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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Quist on a Quest!
Many of you may know Gordy Quist as a member of the Band of Heathens -- but this former Dartmouth linebacker from the same part of northwest Harris County as Lyle Lovett has just released his second solo CD, "Here Comes the Flood," with 10 of his own songs (plus a fine cover of "Satisfied Mind" with Adam Carroll taking a verse) that remind this writer of yet another Texan -- Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson.
At a CD release event at Momo's recently, Gordy brought out his Heathen buddies Colin Brooks (photo), Ed Jurdi, bassist Seth Whitney and drummer John Chipman -- but it was a far cry from the usual songwriters in the round showcase that graces the Momo's stage on Wednesdays with lots of places in between. On this night Gordy was the sole focus -- and indeed he had plenty of material to please the sizable crowd who had been warmed up by an absolutely awesome set from Seth Walker and HIS band (see below).
The Momo's set included songs from Gordy's first record, including the title cut, "Songs Play Me" and the wonderful "Broken Heart Strings," plus the brand-new "To See You Again," a couple of Adam Carroll numbers, and "Miss Ohio" -- with as a bonus all of the Heathens doing their classic cover, "No More Cane (on the Brazos)." Let me say it right now -- Gordy's songs will soon be covered by the biggest names in the business.
Quist, who like fellow Heathen Brooks is a former New Folk winner at Kerrville, was persuaded by old pal Steve Wedemeyer, who had moved to Nashville to join the band Last Train Home, to do his new record up there -- at the East Nashville studio of multi-instrumentalist Joe McMahan that Gordy notes is nestled between halfway houses and soul food eateries. The result is an analog soundscape full of grit and gristle -- with Wedemeyer and his bandmates Jim Gray (bass), Martin Lynds (drums), and Jen Gunderman (keyboards) plus Luke Bulla on fiddle, Bryan Owings on percussion and drums, Dave Jacques on upright bass, and McMahan himself on guitars, organs, piano, lap steel, and more. Backing vocalists include Nashvillagers Joseph and Raven Hazlewood and Claire Small, Steve Poulton, and Heathen pal Ed Jurdi.
To the music -- Gordy opens this CD with "Rehab Facility," which sounds like an on "The Band" tune with its driving harmonica [not mentioned in the liner notes?] and quixotic lyrics ("she's a heaven's angel dust running through my blood," "she's a Sunday morning drive to a country side motel room, the ones that are by the hour, where you can make love and take a shower in the afternoon") -- and Wedemeyer's soulful guitar solo that ends the song.
Next up is one of my favorites -- "Quarters and Dimes," which sounds like Lyle Lovett material (that is the kind of song he would cover) "I'll cast my leather and bones down a rattlesnake road ... Ain't nothin' so free as being lost between heaven and hell...." and more great guitar.
But it is "Lady Juliana" that just takes my breath away -- Gordy's tale of the first ship taking women (prisoners, of course) to join the prison colony in Australia -- including 11-year-old Mary Wade. Gordy could have quit right here and I would have been satisfied.
But -- good news -- he kept going. "Skin on Soul" opens like a typical Nashville song -- "Daddy's gone and Mama's crying" -- but this is no Opry tune. It is rich with melody and with the hurt of a man who's "tattered and battered ... burned scared and wandering every which way I can go." "Unsleeping Eye" is a tale of staying awake on the way back from a gig in Dallas -- this is the hardest rocker on the record.
When Gordy started "Green and Blue" at Momo's, I leaned back to the guy sitting next to me and whispered, "Clint Black" -- meaning that this song is a platinum seller of a ballad. Radio stations, though, just ought to start playing the original -- Gordy has as good a voice as most of those guys making the big money.
To many Heathens lovers, "Judas 'Scariot Blues" is Gordy's signature song -- one he ought to dedicate to John Pointer, who is playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Zachary Scott. Judas gets his say in this song -- blaming the cards for his bad fortune and accusing God of playing favorites. But a very long time ago one of my river rat friends from Washington, DC, reminded me that the true meaning of the cross was "no more Judases" -- or excuses.
"Irene" is a sad tale of a siren who captures our hero's heart and moves on to other lovers -- the musical swamp created by McMahan and the players is the real sinful pleasure here. You get the feeling you are in the middle of an old silent film horror movie -- Papa Mali should love this.
"Paradise Awaiting" could well be the central Texas theme song for June 2007 -- "The rain's coming down and my jeans are worn out and wearing thin .... darling keep your distance and pray for baby blue skies again ...." And yet the song continues -- "I hear Paradise is waiting, you can see it from down on your knees. The Faithful from a distance strain to see the preacher from the bleacher seats ... Let's go down to Eden, I hear they got shelter from the rain ... I wanna go down to Eden I hear they ain't got no damn rain ...."
The last cut is so apropos for an ending song -- "Diamonds, Dogs and Shooting Stars" -- diamonds make good rings and shiny things; a dog will love you till he breathes no more; shooting stars will take you on a journey -- and TIME will rust the hinges on your door. But sometimes, Gordy moans, "I wonder if there's something more." [Of course, the joke is on us, as Gordy has already let us know that he HAS a satisfied mind!]
Gordy and his fellow Heathens are SCHEDULED to play the Independence Day Festival on July 4th in Marble Falls -- but like "Paradise Awaiting," we wonder if the rains will ever quit coming down there. July 5th, again if the rains hold off, the boys will be at Shady Grove with KGSR.

