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

Friday, June 27, 2008

Drew and Dustin, Dylan Meek,
Clyde and Clem -- and Much More!

Drew Smith and Dustin Welch acoustic at Momo's; Alli Russell and Awna Texeira of Po' Girl; Clyde (right) and Clem at the Hole in the Wall; Suzanna Choffel and Chad Pope ham it up behind Wendy Colonna (too pretty to show here!); Jeremy of JT and the Clouds; Dylan Meek playing with Slim Richey at the Elephant Room.
So much music -- so little time to write. But here's a synopsis of SOME of the music Flanfire has seen and heard lately -- so much of it so very good. Let's start with THIS week's shows. Monday night marked the return of Dustin Welch to Austin from a songwriter's workshop.
The young troubadour broke out three brand-new songs during a thirst-quenching set (with The Will Evans Project playing before and Jeremy Nail afterward) -- Jolly Jolly Junker (with the full band), Too Blue To Tango (Tangle?) with You, and my favorite, (a good day to get) Lost at Sea. The set also included Idaho Moon, Empty Parking Lots and Don't Tell 'Em Nothin' (among others). The very next night Dustin teamed up with Drew Smith for a stripped down acoustic song swap that was like having fine wine and a good cigar after a five-star dinner. Drew sang "Nilsson Sings Newman," "Are You Lonely?," "Diamonds" and (among others) "You Help Me Get That Feeling Too" -- while Dustin sang the new songs, "Silver Pictures," "Dresden Snow" and "My Heart Don't Beat the Same." The rapport between these two close friends and great songwriters (according to Warren Hood, who plays Sunday night at Momos) was infectious -- the night ended too early. [A sweaty Will Evans playing electric for a change!]
The same could be said for Tuesday night's Po' Girl show, which once again featured JT Nero (in white, above) and a powerful rendition of "Who Shot Sam Cooke?" plus a song he wrote while driving on a cold day through northern New Mexico and the Po' Girl song "Prairie Lullaby." Alli and Awna (again with Ben Seidlinger and his hand-made dobro) opened with "Things We Believe In," brought up the Spankers' Famous Jake for a song, sang a few more and closed with JT's "Till It's Gone." The new record (crafted by Bukka Allen and his pals) is done, and sadly we may not see these amazing women for many moons (though JT promises an earlier return). An hour with these minstrels is like a shower in the rain with lavender and jasmine and pure honey.
From the sublime to the ridiculous -- twice in a month (at Flamingo Cantina and the Hole in the Wall) I have caught up with Clyde and Clem's Whiskey Business. This band of hillbillies (sic) has both been practicing and adding to their show (Skwerl has a new standup bass, everybody is getting into the singing act, and they have learned to break just about every guitar string in a single set). Kinda like a poor man's Spankers, Clyde and Clem, along with Skwerl, Old Red (banjo), Boxcar Stanley (washboard), and Smokin' Guns (harmonica) are bawdy, bold, and sometimes even on key -- but always entertaining (you can dance to it!).
On another night at the Hole, I caught up with Brent Adair who has been showcasing his new record, "Ostrich" and showing off the wonderful ostrich (shown here) made in honor of the music. Brent's backing band included Jeff Botta, John Leon, Derek Morris, and the inscrutable John Thomasson. I liked the quiet songs that reminded me a little of both Jeff Buckley and Rodney Crowell. On the same bill were The Century (Travis McCann's farewell show before he moves to St. Paul), and Juan Gutierrez was in bono vox indeed!; Slowtrain (Adoniram brought up Ricky Stein for a song); and Trey Brown (who gave me his new CD to listen to -- nice stuff!). ANd speaking of the Hole, Matt Meshbane (shown here dancing to Chris Brecht's music) is excited about booking weekday Happy Hour shows with some of Austin's best talent (including Hole heroes from the past).

