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

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chris Brecht: Somewhere Between Bob and Townes

Chris Brecht on stage at the Continental Club with Broken 45's bandmates Matt Mollica (Hammond), Bobby Daniel (bass), and Ricky Ray Jackson (pedal steel) -- and drummer Billy Doughty (not shown).
It is always a joy to listen to Chris Brecht -- whether with his full band (at the Continental Club for his second CD release of the new disc "The Great Ride") or solo (at Jo's Hot Coffees on Memorial Day at a benefit for the Green Corn Project).
The quirky Coloradoan with the unkempt sandy hair and infectious smile is one of a generation of new poets who are fast becoming legion here in Austin -- Nathan Singleton and his bandmate Justin Wade Thompson, Jeremy Nail, Dustin Welch and North Dakotan Leo Rondeau are just a few -- who have found music as the medium to deliver their visions, observations, dreams, and real life experiences.
First time I heard Chris (after knowing him a while) was at a Ham Jam evening. We were all sitting out in the atrium and Chris was singing songs that sounded like the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan -- and then pal Graham Weber actually DID sing a Dylan song as if to emphasize the point. Chris also plays harmonica -- and on stage he often seems to be in his own reverie ... you are just waiting for his self-deprecating witticisms that are what distinguish him from the fellow we met in "Don't Look Back." But the quality of the writing is just as good -- and getting better.
"Better Grab My Coat" is on the new CD -- yet another of those would be love songs that end up showing the sadder side of romance ... "when the midnight screams it screams at you, when the snow falls hard, it falls for you .... I'd better grab my coat, it's gonna be cold without you." But a song Chris did at both shows I saw this week, "Oregon," is not -- and it may be his best yet.
Then there are those great tunes that first drew my attention -- the amazing "Reading My Mind" ("Remind me of your blue-eyed son who's been walking for miles and is still not done ... SAD one you've stayed too long, outside the crowd your time has come ... as a hard wind blows through the alleys of our clothes, If I hadn't seen you come I could never watch you go."
Did I mention players? Chris has had help from guitarists Brad Rice, Gordy Quist and Chris Masterson, the wonderful Eleanor Whitmore, drummer Stephen Bres -- and various others. Rice (now in Keith Urban's band) co-produced the album, which was recorded at Bismeaux.
But back to the songs -- "I Played Cards with the Devil" ("meet me on 4th Street in the rain where the Cowboy Junkies play, when you said to me, 'come inside,' you stepped into the light and I saw the devil in your eye" -- THIS SONG FLAT OUT ROCKS! [Of course, Chris left it off the record even though the lyrics are posted! But you can find it at his myspace page for now.]
Or how about "A Song about Lightbulbs"? "I haven't got the fog of time I must be out of my lightbulb mind, the streets are a jungle and I'm going after you bilnd as the crowd of people that I'm diggin' through." Or "Dead Leaf" (another sad love song) -- "Moonlight tears where the night mind dies, I cannot sleep against the grains in my eyes, shelters of hope to create new lies you ain't nowhere, there ain't no lines, if your cross of a vacant road I can't help you, I'd rather watch a dead leaf blow."
OR "Absinthe" -- "Said the window to the northern rain, I could touch her poetry but it's not the same, even a whisper can't calm her down, I look into her eyes but she's nowhere to be found..." And another favorite (with a key line borrowed from Gary Snyder), "Night Highway Ninety-Nine" -- lots of harmonica here, too -- "Hemingway returns with a typewriter burn and no fixation for death, sunflower sun is hard on her skin, I'm sinking in all the way to the sea." And of course, "By Train" -- just how many verses there really are to this one depends on which ones Chris remembers (or adds on the spur of the moment?) on a given night.
We always seem to think that musicians who are in Austin today will be here forever -- and Chris seems comfortable in his skin here, true, but how can we deny that this guy just might (just might!) be swept along down the road only to play here once or twice a year before long? Pathos, insights that touch the hardest heart -- vulnerability -- not Dylan at all but more on our own plane and yet ethereal too ... closer to Townes maybe, but Chris is downright hopeful and focused on getting his poetry out to people who can identify with the places where he's been (or at least has seen up close enough to report so well).
I have already reviewed Fluoxetine's new CD, but had not seen the band play live until the other night at a birthday party for singer-songwriter (and band leader) Ryan Morris. The beautiful Erin Ivey opened (that woman grows on you song by song -- and it's maybe more the warmth she exudes than anything else, but you really want to be with her as she heads off to Zambia later this summer to teach AIDS orphans) -- and if you like jazz, check out her duo Grand Hotel.
But back to the band -- Landis Armstrong on guitars and vocals, Amy Hawthorne on bass, and a pinch-hit drummer whose name escapes me (Ronny Haas got a day job in Oklahoma that pays really well!). This band is a lot of fun -- they even brought out the smoke machine!

