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

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.

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