I also caught up with Ricky Stein at Jovita's (band sounded great!) after checking out Matt Maye's new band at Hickory Street (after hearing Matt, Tara Craig, and Gina Chavez and also seeing Grace Pettis at Austin Java a few days earlier). Then there was the joy of Uncle Bruno, with Damon Garcia on sax (and his mom in the house!) spreading that Nawlins FUNK! And Momo's became a jazz club as my pal Fito Kahn banged the bongos for the Duane Carter band (featuring Carter on trumpet, Eric Calistri on guitar, Kit Holmes on piano, Steve Sargent on drums, and Dewayne Morris on bass -- songbird Lauren Kahn was missing from the lineup (she is my Blastbeat pal!).

After spending this afternoon watching "August Rush," I trekked down to the Elephant Room to catch up with a real-life prodigy -- new driver Dylan Meek, who is off for his fifth summer at Berklee in July. The ageless Slim Richey was on guitar (with Francie Meaux Jeaux on bass, of course), and the family affair also included Marcus Gonzales on trombone and the lovely Gaila Kenneally on vocals -- with a surprise visit to the stage by LZ Love (did I mention I had gotten to see her at Central Market on June Teenth?). LZ belted out Billie Holliday's "God Bless the Child," while Kenneally offered up "Blue Skies" and "Angel Eyes" along with a smokin' version (in Portuguese) of "The Girl from Ipanema." Slim and the band also kept the audience hopping with One O'Clock Jump. This was a wonderful hour of pure joy.
Upcoming shows of note include Dustin and Kevin Welch at the Continental Club on July 3rd, the Bellville Outfit, Warren and the Hoodlums, and then Noah Jeffries and Dennis Ludiker all at Momos this Sunday. Plus T-Bird and the Breaks at Threadgill's on July 11th (word is their upcoming CD is killah!). Sadly, I had to miss a great show (I owe ya one, Betsy) at Antone's last night -- Flatcar Rattlers and American Graveyard and Turbo 350 -- just so I could rest up and get this report out to all of you.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Good Golly, Miss Molly!
I first heard the name Molly Venter when I was helping out friends with some shows at [] coffeehouse during SXSW week. I totally missed her showcase there, but she did hand me a five-song sampler from her forthcoming CD, "Love Me Like You Mean It." Next thing I knew, I learned that Miss Molly was a member of Body Choir, home to the much beloved John Slatin and to my old pals Laura Rose and Bruce. Then I went to Molly's CD release (done without the actual CD) at the Cactus Cafe and met Molly's brother Josiah (also a singer-songwriter).

By this time I was already captivated by this amazing woman, who spent months down in Guanajuato, Mexico, honing her craft and who is currently on tour on the East Coast. The photo here is Molly singing a brand-new song (not on the CD) and playing a grand piano at a well-known Austin address -- and Molly admits that she has a long way to go as a pianist. But she looks (and played) GREAT! It was on this day I finally got the full CD -- and now I can hardly wait till she is back in town.

Bukka Allen plays piano, accordian, and other keyboards on this wonderful recording, and Andre Moran the electric guitar. Rick Richards is on drums, and Michael Hynes on bass -- and Megan Melara lends her voice to a couple of these great songs. Hynes also produced and engineered at The Hideout, and the legendary Dez Dickerson (Prince and the Revolution, Starsong Records) oversaw the entire project for Pavilion Entertainment up in Nashville.

But all that is really important here is Molly's captivating voice and her SONGS! I have to start with "Good Mother," a woman whose story my own mom is living today -- "Would you understand me if I could not speak? Would you feed me supper if I got too weak? Would you drive six hours just to watch me sit and stare? If I got to that point would I even care ...." Molly goes on, "What is the essence of this soul, when the years have taken their toll, I am afraid, trapped in this broken mind, And all you can do is just be kind to me .. be kind ...." But at the end of the song, we are astonished by these words: "What is the essence of this life? Can you feel the joy beneath the cutting knife? I see you trapped in those pretty working minds, And all we can do is just be kind ...."

Molly begins the record with "Shaky Ground," a place she admits to being all too familiar with -- "As the chaos subsides, I am sorting out lies I have come to believe ...." Next she begs her man to "Love Me Like You Mean It" rather than "balk and ... back down" "like you're trying to keep yourself from getting burned." "Happier Now" is a song about growing up but on a deeper level of finding a love that is there "through my darkest night so black." "Write a Letter" is all about a romance going in the wrong direction -- "I don't know why we don't work, I don't know why we're still hurting and why we keep trying long after it stopped working." Personal stuff.

