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

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jawbreaker Fest Was a HOOT!

Jason Vopni -- the man of the hour; Brian Hudson, Hudson Mueller, Phoebe Hunt and Jason Vopni -- the Hudsons!

Hudson Mueller singing "All of Me" with the Jitterbug Vipers -- Phoebe Hunt on fiddle, Francie Meaux Jeaux on bass (hidden), and Slim Richie on the six-string Johnson. [Hidden are Emily Gimble and James Gwynn.]

Back during South by Southwest, bassist Jason Vopni of The Hudsons was assaulted and seriously injured, breaking his jaw, and like most Austin musicians needed a little extra help to make up for lost income. SOooooo -- naturally, his friends decided to help him out -- and to start a new tradition in the process, the first of what is planned as an annual Jawbreaker Fest! This year Jason was the primary beneficiary (in addition to everyone who attended the show and heard some great music!) -- but this and all future events also support the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. [As a former beneficiary of one of Austin's legendary benefit concerts, I can tell you the spiritual lift you get from seeing all the love being poured out is as long-lasting as the cash brought in is of immediate value.]

My own memory of the Hudsons dates back to another benefit concert -- the Empty Bowls event -- when Brian Hudson and Hudson Mueller were still in high school and playing every Thursday at Waterloo Ice House on Sixth and Lamar. The first time I saw Phoebe and Jason in the band (I believe) was on a Sunday afternoon at the dearly departed Alice's Restaurant in Niederwald. Back then, who knew that they would one day be voted as Best Folk Combo in Austin by readers of the Austin Chronicle -- or that the Hudsons would graduate to Momo's on Thursdays and play the Kerrville Folk Festival. OR that Phoebe Hunt would be on this night playing her last AUSTIN show with the Hudsons (at least for the foreseeable future), as she will depart after this Sunday's Kerrville show for the East Coast on tour with the Belleville Outfit (which includes Marshall Hood and other former members of the Deschamps Band).

So it was with great joy that Phoebe, along with Jason himself, was the star of the evening in her simple sundress, fiddle, "sanging" and of course her big smile and her Johnson ukulele. Ricky Stein and Idgy Vaughn opened the show with stellar solo sets, and then Phoebe took the stage by storm playing fiddle with the Jitterbug Vipers -- Slim Ritchie, Francie Meaux Jeaux, Emily Gimble, and James Gwynn. Emily and Phoebe (who have also performed together in the Phoebejeebies on Sundays at Momo's) sing like sisters -- and fit right in with the seasoned pros Slim and Francie, Austin's best jazz duo for both their skills and their colorful outfits and personalities. The bonus performance of this set was Hudson Mueller's uptempo [and very Sinatra-like] version of "All of Me," but anyone who came to the show got their money's worth just listening to Slim's solos (not to mention Emily's and Phoebe's and Francie's). And, yes, the band dragged Jason up for their encore song.

MICHAEL CORCORAN ALERT -- If anyone doubts that Austin is still the Live Music Capital of the World, a handy-dandy videotape of this night's show would be all the evidence one needed!

Seth Walker and Lindsay Greene; Leslie loves the camera!

Those who had eaten their fill of chicken fried steak and all the great veggies were next treated to yet another five-star musical entree -- Seth Walker, backed by bassist Lindsay Greene. Seth did some oldies (well, ALL of his songs sound like oldies!), some blues, "You Don't Know Me" (by his country cousin Cindy Walker), a brand-new song, "She's Makin' Me Dance," brand-new from his new CD, "Two Feet Left to the Ceiling," his ode to Katrina survivors, and my personal favorite, "Steady (Kind of Love)" (and more -- but one NEVER gets enough of the guy who makes "Slow Hand" Clapton sound staccato). I remain convinced that Seth lives in another time and just comes out to sing for us.

