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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Cactus Flowers!

Jenny Reynolds is a friend of mine -- she even got me a Red Sox cap on one of her trips back home to Boston. She is also a woman of quality -- and her music shows it. Jenny just released her brand-new CD "Next to You" with a show at the Cactus Cafe -- backed by a hot band whose members included her co-producers Scrappy Jud Newcomb and Mark Addison (on guitar and keyboards, respectively), bassist Lindsay Greene, and percussionists/drummers (they switched off all night long) Luke Ayres and Rob Hooper.

Sadly, I had to miss the second CD release at the Cactus that same evening, but I did stick around long enough to meet the wonderful Carrie Elkin and say hello to Dustin Welch and Colin Brooks who were part of HER band for the evening (along with the aforementioned Mark Addison, who racked up producer credits along with Brooks and Amy Burchette on this one). And then I listened to the music -- and wondered where had I been all these months? But of course Carrie tours all over America and is here just once in a while (cheesy excuse!).

Jenny Reynolds: Next to You

But to the music, Jenny first! Now everyone in her Cactus band played on the record, but so did Warren Hood and Ian McLagan and Glenn Fukanaga, and Ruthie Foster added vocals. So Jenny has to be very happy -- and yet anyone who knows her songs realizes the pathos she finds as she views the world through not so rose-colored glasses. The sultry tones that open the title cut warn us to be ready for some tough words. Here Jenny sings of being "not the marrying kind," and yet there is an alternative: "I feel like I do, I wanna be next to you."

Next up, our singer explains that there "Ain't No Reason" not to love me, while "Belong to Heaven" asks what are we to make of those who falter in life. "If we all belong to heaven, which of us is then to blame" when things do not work out according to the fairy tale? Not her job, Jenny acknowledges -- hers is just to sing the song. This is strong music, enhanced by great players who have embraced Jenny (who is always just thrilled to have a band).

"I Forget Myself" features Scrappy on acoustic guitar -- as he interprets the lyrics, "Wish I was someone else, I forget myself trying to remember you." Jenny next interprets Scrappy's own mystical "Night of the Arrival," which is followed by "Exhale," with Scrappy on 12-string guitar. This song is perhaps the highlight of the whole record -- but how sad that her first heroine "never felt the glory of the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves ... All that breathing in, don't you want to let it out somehow?" The good news of course is that Jenny herself has come through dark nights and learned to "let it out" -- and to live and love again. Great piano, Mark.

Things lighten up a little as Jenny sings of a "One Red Light Town," getting out of the city (Yea!). Warren's fiddle here helps make us all want to get back to that simpler life. [And yet it is clearly not Jenny's own town.] "Never Let Him Go" is a sad tale about the guy who left the girl (and her baby) behind after he "stole her love in a brand new Ford" -- again, Warren Hood conveys the sadness inherent in the fact that "he's gone but she'll never let him go" (even though he still thinks of her -- both of them are stuck 15 years back in time).

The live version of the Lennon-McCartney "I'm Looking Through You" is even better than the one on the record -- jazzy as all get-out, slowed down and darker -- a whole new take on this classic. Peanut plays piano here, but the guitar is all Jenny. Finally, in "A Simple Man," Jenny asks "would you take him down just because you can?" Another small-town vignette -- more evidence that this big-city woman yearns for a gentler time, a world that makes more sense. And that's what we like about this beautiful spirit -- the amazing gentleness that betrays the sometimes angry exterior. Which is why the final number, "Whiskey & Pie," makes so much sense -- it's a real HOOT kind of ditty that you gotta dance to. Rural party music. Just so we will know that the morose reflections earlier are not the sumtotal of this awesome woman (who reminds me ever so much of my long-departed daughter Susan).

Carrie Elkin: The Jeopardy of Circumstance

How many artists are able even to write a review of their own music? Carrie Elkin while in England earlier this year did just that -- gave us the lowdown on every song on this wonderful recording that benefits greatly from the beautiful work of Colin Brooks and Mark Addison.

"Why would I want to go to heaven, the people here don't think much of me now." That's the opening lines from "Obadiah," which Carrie says is about the struggle with spirituality and how it takes its toll in every aspect of life. This is a very quiet song -- you have to hush your own soul in order to really listen. Which is a good idea anyway. "Roots & Wings" comes from the Ohio soil where Carrie grew up -- Iris Dement would love to sing this one. Carrie has her roots, and also her wings -- she's a traveling musician, after all. But centered and not scattered.

"Did She Do Her Best" Carrie admits is about leaving someone much loved -- this could be a John Prine song (or maybe Tom Waits). One of my favorites is her "Ode to Ogallala," the Nebraska town where she got stuck two weeks after her VW engine blew up [I had a similar experience in Mountain View, Arkansas, many years ago!]. Carrie admits she spent the time working on a cattle ranch and flirting with the cowboys (well, one, anyway).

Another is "Questions about Angels," which Carrie notes asks why people even bother to pretend to seek God when their lives are so full of greed and envy. Do they even hear the words or have any idea of who it is they are mocking? "He sang on Sunday, sacrificed his words to get to you, But sacrifice ain't no good till you give God His due." [This could be a Raina Rose song, it is so gentle -- kinda like the kid who pointed out the emperor had no clothes on.]

"Year Before the War" Carrie says is about her grandpa (still alive and kicking at age 97, a photographer who has lost his eyesight). Much of the song is fiction (of course), but the story makes me think about my own mother who at age 96 is frustrated that she cannot manage all her own affairs any more -- and yet thrilled when her long life of accomplishment is remembered (for example by three of her former students who took her out to lunch this week).

"Shell of a Man" opens with a gospel style a capella chorus, then features Dustin Welch's banjo. Brennen Leigh could sing this tall tale about a man who thought he was gonna die -- but wasn't. "Broke TV" (ah, what a joy!) Carrie says is her "pop song" -- happy on the outside (the music), but "depressing as hell" down deep (in the lyrics). Great melodica solo by Mark Addison (who had a couple of those at the Jenny Reynolds party as well). More harmony vocals! You just might tap your toes to this one.

"Black Lung," though, is by no means toe-tapping -- a true story about Carrie's coal miner grandpa (not the photographer) who died when she was nine years old. Okay, the rest of the song is all fiction -- except for the sadness of losing a loved one way too early. Patty Griffin might want to cover this one. So hauntingly beautiful -- beyond poignant. The record closes with Carrie's "Gospel Song," featuring Dustin's banjo and lots more music. Carrie's own gospel is about the search for "what's real in this life ... in all the noise and lights" -- and about walking together in harmony and joy.

