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

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Dangerous Women of Shotgun Party

Okay, already. It has been a few weeks, and we are just now getting around to reviewing one of our favorite debut recordings of the year -- by the raucous trio known as Shotgun Party. I ran into singer-songwriter Jenny Parrott (and her newly shorn locks) and fiddle phenom Katy Rose Cox at Headhunters where they too were enjoying the music of transplanted North Dakotan Leo Rondeau and the return to Austin of Helga the VW van and her caretakers -- Rich Russell and Landry McMeans, aka the Lonesome Heroes.

Listening to Shotgun Party's music is like taking a trip back in time -- and into an alternate universe as well. Parrott, a Connecticut Yankee who honed her craft in Poughkeepsie (New York) at Vassar College, shakes and shimmies all over the stage (or even off the stage -- imagine a folkie mosh pit!). Cox, who grew up in Austin, furthered her education in Denver and honed her performance on both coasts, finds notes that have a sirenic effect on male and female alike. Bassist Christopher Crepps rounds out the trio, though Shotgun Party shows might also be graced by the presence of the maestro Oliver Steck and/or various others.

Then there are the lyrics -- often bawdy, often expressing youthful innocence, but always romantic (nostalgic). It is as though a grown-up Shirley Temple were bodyswapping back and forth with Bette Midler. The CD opens with "Gladiola," and right away Katy Rose takes us on a journey through Jenny's living room of the mind, where she is singing a "new tune" that lilts up and down with her own movements on stage. "New Mexico" tells the tale of a girl about to be jilted, while "Haunted House Bear" goes back in time to where the fishing was good and there never was any danger.

"BNSF" is a waltz about a train ride romance ... that sounds like the Sons of the Pioneers especially during the chorus. "Tiger Stripes" asks "how did she become a woman before me?" This is toe-tapping music that only the spiritually dead can listen to without at least dancing in the heart. "Holy Needles" is Jenny in a boat rowing and rowing while "you provide the note," and each note is "a drop of water in my heart's wooden wheel."

Then there's "Mama," a dirge in which Jenny asks "Mama, what can you do for me? I stand at the ocean and its ghost I see" -- every day. How can Mama fix a broken heart? Or maybe a broken "Little Heart Tune"? This is pure Charleston -- about a guy who should have left "my heart to me." For the first time on the CD, Crepps gets to show us his marvelous bass licks. Then it is "Yell Out the Chords," about a man with a wandering eye ... a minor key sensation with Jenny's classic wobbling vocal and Katy's wicked fiddle hoping to "bring that true love out."

Then it's "Devil Town," where our gal is home with the devil helping him put on his makeup for his show. "When You Take a Lover" is a warning not to -- try to please or even to learn his heartaches -- because you will just cry when he says goodbye. [Clearly our Jenny has watched a LOT of very old black and white movies.] This is the song with the quiet chorus that includes the entire audience "ooh-ooh-ing." Then it's "Pickled Eggs," a great fiddle tune -- "my heart is aching with an awful sorrow with thoughts of you that you are gonna leave." And here again, we get some great licks from Crepps -- trust me, live and in person the whoops are HUGE!

Finally, it's time for "Travelin' On," and yes Jenny wrote this one too. We're back to the Sons of the Pioneers and Jenny as Dale Evans. Now here's a tip. The band name is Shotgun Party, but it's a "bang bang tee hee" kind of name .... and any time you want to have a real party, get to one of their shows. These gals are WONDERFUL!

And while I am on the subject -- Lonesome Heroes is moving their Wednesday night alt-country showcase from Headhunters to the Hole in the Wall starting in September. I would write more about them and Leo, but you already know (or can find in the archives) what a great songwriter Leo is -- you might NOT know that he is becoming a much better on-stage PERFORMER!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Even My Mother Likes James Hand!

Jane Bond and Chad Tracy (right) opened for James Hand on Sunday at Jovita's.

What was not to like about the set that Jane Bond and Chad Tracy played at Jovita's on Sunday? Some brand new songs mixed in with real oldies and songs from their debut duet CD (previously reviewed by flanfire -- check our archives). Some say that Chad's younger brother is even more handsome than he, while others prefer Chad's more rugged countenance -- and great guitar licks! But Jane -- especially this fresh, happy Jane -- is singing better than ever!