But golly gosh gee whiz -- the Hudsons themselves (Jason included -- and yes his recovery is nearly complete) were up next, and what a gorgeous show they put on .. including Phoebe singing "Oceans Away" as a prelude to her upcoming departure. She also did a song about being "High," and of course Brian and Hud Mayoral candidate Leslie was the emcee for the evening -- all decked out in a black dress with a big slit in the back and a tiara to indicate his status in this town. And, yes, those who did not have to take a four-year-old party goer back to his mom got to hear sets from Warren Hood and the Hoodlums and the South Austin Jug Band.

Now the circle goes back to its origin -- as the Hudsons will soon be returning to Waterloo Ice House for their old Thursday gig -- without Phoebe. Hud and Brian have grown up a LOT since I first saw them -- and odd as it seems, I have only rarely seen their shows even though I have always been a HUGE fan. Guess I just always believed they were A-OK and had lots of support. But I gotta get out to these new shows ... and really catch up on what the boys have been doing while I was on the other side of the world a couple of clubs down.

NOW -- I must confess I think I forgot to tell my friends about my recent visit to the Hyde Park Theatre -- to catch a really cool music show by Martin Crane (the minimalist par excellance!) and Seahorse. Seahorse this night included David Lee Hess (King Tears), Chris Downey, Billy Cassis (Soulhat), and John Thomasson -- this is powerful, quiet music that nevertheless is not so much soothing as challenging ... your senses and your perceptions. On some songs, it ws just Hess and Downey (and some electronic additions); Cassis brought out some curious instruments (quite a variety), and I would have had a longer story but I was called away mid-set.

Crane amazed me with the simplicity of his music that nonetheless was very communicative -- I clearly heard some Jim Morrison rhythms on a few songs (hard to describe but the Doors had some unusual beat structures on songs like Roadhouse, for example) ... and yet he was more like Donovan meets Bowie (that is, naive and yet worldly wise at the same time) .... It now appears his band has evolved into "Brazos" -- with Nathan Stein and Paul Price plus Estaban Cruz ... though I saw a trio with bass and stripped down drum kit and Martin's occasionally used guitar ... Indeed, Martin reminds me somewhat of the Zookeeper (Chris Simpson) in his singular approach to songs .... I would love to see this same show a couple or three more times (sorry, no photos because it was a dark, intimate room that I did not want to disturb). Almost forgot to mention that the show was put together by Charlie Roadman, a local attorney whose brother plays drums in Buttercup (and who manages his brother's band). I doubt that Charlie made a profit from the evening, but I HIGHLY recommend this venue for more intimate musical events.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jabarvy at the NEW Club 115!
Ryan (Sham) Jones makes a funny devil with his lei; the M Squad horns -- Meg Kemp and Margaret Harn.
Below: Rachel Loy makes an attractive (though dreadlocked) and talented addition (as a guest performer) to Goldcure.
There's something new and better about Jabarvy, the Lubbock transplants whose debut CD last fall showed the versatility afforded by having two lead guitarists and a two-woman horn section wrapped around a pulsating rhythm section that also includes the lead singer. This family band (well, two members are married to each other!) reveals its joy of living in the songs they perform.
Okay, they played some songs new to me (some of which were just out of mothballs, others brand new) in the portion of a set I saw last Friday at the NEW (management, that is) Club 115 (at 115 San Jacinto) -- which is fast becoming one of THE places to play in this town (thanks in large part to the great sound system, very comfy seats, and good vibes that are today what Ter'ell Shahid had envisioned when he first opened the club with three partners a while back).
Jabavry, which will return to Club 115 on June 15th (DO check their myspace calendar to see which of your OTHER favorite Austin bands are playing there), blew the crowd (largely passers-by from nearby upscale restaurants) away with "Raisin' Hell" (which featured Sham Jones with an evil grin!), "Redbone," "Mud Pie," and "Marcia Martian" -- and who knows what all else they played that night. What is NEW about Jabarvy is the new attitude from trumpeter Margaret Harn -- thanks, she says, to her new gig with fellow Lubbock exiles Muchos Backflips. These guys, says club owner Matthew Claudnic, may be the best band in Austin.
Earlier that evening, I was at Momo's Club to catch a set by Goldcure that featured the lovely (and dreadlocked) Rachel Loy on bass -- plus Evan Griffiths on giddle and Dustin Walsh on banjo on some songs. Adam, Craig, and Gavin continue to improve their sound at every gig -- and they will be back at Momo's this Friday.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday evening, I was again drawn out to see Chris Brecht -- this time with a full complement of Broken 45's. As usual, Matt Mollica and his Hammond B3 (and his backing vocals) took away the breath of some audience members, while guest guitarist (the C team, he said, pinch hitting for Brad Rice and Chris Masterson) Gordy Quist (he of the Band of Heathens) also brought some oohs and aahs with his solo licks. [Gordy's solo CD, done in Nashville with some legends, will be available in June!] Earlier that evening, my pal George Duron was showing off for his mom (he bought her flowers!) playing drums for British import (and power popstar) Sally Crewe (along with bassist Matt Baab). Truth be told, I enjoyed the set but want to hear her again before writing too much ... I really liked songs like "Love Is the Drug (for me)" and "Get It Right This Time" (or whatever the title is), but I was at the time unwinding from a two-hour session before the city planning and zoning board (my wife even saw me on Channel 6!) and unfocused on her lyrics. Lots of fun -- no wonder the music guys I know who know her all like her.
FINALLY -- Good news, bad news department: I got out to Threadgill's Old No. 1 on May 16th to see Dao Strom, everyone's favorite novelist-singer-songwriter from northern California who has graced Austin with her presence for the past few years. Dao in the first of two sets offered up some of her older songs (like Perfume River), some brand-new songs (like A Waking Dream and Silver), and some old standards (Wreck on the Highway) -- backed by Kevin Fox on standup bass and sometimes by Christa Haxthausen on vocals. My gracious friend, though, is on her way to Oregon to smell the salt air and be closer to her childhood home ... well, Portland after a summer at the beach -- and this concert was her last in Austin -- at least for now. But MORE GOOD NEWS from DAO -- she is finishing up a brand-new collection of songs with producer Darden Smith that should be coming our way later this year -- and hopefully she will just HAVE to come back to Austin for a CD release party or two (as well, perhaps, as for the debut of her next book!).