Same for "Tonight," "In the Snow," and "Playing for Keeps." Molly first says , "What I learn about myself is I feel solid as a friend .. I can tell you things that make me cry ... But I'm not as grown up as I try to be ...." "Snow" is just a sweet love song, and "Keeps" is actually about not playing for keeps. Which gets us back to songs that transcend -- In "Great Ocean" Molly notes that "I come to the choir with no part to sing, I come to the feast but my hands are empty, Do you have a firelight to keep the darkness out, Through all of this noise, do you hear me shouting?" Molly is writing this on the road, seven hours into an 11-hour drive, watching the telephone lines and thinking that her heart "is a hundred thousand lifetimes strong."

"Real Anymore" and "Hello Fear" both grapple with the larger issues, too. "Real" asks "What do you do when the veil is taken off? What do you see when the great whale has been caught?" Or to put it another way, "We are missing the heart of it, and shutting out everyone else" out of suspicion that leads all too often to real conflict. "Fear" confronts envy ("every time I bury you, you pop up in my face again"), craving ("it sets me up for feeling like a failure every night"), greed, loneliness ("I think I'll be facing you over and over and over again"), and fear itself ("my guess is you will stay forever .. but I know you keep me safe some of the time").

"Stars" is anthemic in both its scope and its energy -- after meeting an angel, Molly soars: "I am freedom, I am lightness,I am scared for him to go..." But the angel says, "I can't tell you anything you didn't already know." Indeed, as she sails along, the realization comes as the storm hits and the waves come crashing down -- "You have your moment in the mystic, You have the music in your mouth." And what music it is! After listening to this woman, whether live or even on the record, you will surely feel like wet laundry being wrung out and hung up to dry - with the glorious sun hitting you square in the breadbasket.

Dao Strom's Long, Strange (and Wonderful) Journey

The good news is that the new Dao Strom recording, "Everything That Blooms Wrecks Me," is a HUGE leap forward from her debut CD, "Send Me Home," which showcased her bluegrass roots as a woman born in Vietnam of a Vietnamese mother and American father who grew up in northern California and has written intimately personal -- and award winning -- novels and short stories. The bad news is that Dao is living in Alaska and that maybe not until winter there will be have a chance to be blessed in person by her wonderful songs and gentle aura. The good news again is that she is happy with her husband and handsome son Lincoln.

I showed the new record off to Lonesome Hero Landry McMeans, who of course hand-cut the wood in the jacket of the Heroes' new CD (not officially released yet) -- and she was as stunned as I at the hand-made outer jacket (an Alaskan totem photo affixed to this heavy brown textured paper), the equally awesome inner jacket (a birchwood paper with a photo of Dao), and the card that contains the song titles (a sepia photo, taken by Kyle MacDonald, of Dao amidst the wreckage of which she sings).

More photos on the sheet with all the lyrics -- and there we learn that the record was produced by (who else?) Darwin Smith, recorded by Jimmy Way in San Marcos (with Darwin adding more of his magic later on), and features her nine? year old son Lincoln on the final track. Musicians include Billy Brent Malkus (who first introduced me to Dao's music) on dobro and electric guitar, Darwin Smith and Kevin Fox on guitars (Kevin also plays bass, and Darwin adds bells, whistles, and vocals), Jimmy Way on drums, Joseph Santori on cello, Kullen Fuchs on accordian, piano, and Rhodes, Brian Beken on violin and mandolin, and the lovely Aimee Bobruk on vocals.

Anyone looking for another bluegrass record may be disappointed for half a minute -- but Dao's gentle voice and the amazing music -- and her lyrics -- will quickly turn doubters into shouters! Dao says that there are moments of darkness and moments of reprieve in these songs, just as there were in the experiences that led them into being. The songs come from California, the Oregon coast Baja South, and of course the Texas Hill Country.