The Seth Walker set this evening was just better than ever -- with the handsome Italian (see photo) Stefano Intellizano on keys, Damien Llanes on drums, and the incomparable Lindsay Greene on bass and an infusion of Ephraim Owens on trumpet toward the end of the set. Maybe it was Seth prodding Owens to lend his beautiful baritone to the ensemble during one number -- but band members said the crowd and the great evening itself just made the night magical. Walker will be on tour much of July -- but he will be ringside at Sullivan's on July 6th and back at Shady Grove on July 26th. If Seth Walker is not a national star, then this nation has sunk lower than I had ever thought.

Somehow I had lost my notes and photos of another Momo's show that was pretty darn good -- Adam McInnis drew a huge crowd of people who were just totally blown away during an eight-song set, with hot guitarist-songwriter Tahni Handal and her band following afterwards [more on them soon]. Adam, who is putting the finishing touches on his first Austin-made CD (after bouncing off both coasts to get here), had Candy Sanders on vocals (WOW!), Jason Miller on guitar, Steve Bernal on bass, Darwin Keys on drums (am I right?), and a couple of other players as well (my bad!)
Okay, so Adam's BIG song (which everyone remembers) is "Sex for Breakfast" (with pancakes for dessert!) -- but the crowd soared along with powerful songs like "Beautiful Glow," "More Than Meets the Eye," "Give a Little, Get a Little," "40 Days, 40 Nights," "Not Alone," "If Only for a Little While," and "Sweet Surrender" (lay down my guns tonight). And then there is "War on Drugs," which on the CD features Austin's own MC Overlord. Folks -- this guy is about to take off -- the energy has finally been caught up with by some new-found FOCUS!
Adam will be at the Grove at South Park Meadows on July 7th and back at Momo's with a full band on July 16th -- that should be FUN!

My recent travels also took me to Ego's (well, more than once) to see Sunny Sweeney the budding Nashville Americana music star whom I know as the hummingbird from Longview and my good friends Thomas and Kelly Mann and Melody Mann -- that's Kelly with trumpeter Dave Gilden in the photo. Other notable Ego's evenings (with Gentle Ben himself in charge!) included the Stones-Beatles hoot night, featuring Marshall Jones and the Frontier Phrenologists using some omnimikes that made you listen very hard over the noise ... and Bryce Clifford banging out two of the Stones' more obscure numbers.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Detecting Tracy and Bond

Jane and Chad at Freddie's.
Jane Bond has been a fixture in Austin ever since she blew in from Boston what seems like an aeon ago. There was a time she was viewed as the heir apparent to blueswoman Toni Price -- and Toni called her little sister. My own first Jane Bond experience featured Matt Hubbard on trombone (and other instruments as well); then it was the Keller Brothers and more old and new blues. Lots of players have worked with Jane through high and very low times -- including a very sad trip on Kevin Fowler's bus out to west Texas.

