ground."

Things get even more tenuous in "Now Again," which starts off almost prayerfully, "Can't you see I'm offering More than a lover, more than a friend, You don't have to be afraid to let somebody in." But as the song progresses, the confession is that, "Memories are luxuries imprisoned in my mind, The sweet sad scent of your sacred skin is all you left behind," and the guitar gets a lot rougher.

Nathan strives against those who will "trade flesh for gold to pay for their sin" in "Enough," reminding them (and himself) that "God sees the heart of a man, but the heart is the one thing you don't understand." "Green and Gold" is a beautifully constructed lament about childhood chums, one of whom chose to "chew the fattest plum" and then "left the skin and seed here for me when you were done." But so what -- "that's how it goes, sometimes, that's how it goes." And you know it is HARD to let it go.

The title cut, "Six Black Birds," is harsh and forceful, with some serious squealing guitar that sets the tone. Yet the storyteller admits, "I am frightened, I am frayed, All I want is to escape this world's pain and hatred too." Of the song's first six black birds, three are for faith, one for truth, one for fear, and one for "you." Later, Hamilton swaps out "fear" for "hope" -- a sign that the tide is turning this fight against anger.

But the crowning achievement of this song collection is the gorgeous "Frame to Finish," one of the most beautiful love songs from anyone in quite a while, and yet one that includes a plea to "walk on and leave these broken things behind, Strewn and scattered here for someone else to find." In the beginning, "I took the hand of a stranger and I looked into her face, It was flush with fear and the slightest touch of grace."

The carpenter in Hamilton had earlier promised, "From frame to finish I'll see you through, From the tempest and the torrent rain I'll shelter you," to the "stranger" whose face at first meeting was "flush with fear and the slightest touch of grace." But the bargain was that "You might just find that I'd reach to touch your pain, On the chance that you might reach for me and do the same."

Finally taking hold of the anger and contempt for the fallen world around him, Hamilton remembers his true self and the promise that love and truth (and faith and hope) will be his guide from now on: "I've never been the kind of man whose worth was in his wealth, I have always taken comfort somewhere else, That don't mean I won't provide a special place for you, Made with my two hands and built on love and truth.... " And with that said, you know the man about whom Hamilton is writing these songs will no longer be just "Holding On."

Matt the Electrician Gets "One Thing Right"

These guys sing together on Sundays at Opal Divine's, but their stories are so very different. Matt the Electrician is a softer troubadour, and this record gets you singing along and dancing in your spirit. Produced by Matt (Sever), Jud Newcomb, and the polished maestro Mark Addison (who also engineered and mixed), this fifth offering by the guy who in fact for many years plied his trade by day and raised his children (helping his wife) by night when he was not playing out.

Helping out on this collection are Tom Pearson on bass, Jon Greene on drums and percussion (including bells), Seela on vocals, Sick on violin, Addison on piano, organ, and xylophone (and noise), and Newcomb on guitars, bouzouki and mandolin -- meanwhile Matt plays guiatr, banjotar, trumpetes, euphonium, and xylophone (too) -- and probably others he forgot about.

Songs include "Happy Ending," "One Thing Right," "The Kids," "My Dog," and "Last Poem for My Girl" -- and six other songs by Matt plus "Left Coast," written by Phil Weinrobe. I really like "On the Radar," which features trumpets together, "I'm not all alone, I'm not far from home heading somewhere... I am on the radar, Get me out of here."

"Change the Subject" is a comic love song, "If we can change the subject, then we can change the game," and who wants to talk politics and religion and get drunk anyway. Of course, we do have kids - and so it is great to be "swinging on the swings" even if quitting smoking will take a while. "We are plowshares," he concludes, and that is very very good. And "Money" too has some simple truths of great importance stuck in the middle of the smiles.

"Something in the Stars Translated" feels like Forties music -- on the beach or just lolling around, reminiscing that "no one else understands why you want to date the boy in the band." But how sweet it is! And Sick's violin puts on the exclamation point! "In the Waves" gets us to the ocean where our hero wants to "drown in the waves." "Freedom's not what somebody says" -- there's that little nugget again!

How wonderful, though, is "Last Poem for My Girl," which tells of two people who are "In the heart of darkness mining for the light, Building fires that will swallow the night." What peace this record brings to the weary soul. I could write more, but why not just let you listen?