I have to start with the stark a cappella "Traveler's Ode," which is the nearest thing to the Appalachian music Dao first started singing in public. And yet this song is about Dao's flight from Vietnam as a young child. Well, "Fields of California" is also a bluegrass song, with Brian Beken and Brent Malkus swapping licks on mandolin and dobro -- as Dao spins a tale about "a man who bears no secret 'cept the one that stole all hope from a girl he sees now falling, falling back ...."

The capstone of this record has to be "Only Angel" -- "Even the oceans can turn to rust and what'll we do with the salt and dust that is clinging to our clothes?" And that wonderful chorus, "If you believe we were made to love, then you'd be the only angel that I ever had a dream of, and I've dreamed about a thousand loves and they're all of you...." Santori's cello is all over this song, adding warmth that makes this song just glow.

But there is so much more -- "Caller of Spirit" (Dao's version and Lincoln's too -- "on a mountain in the moonlight, sitting down on stone for breakfast, I saw a caller of spirit crying if they don't forget to say, God smile"). The guitar work here is absolutely beautiful (both versions), and Dao sings these mystical lyrics about venturing "into dark territories" and maybe not making it all the way back ... "tightrope walking on a slack line, I never thought I'd fall this close to earth." "Slow" is a true folk love song, with fiddle (Beken calls it a violin) - a waltz, at that!

The title cut, which Dao says is "a halo spinning around one's heart, the curse of being able to feel but not konwing what to do in the face of suffering, the curse of being witness to but unable to alleviate anyone else's pain, let alone your own ..." This, too, is a showcase for Santori's cell0 and Fuch's piano work -- in juxtaposition. "Silver" Dao says is a song that honors her mother and all single mothers "walking a less traveled path." It was she who first told Dao that some of us prefer silver to gold -- "cuz what is wealth if you're always in need and you count on love more than you ever count your money?" Kullen is here on accordian.

"Sweetness" -- could this be a dual song about her man and her son too? "You bring me pictures becuz you don't wanna talke too much; Words were never enough to say all you saw and all the flowers you gave ..." "Seeds in the Ashes" Dao says is about "the hope of planting something, re-finding something, despite all of the wreckage we have gone through." Here we get another delicious taste of Malkus' dobro. Driving through the countryside near "Lebanon, Missouri," Dao remembered an old friend with whom she had once made a promise to meet on top of a pyramid but never got there -- until four years later their paths crossed again. This is the most electric song on the record. And yet even here the energy is masked -- Dao's music leaves us as if we had been gently hand washed with 100% cleansing cream.

Oh, and speaking of Billy Brent Malkus, fans of the Texas Sapphires ought to glom onto a copy of the band's new DVD (filmed by ME TV in April 2007), "Sorta Live from Austin, Texas," which has a dozen songs. Newcomers to the band will glory in the joyful singing of Malkus and the irresistible Rebecca Lucille Cannon -- and the rest of the band is smokin'. The band is also at work on a new set of songs that may see the light of day later this year.