For my party-loving mother, and for many ladies in particular throughout the audience, James Hand was more than enough real man. The once-troubled troubadour (his songs tell us all we ever need to know about his personal struggles over the years) has mellowed into a gentleman's gentleman, coursing through the tables to greet just about everyone in the house even before he took the stage -- and promising to visit everyone who came in late in between sets.

Alone on the stage with just his guitar, Hand began with four or five songs of his that he may not even have given a title to yet -- that is, after opening with "Just a Heart." Oftentimes he would stop and tell the story of the song, or another story about his life and times. Women -- my mom included (and she's 96!) -- were on the edge of their seats cherishing every spoken word almost as much as Hand's butterscotch vocals that melted across the stage.

We could only stay for the first of two sets, during which he did perform his parakeet song, another about an angelic woman (who would put up with "only a man"), the very honest "I Know What It's Like To Be Lonely," the autobiographical (??) "Old Man with an Old Song," and a rollicking number that opens with a tale of a man sitting on a gold mine of overturned moonshine -- and my favorite, "What Little I Have Left Is Shore Yours To Use."

Earlier in the week, I stopped by KLBJ-FM to catch a live acoustic (two-song) set from MP2 -- that new Austin band featuring Malford Milligan on vocals, Phil Brown on guitar, Mark Andes on bass, and the amazing Pat Mastelotto on drums. Later that evening, I joined the boys and my pal Bob Feldman the stratocaster king (whose own band the Urban Vibrators will be at Nuno's on Sixth a couple times in September) for their electric set at the Saxon Pub.

This is a quartet of rock music veterans whose performance skills are second to nobody's here in Austin (or for that matter anywhere else!) and whose member have a lot of material in their repertoire -- from Brown's "La La Land" off his own Cruel Inventions and his reinterpretations of various Jimi Hendrix tunes to Malford's "Bluest Eyes" and his cover of Craig Ross' "Don't Make Me Cry" (also from his Storyville days) to brand-new songs penned just for MP2 like "Maybe" and "Gasoline" and "Queen." Look for lots of guitar solos juxtaposed against an amazing rhythm section and Malford's and Phil's own contrasting rough and smooth vocals.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Blues Mafia Comes of Age!

What a difference a year -- and a whole lotta practice -- can make! Take Blues Mafia, the "teenager" band whose members blew away the competition at the Austin School of Music's Rock Camp USA Austin last summer. Based on their growth both personally and on stage over the past 12 months, it is a very good bet that this time next year they will be THE BUZZ at the 2008 Austin City Limits Music Festival.

It was just a year ago that Blues Mafia emerged from Dave Sebree's Rock Camp USA as the new kid band on the block. Lead singer Sasha Ortiz had just graduated from high school and was on her way to California before reassessing her options and deciding to stick around Austin. Guitarist Max Frost was just 14, and his voice was still changing, while drummer Chris Copeland, bassist Kai Roach, and guitarist Patrick Mertens were all 16 and headed into their junior year of high school.

The kids started out doing short sets for the city's movies in the parks program, the Paramount's Young Director's Cut Awards Show, a benefit concert at the firehouse in Manchaca, and, yes, at City Hall on New Year's Eve. The band really began to take off, though, after agreeing to host a monthly get-together of teenager bands at Jovita's. "Second Saturdays" (which sometimes happens on Sundays! here in Austin) brought out lots of players (including some elder statesmen of Austin rock!) and listeners for what soon became longer sets.

Every month, it seemed, Blues Mafia just got better. Copeland and Roach moved from one side project (Rubber Monster) to another (Joker, also featuring J. W. Wright), Mertens switched from his SG to a Stratocaster, Roach honed up his Clarence Henry voice for the band's version of "Summertime Blues" and he and Mertens upgraded their own harmony and lead vocals -- and Ortiz began singing on weekdays at major blues jams about town. The quintet also worked on their songwriting and performance -- and all but Ortiz spent another two weeks at Rock Camp.

