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

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wendy, Alpha Rev, and the Rocketboys!

What a wonderful present for any occasion -- the brand-new Wendy Colonna two-CD plus DVD, "Old, New, Borrowed and Blue: Live at Antone's." Twenty songs, all but two Wendy originals, that take us from her first song ever written in her high school daze to the brand-new (at the time) "Your Parade," which is part 1 of her Peter Pan trilogy (parts 2 and 3 to come). Wendysongs include "We," "Dirty Wife," "Bound to Fall," Easy," "October" (with a tease of "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" to open), "Weight of the World," "Thunder," "Girls of Stone" (WOW!), "May Day," "Hey," "Vacancy," "Right Where I Belong," "Sodom," "Does It Satisfy," "Hold Me Tight," "Nothin' Gonna Take My Love," and "Coffee Today." Wendy and her band also cover Neal Kassanoff's "Noah" and Wendy and guitarist Chad Pope swap lyrics in the Ike and Tina Turner song, "Poor Little Fool."

Speaking of the band -- Eldrige Goins on drums, Harmoni Kelley on bass, Pope on guitar, Dave Madden on keyboards (and a little guitar) -- plus special guests Will Taylor and Shawn Sanders on viola and cello and Simon Wallace on harmonica on some of the tunes. Wendy also coaxed cameo backup vocals from Ed Jurdi, Shelley King, Mat Edmunson, and Nakia on the anthemic "Nothin' Gonna Take My Love." The REAL backing vocals were from every band member.

I had much earlier reviewed the concert itself (see the archives), so these comments focus on the product -- which is superior in every respect. The DVD, produced by ME Television's Shane Metcalf, features interviews with Wendy pals Shelley King, Guy Forsyth, Ginger Leigh, and others ... plus two bonus tracks and an informative interview with Wendy herself -- and 11 songs out of the 20 in the main DVD section. The concert itself was done in two acts -- Act 1 with Wendy wearing a soft outfit and flowers in her hair, Act 2 with the funkier, sexier Wendy.

Give this package to anyone you know in the phony bologna music business to show them what a REAL Louisiana woman can do WITH HER CLOTHES ON -- there is absolutely no comparison with Wendy's genuine songwriting, singing, and performance talent (not to mention her true earthiness and the poetry in her very fingers as well as on the pages she writes) with that Disneyland produced nonsense that poses for commercial music today.

Speaking of Wendy, I was out at the Saxon Pub the other day to catch her new trio -- Chad Pope on guitar, Dave Madden on keyboards, and Wendy on guitar -- and all on vocals. The big news here was the debut of a new song, "Texas Summer Love," which officially qualifies Wendy for the Texas Music Hall of Fame some day down the road. I got to the pub in time for Beth Black's set - thanks to a standing invite from pedal steel player Kim Deschamps. What a backing band -- hubby Kevin Robinson on drums (from Charlie Robison's band, too), Paul LeMond on guitar, and Cole El-Saleh on keyboards.
My evening was completed with a wonderful show from Casey McPherson and Alpha Rev. Candy Sanders is powerful on vocals and keyboards and Brian Batch appears transformed, playing like Superman, on his blue violin. Dave Wiley plays the cello (or perhaps the "skelo," as this instrument had no body). The rhythm section of Alex Dunlap on bass and Tommy Roalson on drums were right on time, and Zak Loy way over in the corner contributed well to the sound on guitar. And that, of course, is what Alpha Rev is all about -- the vocals are just another of many instruments as McPherson (as he did in Indochine, I am told) creates a wall of sound but even moreso a tapestry upon which the message comes through organically and you hear the words not so much rationally but rather as part of the whole.

Much of the music was from "The Greatest Thing I've Ever Learned," including "Big Blow," which Casey says is about the breakup of a prior relationship. "Colder Months" -- for which the band won the American Songwriter contest -- was another treat ... More than a year ago, my friend Teresa Green had herself just discovered McPherson and Alpha Rev's music and I knew I needed to see this band -- but for some odd reason it took a long time ... and now I am eager to hear these guys (and the fabulous Sweet Darkness!) many many more times. Those geezers who liked the Moody Blues will be thrilled to hear this symphonic music -- Batch (whom I think is STILL in college) seems to have found a niche playing this music that is reminiscent of Ray Thomas on the flute with the Moodys (see Legend of a Mind, aka Timothy Leary's Dead).