Amy and Landis rockin' out!; Ryan Morris in a fog!; and who does not love Erin Ivey?
Now I have seen a LOT more music in the past few daze -- notably the amazing Dana Falconberry at Clementine's (hanging out with my pal Jack), the Lonesome Heroes (with Chris Brecht) at Jo's for the Green Corn Project (the folks who help you grow your own ..... food!), Dan Dyer and Drew Smith (not to mention Dustin Welch and Jeremy Nail) at Momo's -- love Dan's energy and vocal power, love Drew's new sound). And more to come -- a review of Nathan Singleton's wonderful new record -- and a shout out for a new project by Chad Tracy.
But before I go I have to put in a plug for the BLASTBEAT REGIONAL FINALS -- with the winning band getting a trip to Ireland in December to compete with and meet fellow musicians who happen to be teenagers from Slovakia, Belgium, South Africa, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and even Los Angeles and New York City (and maybe a couple other places, too!). Contestants include --
Blues Mafia (of whom we have written extensively, featuring Sasha Ortiz on vocals)
Sea Fields of Elephants (featuring Max Tolleson and Henry Gillespie)
The Diving Captain (featuring members formerly of the Frets)
Team NEXT (an extended family of hiphop and soul singers from Manor mostly)
The Audiophiles (Curtis McMurtry, Ethan Banner, and Stefan Peierls)
The El Guapos (who will also be releasing their new CD, "Birds. Birds! Birds?")
The entire show (which also features guest sets from Super Pal Universe and The Daze) will be filmed for a DVD to be sold in Austin area high schools (and elsewhere) next fall by music management companies organized by Blastbeat (http://www.blastbeat.org/) and in partnership with the Austin School of Music and Rock Camp Austin. Also competing on Saturday afternoon (starting at 2 pm at Emo's Lounge) will be four music management companies (from Austin CAN Academy, Akins High, Anderson High, and LASA) who are also vying to win a trip to Ireland for the world finals -- these are the kids who put together the concerts, promote them, sell T-shirts and tickets, film and write about and publicize the events, all through a program created by Irish music industry veteran Robert Stephenson as a nonprofit whose goal is to help jumpstart a new generation of social entrepreneurs.
So get out there -- and if you cannot, then get ready to buy a CD next fall. Or invite these bands to play your own parties and shows. Unlike the multitudes who descend upon Austin every month (or so it seems -- and we do not in any wise discourage this in-migration) these are all homegrown musicians who are just starting to reach their own generation (and older folks too).
FINALLY -- I could not fail to report that the Hole in the Wall ACTUALLY has (thanks to its new owner, who hails from El Paso) A REAL SOUND SYSTEM! Check out the sound board!.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Steve James, the Shake'em Ups, and C-H-I-L-I!!!
Katy Rose Cox and Jenny Parrott of Shotgun Party with the well-stuffed judges who chose the winning chili during an all-day picking party at the Oaks in Manor -- Steve James was the headliner and he did not disappoint. Below -- Chainsaw Vaughn Walters and Sly "Hot Dog" Barrack of the Shake'em Ups; Vaughn and Burton Lee with Suzanne Hall.