The result has been nothing short of phenomenal. These "kids" are no longer a "teenager band" in Austin but a group of seasoned professionals who are both helping to build the future of Austin music among their peers and wowing audiences with their intricate rhythms, blazing vocals (including harmonies), and synchronized twin leads.

Their 17-song Friday night set at Jovita's opened with two originals, "Freedom Song" and "Alone," that reminded this ancient mariner of his days with Sixties Rock -- and then got everyone all shook up with a rousing rendition of "Jailhouse Rock." Later it was their brand-new "I'm on Fire" (funkier and slower till the jam at the end) followed by Stevie Ray's "Texas Flood." Max took the lead on "Killing Floor" and Patrick on "Outside Woman Blues," then Sasha was back leading the entire house in "(I've Got My) Mojo Working." My personal favorite, "Too Long," features an amazing solo by Patrick at the end, but then again "Waiting on My Love" showcased band member swapping leads one line at a time. "Higher" and "Devil's Jam" can be heard at their myspace page, and the final song of the evening was "The Man," which sounds (musically) like the Quicksilver Messenger Service version of Hamilton Camp's "Pride of Man."

The band was out again on Saturday night, closing out a "Perfect Storm" evening at Ruta Maya that began with sets featuring Penny Jo Pullus and Paul Pearcy, both of whom were back on stage for the wonderful set from Greezy Wheels (which also features Kai's dad David Roach on keyboards, Cleve Hattersley on guitars and vocals, Sweet Mary Hattersley on fiddle and vocals, the lovely Lissa Hattersley on lead vocals, and Johnny Jordan on seven-string bass). The band did 10 songs, inclduing the title track of their new CD "String Theory" and my personal favorite "Yo Yo Yo" from HipPop. The Greezys (whose Austin musical roots go back three decades including a 25-year layoff before their grand return for the Soap Creek Saloon reunion show a few years back) closed with Sweet Mary on "Orange Blossom Special" and the gospel tune "99-1/2 Won't Do."

Next up on Saturday was the amazing Barbara K (backed by Jordan, Pearcy on conga drum, and Richard Bowden on fiddle) in an ensemble she calls "Ghosts and Sparrows." The audience was graced and challenged by Thom the World Poet when Barbara's guitar battery died, and later Thom joined the band onstage for a reprise of his warning about our loss of freedoms. Barbara (Timbuk 3 for those who may not remember) allowed as how she is spending most of her time these days in her living room and very little playing out -- but if she has any more songs half as powerful as the few she shared this evening, Austin needs to coax this local treasure (24 years here!) out of the shadows and into the night lights much more often.

And can I say that Bowden's playing (he is a veteran of the Maines Brothers Band, Don Henley, and many many others) this evening was reminiscent of David Laflamme of It's a Beautiful Day (whom Bowden admits was one of his early influences) -- and so Barbara, too, reminded me of the late great Pattie Santos of that seminal San Francisco band -- or even more appropriately, of the "White Bird" of whom they so eloquently sang.

My Saturday evening began, however, at Flipnotic's new space at the Triangle (where Lamar meets Guadalupe) -- where I caught part of a well received set from Darin Murphy and his band (Johnny Vogelsang on bass, Cory Glazer on guitar and Trip Wiggins on drums). Nice stage, good sound, and by the way no cover charge -- the place is all one big room. Nathan Hamilton is playing there on Wednesdays, and Matt the Electrician and Southpaw Jones on Thursdays these days. It's still the same great Flip's -- just a little yuppier audience.

I cannot quit without mentioning the Lost and Nameless Orchestra, which opened for Blues Mafia at Jovita's on Friday night ... in their acoustic trio mode (that is, without bassist Harmoni Kelley or drummer Joe Molloy). Singer-songwriter (and recording engineer) Patrick Conway and multi-instrumentalist Chris Peterson secured a lifetime friendship by busking across Europe in 1994 -- and their music shows their rapport well. Joining them on stage was keyboardist Nathan Quiring -- and sometimes it sounded like there was a real orchestra backing them up. ALSO on stage for much of the evening was the beautiful Ciara Conway (Patrick's daughter), whose dancing was much like the music itself -- uplifting and spiritually restful.