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Marshall Jones:
King of the Wild "Frontier"

No, the nymph playing the violin on the CD jacket is NOT Sarah Stollak, who really DOES play the fiddle with Marshall Jones and the Frontier Phrenologists.

Okay -- we got THAT out of the way. Now back to music -- and things that go "brain bump" in the night.

Marshall Jones many years ago had a band called Dark Holler that put out a couple of cheaply done recordings of their own songs plus songs in the public domain. I really liked Dark Holler. I like the Phrenologists even more.

Now, the CD features Ryan Gould on the standup bass, but live at Woody's last Thursday (and they will be back every Thursday in May from 7 till 9) it was just Jones, Stollak, Aaron Hinojosa on banjo, and Gareth Broesche on mandolin and occasional ukulele.

The CD opens with "Phrenology Rag," an instrumental written by Broesche and Stollak, which is followed by Stollak's "Raise a Ruckus." Here and on various other songs, original lyrics are intertwined with lyrics and music in the public domain. Nine of the 16 songs on the CD are Jones originals, starting with the baleful ballad, "Every Girl I've Ever Loved" (is with another guy tonight). Sarah Stollak (a singer-songwriter in her own right who also plays fiddle with the Lonesome Heroes) is a real find for Jones -- her alto harmonies and mischievous eyes are a perfect foil for his understated wry humor.

"Long Gone Daddy" is the song from which Dark Holler got its name -- here, Hinojosa's banjo and Broesche's mandolin and Stollak's fiddle all take solos. Then there is the unforgettable "Jerry, Django and Billy Joe" (they got 24 fingers between them) -- a tale about lost love in Louisiana and overcoming one's own deficiencies. This song, I hear, is already a radio favorite.

Jones and company do justice to some old gospel ballads -- "Turtle Dove" and "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel" -- and to other old standards, "Georgetown Jail," "Salty Dog," and the Cajun "J'ai vu la Loup" -- plus a spruced up version of the old Dark Holler favorite, "Shame and Scandal," a tale of supposed incest and other familial skulduggery.