Lately, though, Jane has changed her tune -- thanks in very large part to her new singing partner, the very tall and handsome Chad Tracy, who hails from Wisconsin but writes songs and sings them, too, like he's from Fort Worth. Their brand-new disc, "Hell or High Water," showcases tunes that Chad and Jane have worked on together and individually. Current Spanker Josh Hoag plugs in the bass lines, and Eddie Flores and Jamie Oldacker switch out on drums. Half the songs were recorded by Tommy Spurlock, who lends his pedal steel and other talents to the project; half by guitarist Jason Frankhouser. There are notable appearances by Bradley Williams (accordian), Erik Hokkanen (violin), and Jamie Hilboldt (organ) -- but the star of this collection is the songs themselves.
The title cut tells a sad tale of two lovers who flee the law and get all the way to the Mexican border only to be confronted by lawmen who haul off our hero while our heroine hides in the mesquite and gets away. Later, our boy, who is suffering primarily for her sins, finds out he has a daughter. Great slap bass and fiddle energize this number. "The Border," which features Williams' accordian, is a tall tale about a woman who "says she's going cross town taking care of her mama" but is really "getting drunk in Tijuana" -- but when her man's friend who works for the Border Patrol rats her out, the solution is that he goes to Tijuana with his woman.
"When the Tables Turn," one of my favorites, showcases Jane's voice (Chad's, too - but his harmonica is the star here) -- "Some say love's a gambler," goes the song. This song and "Colorado" both sound a little Gram Parsonsesque -- that lonesomeness that is inescapable. The latter features Hokkanen's fiddle and talks about "getting out of Texas," but the song reminds me of "California Cottonfields" (made famous by Merle Haggard but perhaps sung best by Hazel Dickens, except perhaps for that rare but wonderful version by Gram and Emmy Lou).
"Walked Around the World" is just flat beautiful -- a great country ballad, great for slow dancing with the lady of your dreams. Of course, I just crave the twang that is just not there in Chad's smooth larynx ... now Ray Price would have added strings and maybe even horns to this one -- and made Chad a million dollars. Who knows? Maybe he will.
"My Favorite One" speaks of "pastures of plenty and pastures of green" that have been foregone because of the bottle -- this is one of the songs here that should be really hot done live with a full, hot band ... and maybe Jane in a cowgirl outfit. But what would a fiddle have done here? We need MORE HONKY TONK!
And speaking of honky tonk, "Right Time of the Night" is some of the purest I have heard in quite a while -- done a little faster, this number would fill up the dance floor at the Spoke or Midnight Rodeo or Gruene Hall with the PRIMO steppers .... this song has ATTITUDE!
"Doesn't Bother Me at All" (whether Chad realizes it or not) is not really how the writer feels here -- he just hopes he's over her. Which is why this can be a great number -- because if he was REALLY over her, it would be bragging to tell her about it ... What he really wants is just one more try ....
"Rose Marie" is a lovely shuffle that is reminiscent of an old Eagles song ... guess which one. The disc ends with Jane's plaintiff "In the Stars," which may be the best thing she's ever done. This song signals the change in her life and her music, and the reverie that is the pedal steel solo gives us all time to reflect on how much we have loved this woman's music and spirit and how glad we are to see her smiling and excited about every sunrise, every trip wading into the Rio Grande to take the photos for the cover, and all of the people she is today singing for.
But wait -- there's more! I took my (96-year-young) mother out to Patsy's to see Brennen Leigh (and the handsome Leo Rondeau too!) the other night, and Brennen was missing her wayward brother (something about a real job?) but that was just fine as she introduced me to one of country music's finest players (singers, too, I learned two days later).
Greg Garing was playing honkytonk piano for money in his pre-teen years, then went to Nashville at age 16 and was blown away by the music of Bill Monroe. Later he would jam with the founder of bluegrass music (so it is said) and play in the band with the King of Bluegrass, the recently and very dearly departed Jimmy Martin. [He also made 36 records with Vassar Clements.] Garing has also found the time to become expert in blues, jazz, and "electronica" (whatever that is!) and, yes, to play a little honkytonk with members of Roy Acuff's band.
So why is this legendary player, last domiciled in Noo Yawk City, here in Austin? To play great music, of course. With Brennen he brought out his fiddle, mandolin, and guitar and my mother said he was "pretty good" -- and she is a woman not easily impressed. [Just in the past few years she has seen Willie Nelson and Brenda Lee at her hometown venue, and now she has gone from the short to the tall of it with Brennen Leigh!] But I digress!
Garing then played an unpublicized gig at Flipnotics on Monday, following a sparkling set (mostly missed by me!) by Shotgun Party -- a band featuring Katy Cox on fiddle, Christopher Crepps on bass, and the amazing Jenny Parrott on guitar and in which everyone sings (including on this night guest trumpeter and raconteur Oliver Steck). I, for example, had missed the tossing of flowers into the audience -- but I will surely NOT miss their CD release party at the Continental Club on July 30th.
Katy stuck around to play fiddle with Garing (along with a bassist whose name escapes me -- sorry!), who this night played only his guitar -- and reminded us that Bill Monroe had told him that the guitar was not a solo instrument in a bluegrass band. But who cared? Katy's fiddle solos were sparkling, and Greg's vocals were beyond beyond -- Orbison level stuff!
Lots of Garing originals and dotted with covers of songs by legends with whose bands he has performed -- and a rousing rendition of "Deep Ellum Blues." Maybe the highlight of the evening was Greg's version of the Hank Williams gospel tune, "When God Comes To Gather His Jewels."