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.
MothFight at Beerland!

MothFight (two views, self-explanatory); Alex Dupree; Seth Woods; Sean Padilla.
Oh, the possibilities! Beerland may seem like an odd place for artrock experimentation, and yet it seems that just about everywhere in Austin venues are opening their doors to the creative, perhaps in hopes that some new art form will break forth and make them famous. But then again, a venue that runs from Fivehead to Dana Falconberry is certainly just right for MothFight -- an eclectic adventure nominally orchestrated by Hays High alumnus Kevin Adickes that featured the impresario on acoustic guitar and vocals on songs like "Hopscotch Part 2, Hopscotch Part 1, a remembrance of a tornado that hit Murfreesboro, Illinois, and more.
MothFight one this night was also a dress-up occasion for some cast members and one that also featured three visitors who apparently stepped right out of fairytaleland into their cardboard-like images (mortals may not be able to handle their real shapes?). Instrumentation (which included as usual? some recorded noise run through an add-on sound system) consisted of a viola, cello, two trumpets, a banjo, an autoharp, a keyboard, I believe a xylophone and even a small hand accordian plus bells and I probably missed something. Without being too nosy (or knowledgeable yet), my guess is that no two shows will ever be anywhere near the same for this art-theater-music mind-bending visionary excursion that truly seeks a larger stage (and one in which all is set up well in advance and sound-tested -- no distractions needed).

The evening began with a solo performance by Alex Dupree (he of the Trapdoor Band) that brought back memories of Tim Buckley, who likewise used his voice as an instrument [biographer Jerry Hopkins described Tim as having "a haunted, and haunting, voice, a countertenor that rises and slides," and it was shocking to hear those same qualities at Beerland. Big difference, though -- where Buckley's songs were "like poems, dreams, stories, hallucinations," Dupree's are like poems, dreams, stories, and hope-seeking visions that often describe desolate places and desperate people seeking meaning in this strange world. His set opened with "Denver City," a town in west Texas that is home to a friend's grandparents (he explained), that includes the line, "Here in Denver City you're lucky to be singing at all." By the end of his set, he was making up lyrics on the fly. He coulda gone on all night and no one would have been disappointed.

Later, Seth Woods and the Sad Accordians mesmerized the audience with eight songs, including "Bottomless" and a couple of others from their DC, "A Bad Day for the Sharons." Seth, like a postmodern Chuck Girard, often leads worship when Mosaic gathers, and even on this night when I tuned out the lyrics (batteries already overcharged -- see above), the pulsating music brought an inner peace and quietness to a tired body. Band members Ben Lance on lead guitar (and vocals), Nathaniel Gallagher on drums and Joy Gallagher on Moog and such, Peter Kusek on lap steel, and Lee Kitchens on bass join in to create a rich dessert that satisfies without filling.

Closing out the evening was left-handed guitar player Sean Padilla, who performs under the moniker Cocker Spaniels (the name comes from his female cousins who once told him that all men were dogs). I could only stay for a couple of songs, but it was well worth it. The humor (as well as the pathos) of his first number, "The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show," was enhanced by the fact that Sean was playing pal Alex Dupree's guitar -- presumably upside down and backwards Jimi Hendrix style:

"At every single show, I am the only one who looks like me; the only sign of melanin in one big sea of ivory. My FUBU shirts and Tommy jeans…their bowling shirts and dirty Vans…I look just like a thug amongst the dressed-down Pavement fans. It shouldn't even matter that I'm the only black guy at the indie-rock show. I stand in a crowd and still feel alone."

Less tired bloggers would be screaming in joyful pain at his "Telemarketing Song," and so another visit with THIS creative genius is also much in order.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Heathens Go Up in Smoke!

Colin Brooks, Gordy Quist, John Chipman, Seth Whitney, and Ed Jurdi;
the dapper Mark Addison joins the band for some special numbers.

Dertybird, Black Water Gospel, and Drew Smith and his big band had been smokin' the audience all night long on Saturday at Momo's Club, but things got REALLY HOT on the very first song by the Band of Heathens (playing without keyboardist Brian Keane, who is busy getting ready for a New Zealand tour with Patrice Pike and with preparations for his second Austin CD, which a smiling Jon Patillo informed me will be on the Fat Caddy label).