The winning chili, by the way, came from Yvonne Coffee of the East End Craft Gallery, while Dustin Welch (raised in Nashville!) came in second.

The chili cookoff was just one highlight of a great day in the country (perfect weather, too!). The Fundamentalists (shown here at the Green Mesquite with special guest Seth Hulbert -- Brennen Leigh, Silas Lowe, Justin Kolb, and Matt Downing) opened the show with their rare and precious bluegrassy gospel tunes gleaned from a long-forgotten Americana. Next up was Leo Rondeau (shown here with Burton Lee at the Scoot Inn), whose songs come from North Dakota's Turtle Mountains and his Native American heritage.

Somewhere along the way, we had sets from Brennen Leigh and Shotgun Party -- and then it was time for a history lesson from local treasure (and world traveler) Steve James. Singing and picking (and story telling) with a single mike, Steve held the crowd of young musicians in awe -- well, except for Silas Lowe, who jumped at the chance to perform a mandolin duet with the man at whose feet he has been learning new tricks (and great stories). To this writer, Steve James is in a category of players that includes the late John Fahey and (what the heck!) Mambo John -- amazing on his instruments and larger than life.

I recall that Rosie Flores, JWW and the Prospectors and Mike and the Moonpies (led by Houston-raised songwriter Micheal Harmeier) all played fabulous sets (maybe I still missed someone), but I had to split for a while and got back just in time for Dustin Welch and his band. By that time the chili was long gone -- but the music lingered on.