Brennen Leigh with Greg Garing; Greg Garing with Katy Cox at Flipnotics; Jenny Parrott with Oliver Steck enjoying Katy and Greg -- note the flower in the ear.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lonesome Heroes on the Road Again
Landry McMeans and Rich Russell of the Lonesome Heroes at Ego's -- but check out Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (Fat City, Starland Vocal Band) when they were about the same age (nearly 40 years ago). Below: Austin Mayor Will Wynn greets the audience at the Band of Heathens DVD taping at Antone's -- and sticks around for the entire (fabulous!) show. Ricky Stein helps dad Rick Stein sing a Ricky Stein song at the Hole in the Wall -- see them again next Tuesday at the Hole.
Gotta tell you about the Jane Bond and Chad Tracy CD release at the Hole in the Wall (June 2) and at Freddie's (June 3).

The real star of the Lonesome Heroes just might be Helga -- Rich Russell's VW microbus that is about to turn 400,000 miles, much of that carrying Rich and singing partner (and best pal) Landry McMeans across the country the past few summers (Landry says she WILL finish college but no summer school please!).

But this daring duo (who sometimes play with co-conspirators but not this night at Ego's) has taken flight (leaving Helga behind) for a one-month tour of New York City and environs (Rich's hometown stomping grounds) where they are debuting their brand-new CD (recorded live at Flipnotics by Daren Appelt), "Sunny Eyed Highway Songs." Soon the Heroes will be showing off their new songbook (with lots of Landry drawings along with good stuff from their travels) -- and, yes, they will be back in Austin before beginning the second leg of their summer 2007 marathon (in which Helga will be the star!).