Just ten songs -- music you want everybody to sing. Which is why the HINTS for other artists. Carrie looks like pure fun just from the clothes she is "modeling" on her myspace page. The kind of person you might eat peas and cornbread with, maybe some corn on the cob and in the bottle. Go square dancing with (or just dancing at the Spoke!). Lie on the grass and look up at the clouds with -- or watch the stars when the sun goes down. A woman connected to earth and sky.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Circle in a Straight Line:
Songwriters Night at Antone's!
I went out to Antone's on Wednesday night to support my good friend Stefanie Fix and also to learn more about Aaron Cuadra, who moved to Austin 16 months ago not long after being voted Los Angeles' top male singer and who has re-created here in Austin his Circle of Songs format that had served him so well in darkest California.
I had just gotten the sad news that the Aimee Bobruk-Hilary York Tuesday showcase at the Scoot Inn would be no more, and yet excited to see the quality of the songwriting on display and
to be at Antone's, with its great stage and sound.
Cuadra first brought up the wonderful Candy Sanders and later sang with his close friend Jennifer Appelquist (his fellow LA expatriate with whom I fell in love at first listen -- and that was just her harmony vocals). With his first song, "Autopilot" (from his 2005 "Details on Lost Napkins"), I knew we were in for quite an evening -- "sleep till you run away ... takes you to die to realize you were in heaven; cradled in your pain, escape to the promise that you made."
Next up was Lang Freeman, lead singer of the band "Sounds under Radio," who opened with his song, "Portrait of a Summer Thief," which you likely heard on the soundtrack of "Spiderman 3." This dark knight also offered up "The Arsonist," "Science" -- "someday you will see everything in me is dead" -- and the amazing "Wasteland," which challenges his friend to "wake up" and live. What a voice this guy has -- and anthemic songs.
Gotta catch his full band sometime soon!
Stefanie Fix; Candy Sanders and Aaron Cuadra;
Adam McInnis with Cole Hanson.
Stefanie then showed the purity of her soul and her voice with "Don't Go, Don't Stay," from her 2007 CD produced by Stephen Doster (of whom I will write more later) and followed later with "Both Sides of the Divide," "Must've Been the Devil" (on which she showcased her slide guitar licks), the brand-new "Bouquet and a Fistful of Doubt" (a personal favorite of mine, on which Cole Hanson figured out a nice lead break), and finally "No Reason Now."
Last up in the first three rounds was Adam McInnis -- and he did not disappoint! First off, he had Candy Sanders on harmonies along with guitarists Jason Miller and Cole Hanson (electric) -- all from his wonderful band. More importantly, he opened with the powerful "Rain," in which he asks "not to be forgotten, only to forgive" and begs God to "let the pain evaporate." His second song was "Passerbys," a poignant song of hope for a love that will stand the test of time. But this IS Adam -- so he had to sing "I Love Titties" and "Sex for Breakfast," as well as "Not Alone."
Aaron's second song, "Lucid," proved beyong the shadow of a doubt that this guy is a true heavyweight (indeed, this entire evening was a heavyweight showcase) -- "comfortable in my grief, unable to change, everything I was I've thrown away." By "Till I Save Myself," I realized this is THE GUY to host the highest-level songwriter roundtable in Austin as often as he can. Later he shared his very first song, written at age 16 after his mother passed away. "Broken" is true riches expressed in words -- how do you survive such a tremendous loss without having every bone in your body needing to learn all over again how to exist? "Outside" ended the set.
Good as all these songwriters are, the clear highlight of the evening for much of the crowd was the three-song interval set from MariClaire Gamble (backed by her brother Evan and a conga player named Mike). This X-sporting (under 21!) University of Texas student [left] thrilled her fans with "War Zone," the Hawaii-esque "Something New," and "Read Your Mind," which many could sing along with. Brother Evan and his band Jabberwocky closed out the evening. Aaron and Jennifer will be back at Antone's on March 5th with an all-new lineup.
Earlier on Wednesday I stopped by the Cactus Cafe to catch the release of Jenny Reynolds' new CD "Next to You" (produced by Mark Addison and Scrappy Jud Newcomb) and totally miss the release of a beautiful new CD from "Carrie Elkin" entitled "The Jeopardy of Circumstance."
Then on Thursday I was invited down to Stubbs' for the release of Austin Collins' new Fat Caddy CD, "Roses Are Black," and the preview release (the real one is Saturday night at the Cactus) of Graham Weber's brilliant "The Door to the Morning." -- Look for reviews of all four of these wonderful recordings once I have heard them a few more times! I gotta tell you, though -- Graham has a brand new band that he can hardly wait for all his fans to hear!
I also got out to TWO Goldcure shows --Saturday at Club One 2 One on 5th Street and Monday at The Saxon Pub -- and both featuring Stephen Doster on guitar and vocals. Doster and the boys just wrapped up the new recording (which may also unveil a new name for the band), and the live shows reflect the work of this master with his newly favorite pupils. The addition of bassist John Allison (who doubles as guitarist with T-Bird and the Breaks) has solidified this band, which emigrated from south Florida about a year or so ago. They've got a bunch of new songs (including "Stanley") and new arrangements for old songs that are tighter, meatier. Just ask the two ladies who stood mesmerized as Adam Buhrman sang that song.
But what a week it was. Sunday featured the Bells of Joy at Threadgills' --complete with original member A. D. Watson, who has been with the band ever since 1951. Tuesday night was busy -- Aimee Bobruk at the Scoot, then over to Ego's for sets from Jeremy Nail (whom I had also seen on Monday at Momo's), Suzanna Choffel, and Dustin Welch, and finally to The Saxon to hang out with Charlie Faye and her band -- Will Sexton, Gabe Rhodes, Joe Humel and Phillip Gibbs. Will and Charlie were just back from Folk Alliance, and somehow they got into a country set that cracked us all up.
Gotta say that Jeremy Nail has excellent taste -- Harmoni Kelley on bass! And great songs, too -- including "Storm," a terrifying tale fresh from Hurricane Katrina, and "Forgotten Child's Cry." Jeremy is a little Tom Petty, a little Uncle Tupelo, and all Texas -- from Albany by way of Texas Tech (which gives his Lubbock props). And Charlie Faye -- I had met her and knew that she was attracting great players for her sets -- but boy are we stealing the best of New York City! And as a return gift, flanfire is flying up to Gotham for a 3-day event (not music related) -- what a trade!
Gotta get some shuteye.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Leah and the Zegernauts --
And Still More Leah!
Leah Zeger; Jim Foster. Below: Jenifer Jackson.