In what quickly became a whirlwind week, I stopped by the Cactus Cafe to catch the beautiful Molly Venter at her CD release party (but to actually GET her new CD you will have to catch her in between road trips -- and wow what wonderful songs she has!). Later that evening it was the Hole in the Wall where Seth Hulbert noted he was playing geetar for current Delaware resident (and chili cookoff attendee) Jim Trainer. [Also on that bill was Tom VandenAvond, one of a growing number of Wisconsin natives gracing our fair city. I will have to write more about this guy, whose songs are just darn good!]
Suddenly it was Saturday night -- and Leo Rondeau time again, opening the show for the Lonesome Heroes CD release party. Here, Landry McMeans shows why her dobro is one of Austin's favorite instruments -- it provides the backdrop for songs like "Canary" and "Stardust" off the new seven-song release as well as oldies like "Oyster" and the band's ode to roasted tofu. Bandmates Sarah Stollak (fiddle), Jeff Johnston (bass), Chuck Fleming (drums), and of course super-hero Rich Russell never fail to leave their audiences crying out for more. Yet on this night maybe the bigger news (and noise?) was the return of Li'l Cap N Travis (marked by the return of Christian Braafladt, word is the band will be playing new shows besides this one!). [Yeah, that's Jeff Johnston playing Gary Newcomb's pedal steel on a couple of songs on which Gary sizzled on lead guitar. And BTW, does anyone else see Jeff playing the lead in the Kris Kristofferson Story?]
But back to the Shake'em Ups -- who of course also played at the Shotgun Party Chili Cookoff at the Oaks but ALSO played Monday night at the Hole in the Wall (and who will soon embark on a three-week East Coast tour). The very handsome bassist Andrew Thomas Austin-Petersen (who also plays dobro and is also a cellist), who hails from Wisconsin (by way of Iowa), offered me a slice of pizza on Monday night when I stopped by to finally get to hear cutie pie Suzanne Hall (who recently escaped New York City) at the Parlor (great pizza, too!). Noting that Vaughn was sitting in on bass with Suzanne (whose lead guitarist, Pal Moore, was pretty awesome for a Mississippi boy), Andrew mentioned that he and Vaughn had to rush over afterwards to the Hole (where I had already planned to stop by to catch a set from Maria Mabra and her wonderful band Corinne Rose). Well, naturally that meant another late night for me!
The boys had promised to play 30 songs in a 90-minute set -- and then they added a few. But wait -- I have to say that Maria's band has never been hotter -- Scott Stewart, Jason Enright, the amazing Billy Cook, and a new fiddler who hails from Chicago (it was also Jackie's birthday). For a Seattle punk rocker who grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio (and who is fighting the closure of her hometown Antioch College), this gospel-singing landscapist is one amazing singer-songwriter (I cannot say publicly just how good she really is on the drum kit -- while singing!). Some of Maria's songs (Corinne Rose, Goodbye) are just breathtakingly poignant, while others just knock you backwards -- more people need to get to know (and listen to) this amazing woman.
OKAY -- here is the kernel of truth. The Shake'em Ups may be the hottest quasi-bluegrass band to hit Austin since the Greencards, and they are certainly one of the most entertaining. And joyful. You should have seen the wonder the boys expressed at seeing their band name on the marquee at the Hole in the Wall. Sly and Vaughn also play (along with Burton Lee) in Horse Opera, and both write songs that come straight out of their Appalachian upbringing (Vaughn in West Virginia, Sly in rural Virginia). I am so looking forward to the night they first show up on stage with former Spanker Sick and his anticipated bluegrass on speed project.
In passing I will mention a nice set on Sunday at Nuno's on MOPAC by Blues Mafia (with Phillip Roach sitting in on guitar on one song), my first take on the BIG VOICE that I never knew Ally Means possessed (this woman has to get some jazz players to work with her!), and my brief visit to the Hole to catch part of a set from the Down Here Band (more cheeseheads -- well at least I know they are Schlitz drinkers). And with senility fast approaching I probably totally missed mentioning much more good stuff.
But I cannot sign off without noting the tornado night songwriter showcase at Flipnotics featuring the Oregonian Raina Rose, New Yorker Joanna Barbera, and our own freckle-faced Vanessa Lively -- all assisted magnificently by the afore-mentioned Sick on fiddle. Vanessa is getting better every week at building a community of songwriters -- and so she brought Joanna and Raina together for their very first time to hear each other's songs. Joanna also had help from singing partner Ann Sauder (who showed up with bunny ears and kept them on as she sang harmony on songs like "The Forgotten Trail" and "Beautiful Life." Vanessa charmed with "Leaving Salinas" and "Jesusa" and more -- and Raina -- GOOD GRIEF! -- with her new Baird Blaine guitar sang THREE songs about tornados .. and anthemic poems like "For the Good of the People" and "Badlands." Vanessa and Raina and FOUR OTHER WOMEN do it all again on Thursday night at Cafe Mundi!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Celebrate Austin's Latino Music!