Gotta go -- more on my musical ramblings next time. But don't forget to see Po' Girl one or both of the last two Tuesdays (at 7 pm at Momo's) this month!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Nathan Singleton as an "Itinerant Youth"
One of the great blessings of living in Austin for young (or any) musicians is the opportunity to step outside one's comfort zone (as front man, for example) to play a subordinate role in someone else's musical journey. Learning to serve one another (or even to take out the trash left by patrons of the very clubs in which you play) is but one way toward the personal and professional growth that makes living in Austin worth it. Music afficiandos also benefit, sometimes directly, for example as one musician adds his or her own ideas that strengthen another's performances but even moreso when musicians building on trust begin to collaborate on songwriting and such.
One wonderful example of this musical sharing was the first of what are set to be several Thursday evenings at Opal Divine's Freehouse. Stefanie Fix has long been one of this writer's favorite songwriters -- from her early work to last year's "Crooked Smile." And yet I had not seen Stefanie's music so well interpreted (yes, her CD release was a great show!) until this week. Her new "summer trio" includes bassist/cellist Mark Williams (aka Gumbasso), whose other regular gig of late is playing with Austin Chronicle musician of the week Dan Dyer, and guitarist (and songwriter -- see below) Nathan Singleton (who with his Sideshow Tragedy band will unveil a new CD, "Itinerant Youth," at Momo's on June 13th -- just after 11 pm).
Stefanie is known for her slide guitar work as well as her challenging and emotional songs (which belie her shy, sly and often self-deprecating humor in person). Songs like "Holy Shit, Ma," her response to the airplanes flying into the Twin Towers in her beloved New York City, or even her brand-new one, dedicated to her six-year-old niece, in which she encourages her sibling's child to never let anyone get in the way of her dreams. Another Stefanie fan, a recent convert to Austin, eloquently pointed out that Stefanie's voice alone carries the weight of her songs. And yet her two first-time musical companions supplied extra energy and passion that made strong songs even stronger. Stefanie will perform solo on June 19th, but Mark and Nathan are due to back her again twice in July.
Earlier this year, we pointed out that Nathan and his band are hardly "sideshow" entertainers -- that they belong front and center on the big stage. With the release of "Itinerant Youth," we have even more evidence to demonstrate our confidence that these guys have the goods. Using the same producer as before (Gabriel Gonzalez, who also plays keyboards, lap steel, and 12-string here) allows a flow between the two recordings that clearly marks the artists' progress.
Bassist Justin Wade Thompson has already survived a major beating to bounce back up (and maybe even still do onstage backflips) and rock out harder than ever, and drummer Jeremy Harrell (another East Texas lad) were both chosen by Singleton for their on-stage intensity and thus their ability to amplify the intensity of his own music to frenetic proportions.
That passion comes through in spades from the very first groans to the final notes of this new recording -- which builds on the foundation laid earlier in "Borrowed Guitars, Unwound Hearts and Broken Strings," which writer Terry McCarthy described as a showcase for Singleton's "deep treatises on love and life." Now some writers will likely focus on the band's rocker numbers -- "A Pint of Whiskey and a Pound of Grace" (a chronicle of hard times on the road), "Pascal's Wager" (Singleton's running battle between true faith and "religion"), and "A Few More Days" (or why the hell am I in New York City when the one I love is a thousand miles away?).
Good as these songs are (and I have played this record straight through over a dozen times in the past few days), the song that just sticks in my craw is the ending ballad, "Thief in the Night" -- "love will come like a thief in the night, leave you broken, It will hold your life on the edge of a knife, Cut your heart open..." Then there's "The Fog in the City," which includes a paean to Baudelaire -- "And pain is just a flash, like joy, Just a dessert for your favorite meal, Nothing to hide or hide from, No one to lead or get behind, And this ennui is unbearable at times, Sometimes we lose our souls to save our sins ..."
Or how about, "Lady in Waiting" (cowritten with Dustin Welch, Jeremy Nail, and the lovely Rachael Craft), which opens with a death march drum solo that never quits, but merely allows the melody to rise above its implications ... "It's the same old mystery, Nothing but a cold heart beat, Distant faces passing by, Careless and killing time, Middle of nowhere tonight ..." And yet, "through the eyes of a perfect stranger she'll remember her face in the mirror." Anyone up for restoring the humanity of lost souls?
Singleton is, after all, an integral member of the Momo's music scene which budding theologian Steve Buhrman has described as one with "inherent spiritual and religious dimensions." Buhrman (whose brother Adam fronts the band "Goldcure") learned that Momo's co-owner Paul Oveisi acknowledged a responsibility "to create realities that are meaningful and fulfilling, to build a life and a sense of community that is true and authentic, and to live in such a way that blesses and does not harm the world that is our common home."
Thus it should not be that surprising to hear in Singleton's lyrics the lines "a fortress of faith" (from "The Fog in the City"), "thief in the night," or even the powerful message of "Pascal's Wager" (with Charlie Faye, Erika Maassen and Melissa Steely as backing choir) -- that the kingdom of heaven is here and now -- or in other words, that life is not about rules and gotchas, or (as he notes in the song) about "an all-access pass through those pearly gates," but rather about living each day in recognition of our own flaws and yet with hope. Of course Nathan would probably rather say he is just out to have a good time and play good music for his audiences -- or as he admits to Buhrman, "I play music to get myself off, and that's it" -- except (OOPS!) his own pals called him out as a man who deeply cares about conveying the truth that he is constantly finding to those around him and his music.
There is, after all, that infectious grin which cannot fully be suppressed -- and watching Nathan play with Stefanie (see the photo here) it is hard not to see a man thrilled with learning about this great life we have been given and eager to disprove even his own harsh theories and to convert the very ones whose falsities tarnished his young spirit years ago. Love is creeping in -- thus we have "Leaving Texas" -- the struggle between the old life of angst and the love that is so elusive and hard to recognize as coming from within -- "So let's not waste time [leaving Texas together], We'll be anybody but ourselves ... Let's go get lost far away." This on top of "Please Forget Me," that other side of the coin argument that I am just not good enough for you. And that may be why "Thief in the Night" is so strong -- as it ends with these words -- "Hold my hand, close your eyes, Don't look back, It's where we're going, It's not where we've been...."
Po' Girl -- Rich in Music!
Just another reminder that these two Canadian angels will be at Momo's Tuesdays in June (at 7 pm) while in Austin recording their new CD with Bukka Allen. On sale at these shows is a 14-song collection entitled "Unreleased," and some of these songs will also be on the new recording all dressed up. You KNOW we rarely write about anything but Austin music -- and yet these women capture the spirit of life that is what we love about our own scene. No wonder they are here now.
[From their own bio] -- Po' Girl will be holed up in Austin, Texas this June making the record that will almost certainly change forever the way the band is perceived. Many of the trappings of the trademark Po' Girl sound are still there - the echoes of speakeasy jazz, the western lament, the accordion-strapped ghosts of European folk --- but it's all delivered with a soulful clarity and depth only hinted at on previous records. And, friends and strangers, WE here in Austin will be right in the middle of this transformational project that just might launch these two darlings (and pal Benny Sidelinger the dobro maker) onto the world stage (not that they have not ALREADY played four continents). [And, yes, I am the guy who did not make it to the U2 show in College Park, Maryland, two miles from my house, back in 1982 or so -- all the more reason I urge EVERYONE to come out to see these musical magicians for love!]