I first met Leah Zeger at a Hudsons' CD release party at the Cactus Cafe. I learned that this fiddle player was also once the youngest violinist to be hired by the Austin Symphony (a joy to her cellist dad and violinist mom, whom I met at Leah's gig at the Elephant Room with her hot jazz quartet, the Zegernauts (Jim Foster on guitar, Jacob Jaeger on drums and vocals, and Kris Wade on upright bass).
The set started slowly with some great standards (Lullabye in Birdland, I'm Beginning to See the Light) and the bossa nova number "Waves," which sounded like cherry liqueur. By this time I realized this violinist was maybe an even BETTER jazz vocalist -- as she interpreted Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady." Jacob closed the set with a vibrant "Take the A Train." Foster was a joy on guitar -- that cat can play, and Wade had the even bigger Cheshire cat smile all night long -- he was having FUN!
By this time, Austin newcomer Alyse Black (a hot songwriter, winner of a Billboard award for original jazz song) had joined the party (as my guest). Leah opened set 2 with Fritz Kreisler and then Czardas (showcasing her violinist chops), then switched to two of her own compositions wrapped around "Cry Me a River." "The Day Before" was in a minor key (meaning sad?), but "You Ain't Got Status If You Ain't Got Me!" sparkled so much that men swooned and women marveled at Leah's chutzpah! And that one was only about a week old!
Alyse and I split great company in order to catch MOST of Jenifer Jackson's wonderful folk-rock set at Flipnotics (backed by all three members of the Gary Newcomb Trio, aka the Breathers minus Claire Hamilton -- Gary on pedal steel and guitar, Billy Doughty on drums, and Brandon Gonzalez on bass). Jenifer was sounding like Signe Anderson and the very early Jefferson Airplane as she gave us great songs one after another. Favorites include "After the Fire" and "Summer's Over," but this is poetry and beauty that was warmly received by a full house.
Tuesday I stopped by the Scoot Inn just long enough to be totally STUNNED as Steve Bernal was holding forth solo on cello before about three dozen music freaks sitting in rapt silence. Bernal, who will be part of the Aimee Bobruk CD release on March 4th, closed with his own "Dunes" and somebody's "Something in the Way She Moves."
Had to run, though, to catch Joanna Barbera and her new acoustic set -- with Ann Elizabeth Sauder on vocals and holding some drum-like instruments, Kyle Clayton on standup bass and vocals, and fellow About Blank veteran Danny Anderson on guitar. From "Red Roses" to "December," the first four songs just flew by -- and then Joanna slipped off the stage as Ann (who also sings lyric opera) broke into "Summertime," jazz style, yet ending with her wailing away in an upper register that sent goosebumps down most of our spines.
Okay, both these women are beautiful -- and they can sing. But they are also hilarious up there -- sort of a musical (but then they did some of those shows, too) Xena and Gabrielle, right down to Ann's bad jokes. I will forever be greatful to Jennifer Leonhardt for insisting that I go with her to see Joanna about a month or so ago. Of course, it helps a lot that Kyle and Danny's band About Blank is one of my favorite Austin jazz groups!
Wednesday began at Ruta Maya (eclipse, anyone?) for a fat set by The Summer Wardrobe that showcased songs from their forthcoming album -- and Jonny Sanchez' amazing electric sitar. It is always a great show when Sally Crewe is in the house -- Kullen Fuchs, too! After a few oldies but goodies, Jon and John and George and Marty moved on to a subset that included "Ocotillo Sunset," "When You Died," "Baby Let's Switch Graves" (the boys HAVE been performing as Roky Erickson's backup band), "One Longtime Feeling" (so smooth!), and the 15-minute finale, "One More Try," which again proves that only a few (SW included) can get away with it.
Then it was over to the Hole in the Wall to catch the last (and reportedly better) half of a set from American Graveyard (Country Joe and the Fish on steroids) and all of what has to have been Chris Brecht's best set ever. And why not? Start with a rhythm section of Billy the Outlaw Doughty and Bobby Daniel (whom I had seen on Tuesday along with gunslinger Brad Rice just after their set with Amy Cook), add in the amazing Hammond B3 (and harmony vocals) of super Matt Mollica, toss in some great guitar licks (and cool threads) from Gordy Quist (the Heathen), and then to make the recipe just right, just convince violinist/fiddler/superwoman Leah Zeger to join the band even though she has never heard the music before.
Chris is still just teasing us with songs from his forthcoming CD, "Not Where You Are," due out in MAY!!!! But what songs! And what great solos and harmonies -- and a great crowd, too! From "Night Highway 99" to "Absinthe Highway Blues" to "Lost Highway" to the grand finale -- all 17 verses of "Get There by Train," this young Colorado native who "played cards with the devil" has all of the verve of a young Rob Zimmerman but with a grace that the Hibbing hero rarely exhibited. [Chris seems always totally aware of his audience and draws energy as fans respond to his band and his songs.] I could not stick around to catch the Gary Newcomb Trio (love those guys -- catch them next time) -- but even without the Lonesome Heroes (making folk music in Memphis), this was pure joy all night long!
One more note -- Friday at Cafe Caffeine some of Austin's younger professional musicians will put on a show for those wise enough to be there, and then on Sunday it's crooner Craig Marshall unveiling his own new CD at Antone's opening for Bruce Smith and his great dance band.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Safety Match Journal:
Aimee Bobruk's Masterpiece
I just read that the Cowboy Junkies (aka the Timmins Family Band) have re-done their masterpiece, "The Trinity Sessions." Without Kim Deschamps?? I am quite sure that the new "Trinity Revisited" (with Natalie Merchant and Ryan Adams) will be a fine collection -- but probably not another masterpiece.
Not to worry. Deschamps, who now lives in Austin, is even today at the center of the creation of great music.
And this time it's Austin's own (by way of Huntsville) Aimee Bobruk and her own "breakthrough"album, "The Safety Match Journal."
Darwin Smith and Aimee Bobruk
The story of how this ambitious, yet generous small-town girl turning into a lovely woman met the people who worked with her to help create this amazing recording will one day be fully told -- and it will be an inspiration (we trust) to another new generation of songwriters and performers -- and producers. But for today, we can just marvel at what Aimee, Kim, producer Darwin Smith, and musicians Brad Houser, Will Sexton, Matt Mollica, Dony Wynn, John Thomasson, John Bush, Kullen Fuchs, Jon Notarthomas, Steve Bernal, Erin Bobruk, Dazvid Chenu, Charles Branch, Steve Moore, Ana Egge, Roberto Riggio, Travis Weller, Melissa Greener, and Brian Standefer have created. But that's not all -- the artwork here is by Australian artist Shaun Tan, whose fantasy picture book "The Red Tree" was the inspiration behind Aimee's amazingly beautiful "For the Lost Airwaves."