The band was rockin' - with Colin Brooks, Gordy Quist, and Ed Jurdi blazing away on guitars and singing their hearts out when -- all of a sudden, there was this smell of smoke ... and SNAP! CRACKLE! POP! the Momo's motherboard was history. The hard-working George DeVore was looking a little like Dr. Emmett Brown for the rest of the evening ... but it wasn't his fault.

Quickly, though, the three songwriters regrouped and got out their acoustic guitars (and Colin's resonator), guest drummer John Chipman pulled his snare out (and later a small tom he placed between his knees), and bassist Seth Whitney kept his bass plugged in but turned down ... and the guys sang through an amazing set without vocal amplication. It was getting a little chilly anyway, so no one complained when the garage doors that lead out to the rooftop patio were closed -- and the club itself showed its shipworthiness as every single word could be heard in the farthest corners of the room with all of the tenderness, pathos and occasional humor that the artists intended. Shiny-headed (like me) Mark Addison joined in to lead the band on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" that rather completed the Kerrville-like feel of this very special evening.

The acoustic set began with the old Texas prison song, "Cane on the Brazos," and then Brooks set the tone for the evening with his ode to "Cornbread," and later silenced even the tiniest whispers with a chilling rendition of his murder ballad, "Hanging Tree." Both Quist and Jurdi seemed to pull songs out of the woodwork all evening (their big electrified band hits fell off the night's playlist in favor of songs like "Sweet Virginia" and "One More Step to the Promised Land") -- and encored (sorta) with yet another gospel song (yep, even Heathens sing gospel).

I totally missed Dertybird, but later visited with JT Holt, who played bass on three cuts on Papa Mali's new CD (and was in his band for 2 years). JT, who with his brother Ben owns The Nest studio in north Austin, noted that his grandparents and other relatives lost their homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and said that playing with New Orleans legends on Papa Mali's "Do Your Thing" CD was a special grace to him. I look forward to hearing this band live.

Black Water Gospel started the evening with seven (I think I counted right) songs that they have virtually finished up recording for their forthcoming CD that will be out later this year. Matt Mollica hauled his Hammond B-3 onto the stage and contributed to the band's very emotion-tugging set that included the stunning "Conspiracy Road" plus "Big Black Cadillac," "Gold Mine," and "Fool's Gold" and added in "Take It All" and a couple of other older songs, too.

Drew Smith brought out his Vegas act complete with longtime collaborator Matt Russell on keyboards (WOW!), Ryan Bowman on bass, and Kyle Thompson on drums -- plus a horn section with Pat Hurd on trombone, David Renter on sax, and Brian Shaw on trumpet. I will have to write more later, because I was just into feeling the music and not paying real close attention until they started doing Stevie Wonder. Drew's vocals kept getting stronger the longer he was on stage (sometimes with his guitar), and other first-time hearers turned their heads toward the stage to pay closer attention (just as I was doing the same).

Tim Dyer and Phil Brown trade licks at the Alligator Grill; Malford Milligan.

Earlier in the week, I celebrated Mardi Gras at the Alligator Grill with Malford Milligan and a bunch of his friends --including Tim Dyer and the stunning Kelly Doze, Natalie Zoe (though I missed her big birthday blowout at Woody's on Thursday, still worn out from Tuesday night and Ash Wednesday sunrise services) and Phil Brown. Barfield MAY be the "tyrant of funk" in Austin, but Malford is definitely the benevolent prince of funky! Malford and Storyville had two smokin' nights at Antone's last week that I very sadly missed -- what a GREAT band they are!

Finally, on Sunday we were down at Opal Divine's Penn Field to catch the Pop Stars (minus Michael Fracasso but PLUS the amazing David Halley (another of Lubbock's great gifts to Austin music who has rarely been seen or heard but who now qualifies for "Dads Who Rock")! Both Nathan Hamilton and Matt (Sever) the Electrician have brand-new CD's that they will be debuting within the next few days (Matt is at Momo's on March 9th, Nathan's is at the Continental Club the night before!).
Okay - a sneak preview! My goodness, I love the Texas Sapphires, but Billy Brent Malkus was BORN to play rock'n'roll guitar -- and it was pure joy to hear his searing licks on Nathan's new record, "Six Black Birds." You just gotta hear songs like "Teeth," "The Cut," and "Frame to Finish" -- ten songs in all, with the finale, "Hanging On," an acoustic gem. And Matt's "One Thing Right" (which he produced together with Jud Newcomb and the ever-present Mark Addison -- who also engineered) has 12 very listenable cuts that will make you think and tug at your heart. Beaver Nelson is readying his own new CD for an April release, and on Sunday as usual his vocal tone just felt like creme caramel!
But David Halley -- you have NO IDEA! "Richard Thompson with a heart, Tom Petty with a brain," is how one reviewer described his songs 13 years ago -- but his career goes way farther back than that! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE play more gigs.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