Later in the week it was over to Antone's to check out the five finalists in "The Sound and the Jury," Dell Lounge's promotion to find the final band for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Out of 600 entrants, these guys got the most votes -- and I say "guys" because there was not a single female on the stage the entire evening except for one member of the video crew. First up was the lone non-Texas band in the finals (who had to be really really good to get that many people to vote for them in an Austin-centered contest), Flashing Blue Light out of Athens, Georgia -- and, yes, they handed out rings with a flashing blue light! These guys rocked the house with some energetic, joyous music and lots of hopping around on stage (except for the keyboard player, who had broken his heel jumping off the Dell Stage the day before -- thrilled to be in Austin with a shot at the big stage, we guess). I met JJ the big tall drummer, and then other members of the band -- two brothers from Akron, Ohio (home of Chrissie Hynde and many other rockers) provide the songwriting impetus for the group, with the guitarists and rhythm section mostly Georgia boys.

Next up was the eventual winner - Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys, out of Abilene. This six-piece band (with up to three keyboards plus two xylophones and of course guitars) started with low energy but built to a mighty crescendo with their signature song, "Heartbeat," which had their many fans (three of the band members hail from Van, a very small town in east Texas about half an hour west of Tyler) singing out loud and others joining in. Bandleader Brandon Kinder and guitarist Mitchell Holt hail from Memphis and met up with their bandmates out at Abilene Christian University -- and, yes, the band will one day soon be playing a special show in Huntsville, Alabama, for their namesake and hero, NASA's Homer Hickam (whose story was told in the movie "October Sky"). Other band members are Josh Campbell (bass), Philip Ellis (drums), Daniel Wheeler (guitar and keys) and Justin Wiseman (keys).

Third up was Taylor Muse and Quiet Company, who are pals of the Rocketboys (having played several gigs together) and who left a nice road trip to Florida to get back for the Austin shows. This three-piece band (Muse and Thomas Blank who play guitar and keyboards off and on, along with hunky drummer Tim Robbins) matched the energy of Blue Flashing Light man for man and had time for five strong songs, maybe six, with titles that I would have to look up. I really like this band, too, which seems to have gotten much better than when I saw them last.

Nelo, the fourth band up was a huge crowd favorite and also had the advantage of having played at Antone's just a few days earlier, opening for Storyville. These guys play very pop, happy music with titles like "Sunny Day," Little Flowers," "Footsteps," and "Last Night" (a brand-new song with the line "rainbows running round). The band is half transplanted North Texas State University guys from Denton, half Austin guys, but oddly enough they earlier spent much time in Athens and played gigs with Blue Flashing Light long long ago. It was easy to see why the band is so loved by the mostly young female and older parental unit type fan base -- they made almost no musical mistakes, they reach to the heart, and they sound a little like Dave Mathews. Reid Umstattd and Matt Ragland carry the brunt of the vocals, Stephen Goodson powers up the electric guitar, David Long blows the crowd away on sax, and drummer Chris Hill and bassist Mike St. Clair hold down the bottom. There were some unhappy -- and quite surprised -- folks in the house when the winner turned out to be someone else.

The final group of the evening -- and surely one of the most innovative in Austin -- was Golden Bear: lead singer Chris Gregory and his merrie men, plus a four-piece horn section that helped close down the show on "Ten Thousand Orchestras." I want to hear more of Golden Bear, but on this night it was hard to hear them -- perhaps they were turned up too loud, or perhaps the sound team was exhausted and unable to cope with one more setup, but my own idea is that they rushed through the set having perhaps conceded too early the victory they might have won for themselves. This band is right up there with Future Clouds and Radar and similar Austin bands in originality and hubris -- I am eager to see them again soon.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Selling Out -- or Not for Sale?
Photos: Jenny Parrott and Christopher Crepps of Shotgun Party; Katy Rose Cox with Jenny and Chris; Pony Pants.

Craig Haskell of Goldcure; Jennifer Leonhardt at her Antone's Records CD release party; and finally Kevin Brinkkoeter of Mice and Rifles.

Just how long ago was it that Pamela Anderson was making headlines proclaiming herself as a Sunday school teacher? So what is she doing at the MTV Awards talking about how far down her throat Kanye West had put his tongue? Which of course was all in jest -- but maybe I am wondering a bit about whether our own music culture sometimes gets just a little too narcissistic. Which of course is also why some of those who with their mouths decry pruiency are being caught with their pants down in the loo.