Lest anyone think I have fallen for a pretty face, I am hardly alone in my praise for Aimee and this recording. Standefer says, "In a city known for it's songwriters, Aimee stands apart by writing songs that carry great weight and soul and yet are delivered to the listener with a graceful hand." Tucker Livingston adds, "Lyrically and musically, [Aimee is] one of the best up and coming songwriters that Austin has to offer; her sheer talent is startling." But if you have ANY doubts, just go to Aimee's CD release party on March 4th at the Cactus Cafe -- and listen. Sadly, I will be on an airplane unable to get there. But that opens up YOUR seat. SO GO!

Before talking about the songs, let me just say that Darwin Smith and his merrie men (and women) have complemented Aimee's songs with daring, yet subtle sounds -- horns, percussion, guitars, strings, various keyboards, and who knows what all -- that make you know you are having a gourmet meal with ALL the trimmings. And we're not talking about a brunch buffet, but of fine wines and subtle herbs and spices that enliven every bite and make each one a treat. Listen to this recording in a quiet place without distractions -- it's better than any massage.

Aimee here is at once spiritually sensitive, humanly jealous, socially relevant, and hopeful that someone out there is actually listening. The same way she is on Tuesdays at the Scoot Inn, where she and Hilary York have created a real living room out of a dingy old bar. And, oh by the way, when not singing or working at Waterloo Records, she actually babysits.

From Deschamps' mournful pedal steel that introduces "Liverpool," to the ethereal sounds that end "Shores of Gold," this record is just plain beautiful. Brad Houser plays bass, bass clarinet, and baritone sax on this cut, which also features Deschamps playing banjo and John Bush's amazing touches and Smith's own guitar work. This is a love song, by the way.

"For the Lost Airwaves" may be the most beautiful song I have ever heard, largely because of Aimee's angelic voice -- and I also like the poetry: "licorice winds unfurl a vision, beautiful, more dazzling than your every thought could be," for example. Fuchs on omnichord and french horn, Riggio's violin solo, Mollica's quiet B3, Moore's equally gentle piano all help Aimee interpret Tan.

"Fools for Love" is a tough commentary on how we search for love in all the wrong ways, yet "what if things don't last and all she gives gets cast down in the end, she wouldn't change her ways if it meant losing passion." Even so, Aimee begs for someone to "shine a light down for the lost and wounded hearted." Here, Mollica's organ provides the power, while Chenu's flute (and sax) add the color and Wynn's percussion the flavor.

"Losing the Magic" is really a dance with a little Latin flavor: "If I say it out loud will it lose the magic, will I lose this magic feeling inside?" Sounds like our gal's in love. But then "Puppets in Play" gets back to the TOUGH Aimee. This is strong medicine -- people faking it through life is "an outrage, a Philistine haze, I think we deserve something better ... why don't we cut the strings and call it quits." And why should we be content with people who "smile when they mean to cut you down," who "shmooz until their nose turns brown."

Fuchs' quiet trumpet (he also plays trombone, melodica, and vibraphone here) opens the Latin-flavored, "Yo Los Veo" (I see you), another biting commentary in which "The ice cream man drives by every day and little dirty faces run to pay, standing barefoot crowded by the door" -- but Aimee reminds us that "we are different but we live in the same streets" as these poor souls.

"Dulcinea" features Weller on violin and Bernal on cello as Aimee opens with passion -- "I have wanted to wrap you in my tongue, dissolve you slowly, surely; I have wanted to be the muse inspiration wrapped in the scarlet of your song" -- you "holy troubadour, holy dreamer." "First Move" is more passion, but for a nation crumbling from within. "Where were you when it happened, who's to blame if nobody acted?" Smith's nasty guitar, Wynn's drum explosions, and Mollica on both B3 and Rhodes punctuate the lyrics to better tell the story.

But then Aimee sings of "Precious Jesus," whom she begs to come and "raise me from the dark," a dark in which "I have found the perpetrator, I see blood upon my hands, Guilty I stand before you, Jesus, have mercy on this broken heart." Recognizing the pain caused by past unfaithfulness, the songwriter pleads, "Might I love again?" The harmonies and Deschamps' pedal steel provide the frame.

But WOW -- jealous passion emerges in "Here She Comes," that woman who is "asking for your time, I think she's after you." Melissa Greener's echo vocals are a nice touch here, while Smith and Notarthomas on guitar and again John Bush on percussion keep this number moving.

The final two cuts return to that peaceful theme that we began with. "Blessing" (Standefer on cell0 here) expresses that amazing hope that, even though "you've had your chance to take what's good and make it last, but you threw it all away, careless in play," we can still "thank God for forgiveness, thank God for friends who call you on the bad shots and bring your drama to and end." And yet, Aimee shrewdly suggests, maybe we could do better than "running free" until things go so wrong that we finally ask for a blessing.

"Shores of Gold" is yet another story poem on many levels -- from Houser's baritone sax and bass clarinet to Standefer's bass to Bush's touches to Smith's elbow guitar -- to Aimee's lyrics, which tell of meeting "a woman dressed in clouds of white descending" who promises to guide our drifting sailor to the golden shores. But these shores are not found on the surface but rather the woman in white leads our sailor "down through a darkness where all my voices struggled to be heard ... down to a bottom where nothing lay." And, yes, it truly is not until we come to the end of ourselves that we find what we are looking for.

Good as these songs are, Aimee may provide us with even better ones as she continues her search for truth and meaning in life, continues to open her eyes and ours to the life (and not so life) all around us. Next time you go hear her music, hope she sings "So Human," which may just be the title cut from her NEXT recording. What makes this music so powerful is that Aimee sees that the flaws she finds in the lives of others are equally reflected in her own human frailty -- and that she -- like the rest of us -- is fatally flawed and in need of grace.

Just for the record -- Aimee and Hilary will be at the Scoot on Tuesdays through May -- except for March 4th (the CD release night) and March 11th (SXSW parties begin early).

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Guitar Goddesses: Carolyn and Meagan
Used to be a female lead guitarist, especially one who is also a singer-songwriter and bandleader, was a rarity -- even here in Austin. But how many of today's young gunsels have the firepower of Carolyn Wonderland and Meagan Tubb? Yeah, right! Both these guitar goddesses also have brand-new CD's that should further enhance their growing reputations.
Jason Nunnenkamp and Meagan Tubb; Carolyn Wonderland. Below: Cole El-Saleh has never been better.

Carolyn Wonderland

Now Carolyn was already a local legend in her native Houston long before I finally met her (and drummer Eldridge Goins) one afternoon in Austin at Antone's. My daughter, nearly a decade ago, wrote a report that referenced an essay about the blues in Houston, which even then would not have been complete without major mention of the part-Chilean redhead with the big voice and the ever-widening coterie of musical instruments around her. I would learn quickly that Carolyn never fails to honor her teachers/heroes -- guys like Lil' Screaming Kenny (Blachet) or the late, great Jerry Lightfoot. Also that she never forgets a friend, or more importantly, to BE a friend -- even as her star rises almost in spite of her own (yes) demurity and yet strength not to allow herself or her music to be compromised. [No wonder my daughter Melody loves her!]