"Golden" and "Ciara" were both written for our dancer; other favorites included "Counting Stars" and the stark "Put Down Your Gun." They also rocked the crowd with "Streets of Bakersfield," which they once performed at an all-Tejano bar whose denizens hardly looked up during the rest of their set but who whooped and hollered when they heard something familiar.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Lioness, The Witch and the Summer Wardrobe!

Drummer George Duron (l) and John Leon, Jon Sanchez, and bassist Marty Hobratschk (r) make up The Summer Wardrobe, aka "Evilhook Wildlife E.T." when backing Roky Erickson.
While at Ming's on Guadalupe last Monday, I ran into my pal John Leon, pedal steel player for The Summer Wardrobe, and he urged me to come out to the Hole in the Wall on Friday for their next show. [The guys will also be backing Roky Erickson again in late October for three HUGE shows on the Left Coast.] Suzanna Choffel would also be on the bill, and I had not seen her in far too long. Plus the Hole has great beer choices!
But before dessert, there must be dinner -- so my first stop of the evening was Central Market to introduce my wife, my mom, and my 13-year-old (handsome) grandson to the Seth Walker Band (and some tasty victuals, too!). There's July, hanging with drummer Damien Llanes -- not pictured are Seth, bassist Lindsay Greene, and keyboardist Stefano Intelisano. Sure, it was a little hot -- but the band was hotter! So was their music. The cat in the hat is still where it's at!
Later at the Hole, I walked in to the sounds of New Jersey native (and Long Beach resident) Holly Light, who is touring with her new CD "Forgiveness Road." Holly is traveling with percussionist (and California native) Lori Valesko, but she added Austin's Sarah Glynn to play lead guitar for her this evening. Holly was de-light-ful, but wow Sarah's solo on Holly's "Give It Everything You Got" was the ZuZu's flan of this set. [Austin homer that I yam!] Holly, with her blonde hair and blue blue eyes and raucous voice and rhythm guitar, was a real lioness on stage.
Holly's Austin hostess, it turns out, was also the next up on the stage -- the girl next door, high school athlete, and bluejeans and bobbysox Suzanna Choffel. Except that once Suzanna steps on stage, by some magical powers she is transformed into SUPERDIVA (just ask her producer!). This is the woman who spent the whole evening before the show out on Lake Travis floating on the water and looking up at the meteor shower and somehow staying up long enough to catch a few rays that she says reddened her tender skin.
On stage, though, Suzanna turns into Circe (check out Brian Keane's Odysseus for details!), mesmerizing her audience while turning men's (and doubtless other) heads upside down. My vision for the evening was Suzanna surrounded by a dozen cobras, all bobbing their heads to her music as she charmed them back into their baskets. Her band for the evening included Brad Houser (New Bohemians, Critters Buggin') on bass clarinet and baritone sax, Johnny Vogelsang (Soulhat, Sheboygan) on bass and backing vocals, and Jeremy Bruch (What Made Milwaukee Famous) on drums -- and was more than capable of spreading the bossanova-influenced jazzy funk throughout the Hole.
For Suzanna, the guitar is a rhythm instrument, almost percussion, and so the bass instruments carry the melody. This night's set was almost disappointingly short -- seven songs -- but then again, just how writhed up did we need to get? Opening with "Feel Like I Won't Fall," and closing with her classic "Hey Mister," with "Rain Cloud" and four other songs in between, all including various squawks and guttural sounds from Houser's twin towers of sound, Suzanna proved yet again why she is on the way to bigger stages -- in fact, on her way to Arizona and New Mexico (where she went to college!) later this month. Her Tuesday shows at Momo's also include Laura Scarborough on vibes (very good vibes, one might add) and no telling what other concoctions of smoke and mist and shudders and rings and Merlinesque magic.
And, of course, Suzanna's sturm und drang was the perfect entree into The Summer Wardrobe, which opened with four brand-new songs being performed in public for the very first time!!!!! Jon Sanchez says he has a bunch more about ready for performance, but that we may have to wait till after the band returns from fronting Roky at the end of October to hear them. Then, perhaps, it will be off to the studio to work on the followup to my favorite recording of 2006.
Jonny and John combine to send audiences into the heavenlies with music that ranges from Pink Floyd to the most psychedelic Byrds (especially when Jon switches to his sparkly 12-string that reminisces McGuinn's finest hours), while George and Marty hold the whole thing together. The band opened with the hot off the lyric sheets "Cajun Prairie Fire" (Jon IS from Baton Rouge!) and the equally brand-new "The Desert Sadness." Next up was an amazing song, "Ocotillo Sundown," and then my very favorite of the newbies -- "One Long Time Feeling," which again evokes memories of the late great Byrd, Gene Clark.
Then it was a steady diet of songs from the debut CD -- Sparkle and Fade, Outcry in the Barrio, Blind, Ned Kelly, and more -- finishing with a flourish as Jon and John displayed the full range of their musical repertoire and left many in the audience mesmerized. Bass players Houser, Jeff Johnston and Zachary Firnhaber were all in the house just for the show. The band will be playing the Continental Club on September 27th -- and maybe we WILL get a preview of more of their new songs at that time. All I can say is that listening to The Summer Wardrobe always leaves me feeling as though I just took a swim in pristine waters and downed some Turkish delight that did NOT come from the witch's kitchen.