Rich mostly plays guitar, with Landry on dobro, but sometimes they switch up, and of course both sing and write their songs. The new CD begins with "Sunny Eyed Highway," which celebrates the "highway queen" (Helga, we presume!). Folks, this is dancing music -- and, yes, as promised, psychedelic alt-country that lightens the heart and makes you laugh. [In addition to the new threads shown above, Landry says she also has a red hot red outfit, too!] Michael Bilger plays upright bass and Sarah Stollak fiddle on most of these tracks, adding to the joy.

Landry contributed three (or is it five?) songs to this collection, including the beautiful "Canary," the haunting "Stardust" (wait a million years and I'll be shining like the sun), and "Headlights on the Highway," which speaks about "the teenaged girls [who] look twice my age in New York City" and makes you feel like you are in the bus with the band. At the Ego's show, she honored her parents on their 33rd anniversary as wonderful role models for true love.

Rich wrote the rest [well, the jacket says so!], including "Don't Play to Lose," the title cut (and great sing-along) from their earlier EP, "Halos Above Our Heads," and crowd favorite "Oyster," which features a tantalizing dobro and fiddle interplay. Landry also sings "The Moon and the Sun" (I'm just a shadow in the light), while Rich takes the lead on "Scattered Thoughts" (another traveling song) and "Drunken Pirate Ship," which features a WICKED fiddle solo by the Austin Fiddlah! The CD closes with a 5-minute version of "Still [choosing?] Life" (the Seldom Scene would love this stuff!) -- "Sing for a land that we will one day call our own."

Maybe my other favorite here is "Visions of Yesterday" (is that not what this band is really ALL about?). Rich lets us know that "these visions of yesterday are leaving me with a bittersweet smile, and I don't know where to go." And yet, the road beckons, and the tender twosome treks on -- in search of the next adventure.

Every time I hang out with Rich and Landry, I remember "Fat City," that insanely joyful band put together by Billy Danoff and Taffy Nivert long before Billy co-wrote songs with John Denver (including "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado") and Emmy Lou Harris ("Boulder to Birmingham," the tribute to Gram Parsons), and he and Taffy formed the Starland Vocal Band ("Afternoon Delight").

I spent many an evening with Bill and Taffy at the 2121 Pennsylvania Avenue club (and elsewhere) and always recall the joy they had singing and sharing life together -- a joy that came to a crashing halt nearly three decades ago after their summer TV series (which introduced David Letterman to television) was not renewed and the band broke up.

Rich assures us that the alt-country Wednesdays at Headhunters will continue in their absence and mentioned that the "Down Here Band," which just arrived from Wisconsin, will be hosting while the Heroes are on the road. OUR hope is that these kids will still be as fresh as the new fallen snow after their NEXT 400,000 miles .....

TIDBITS -- Tallest Heathen (and Dartmouth grad) Gordy Quist will be debuting his solo CD (done in Nashville and reportedly magnificent) later this month in Austin and his hometown Houston area ... the slimmed-and-trimmed down (and, yes, barefoot) Heathen bassist Seth Whitney tied the knot a week ago (and, yes, he cried at his own wedding, we are told by a reliable source) ... This leaves Colin Brooks as the lone bachelor in the fab four, but girls remember this is the same fearless (and often barefoot) picker whose favorite food is "Cornbread" and favorite entertainment personality is Larry the Cable Guy (or maybe Jim Carrey as "The Cable Guy") -- AND his once-long locks have not grown back.

All kidding aside, Colin, Seth, Gordy and the amazing Ed Jurdi were joined on stage at Antone's (for the live DVD recording) by John Chipman on drums and Chip Dolan on keyboards and accordian for one of the finest hours I have ever spent at the storied club. And why not? Fat Caddy Records and the boys treated the entire crowd not only to a great evening of music but also to a free dinner of jambalaya, green beans, cornbread, and red beans and rice supplied by Gene's New Orleans PoBoys -- with Gene himself serving out some of the great food!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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