Today it is hard to find any of Carolyn's early recordings -- those before she moved to Austin, before "Alcohol & Salvation" (produced by Eldridge Goins) and "Bloodless Revolution" (produced by Stephen Doster). One day, we suspect, those early efforts may be as priceless as bootleg Jimi Hendrix -- but I digress.

The NEW music -- aptly titled "Miss Understood" -- is the result of a collaboration among producer Ray Benson, the great Lloyd Maines (one major reason we have two Terri Hendrix songs here), the horn and strings arrangements of John Mills, and great playing from keyboardist Cole El-Saleh, bassist Glenn Fukunaga, drummer Jamie Oldaker, and Carolyn herself -- with additional contributions by Wheel-ites Dave Sanger and Jason Roberts, award-winning backing vocalist Wes Hightower, Texas musician of the year Shelley King, Austin gospel singer Tim Curry (whose Benson link includes "A Ride with Bob"), Guy Forsyth, Barry "Frosty" Smith, Jon Blondell, the Tosca String Quartet, and the amazing Cindy Cashdollar.

"Misunderstood" - the near-title track - is a straight-on blues gospel song about dying (I ain't got long for this world) -- Carolyn plays lap steel. Gotta be lots of airplay for this one. "I Found the Lions" (Hendrix-Maines, from "The Ring") is bluesier than ever as Carolyn wails, while "Throw My Love" (from "Places in Between") is tougher than ever with King and Curry supporting Carolyn's vocal energy. Did Bruce Robison write "Bad Girl Blues" just for Carolyn? He's too young to have had Janis in mind. Of course, Carolyn has her OWN song about being thought of as a "bad girl" (and she was kicked out of high school for organizing a protest) -- but that just shows us again how upside down our official society can be. A great song, sung well.

Carolyn told me that she and Ray actually got 20 songs in the can and had to pare down to an even dozen that fit together well -- "It was hard to see your own songs on the cutting floor," she admitted. Two other covers that did survive are long-time Carolyn favorites -- J.J. Cale's "Trouble in the City," which is naturally dirty, low-down, smelly -- like Houston, and Rick Derringer's "Still Alive and Well," which just flat ROCKS! Ray collaborated with Carolyn on two songs -- "Walk On," which features Carolyn on trumpet (plus an amazing guitar solo) and Guy on harmonica, and "Long Way to Go," which features Jason Roberts on fiddle. Both of these are strong spiritual songs that encourage us -- "Walk through the fire, walk through the storm, walk when it's freezing, walk when it's warm" -- "As I walk through this life I am never alone."

But I would wager that Ray had the MOST fun playing jazz guitar on "I Don't Want to Fall for You," an Eldridge-Carolyn collaboration that first appeared (with Carolyn scat singing) on "Alcohol & Salvation." THIS is just one example of why I can hardly wait (though I may have to) for "The Songs of Eldridge Goins" (and if HE won't sing them, I know a dozen jazz singers in Austin who would line up to sing them for him). The powerful closing song, "Feed Me to the Lions," is also a remake from "Alcohol" -- but with the Tosca String Quartet capturing the pathos of a woman to whom "no one talks to in the checkout line." Carolyn's piano on both versions is a rare treat.

What's left? Well, "The Farmer Song," which Carolyn was given in a dream -- and on which she plays the beautiful mandolin crafted especially for her. And one of my favorites -- "I Live Alone with Someone," another melancholy blues song that blew me away last week at the Saxon Pub. I have seen Carolyn with a wide variety of sidemen and as guest vocalist with Jerry Lightfoot (who also let her play some gee-tar) -- but never have I enjoyed her sets more than with the trio that includes El-Saleh and drummer Michael "Lefty" Lefkowitz (who apparently has a hot new band called -- LiverDog. After all, Carolyn provides the variety as she switches from one instrument to another, from one genre to another, and yet all the time with the same love for her audience and irreverence toward herself that is her trademark.

Meagan Tubb (& Shady People)

Want to hear something sad but typically Austin? I actually had to leave Carolyn's amazing set at the Saxon to get over to Ruta Maya for Meagan's CD release party. And yet it was well worth the sacrifice to catch the energy from this University of Missouri (journalism) graduate who escaped from California (where she went after graduation) to find a new home and family here in the Live Music Capital (along with a win at Poodie's battle of the bands that got her studio time at Pedernales and gigs with Willie). Some of you may also know Meagan from her role as a calendar "model," but until you get before her amplifiers, you might not realize that this lanky lovely can flat play rock and roll and the blues. But so can bandmate Jason Nunnenkamp (guitar, banjo), drummer Johnny Duran, and new bassist Wilson Carr.

Meagan opened her show on acoustic guitar but switched to electric when Jason picked banjo on "Yes I Do," and the race was on. Duran seems always smiling on stage (and why not?), and he and Carr (taking nothing away from former bassist Ric Ricker) make a solid rhythm section. For the record, the band brought in keyboardist Anthony Farrell of The Greyhounds. And I missed that sound on at least a couple of the songs (notably the amazing jam, "Argument with the Moon," which on the CD is over 7 minutes of pure joy. Meagan also introduced a bevy of brand-new songs, many of which will likely be on her followup recording -- songs like "Rapture" and "Flying" (which is about two angels).

The record, though, is pure smoke and sweat -- you oughta be worn out from dancing by the time the set is half finished. Meagan's vocals provide the sweat -- the twin lead guitars the smoke -- and the fire and brimstone too. Many of these songs are hot passion, while on others Meagan is pleading with God to make her clean (or crying out to Eve for "Take(ing) the First Bite"). "Invocation" lets the guy know he is already down two strikes but maybe still has the magic to keep her around. "Let Me Believe" is a second plea for that guy to let her "soak in your melody and melt with you in the rain."

"Lost and Found" tells of a journey to California and finding that "there's too many people who have run away from the old lives that they've known -- some away from their families, some away from love, some away from themselves, and the good Lord up above." The solution, in "Sunny Place for Shady People," would be to "head 'em up and move 'em out" from a life of "sharing stories and cheap beverages" and working in the city slum "in front of a machine."

"Beautiful Noise" (those twin leads fire us up!) is a prayer to "search for sweet transcendance which once again will find me in a state of dependence," and to "Baptize me so lovingly once I learn to forgive and I'll have known that you have shown what it means to truly live." But "Isabella" is a sad tale of a woman who is "barren at her core," whose true person "she hides behind closed doors." How many of us can see that image in ourselves, when we have failed to forgive, to love, to take those risks that can lead to new thresholds of human contact?