Who wouldn't be dancing to Vallejo?
Okay -- May is officially Latin music month in Austin! Even before the huge Cinco de Mayo celebrations kick in, the Austin Latino Music Association (in conjunction with the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau) has released what may well be one of the BEST collections of music ever put together here -- "The Sound Is Brown."
The CD was unveiled last week at the Gibson Guitar showroom at a VIP event (attended by yours truly) that featured music from Joel Guzman and Sarah Fox and Vallejo (that's valley joe in Alabama, where the lads travailed after leaving their native El Campo). All day long Channel 8 featured our pal Gina Chavez frolicking to the sounds of her song "Embrujo." But the crowning event will be the Pachanga Festival on May 31st at Waterloo Park -- we will figure out how to run back and forth from the big Blastbeat-Rock Camp Austin battle of the bands at Emo's Lounge that same day. My friend Sarah Wimer says that NOT TO BE MISSED is a special performance by Mexico City's La Conquista -- these ladies are spicier than the Spice Girls! And, yes, the ladies have adopted Texas as their second home!
Back to the CD (which I am told is available for $18 and well worth it)! This music never stops -- from Vallejo's "Sweet Maria" to Ruben Ramos' "Mi Prietita Consentida (Sw Que No Debo Querrette). WHERE ELSE can you get this kind of compilation -- Del Castillo, Alejandro Escovedo, Grupo Fantasmo, Patricia Vonne, Rosie Flores, Rick Trevino, David Garza, Cienfuegos, Charanga Cakewalk, Gina Chavez, El Tule, Boca Arajo, Mary Welch and Los Curanderos, Cerronato, Vitera (that's Hadyn Vitera!), Maneta Beto, and Kanko. And if you THINK you know which of these performers is your favorite (or "best"), think again! Every song is a HUGE HIT -- and every band is different. Just get it -- and get out to some of the shows highlighted on the ALMA website [ www.austinlatinomusic.com ].
Moving on, last weekend was full of celebrations -- my old barefoot bass player friend Doug Dillon paid me a visit and we went out to Evangeline Cafe (yum!) to hear Jim Patton and Sherry Brokus of Edge City with special guests Jon Sanchez, Ron Flynt, and Sweet Mary Hattersley [there's jim without a mike singing amidst the crowd!].
Then on Sunday, Doug and I were guests at the Harmoni Kelley [gushing!] birthday bash at Club De Ville. Two pretty fair bands - McLemore Avenue and the Greyhounds - were bookended around the amazing Suzanna Choffel, who had to do without newlywed bass player Johnny Vogelsang (congrats, dude!) -- which meant we had to "suffer" through bass by Brad (bass) Houser -- with occasional keyboards from magic man Mark Addison and Dave Madden [can you believe this untouched-up surrealist photo?].
Next night, Harmoni was "scheduled" to play bass with Jeremy Nail at Momo's -- good thing the healed-up Justin Wade Thompson was on hand to fill in. I had been out earlier that evening to catch a set from Slowtrain (with special guests Bryce Clifford and Juan Gutierrez and others too) helping to christen the "brand new club" Deja Vu (which of course is the not very old at all Club 115 at 115 San Jacinto). [This place BEGS to be a jazz club -- for which additional venues are MUCH needed here.]
I will save my review of Chris Brecht's new EP for another time -- and also a long-delayed review of Steve Ulrich's new record -- and brand new music from Bright Light Social Hour and The Bubbles (not to mention upcoming releases galore!). Instead, I will send a big HATS OFF to the Akins High Key Club for their well-attended benefit for Invisible Children at Mohawk.

Aaron from the El Guapos celebrates energy; members of Frank Smith (not the name of anyone in the band!); Jack and AJ from Bright Light Social Hour; a topside view of The Lemurs.

What a great day of music. INSIDE were the teen bands -- The Daze, the Bubbles (review to come of these psychedelic poprockers), The El Guapos and the Diving Captain (who will be among the bands duking it out to go to Ireland), Cranes of the Republic (who hope to get into the Blastbeat-Rock Camp Austin finals), and the Bright Light Social Hour (with a new EP!).
OUTSIDE (I love this venue!) it was the Lemurs, Stella Rose, Frank Smith, Golden Bear, the Politics, Built by Snow, and Frontier Brothers (I only got to see a few of these guys). Stella Rose is a three-piece hard rock band from Fort Worth notably with the very female McKenna Madget on bass; the Lemurs have two keyboard players (one also plays guitar) and are an up and coming indie rock band loved by Andy Langer; while Frank Smith features Austin native Aaron Sinclair who went off to Berklee a dozen years or so ago and got homesick and brought his band back with him (hi, mom! I've got company -- hope you have an extra fridge full of food?). I loved this band -- and got a laugh reading that Aaron once played DRUMS in the "noise punk" band Lot Six and a real buzz from hearing of the band's connection to Juliana Hatfield. The band is taking a month or so off (darn it!) -- which just gives me more prep time for their next gig.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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