More Whitmore, Please!
Until this past week, I always thought of Eleanor Whitmore as Bonnie Whitmore's older sister, long-time environmental activist, and exceptional fiddle player for Slaid Cleaves and more recently Bruce Robison (and sometimes Kelly Willis). Last week at the Red-Eyed Fly, Eleanor had an out-front rehearsal for her big coming out party on March 12th at Antone's, where she will play fiddle and mandolin -- and guitar -- and unveil songs that like an X-ray machine) let you see deep inside her heart and soul.
Eleanor and Bonnie Whitmore at the Fly.
Eleanor is also linked (on and off stage) to Chris Masterson, the Austin-based guitarist who just replaced Brad Rice in Son Volt (as Brad moved up to play with Keith Urban, Chris moves on after four years with Jack Ingram) -- and the March 12th show will feature Chris, Eleanor, and Bonnie (playing bass, cello, and her legacy Gibson guitar that her folksinger dad Alex gave her for Christmas -- Eleanor got the old Martin). But back to the Fly -- where the Whitmores were filling in for longtime pal Kathleen O'Keefe (who even showed up "On My Best Behavior").

Bonnie has a bunch of new songs, too -- including "Colored Kisses" and "Love Too Sweet" (both are on her myspace page), "Katy Kaboom," and "Discovery of the New" -- apparently she writes her best songs when she leaves the country, and if these are any indicator, she ought to travel more. The two sisters are also beginning to collaborate (after a lifetime of fighting over just about everything), and one of the first blessings for their fans is "Better Off." Eleanor's songs included "Leave It All Behind," "Blown Away," "I Never Needed You Enough," and the amazing "Coffee in the Rain."

Well, of course, the sisters sound great together -- Eleanor taking the high notes and Bonnie the lower ones -- and of course both play wonderfully. But what struck me was the honesty -- Eleanor just comes at you with her big eyes wide open in childlike confession mode as though the songs are just pouring out of her heart. Bonnie (who recently chopped off a few inches of her curly hair) has been talking about moving to Nashville, but maybe this is the better path. Her own songs are getting better, her vocals are made even sweeter with Eleanor's harmonies and solos, and yes they are playing at ANTONE'S in their own show (okay the EW BF). IMHO, Nashville will always be there, but there may never be a better chance to take this show on the road. If the Ginn Sisters can do it (and for that matter those gals who hang out with Natalie Maines), there is surely room for the curly-haired golden girls whose mom the opera singer drove all the way from Denton to hang out at the Red-Eyed Fly and listen to death metal booming into the bar from the atrium out back. At least I hope so.

Later on Thursday, I stopped by Flipnotics (missing Stefanie Fix's set -- darn it!) but did catch the first three rounds of Mo Pair, Idgy Vaughn (speaking of naturally redheaded murder ballad singers who OUGHT to have been at the Dead Sweethearts Ball on Saturday -- but I digress), and host Johann Wagner. This unlikely trio was putting on a joyous show before an enthusiastic audience -- and providing lots of interesting banter. Mo is one of those old-school folkies who collects good songs from people who were passing through; Idgy killed with "Mister Wrong" (which is FAR BETTER than the Ellen DeGeneres movie of the same name), and Johann I hope to catch in more detail when he hosts Raina Rose on March 1st.

Queens of the Carousel: Suzanna Van Tassel, Karen Poston; Howdy, Beth and Silas of Love Gone Cold; and Leo Rondeau.

Unlike Idgy, I DID get out to the Carousel Saturday night -- absolutely the COOLEST place in Austin when it is full of happy, rowdy music lovers having a hoot and two hollers. Teri Joyce, Jim Stringer, Lisa Pankratz and the rest of the Dead Sweethearts Band puts on this annual Valentine's show that always packs the house. I could not stay that long (but hung out with Brennen Leigh and Leo Rondeau, whom I had visited the evening before during Leo's strong set at the Hole in the Wall). But I DID get to visit briefly with two of Austin's country music queens -- Karen Poston and Suzanna Van Tassel of the Hummingbirds. I am told that later on Suzanna turned in the performance of the evening!