Suzanna the enchantress; July with Damien Llanes; Holly Light(s) it up!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Moving Month of Music!

Flanfire has not posted in over a month -- but there is a reason. We have been moving (a) from our old house in Austin to our new house in Austin and (b) from our very old house in Louisiana to our new house in Austin and (c) from my daughter's house in Austin to her new house in New Mexico.

Not to worry. We have hardly missed any significant music events -- just a few photos (which may be just as well, given the state of our camera). So herewith is a rundown of some of the best we have seen during the past 30 days or so. Except that I will save my review of the new SHOTGUN PARTY CD (and CD release party) for later.
But I WILL say that bassist Christopher Crepps was having a blast playing with the wonderful singer-songwriter-danceronstage Jenny Parrott (who hails from Connecticut) and the AMAZING Katie Cox, whose fiddle playing is leaving folks about town breathless! And I will ALSO say that the band was followed that charmed evening at the Continental Club by the Greg Garing Band, and on this occasion Mr. Garing picked up his own fiddle (putting down his guitar) and joined Miss Cox for some sizzling duets. But alas you will have to wait for the whole story......
Way back on the Fourth of July, we stopped into Momo's to catch Warren and the Hoodlums (featuring Lefty Nafziger on guitar), and were doubly blessed when the graduate -- Phoebe Hunt -- showed up to sing a couple of numbers. OK, Nate Rowe and Damien Llanes and Marshall Hood were also in the band -- as usual -- and as usual it was all good.
The REAL reason I was there, tho, was to catch Matt the Electrician and HIS band, which included Sick on fiddle and Seela on backing vocals plus Tom Pearson and John Green (I think). Matt has been doing Wednesdays at Momo's ever since -- but on THIS sacred occasion he broke out Stars and Stripes Forever on the euphonium! And he did a great cover of Dave Alvin's King of California plus songs from his wonderful new CD (which we have reviewed).
I somehow remember a little of a show at Ego's with Bryce Clifford and Honor Farm (with Jay "Boo" Tonne and the lovely Lacey Pipkin along with Yamal Said on drums and Doug Walseth and Zachary Firnhaber who both used to play in Crawling with Kings and may one day again do so even though lead singer Brian Dyer has moved to Chicago for now). Bryce had Zach plus Kullen Fuchs on trumpet and Landis Armstrong on lead guitar and I forget the guest drummer but he was darn good -- that's him in the photo .... and people were talking about that show for weeks. [Have to note here that I saw Lacey's young cousin Lily Pipkin playing drums at the Austin School of Music's Rock Camp USA showcase last weekend and that little piano player may yet make her name known in the Austin woman drummer brigade.] Was it also that night that Bourland had his theramin on display?
Then there was the gig in LaGrange at the Bugle Boy with Brian Keane and Rachel Loy (not moving to Nashville until December, I am told!) plus the lanky (6-10 or more) Eric Hanke (who also got his jazz singer mother up on stage for a number). Eric has just moved down to South Padre Island for a season or two and may be hard to find in and around Austin for a while, but his sincere songs and quiet spirit were a special treat for my 96-year-old mom who did not want to miss such a great night for a drive in the country or the good tunes and vibes at what is certainly the best place to visit in LaGrange since the demise of the Chicken Ranch. Owner Lane Gosnay is the Jessie Williams of great music you can actually hear sung!
Okay -- so I play down the Keane-Loy duet and the songs from Rachel's brand-new CD which is getting rave reviews (Carl Thiel produced it -- no wonder!) Brian and Rachel BOTH took full advantage of the Bugle Boy piano, and Brian DID indeed do Odysseus and his unmentionable number about his jealousy over that Jesus guy. And a couple other numbers that made us laugh -- but he can also write songs that make you cry. One of the very best honest guys.