"Rock and a Hard Place" is the bitter dregs of a life with everything of value "burned to the ground," and of being "grateful" for "the friends I thought I had" who "left me stranded and alone when I was sad." How to escape this mess? A good first step is to grit the teeth and proclaim that they're "Not Going to Get Me Today," even when "sitting in a traffic jam like a whale beached in the sand," or when the loan sharks call looking for their money. It gets worse -- imagine a "Bumblebee" laughing about biting you on the hand or a king snake smiling about nibbling at your toe and biting you on the leg -- but only because instead of just admiring their beauty as they came by "to groove you," you lashed out at them. [I can hope for a slowed-down version of this song -- which just seems to fly by too quickly for the message to get through.]

Where to go? "Let Me Be with You" recognizes that "God has a way of letting you know when you've gone astray," and pulling you "back in to try again for a better day." The great news is that, "Make no mistake, you haven't cut your bridge with him," and that "God leaves a trail to let you know where you're supposed to go," if we will just stop trying to "push him away and out of mind" so as to "man your own ship through the sands of time." This is an anthem -- and the band frames the lyrics to maximize their impact. The way it's s'pozed to be.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mary, Mary -- and Bill Davis, Too!

Mary Cutrufello; Chuck Fleming.
What kind of heaven is Austin anyway, when you can go out to Momo's early on a cold Wednesday night and catch an amazing acoustic set from the likes of Mary Cutrufello? But you know what's weird? This A-List performer was practically providing this writer with a private concert. Have we all lost our taste in music, or is everybody just that poor?
Let's just start with the voice -- pure gravel and grit -- that matches the gritty toughness of Mary's lyrics -- from "American Rain" to "Black Maria" to the seldom heard "8-Second Lives," which was written for the documentary, "Chase the Dream," but cut from the soundtrack by a jealous major label that failed to understand that they would have sold MORE records by granting the extra exposure to this wonderful performer. Mary also pulled out the chestnut, "Tonight's the Night," but as a ballad instead of the uptempo version she recorded years ago. But it was Mary's guitar work on songs like "Johnson Motel," "Sonic Girls," and the set finale "Out of the Fire" that showed why this woman is a cut above most of her peers.
Not since Mandy Mercier has Austin been so blessed with a singer whose vocals were shaped by Connecticut winters. Mary spent a decade or so in Houston, made her reputation as an alt-country singer and guitar gunslinger, went to Minnesota for the mosquitoes and snows and lost her voice for years -- but she's back in Texas with even better songs (many on her recent release "35") and a maturity she has paid a price to achieve. Catch her with the Havoline Supremes at John Conquest's NOT SXSW at Opal Divine's Penn Field on March 13th or with her own band at Austin City Hall on March 28th -- but it is well worth the drive to Hondo's on Main in Fredericksburg this Sunday to catch the SOLO MARY show (not to mention the drive itself).
Now for the roundup. Before Mary at Momo's there was Victoria Hammill and a revamped Zeta Five featuring San Antonio piano man Marvin Mitchell (man, that cat can PLAY!) and West Coast gunslinger Phil Brown on guitar (with Mike Howard on bass and Craig Guerin on drums and Ed Hammill on rhythm guitar) -- lots of fun and a great rendition of Neil Young's "Down by the River." Later, I stopped by the Hole in the Wall to catch the debut performance by Chuck Fleming (drummer for the Lonesome Heroes) as a singer-songwriter backed by "The Infamous They" -- Hope Irish on harmony vocals, Seth Gibbs on drums, and Peter Stafford (The Archibalds) on bass. Chuck, who promises product soon, sings about "dancing in the rain," getting his "walking papers" (Read Em and Weep), and being "forsaken by my dreams." And did I really hear him sing, "my girl's a fish"?? Hope (known for her theatrics in her own band) was an absolutely wonderful singing partner for this gentle spirit with the big smile. Read: WARM!
Tuesday featured a quick trip to Momo's to catch Will Dupuy's new venture, La Tampiquena -- with Matt Lara on keyboards, harmonica and accordian (playing Freddie Fender and Flaco songs too) and fellow Lubbockite Spencer Murchison [photo] on mandolin -- plus drums and guitar. Will debuted this band last November with Willie Pipkin sitting in, and the lineup has changed, but what you get is the songs Will made famous in the South Austin Jug Band and more of the same from the sleepy-eyed bass player -- "Doghouse" (hmmm!), "Mountain Whiskey," "Summer Sunset," and lots more. Sort of a combination of whiteboy Tejano and Hill Country hilarity. And, oh yeah, this band is so much fun they even get drummers [Jeff Botta and Nina Singh generating a ball of fire and blue heat] up to dance!
Then it was over to the Scoot Inn to fulfill a promise to Hilary York to catch her cousin's band who had come up from Conroe -- but what a surprise. "Three Fantastic" features cousin Charles Peters on (sometimes screaming, often provocative) vocals and guitar, a writhing Kelly Doyle [yes, he cleaned up the Scoot's dance floor with his back] on lead guitar, David Taschery on drums, and Truman Cox on bass. Can I say, "quirky" -- and yet powerful! Violinist Leah Zeger of the Austin Symphony (okay - her own jazz group is at the Elephant Room on Monday) says this is one of her favorite bands (and that Doyle is a fantastic jazz guitarist, too!). Their "mascot" speaks of "their invention of a scale that uses only 3 notes," "their new time signature 8/8," and "David's unbelievable ability to play sixteenth notes." [That's Leah hanging out with songwriters Gordy Quist and Chris Brecht as they all enjoy the Three Fantastic quartet! And, yes, the date is phony -- stems from laziness.]
Moving further backward, Flanfire spent parts of both Sunday and Monday nights at Antone's -- first to catch the Antone's debut of songwriter Bill Davis, then to catch another great set from T-Bird and the Breaks (with Ricky Stein opening). Gotta hand it to Tim Crane, pouring it out with a 102-degree fever, belting out "Sunday on My Own" and so many other great songs (with great support from vocalist Sasha Zoe and the all-star band) before an energetic but dance-floor-shy (??) crowd.
I also have to mention the great set I caught on Saturday night at Ruta Maya from Latin at Heart (Billy Wilson plus Steve Zirkel on bass, Jeff Botta on drums, and Charles Rieser on lead guitar, with saxophonist Tom Robinson sitting in). While La Tampiquena claims to be Austin's only English-speaking Tejano band, Billy sings wholly in Spanish, much to the delight of the crowd, which was also came to see Gina Chavez (and her full band), El Tule, and Boca Abajo at the Noche Latino show in support of the Austin Music Foundation.
While at the show, I also got some scoop on the second annual Texas State Arts Festival, to be held March 1 and 2 across from the Texas History Museum. This is a great outdoor event to which you MUST take the kids:
10:00 am Gina Chavez
11:15 am Buttercup
12:30 pm Shotgun Party
1:45 pm Sunny Sweeney
3:15 pm Carolyn Wonderland
4:45 pm The Black and White Years
6:00 pm American Graveyard
10:00 am Sahara Smith
11:15 am Amy Cook
12:30 pm Nakia with his Southern Cousins
1:45 pm Ray Wylie Hubbard
3:15 pm Future Clouds & Radar
4:30 pm Cerronato
5:45 pm Grupo Fantasma

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Friday, February 08, 2008

TheHeroCycle: Acoustic Teens!