[Note to self: Get thee out to see Love Gone Cold for a full set next time -- they followed Leo at the Hole on Friday -- Howdy on bass, Beth on fiddle and guitar (she's from Alaska), and Silas on guitar and mandolin, and one of those new-fangled but old-fashioned looking mikes that picked up both vocals and both instruments (not the bass, of course) and sounded H-O-T. Great bluegrassy feel that puts this duo on a par with Gillian and David in the level of intensity at the very least. Gotta see 'em -- maybe on Monday night at the revamped "Scoot Inn" (now the sister venue of the Long Branch).]
My destination for the latter part of Saturday night was Trophy's, where Grub Dog was hosting a roots rock revue that featured Bryce Clifford, Grub Dog playing in about three bands (including the Modestos), the real Bill Davis, and Slowtrain. Highlights included the fact that original Black Water Gospel drummer Andy Morris and Crawling with Kings' keyboardist (and guitarist) Doug Walseth joined Bryce and bass playeer extraordinaire Zach Firnhaber for a very high energy (but all too short) set that showcased the lovely Darlene on fiddle on the final song. And Slowtrain was just ON -- maybe it was the great sound work, but Adoniram Lipton and Brett Staggs have NEVER (to me at least) sounded better singing together. And this was at TROPHY"S!

Miss Darlene and Doug Walseth join Bryce Clifford onstage. Miss Betsy holding court at Trophy's. And Juan Gutierrez and Black Water Gospel play at Momo's February 24th -- along with the Band of Heathens.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Second Saturdays at Jovita's!
Phil Brown and Sasha Ortiz!

If you want to see the FUTURE of Austin music, get thee out to Jovita's on the second Saturday of the month (March 10th is the next gig!) and catch the amazing vocals of Miss Sasha Ortiz and her band Blues Mafia, last year's Rock & Roll Camp best band and hosts to the monthly madness. SOME of the bands that play at Jovita's are already becoming regulars on the Austin music club scene -- gigging at clubs they would otherwise not be able even to enter for six or seven more years, and competing with much older talent for both the fame and glory and the (not so) big bucks out of the tip jar, the door, or even the bar tabs.
Saturday's opening band was The Stumblers, and I flat missed their show -- and another band (After Math -- these kids are pre-teens, I am told) had to cancel due to a conflict with a choral singing contest. As I arrived, Blues Mafia was setting up, and it was almost time for the show to begin, and one band member asked, "Where's Sasha?" I quickly pointed out that divas typically arrive barely on time but always ready -- and so it was! This band combines Led Zeppelin and other classic rock with their own soulful original songs ... but i have written about them before. What was NEW on this date was a guest appearance by guitarist Phil Brown -- he of the Jimi Project (who plays with Sasha's diva mom Natalie Zoe on Thursdays at Woody's on Ben White). Phil was merely returning the favor -- Mafioso Max Frost sat in with Phil and Natalie two days earlier.

Matthew Lyons; Scott Graves.

Phil had to split right afterward to get to a gig at the Continental Club with Redd Volkaert (see below) -- but had he stuck around, his tongue might have been hanging as far out as mine ... at the three NINTH GRADERS who call themselves Black Cat -- Matthew Lyons on guitar, Scott Graves on drums, and Luis Rangel on bass (and yes they are eager to audition potential lead singers!). These guys -- like Blues Mafia's Patrick Mertens -- go to Anderson High. What can I say? Matthew is a classically trained guitarist who started when he was eight, but (in his own words) "had been through undedicated musicians like toilet paper and was about to give up his dream" until he ran across Scott, whom he calls ", a charismatic poet in search of an output for all of his stored energy and enthusiasm." Luis came to the band as a potential singer who played classical guitar (too) -- and was turned into a bassist.

Matthew scored early style points for a vintage jacket, then substance points by literally picking his two guitars apart. Scott turned in a six-minute drum solo that the late John Bonham would have applauded -- no repetition and lots of different beats, tones, and styles kept the crowd entertained. And Luis is no slouch, either. These kids could BURY many of the much older bands I see on Red River and around town -- especially once they get their vocals down (Matthew had a very bad cold today and had to turn several of their songs into instrumentals).