And I leave you all with this photo of Betty Soo joining birthday girl Erika Maassen and the passionate Charlie Faye on stage at the Saxon.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Blues Mafia To Be Wearin' the Green!
But Let's Not Forget June 19th at Stubbs!

Sasha Ortiz of Blues Mafia; Lindsey Robertson with Aaron Miller and Cory Dennis; Aaron Miller (vox) and Amber Dennis (keys) and The El Guapos horn section; The Diving Captain; The Audiophiles; Max Tolleson of Sea Fields of Elephants; [not shown: Team NEXT from Austin CAN Academy] - all winners at the Blastbeat Regional Finals at Emo's Lounge, but only Blues Mafia (plus the music management team from Akins High -- which includes members of the El Guapos) will be competing this December in Dublin, Ireland, in the Blastbeat world championships.

It was hot and sweaty at Emo's Lounge the last day of May -- but nobody cared. Four high school music management companies (from Akins High, Anderson High, LASA, and Austin CAN Academy) competed first for various prizes for entrepreneurship and effort in support of local musicians and worldwide nonprofit organizations that are offered by the Ireland-based nonprofit Blastbeat (http://www.blastbeat.org/). Austin School of Music was a cosponsor of the event, along with Strait Music and a host of other civic minded folks about town.

By about 2:30, the music began with a guest set from Super Pal Universe, whose TV pilot will soon be airing locally (and maybe even on a broader scale -- we are not quite sure). Six bands were competing, and three of them won significant prizes but all six will be featured on a DVD of the competition that will be sold in area high schools and perhaps worldwide starting this fall. Blastbeat, you see, has operations in South Africa, Slovakia, England, Ireland, Belgium, several American cities -- and more, with expansion in the works as fast as funds can be raised to support this innovative social entrepreneurship program built around youth-generated music.