Little did I know that, shortly after encouraging 14-year-old Althea Capra (of AE3) to do more acoustic music that she and bandmate Griffin Yu would form TheHeroCycle. I was even more clueless that this dynamic duo would start their own acoustic songwriter showcase for teens at Cafe Caffeine -- nor that 50 to 75 of their closest friends and some first-time listeners would routinely show up for what I am quickly learning are some of Austin's most honest, thought-provoking songwriters and gutsy performers -- none of whom are old enough to vote.
But then again, this IS Austin, so one should hardly be surprised. Last Monday, for example, I got to hear 16-year-old (soon to be 17?) jazz pianist Dylan Meek, who hails from Wimberley but has already begun making the rounds at the Elephant Room and similar venues in central Texas. Late into that evening he was jamming with the likes of Warren Hood! Jazz is but one of the art forms that Austin teens are eagerly exploring -- with both passion and developing talent.

Friday night (and, yes, the next of these shows is Friday, February 22nd) it was TheHeroCycle (Griffin and Althea) backed by (adult) bassist Gary Hart -- plus special guest Fabi, a 16-year-old elfin songwriter who brought up other members of her band The Silver Series for her final number. Talk about guts -- Fabi had a 104-degree fever earlier in the week! My favorite of hers was (maybe this is the title) "Never Too Old to Dance," or maybe it was (??) "The Same Sad Songs" (or is it, "In the Cage"?).
TheHeroCycle opened up with "Saturday Morning Moonshine," which can be found on their myspace page (note -- another TheHeroCycle hails from Vermont! so go to theherocyclemusic on myspace to find this band). The sizable, largely young audience was pin-drop silent, though maybe not totally still. On the first four songs, Althea just held the mike and sang -- "Flashing Lights" is just one of her songs that people will ask for over and over. [And, yes, the duo is playing Cafe Caffeine AND Botticelli's during SXSW -- and hopes to have "product" by then.]

When Althea switched to guitar for "Fever," Griffin switched to percussion box; later, he picked up an electric guitar to play rhythm on "Down," and went back to the box for "You Don't Have to Walk Alone," one of Althea's many songs with deep meaning. The second set opened with "Beauty in Action" (they sang this one for my Nancy last month!) and then it was three brand-new ones wrapped around AE3's "Borderlines." I REALLY liked "Sunshine State" (not a place but a state of mind!) and "Touch the Sky," written in Griffin's driveway just last week. Althea reminds me personally of a younger Aimee Bobruk -- who also encourages other musicians by hosting showcases and whose songs also challenge our souls and spirits.
OKAY -- Thursday night I DID go out to see Carolyn Wonderland AND Meagan Tubb and picked up BOTH of their brand-new CD's for review -- but I have to listen a few more times, so just hold your heartbeats. Briefly -- both records (and live shows) R-O-C-K -- and why not? Both of these wonderful women are strong lead guitarists with even stronger voices -- and yet both are very very feminine and compassionate -- and tons of fun. Gotta mentiion also that Candy Sanders and Natalie Zoe's new project - CandiLand - puts on a rockin' show that keeps getting better every Thursday HAPPY HOUR at the Saxon these daze.
Wednesday evening (no camera -- OOPS!) it was half an hour of the amazing Shotgun Party (with those gals wearing RED dresses!) and then over to Flipnotics' Triangle for the seven-course gourmet meal of songs from Nathan Hamilton. Two big bonuses -- Mike Meadows (of Porterdavis) playing the box (and other percussion!) with Nathan, and soulful tenor A. J. Roach stepping up from his comfortable chair to share three songs with us.
One can never say enough about Tuesdays at the Scoot Inn -- Hilary York and Aimee Bobruk are two wonderful, very different but so mutually supportive women (of whom I probably write too often). This night Hilary had Darwin Smith and Kullen Fuchs (as did Aimee) PLUS Julie Lowery (more on her later) -- loved that "Parlour Tricks." Aimee closed out the night with "So Human," a song NOT on her brand-new CD, "The Safety Match Journal" -- and one of the most compelling songs ever.
Guest stars for the evening included Mike Hall (that Texas Monthly writer, Wild Seed, and Woodpecker), who brought Julie Lowery (Fire Marshals of Bethlehem, The Service Industry, and of course the Woodpeckers) and longtime Wild Seed Randy Franklin with him -- and the Fundamentalists (minus one) -- Brennnen Leigh, Justin Kolb on bass, and Silas Lowe (switching back and forth with Brennen between mandolin and guitar) doing old-timey gospel numbers standing around an old-timey-style microphone. Now, I had seen Michael and Julie on stage together last at the Our Man Flynt benefit a year ago -- and it is so much fun to hear, "Baby You Scare Me," "America (the band, not the country)," "Revolution in Cuba," and even "Put Down that Pig," ESPECIALLY knowing that they will be back at the Scoot on another Tuesday soon for a repeat performance.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Feeding 5000 -- Strong Nineties;
Sheboygan -- Sweet Sixties!
While on my way to catch some old friends this week, I stumbled across two very fine bands, both with brand new CD's to share. Feeding 5000 (stripped down version) was at the Dirty Dog on Sunday [see show review], while Sheboygan was rocking the house at the Hole in the Wall on Friday night. And, yes, I am holding off on reviewing Aimee Bobruk's amazing CD (great work by Darwin Smith and his band of merrie men -- and women) until closer to her March 4th CD release party at the Cactus Cafe (which is about a week after Jenny Reynolds has her OWN CD release party there, featuring Scrappy Jud Newcomb and a full band).