There's a new movie coming out soon, with Kevin Kline -- it's called "Trade," and, yes, it focuses on human trafficking -- that's selling people for sex, for work, or just for kicks. Many are lured into slavery, others are made into slaves at the pointing of a gun. I will save my writing about labor slavery for another venue, but let's talk a little about child porn and child sex slavery. Not pretty words -- not that much fun. [Okay -- I will note that American companies have been known to buy raw materials, even finished products, that were forged by slave labor -- and we can demand that these companies not only stop doing so but also help stop the slavery itself!]

How about this? India has maybe 400,000 child prostitutes, while in eastern Asia a third of all sex workers are children. One of four sex workers in Brazil is a child. But did you know that slavery is rampant within the United States? Only a few days ago, here in Austin police busted a sex slavery ring -- and it is certainly not the only one here. Many other young slaves are routed through Texas on their way to brothels somewhere else. One young woman testified before Congress that she was tricked into sex slavery by a man who had promised her family she would be a maid at a luxury hotel. Instead, she was brought through Texas to Orlando and repeatedly raped by her handlers and then held at gunpoint by men who profited from her body. When she got pregnant, they forced her to have an abortion, then put her right back to work. Somehow, today she is free. Yet, she says, "I cannot forget what has happened. I can't put it behind me. I find it nearly impossible to trust people. I still feel shame. I was a decent girl in Mexico. I used to go to church with my family. I only wish none of this had ever happened."

So why do I bring this sad tale up in a music blog? Only to tell you about http://www.notforsalecampaign.org,/" a worldwide campaign to end slavery in our lifetime headed up by America's Ethics Guru, David Batstone -- who was at Mosaic in Austin Sunday afternoon. Texas' own T-Bone Burnett is the Executive Producer of Not For Sale's music platform -- one that you can join up with if you choose. And get this: as Batstone is a prof at the University of San Francisco, much of the early work of NFS has been done in that city, also a major jumping-off point for foreign-born slaves in America.

One group of USF students, under Batstone's tutelage, actually videotaped people entering and leaving a massage parlor there to help prove that the "hot Asian girls" who worked there were never allowed to leave the building -- one of the sure signs of sex slavery. Batsone was in town to help jumpstart Austin's fledgling antislavery effort -- check the website or http://www.mosaicaustin.org/ to learn more.

Yes, I do have a personal stake in this campaign -- you see, someone I know very well, a blonde American woman, was very nearly sold into sex slavery (she would have been purchased for shipment overseas) by a motorcycle gang in Phoenix that had learned selling crystal meth was lucrative, but even more lucrative was selling women addicted to crystal meth. But other women are just fed roofies and kidnapped for sale.

And, yes, music is a major liberator of people worldwide -- singer-songwriter Justin Dillon, who is traveling with Batstone, told of his visit to southern Russia a while back and meeting a young woman thrilled that she was soon to be headed to Cleveland, Ohio, to work at a McDonald's. Upon further investigation, he uncovered the fact that she, and many of her friends, were being lured into sex slavery by people who were actually demanding that they pay $2,500 US for the privilege of being sold.

One major effort -- http://www.concerttoendslavery.com/ tells you more. Featured performers include Moby, Switchfoot, members of Nickel Creek, Benmont Tench, Imogen Heap, and former Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal, who recently won an American Gospel Music award as best international artist and whose music reaches to the very heart of the slavery movement. But who knows? Maybe Austin's own "not for sale campaign" effort can get a lot of help from an Austin-based concert for human freedom.

OKAY -- Enough soapbox. Here are a few photos of Sunday night's Shotgun Party show at Beerland, where the trio shared the stage with Philadelphia's Delaware-refugee band Pony Pants and Austin's own Year of the Rat. Pony Pants is punk-inspired garage music (yes, they use drum and bass and keyboard tracks so that the Brothers Ellis can jam out while lead singer Emily writhes, howls, and leads the crowd in a celebration of life and liberty. Their new CD is called "Fives," and the band is on a five-week (oddly enough!) tour that will take them out to New Mexico and Arizona, then all the way up the West Coast and back across America. Even though they were at college together, Emily and Jenny Parrott of Shotgun Party only became "gooder" friends during Pony Pants' SXSW visit this spring. For her very first band effort, this film school wanna-be is having a very good time on the other side of the cameras.