The Audiophiles feature Ethan Banner on keyboards, Curtis McMurtry on lead guitar (and sometimes sax), and Stefan Peierls on drums -- plus rapper Franklin Ngbaragbor and bassist April Inez (Kaplowitz). Every member of this band is a real talent -- here's hoping they will be playing LOTS more gigs. Sea Fields of Elephants features Max Tolleson and Henry Gillespie (of Max and Henry) playing lots of different stuff along with "Manic Mike" and "Gentle Joseph" -- this is surreal stuff akin to the Yellow Submarine era (and yes, they did do a song about finding a burial spot for a dearly deceased canine, and yes, they do paint their faces). Music, art, and social commentary all rolled into one big fun-seeking quartet of young geniuses.
Team NEXT put on an amazing show -- so good they got to keep on going (largely because the entire afternoon's program was way ahead of schedule) -- and wowing the crowd with choreographed rap songs and crooner ballads. This band is really an extended family of kids who make up in hope and joy and high energy what they have lacked in material goods. The Diving Captain -- Jake "Snow White" Laughterstein, Colin "Sleeping Beauty" Jenkins, Erin "Belle" Teasdale, and Wells "Shaqueefa" Barber (per their own website) -- just flat out ROCK! High energy -- on and off the stage.
The El Guapos (see CD review below) are another family band -- two members [Todd and Jonathan Harris] are brothers, two others are brother and sister. Their music is infectious -- joy, adventure, and pure theater (the band opened their set with a choreographed dance ending with the opening of umbrellas announcing their new CD, "Birds. Birds! Birds?" You just cannot hear this music without dancing! Neither can the band!
Finally, Blues Mafia hopped up on stage with lead singer Sasha Ortiz wearing a brand-new dress which a friend had gotten for her in New York City. Maybe it WAS the dress, but the woman just owned the stage. [Maybe it was opening the night before for Malford Milligan and Pinetop Perkins up at Nunos on MOPAC; maybe it was the two great songs written especially for her by guitarist bandmate Max Frost; or maybe it was the fact that Max and bassist Kai Roach executed (for the very first time ever on stage) a perfect double leap!]
Blastbeat founder and CEO Robert Stephenson (unaccustomed to the heat here, to be sure) was nevertheless as cool as a cucumber - NOT! He was so excited by these great young bands that he was trying already to figure out how to take ALL of them across the POND! And that was before The Daze (featuring Evan Butts, Aaron Lemke, and Chris Ritchie) had closed out the afternoon with an absolutely SMOKIN' set! The entire show, thankfully, was filmed by the fabulous Infynit Media Group from Community Channel 10 under the direction of Mixtank's Brian Conway -- and, yes, we know about lots of other teenagers in Austin making exciting and creative music. And soon so will many many more folks.
The El Guapos Brought Back Pluto -- and NOW!
Birds. Birds! Birds? -- the new El Guapos eight-song CD -- is just pure joy. The opening "Move to Antarctica" through "Get Some Sleep" [lots of woh oh oh's and la la's with some falsetto thrown in] showcase the imaginativeness of this music. "Snow Blankets" is one of those songs that gets into your head and sticks around -- "cut away, cut away cut my chains away..." leading into "Who" power chord and some anthemic melodies and ending with some "la la's" and "I can feel my heart beating like a drum."
Next up are "Strange Dreams" and "Time Machines" (poetic, eh?) and then the song that grabs my heart -- "A Cathedral for the Sun." This is a flat out BEAUTIFUL song that opens with Amber Harris on keyboards and then some tender guitar and a glockenspiel that lead into even tenderer lyrics -- "my heart it aches for someone to sing to, and there you were just as heaven sent you," and the amazing chorus, "you are the one who has stolen my heart left a hole in my chest when I was in need of a heart, so you gave, you gave me yours ...." The song ends with the promise that "I'll cry for you when you're crying." Yeah -- there are two more songs -- "Shooting Flares from Ships" and "Hungry Ghosts" -- and some artwork by the versatile Amber on the front and back cover and even inside. Cory and Aaron engineered at the Indie Fort.
Rocketboys, Quiet Company -- from Antone's to Stubbs!
Indeed, it was with the El Guapos in mind that I strolled over to Antone's on Sunday night (after catching a bit of Phoebe Hunt -- hot black and white dress -- and her band, the Belleville Outfit) to catch sets from Austin's Quiet Company and Abilene's Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys. I well remember my first visit with these two bands on a quiet Sunday evening at Room 710 -- and a near-empty house.
No more. They packed out Antone's on a Sunday night this time. Taylor Muse (standing on his keyboard seat) is a dedicated rock star, complete with lots of slides, jumps and hot licks on both keyboard and guitar. Brandon Kinder (wearing the hat) fronts the Rocketboys, who barely beat out their longtime pals Quiet Company for a slot on last year's Austin City Limits Music Festival. Both bands just completed a lengthy tour and yet will be back in Austin at Stubbs on June 19th.
The Rocketboys also have a CD entitled "Sing Bird Sing," and that of course brought the El Guapos to mind. If you like power rock (Explosions in the Sky or Austin's own Summer Wardrobe, whom I caught at the Hole in the Wall earlier tonight), you would love these bands.