Before I get into the reviews, I must mention that somewhere in the week there was Tuesday at the Scoot -- with Chris Brecht and the Broken 45's and the Gary Newcomb Trio -- and Wednesday at the Hole in the Wall -- with Darwin Smith (with an impassioned version of Townes' "Flying Shoes") and of course the Lonesome Heroes (and that cute Sarah Stollack on fiddle). At least 25 of my friends showed up both nights -- it was like a two-day party with all of the same great people -- and great music.
Gary, by the way, will be HOSTING the Alt-Country showcase at the Hole next Wednesday -- a very "heroic" thing for him to do.
Above: Landry McMeans, Sarah Stollack, and Jeff Johnston (plus the drummer); Below: Victoria Hammill; Kullen Fuchs, Bryce Clifford, Travis and Doug jamming out; that Bryce always DOES attract the ladies!
Anti-football folks take note that Gina Chavez will be playing at Jovita's during the game -- should be a fine show. Jovita's -- that's right! I was there Wednesday to see Slowtrain, and again on Friday to catch Victoria and Zeta Five (but of course Vic and Ed were sitting next to us on Wednesday, checking out the venue). That woman can play some electric fiddle! Sing, too! But I digress ... Slowtrain also played the Hole on Friday, with some Bryce Clifford band thrown into that late-night mix that should have had more time to develop. That's a great new song about Mavis Staples, Adoniram -- but get yourself some new harps so we can hear CHEEVER again. We are still waiting on the Slowtrain CD; meanwhile, Bryce is actually in the studio working on his second Austin release. Lots of good product around.
But back to Feeding 5000. I can hardly wait (well, I will have to) to hear the full band, because the CD "The Books We Read" is smokin' -- and cleverly put together. It is also as serious as a heart attack -- reminiscent of Live meets U2 (with maybe a little Seattle grunge thrown in). But U2 especially on "Fly," musically, that is. Curious minds reflect that Jesus fed 5,000 a couple of times. These guys, though, want to feed a lot of people with music that has chewable words and savory melodies and power chords (courtesy of guitarist Michael Gonzalez). Drummer Alex Geismar, keyboardist Aaron Brown, and bassist Jeremy Rocha all lay down the sound that enables singer-lyricist Kelly Scott Taylor to soar above the noise with great power.
The band, which has been a perennial opening act of late (Everclear, Toadies, Blue October, Los Lonely Boys, etc.), may be on the verge of a stepup with the acoustic trio Triple AAA radio campaign for "Sing Out Loud," which many say is the recording's strongest cut. Others like "Last Wish," which includes the promise that "I'll be with you in your prison tonight." Me, I like "Books," just for that line about "when California's gone, the righteous remain wrong." But the finale, "Carry On," IS the anthem with a promise -- "If you ever fall, I'll lift you from the ground; if ever you doubt, let me turn your faith around. Whatever it takes, we'll carry on."
For those who like metaphor, one might suggest the band is saying here a lot about how the "righteous" are just not with God's program. In "Amnesty," we learn that "far from righteousness, inequity remains. The blood we spill will leave an avalance of shame. May amnesty be our fate." "Something More" begins with "Right of center, left of sure," a commentary on our nation's skewed politics that seems always to eschew true service for posturing. "Systems all outta whack" is the result. "Books" adds that, "Our future suffices as long as the laws we've been give have already been written" (and still enforced). "This Song" flatly states, "We're running out of time." And in "Reach Out," again we hear that "Maybe the time ain't on our side ... maybe the moment's out of our hands."
There IS an answer -- "look to the sky, fly, elevate, lift your body from the ground.... breathe, rise from your knees, SEE what's shaking our world and what's breaking us." and then just "Carry On." I really liked this record -- two thumbs up.
Now on to Sheboygan (which I belive is in Wisconsin; is OUR Cory related to Sheboygan orthopaedist Dr. Scott Glaeser?). I walk into the Hole as drummer Gray Parsons has taken total leave of his senses (er, sticks) and is pulsating into the microphone with beat-box style noises while the rest of the guys are flailing and wailing away. Caught my breath (noticed Johnny Vogelsang and Cory Glaeser and Chris "Rusty" Gebhard on the stage) and said, "I didn't know Johnny V got to play lead guitar!" Then I started listening (as I also watched a very energetic houseful of Skyrocketers and Slowtrain fans together having a LOT of fun.
Cory and Rusty and Gray WERE the band when they went to George Reiff to record this CD over a year ago (Johnny must have been on tour). Jeff Johnston (who did grace the stage on Wednesday for the expanded Lonesome Heroes entourage) added some saw sounds. My second impression of this band was -- the Hollies (Graham Nash and friends) -- meaning the vocal harmonies were absolutely FINE! Now, I must admit that the live set included a bunch of new songs, including Vang's "Bittersweet Departure" (title guess) and Cory's "All the Tea in China," which fittingly had an oriental sound.
This is a SWEET album of upbeat, joyful and just plain FUN music that fits the title, "It's OK Say Yes." From the "Prelude" (a ticky-piano ditty) to "The Stars and the Moon" to "Star Child" all the way through to "Time Machine" (my very favorite) and "Birth of Venus" (love song's still the end), the CD has the same effect on people as the live set did on the Hole crowd. It must be "The Power of Suggestion" (the final cut) which the boys admit seeks to "make you love me."
"Stars" has that Beatles feel to it -- "said I'd give you the stars, I'd give you the moon," and even some of those Paul McCartney "whoo's". "Star Child" (there's Jeff's saw) will "fade into the night like a star that's so bright," but then there is this a cappello three-part barbershop harmony verse that leads into the guitar solo that is just KILLER! You feel like you're on a yellow submarine! Yet you end up realizing that this might be a song about a lost love.
"Everybody Knows" has that Sixties R&B feel to it, then morphs into that British pop sound for a while. How is it that Glaeser and Gebhard write songs that so easily complement each other? "Dream" hopes that "you'll be there someday with me" -- in the dream that is life. This is soooo Hollies! "Got No Game" is uptempo, as is "Til I'm Over You," which starts off with "You say you wannt hang out and be the best of friends" -- but it was the "you say" that reminded me of 4th Street for a brief second. But what harmonies! I just LOVE this song.
Even so, it's "Time Machine" that clears out all of my cobwebs. [Where HAVE I been not to have caught this band?] "I've got a question, girl, that's been on my mind, can I put us back together?" That time machine might just change their lives -- because "the second time is always better." Second verse starts the harmonies. Then there is "I Got So Sleepy," which reminds us that "that was then, this is now," as we dance the sleepyhead's waltz. And just when you think you are yawning, "Birth of Venus" starts off with those harmonies again -- but fortunately for the oversleepers, the song quickly turns into a pop shuffle that reminds us that "love songs fill the air" when you just sing like these guys do (nice piano work, too!). The finale has that saw again -- and that sleepy theme as well. The wonderful Darin Murphy produced a four-song EP for these guys back in 2004 -- he must LOVE this record a lot!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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