But again, it is the Marshall Jones originals -- some of which seem one or two centuries old -- that make this CD a MUST for any good collection: "Slow Down," another Jones-Stollak duet about, well, driving a car (but it could just as easily be a horse and buggy); "Out on the Avenue," a real old-timey ditty with a joyous mandolin solo (this song is great to dance to); and "Come September," about a lad (born in Vicksburg) who wants to know "how high the cotton will grow when it comes September" -- a total celebration of rural life in an America long forgotten by most city folks today.

"The Ballad of Bonnie Parker," though, has to be the crown of this creation -- Jones even includes some of Clyde Barrow's woman's own poetry (and gives her songwriter credit). This is Woody Guthrie style songwriting -- and oddly enough, Jones says most of his audience does not even realize who Bonnie Parker was. What has happened to our history?

Now if you want a real treat, keep the CD rolling after "Shame and Scandal" and after a long pause the band celebrates a "Waterloo Sunset" -- that wonderful Kinks song (from Ray Davies) that is just as appropriate for Austin as for the original inspiration (Waterloo Bridge in London). Gotta love that fiddle here! San Antonio's Buttercup also does this great song, and I hear they have a brand new extended play (five songs?) CD that ought to be worth a listen.

Dark Holler was always a lot of fun, but equally dysfunctional. The Frontier Phrenologists, by contrast, appear to be on their way to bigger and better things -- this band just oozes real life and real community-based old-fashioned fun -- more like the Austin Lounge Lizards than the South Austin Jug Band, but wholly themselves.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Stefanie's Crooked Smile!
It has been a busy week or so -- but we still had time to get out to the Cactus Cafe for the celebration of the new release by Austin's Stefanie Fix (OK, so she's originally a Noo Yawkah!), whose very sophisticated songs fit well with her very feminine aura that reminds this writer of the women of classic movies -- she purrs! No wonder she is able to get top-notch players like Brad Houser (bass), Dony Wynn (drums), Stewart Cochran (keys) and Jonny Sanchez (and Johnny Goudie), along with producer Stephen Doster, in the studio -- and quite often on stage -- with her. [At this CD release, the lead guitar work was handled by Scott Clark -- a very busy guitarist who is playing these days with Dave Madden, J. J. Usher, Radiostar, and John Pointer (and probably lots of others as well).] [Side note -- Brad Houser, who of course is one of Edie Brickell's New Bohemians, had much impressed Clark back in his high school daze in Atlanta -- and here they are playing in a band together, once again proving that Austin is a city where your dreams can come true.]
Wearing her glitter jeans and spaghetti strap top, Stefanie Fix just oozed a smokey sexiness that reminded me of Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight or Anastasia -- just a little dangerous. Her songs reflect hard times and a ray of hope -- then, again, she also plays a mean slide guitar that she brings out mostly for her solo gigs.
Stefanie began her CD release with the title cut, "Crooked Smile," one of those songs you just want to squeeze your squeeze to. Come to think of it, the same could be said of many of these songs ["Don't Go, Don't Stay," for example] -- even though some tell of broken, or even misshapen, relationships (like "No Reason Now"). "Far From You" is one of those classic ballads that might be from the early Sixties or late Fifties -- and on the CD, the boys really come through to make this an anthem (one that might have been sung by Sandy Denny or Jacqui McShee). Ditto "Dancing with Ghosts," which has that mysterious guitar of Jon Sanchez to complement Fix's sultry lyrics ... this is LATE NIGHT music that must not be played while wearing pastels. Color this music deep red, blue black, and shades of grey.
Black and stark white are the colors for "Holy Sh*t, Ma!" [kids read this site], which Stefanie sings in a broken voice that sounds just like how we all felt on that strange morning -- September 11th, 2001!