Which brings me back to Eldridge Goins, who produced Brian's first CD and just got back from Europe in time though to play Monday night (as he will most Mondays from 8 till 10) at my favorite Chinese fast food place in Austin (as well as Houston), Ming's Cafe. Owner Fai Jow has taken over the former HQ of Little City coffees just north of the Hole in the Wall and south of Kerbey Lane on Guadalupe -- NO MSG and great dishes prepared with love and gusto to your own specifications!!!!! But I digress from the point - which is that El is on Mondays doing the jazz trio thing with Brad Houser and Laura Scarborough -- standards like Autumn Leaves and Whatever Lola Wants and How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky?). Brad, who doubles up on bass and one of his saxophones, is the longtime member of Edie Brickell's New Bohemians and Critters Buggin -- but you all knew that.
I had MISSED Adam McInnis' great show at Momo's but caught up with him at the Saxon Pub this past Monday (that was before going to Ming's), and folks you MUST catch this wonderful guy before it starts costing too much. He will be back at the Saxon on August 23rd and at Momo's sometime sooner -- all of which brings me to talk about ANOTHER show I recently saw at the Saxon Pub (during the NAAM weekend).
There is this little band calling itself MP2 -- Malford Milligan, Mark Andes, Phil Brown and Pat Mastelotto. Playing a little funk mixed with some Jimi Hendrix and original numbers too..... These guys are playing Thursdays at Cedar Street before growing crowds, and they blew the doors off the Saxon following a rousing set from the Resentments (who were joined for a special Saturday show by the legendary John Sebastian) and the Austin debut of Phoenix-based Blue Smoke which features Hungarian bluesman Meklos on guitar. MP2 started out with Crossroads and moved into Phil's La La Land, followed by a Boneshakers song (one of the many bands Malford has fronted) and lots more. I have only rarely seen David Cotton so pumped as he was that evening!
And no wonder. Mastelotto, whose resume includes King Crimson, Mr. Mister, XTC, and the experimental progressive trio KTU, quietly and very carefully sets up his arsenal, every weapon in its place, ready to fire when called upon. This night there are 12 pieces of metal and lots of bells, shells, and other noisemakers. To his left and right are the gunslingers -- Andes, California cool exemplified (I call him Austin's George Hamilton!), the man who put the Heart in Spirit and the Spirit in Heart and in between rode hard with JoJo Gunne. Brown, whose reinterpretation of the legendary Hendrix (who by the way was a soulmate of Randy California, Mark's Spirit bandmate) is making him known all over Europe, is also a singer and songwriter of excellent quality whose normally smooth voice (which was quite rough one early morning at KGSR and KLBJ) blends well with Malford's rough and tumble growls. And then there is the master himself -- whom I first saw performing with this trio at Nuno's on Sixth a few months back. We shall see if this band holds together long enough to tour on big stages (as it well might). Tommy Stephenson, who has played with the Eagles, Joe Walsh and The Band, has just moved to Austin, may be on stage with MP2 from time to time, we are told.
And, oh boy, I have not even begun to talk about the great kid bands I saw at Rock Camp last Saturday -- including three young tallboys from Minnesota and the cutest seven-year-old (Claudia something) fronting a band with kids much older and running the stage like a very young Cyndi Lauper.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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