Blues Mafia's guitarists Patrick Mertens and Max Frost look on as Phil Brown and Redd Volkaert show them how it is REALLY done!

And as we were listening to these bands play, the germ of an idea was born ... about which we anticipate an announcement before too many more moons go by. A second idea was that bringing in a major Austin player for every Second Saturday to jam with the kids could be a lot of fun, build the crowd, and encourage these young musicians in their craft. If YOU are interested, just drop a line to secondsats@yahoo.com .
After Black Cat's frenetic show, most of the Blues Mafia entourage followed Phil Brown over to the Continental (which generously let the kids in with their families) and after a blazing set in which Phil and Redd (and Redd's killer keyboardist Rich Harney) all exchanged leads (sometimes a line at a time) and Chris Gilson on drums and singer-bassist Nate Rowe kept the beat. Redd even let Phil have a turn at lead vocals on one of his songs ... and the crowd was significantly enlarged by a stretch limo full of folks that included the bride and groom (who was dancing in her wedding dress and having a BALL!). And we all looked at each other and marveled that people in Austin get to see this amazing music for whatever they are willing to throw into the tip jar!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Rose, Bean and Songsalive!

Datri Bean returns to Austin; Melinda Rothouse with Melissa Mullins (r).

The fun-loving mighty mite Melissa Mullins is at it again (after lots of traveling) -- hosting what is now a MONTHLY Songsalive! songwriters' showcase that is NOW located at Cafe Caffeine on West Mary Street. On Thursday night Melissa brought in songwriters from New Orleans, Seattle, and Portland (Oregon) for a musical feast that concluded with her own solo set.

Songsalive! is a nonprofit organization, founded by two Australians, that is dedicated to the nurturing, support, promotion and exposure of songwriters and composers to the world’s music markets. Their motto is 'GIVE LIFE TO SONG'. Recently the group expanded its mission to include raising awareness about global, humanitarian and social issues affecting our world -- staging concerts, events and programs that raise this much needed awareness. They also put out an annual compilation CD from songwriters who perform at their events. Now I missed Melissa's set this evening (dynamite in a small package on stage!), but had to take the time to thank her for opening the doors for so many of her fellow musicians, including serving as Chapter Coordinator for Austin Songsalive! and also hostess for the Writers Who Rock showcase now housed at Austin Java Co.'s 12th and Lamar location.

Now Melissa will be taking her new band to Flipnotics on March 5 -- and her band's own band, "MJ Baby and the Last Word" -- will also have their own set. This group is often just two old souls whom Katrina blew all the way here from New Orleans -- Melinda Rothouse (bass, vocals) and Matthew DeOrazio (guitar and vocals). Sometimes, I am told, they have a drummer, too. They're on the road a LOT (but I missed most of their set).

I will get to Raina Rose's set later, but have to tell my friends about Datri Bean (the gal with the amazing multicolored striped socks and the I Can't Believe It's Not Buttah" voice. Datri used to live in Austin, where she met her personal chef (and much more) -- the six-foot-nine Colombian bicycle mechanic who made her dinner the day she first borrowed a broom after moving in next door. But fate took the duo to not-so-sunny Seattle, where Datri blossomed as a singer-songwriter now known all over the West Coast. But Austin, it turns out, is home again -- maybe it's just a better jumping off place for tours that take her from Atlanta (Eddie's Attic in June) back and forth to the rainforest and hopefully a LOT more often here in Austin.

I can hardly wait to see Datri hook up with Suzanna Choffel and Alice Spencer to totally blow people away with their jazzy joy ... well, this is just to give you a little idea. Datri's instrument of choice is her Casio Privia keyboard (well, maybe she'd equally like a new Steinway, but they're SO hard to drag around!) -- and she has this fantastic PHRASING in her singing (sometimes she just stops and rolls her eyes and you know she has just had a funny thought go through her head that she's not ready to share with all of us yet). Songs this evening had this food theme -- mustard greens, green onions, and "eggs and ham and an early morning shot of Jim Beam." Indeed, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (I swear that's the paper's name!) has said that Datri has a "seemingly innate ability to charm a packed house into quietude with infectious tunes about sweet tea and tamales."