"Walking Shoes" features Stef on her big blue Guild playing slide ... and is surely reminiscent of the "walking" away from New York City, where she grew up playing music and recording "Footprints in the Sky" and the celebrated "Survival" CD's -- and from Woodstock, where she put together Limited Sight Distance (LSD) to showcase her venture into psychedelic art rock (the very music that attracted such talents as Houser once she moved to Austin). The final cut on the CD is "The Secret I Keep," which sort of tells us all we need to know -- this is a very private woman who is nevertheless a true "artist" (and, yes, she once got into some serious controversy over that very word!) and one whose music will grow on you.
Of course, Stefanie may one day soon move in yet another musical direction -- after all, "Let the Sun Shine Through You" and some of her newer songs (like "Both Sides of the Divide") suggest that the woman originally known as Stefanie Gleit is not going to be defined by her yesterdays but will continually reach toward her tomorrows. And, in the meantime, call your local radio station and BEG THEM to play "Far from You" over and over again!!!
Okay, so after Stef's show I stopped by the Hole in the Wall (after a visit with Doug Pittman) to say Hello to Adrian Conner, Nina Singh, and Heather Webb of Adrian and the Sickness -- that's Adrian and her dreads groovin' out among the beer drinkers. Got to hear Heather sing and was reminded that she needs to do that more. Couple of days later I got the good news that Eleanor Whitmore was playing a FULL SET on acoustic guitar along with my pal Chris Brecht (which was very interesting, as they both write quirky songs).
Clementine's on Manor Road is one of Austin's two hundred new coffee houses, all of which host live music from time to time. Had a triple Cuban and waited patiently for the sound system to start working (better if you turn up the volume!). Took my 96-year-young and music loving mom to the gig (she also loves good coffee!). Thought we were staying for just the first set, but she said NO WAY we are missing ANY of Eleanor's songs (she liked Chris too, but Eleanor had the bright red curls -- and sister Bonnie IN DA HOUSE!).
Chris has songs like "Jack the Ripper's Very Bad Day," "Every Time I Think of You I Go Blind," "I'd Rather Watch a Dead Leaf Blow," and "If the Street Lights Glow for Us," and my personal favorites, "My Highway 99" and "Old Town Girl," which I had heard him do at a music jam just the night before. Eleanor thinks her songs about coffee and feeling lonely are quirky, when all of us just are thrilled that she is emerging (akin to Allison Krauss a decade or so ago) as much more than just a fiddle (and mandolin) virtuoso. Eleanor only two months ago played guitar on stage for the very first time, and this may well have been her true debut as a guitar-playing singer songwriter. Songs like "Blown Away" and her airplane song (her dad is also a pilot as well as a folksinger, her mom is an opera singer -- and Bonnie has just moved to Nashville!) and "Like a River" and "Sometimes I Wonder" (or whatever the final title will be) are virtual guarantees that this woman will be singing more and more -- just as she is doing on Bruce Robison's forthcoming CD.

While hanging out at Momo's last weekend watching Ricky Stein's show featuring Slowtrain, I was blessed with a copy of some brand-new music from Honor Farm, a band which features the songs and vocals of Jay (Boo) Tonne backed by Zachary Firnhaber and Doug Walseth (from Crawling with Kings), Yamal Said, and Lacey Pipkin. Pure alt-country. Then on Thursday, I got out to see Marshall Jones (whose old band Dark Holler was a personal favorite) and the Frontier Phrenologists -- and pick up a copy of their brand-spanking-new CD. The band will be playing every Thursday in May from 7 till 9 at Woody's South -- and I will soon let you know more about this CD (along with the Honor Farm music). But that's all for now -- except to note that the Phrenologists include (from left to right in the photo below) Gareth Broesche on mandolin and ukulele and vocals, Jones on guitar, Aaron Hinojosa on banjo and guitar (and soon on vocals as well), and the lovely and talented Sarah Stollak on violin and vocals. This band plays a mix of Marshall's original songs (like "The Ballad of Bonnie Parker" and "Jerry, Django, and Billy Joe") and songs in the public doman, with a sprinking of gospel and contemporary (for example, their Thursday show included a cover of "Waterloo Sunset").

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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