On Saturday night, after sets by pals Slowtrain and Goldcure, I caught a set from another Austin band, Mice and Rifles -- well, a stripped down acoustic trio version of this six-piece band headed by vocalist-guitarist Kevin Brinkkoeter and featuring this night on acoustic lead Mr. Kyle Cox playing some very lovely notes. These boys (all of them) will be on the bill at the Big State Music festival at the Texas World Speedway in Bryan on October 13-14 (with Aggie Lyle Lovett as the headliner along with Willie Nelson and Tim McGraw -- but not, one presumes, the now-defunct Weary Boys who were to play the gig). Their set held me at Stubbs long enough to miss most of the Wild West Medicine Show at Scoot Inn (which was a huge hoot with hundreds of happy hokum-hunting humans). But I did get over to Antone's earlier in the day for the Jennifer Leonhardt CD release party -- with Dylan Rieck on cello and Terre Davilla on bass.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Quatropaw Rides Again -- for Gloria!

Gloria and her buds; Beth with Matt; Jason jamming hard; Beth with Derek; David and Derek (no dominoes).
It has been at least four years since Quatropaw morphed into The Addictions and its members began their journey into the world of pop punk (or whatever it is called). Lots of fans of Jason and Beth Richard -- and of Derek Hatley and David Warren (drums and bass) -- have sorely missed the Quatropaw tunes and the joyful energy that the four-piece band brought to every one of its concerts.

The Addictions have made some noise -- getting a song or two performed on the Austin-based TV series Roller Girls, and airtime on lots of radio stations here and there -- but this band (despite having virtually identical membership at the start) plays to a wholly different audience than did Quatropaw. It was the Quatropaw audience, however, that came out to Scoot Inn on a Thursday night to see their heroes -- and it was all for the benefit of bigtime Q-Paw fan Gloria Fuentes, who is battling Graves Disease. [The People vs. De La Rosa and The Scary Mondelos also played, and there was an afterparty with a DJ -- but Flanfire was having a busy night, as will be revealed, and had to focus on what mattered most.]

Maybe it was, as Jason mentioned, the result of working so hard with The Addictions, or maybe it was just the euphoria of returning to a simpler, joyous time, but the band played with ENERGY SQUARED from the opening bars of "8" through an unrehearsed encore version of "Addiction" that rocked the house. Other old favorites (this for Q-Paw fans who could not be there) included "Complicated," "Passionate" (my personal favorite), "In My Lane" (another of Beth's anniversary celebration songs), Rachel's Dream," "Little Girl's World" (the bounciest of all bouncy songs), "Shameless," and "All I Ever Wanted Was Love" -- plus the regular set finale of "Last Night" with Matt Silaski joining on vocals.

I had earlier stopped by Hills Cafe to catch a set by Brent Allen, whose new CD (produced by Stephen Doster) is due out next month. Brent, who toiled for many years on behalf of the Austin Songwriters Guild (or whatever it is called), is targeting the country charts these days, and he surely has the voice for it. Later on, I stopped by the Hole in the Wall to catch up with returning traveler Bryce Clifford, who had just finished a three-week tour of Kansas City, Toronto, New York City, and somewhere in North Carolina.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Belle(s) of Belleville Outfit
Plus The Hudsons and Leonhardt

Okay, so I went to the Hudsons CD release party at the Cactus Cafe last Wednesday and of course they have their new fiddle player -- Leah Zeger -- and she is such a prodigy that a while back she was the youngest member ever of the Austin Symphony. Poor kid was living in her car, looking for a home in Austin (she was just moving up from Houston to live here full time), but you would have never known it from her zesty playing and excellent harmony vocals.

The boys -- Hudson Mueller and Brian Hudson, plus bassist Jason Vopni (who has also improved light years as a standup bassist since I first saw him years ago down at Alice's Restaurant) -- have a new CD (Before I Sleep), but their three-hour show featured material all the way back to their high school daze (and oddly enough they are back playing Thursdays at Waterloo Ice House on 6th and Lamar, where they began their illustrious rise to become Austin's No. 1 folk group, per the Comical).

The only downer (of sorts) for the evening was that the promised CD's were late in arriving (they did have a few for paying customers), and so we did not obtain one for review. Songs on the CD include "The Problem Song," "Gringoland," and "Before It Rains" (all can be heard for a while at their myspace page) -- and I wish I could find my notes from the show to tell you all of the other cool things that happened that evening other than that I was sitting with the lovely mom and sister (Bala Soto and Stephanie Hunt) and very good friend (Sasha Ortiz) of longtime Hudsons fiddle player and singer Phoebe Hunt.