Her "Texas Song" was written shortly after leaving heaven on earth (Austin - where else?), and by the way her still quite new debut CD is entitled "Slow Down Summertime" after the title track. Somehow this disc was cut here in Austin (while she was down last June for Kerrville - duh!) with Stanley Smith on clarinet (Spankers); Rob Jewett (Wayne the Train Hancock) on upright bass, Scott French on drums, and on some "particularly sassy" tracks, Terry Shimazu plays "an almost gospel" Hammond B3 organ. As an extra bonus, Kim Deschamps sits in on pedal steel on the tearjerker, "Not Enough Winter." [Okay, I am scamming her own myspace bio.] A quick glance at her calendar and you see NO SHOWS upcoming in Austin -- not even during SXSW week -- but that certainly will change, so keep an eye out. THIS GAL IS FUN (and a personal friend of Raina Rose).

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Be Raina!
With a name like Raina, you figure she must be from Oregon (where it rains every day) -- and if you did not know it already, the third song on her new (and third, including as a duo in the Gypsy Moths) -- and she's only 25 years old. I met this lovely lady at the Gospel Brunch last Sunday and again the next night at a big private gathering -- where I first heard her sing "I Like You Better," a song that told me this woman is a tower of song. The song is also the lead-off on her brand-new CD, "The Prophet, the Pandhandler, & the Moon."

Raina is human rights political ["Nursery Rhymes" is now posted on Neil Young's list of antiwar songs], but she's just as capable of a "Theoretical Love Song" about an imaginary romance -- and she's barefoot and flowers in her hair and dancing on the green grass and oh yeah, she coughs and goes on and has wardrobe malfunctions and goes hiking on the Austin greenbelt and writes strange songs about "Truth or Consequences," which is both a TV game show and a town in New Mexico .. and a mostly instrumental, the rest in Spanish song about the late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

I could go on and on -- but back to "I Like You Better" -- She got me on the first line -- "I like you better when you're sleeping, coz you can't make some jackass comment...." But it get's better: "Let's make love like we're making dinner, like tonight this is something we're gonna need, and I'm worried about you coz you're getting thinner, and I know we're both so hungry ...." What poetry -- and there is so much more in this song and throughout all of Raina's music. "Still in Love with the World" is another new song that "came to me in a dream" and is yet another portrait of Raina's great love for this life we are given and offered the chance to share.

The new CD officially closes with "God Bless," which is about how everyone panhandling at a freeway exit (or anywhere in Austin, for that matter) has a sign that says, "God Bless." This cut, in which Raina also asks God to send her a sign, features a fiddle solo by Austin newcomer "Pickles" Moss from "Green Mountain Grass." But there is (yes!) a hidden track 13 -- "Fiddle and Bow," a banjo and fiddle driven hoedown. "Never trust a man with a fiddle and a bow, fickle as the wind ..." Raina warns -- because he will break your heart -- and may lead a girl to "sleep with your twin brother." Hmmmmmm! And, by the way, Raina is going on the road with some of these very same Green Mountain (I am told they are from Illinois -- not Vermont!) boys after a quick trip back to the West Coast. But she too will be back in Austin by the end of February and has a show at Flip's on March 1st -- with Johann Wagner. And for the record, the GMG boys have a gig on February 24 at Stubb's with the Hot Buttered Rum String Band.

AND SPEAKING of fiddle players, I did cut out from Cafe Caffeine to grab some etouffe and Abita Amber at Shoal Creek Saloon on a night when Brian Beken was playing fiddle (and mandolin and his Gibson electric) with Rob Socia's band. Rob, who is off to Costa Rica for a major event in April, had old pals Travis Woodard (Gene Pool, FBC, and much more) on drums and Eric Smith on bass ... and Rob as usual rocked the house (which included BOTH Keller Brothers!). Rob plays every second and fourth Thursday at the saloon, home of Saints fans and Louisiana food and a really fun scene for mostly twentysomethings (and youngathearts like me). The highlight of the evening was Eric telling of his magical trip (with his dad) to Levon Helm's farm in upstate New York for the concert of his life a few months back and of reading Levon's book about The Band for the third time and probably not the last. [As one who was blessed to see them live, I know what he means!]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Infinite Partials -- and Broken 45's!

Okay, already! Last Saturday (and it is already Thursday!) I trotted down to Flipnotics to catch a set from Infinite Partials -- another of those new-style Austin bands featuring a cellist, a violinist/fiddler, a violist/mandolinist, a conga player, and a guitarist/singer-songwriter [what I mean is strings, baby!].