Which leads to Monday at Gruene Hall and my firt time to catch the Belleville Outfit, whose members have finally all moved to Austin to join up with Marshall Hood and of course Miss Hunt. It is easy to see why Phoebe left the Hudsons to join up with these guys (who include members of the DesChamps Band plus a couple of add-ons they picked up while lead singer and guitarist Rob Teter and bassist Jeff Brown were spending two years at Loyola University in New Orleans). First, they're younger and (well, at least guitarist Marshall Hood is!)better looking than Hud and Brian -- and they respectfully call Phoebe "Grandma" because atnot yet 23 she is the band's oldest member.

Not that the newbies are slouches -- stride pianist Connor (Corndog?) Forsyth, who hails from Tulsa and whose style has been compared to that of Oscar Peterson, spent his time in the Crescent City learning hand to hand from the legendary Ellis Marsalis. And, this young tall skinny lad is the REAL DEAL -- his fingers seem never to touch the keyboard as they fly across the black and whites to make people dance. Drummer Jonathan Konya (the lone Connecticut Yankee in the band) was also busy in Nawlins learning from top drummer Johnny Vidacovich and learning well.

Their four-hour spree on this rain-soaked afternoon in Gruene also included special guest performances by none other than Phoebe's sister Stephanie (doing her own number "Through with You" and the classic "Summertime," during which she exploded into a powerhouse halfway through the tune) and Steph's new roomie, Sasha Ortiz, who wowed the crowd FIRST by celebrating her birthday (we will not tell which one) and then by singing "Blue Skies" and "Centerpiece" as the band played on. Cake was good, too -- supplied by Phoebe's and Stephanie's mom.

The Outfit, who will be playing Jovita's (sans Phoebe, who has a more important assignment this week) this Friday before going on tour until a November 11th date at Central Market) -- so take our good advice and pack the joint! The boys promise a surprise special guest for the show. They also will be up in Nashville soon, working on a forthcoming debut CD which may (read, MAY!) be out for Christmas. Those who know that Marshall is Champ Hood's nephew will find it no surprise that the band covers a bunch of Uncle Walt's Band tunes -- and much more -- or that having once dared to use the name "DesChamps" in their band name they are up to the calling that our late and revered musical heroes provided for them.

I also took time on Sunday night to hang out with Brennen Leigh, Leo Rondeau, and Marshall Jones (and his Frontier Phrenologists) at Beerland as they put on quite a show -- but I have written enough about all of these folks to whet your appetite. But I DO have to tell all of you out there to get over to Antone's RECORDS (that's the one on Guadalupe!!!!!) on Saturday afternoon at 3 pm for a CD release party for Jennifer Leonhardt.

I caught Jennifer at Club One 15 last week and had already fallen in love with some of her music -- her "Homeland" is currently featured on my site. She is from a notorious Fort Worth musical family (she says her grandmother, who is her own inspiration, was a honky tonk singer there years ago) but grew up on the East Coast, went to the West Coast, and only recently got enough sense to land back in Texas (thank you, 2006 Kerrville Folk Festival). She is living out in Comfort and just beginning to play in and around town -- and yes she is planning to tour with the new CD, "Gods and Nations."

My OTHER favorite song on the record is "U Wear It Well" (no relation to the Rod Stewart number of a similar name) -- but how can you not like "Here Comes Trouble" (which I think is autobiographical), or "Cradle" or the title cut or "Love Junkie." [which is not to diss the other songs -- all hers except Strange Fruit]. The CD was done in New York City and a little bit in Seattle, but at the club she was using Dylan Rieck (just moved down from Seattle to do graduate work in music at UT) on cello -- and the cello carried the musical lead the whole evening; Sir Jhon Bellizia on percussion and banjo (he is also the bass player in the metal band Estrum and plays in a reggae band on the West Coast -- and hails from Grove City, PA); and very close friend James Bullard (who has played for years with Gary Clark, Jr.) on bass.

Jennifer sings with what I could only describe as a "controlled howl" -- very free and spirited, and reflective of time spent with old jazzmen and young dreamers. I like what I have heard so far, and look forward to feedback from others who give her music a listen.

So much to look forward to this weekend and then it is ACL Fest for those who dare.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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