Grant Hudson; two of the Andrews and Chris.

Bandleader Grant Hudson grew up in Austin and began playing guitar at Ruta Maya as a teenager -- and then he started writing songs. He once dated Suzanna Choffel (she sez!), but found his soulmate in actress Amy Downing (now they hyphenate their names!), who often sings with her hubby but not when acting gigs (like her current show at the Zachary Scott Theatre) are available.

The band began (as Violent Nap) back at the Blue Theatre when Grant met violist (and mandolinist) Andrew Noble (he's the bearded, hatted one) and cellist Andrew Davis. Later they found violinist Andrew (Andy) Strietelmeier and percussionist Chris Sebastian, and these partials began to make infinite music together (or so the story goes). This is yet another band whose music lends itself to a light show and artistic images flashing and pulsating to add to the ethereal effect of the intense music and lyrics.

I have no idea what all the songs are called, but one is about laying your body down [if I do, "will you rescue me?"]; another is about two brothers ["I could never understand why you had to run away," one says to the other, then adds, "we are here to help you though you act like you're alone -- you push us away!"]; and a third sounds the warning to "Watch Your Back". My personal favorites were "Eternity," which opens with what I described as a "fiddle boogie" and moves on to pronounce "I can't play Messiah if I give into temptation," and the very warm "Texas Song," which reminded me a little of the Sons of the Pioneers. The set closed with the incredibly haunting "Trying to Transcend," which opens with buzzing strings yielding to a very lyrical guitar line .. and the words reach deep inside -- "And she's pacing like a cat, looking like she's afraid of me, says she's cried for 40 days and forgotten who she is, And I feel like I know her, like she's been inside my head ..."

Hudson's voice and even his lyrics remind me of Tim Buckley ... but without the maniacal darkness that led Jeff's father to his own early grave. I am eager to hear this band again (with Amy sharing the vocals), but in a venue much more suitable and with more thought to expressing the dramatic impact and maybe even some dancers .. this stuff just screams BIG PRODUCTION ... but as I said, as a backdrop ... so the message is subtle.

Later on Saturday I stopped by Momo's to catch a little of Suzanna Choffel's set and all of Wendy Colonna's -- my first time to visit with Eldridge Goins since he got back from California. Wendy had Harmoni Kelley on bass and my good friend Chad Pope on lead guitar -- and the band just SMOKED. Hottest on the horizon was perhaps Chad and Wendy doing the Ike and Tina number, "Someday." Gotta hand it to Ginger Leigh, who supported her pals by passing the tip jar, helping Chad replace a broken string, and donning Wendy's chapeau for some special, intimate poses! And oh by the way, Ginger (who's off to New Zealand soon!) is blitzed about the lineup she has for all her friends at the LOVE NOT SXSW showcases.

Wendy Colonna (with Harmoni Kelley on harmony vocals); Ginger Leigh; Suzanna Choffel!

Tuesday night the whole gang stopped by Jo's Coffees on Second Street (near the new city hall) to hear Chris Brecht and the Broken 45's (Andy Morris on drums, Matt Mollica on Hammond B3, and Bobby Daniel on bass) and later Amy Cook (with Bobby D on bass, Nina Singh on drums, and Jesse Duke sitting in on guitar). LA escapee Amy has been hosting Tuesdays at Jo's since it opened last fall -- and to tell the truth I hardly wrote any notes as we were having a major visit with friends who had come all the way from Connecticut and seven-degree weather that morning. Next Tuesday Amy's opening band will be Black Water Gospel -- and maybe then I will be more attentive.

Chris sings in the vein of Bob Dylan (even plays harmonica) and sings songs like "I Played Cards with the Devil" and "Absinthe Highway Blues." I had hung out with Chris and Matt the night before (and Matt was playing some sweet notes on his accordian, which he claims he is still learning) -- and could not miss their exciting set. Catch him at Flipnotics on February 18 with the Lonesome Heroes. I will write more about Amy next time -- BTW, she sings a duet with Juan Gutierrez on the upcoming BWG CD (being produced by her one-time guitarist Brad Rice -- who is currently touring with Keith Urban) -- and MAY be persuaded to give us a taste of that duet next Tuesday.

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