Phoebe sure has grown up since I first saw her at Alice's Restaurant "sitting in" with the Hudsons. Meanwhile, there's good news, bad (well, deferred good) news to report. Landry McMeans and that Rich Russell guy from the Lonesome Heroes are off on tour for most of the summer (they DO play the Hole on August 9th) -- we will miss their joy. But every Tuesday (at 7 pm) at Momo's Austin folks can get to hear the wonderful Canadian women (Alli Russell and Awna Teixeira of Po' Girl), who are in town making a record with Bukka Allen down in pest-free Buda, together with drummer Austin Cooper and his cohort from Olympia, Washington, Benny Sidelinger, who brought along one of his hand-made dobros (and one of his guitars) to play. The fortunate few got to see Po' Girl and Chicago-based special guests JT and the Clouds (in town for the recording, but back with their full crew not too far away in the future we hope. I also got to catch a set from the fabulous Charlie Faye at the Saxon, with Matt Mollica, Joe Humel, Will Taylor, Erika Maassen, and the wonderful David Holt on lead guitar -- and Betty Soo (fresh from her New Folk win at Kerrville) sang harmoniees too!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Gary Newcomb: Man of Steel!
Gary Newcomb has been a busy man of late. Take Saturday -- showcasing his brand new CD, "The Gary Newcomb Trio" together with Outlaw Billy Doughty on drums and Brandon Gonzalez on electric bass, and then after enjoying a set from a stripped down Brothers and Sisters (just five pieces!), hopping back up on stage for an extended set that welcomed back the ENTIRE Li'l Cap'n Travis to the Austin stage. So after a few hours' s sleep (maybe!?), Gary was back at it on Sunday morning at Jo's Coffees with the Brothers Lazaroff and later Jo's House Band. Then he was off to play the national anthem at a Roller Girls contest. Just one full day's work for the MAN OF STEEL!

Austin is famous for pedal steel players -- seems like there are DOZENS of legendary players who have semi-retired here (which means they play just three or four nights a week), and others who pass through here from time to time. No way to rank these guys -- but one thing is fo' sho' here in this town -- NONE of them can sing and write those lazy, crazy, hazy daisy summer songs like Gary Newcomb.

But first some props for the artwork on the CD jacket -- by Matt Kinsey -- and the design work by Geoff Peveto of the Decoder Ring Design Concern. And, yes, this CD was recorded on 2-inch real tape at The Bubble (but enough techie stuff). This is DANCIN' music -- of the 1950's kind.

Maybe my very favorite is "For the Birds: Bluebird," with its amazing (unearthly) solos (did I mention this is great makeout music!) -- " ...and there's the tragic story of the one who died in vain becoming the bird of fire rising from the FLAME. So if you're lonely baby and you don't know what to do, just listen to the wind, something will come to you ..."

The CD begins with the quirky "Firefly" -- "how can it be that you are a whisper of affection from afar, or are you just a piece of fallen star, I could never keep you in a jar." Next up we learn that Gary is "Too Sensitive," and did I mention how well the rhythm section lays the foundation from which Gary improvises all over the place? This song, though, is dreamy like lying on your back and watching the clouds go by. And then there is the "Open Prayer of a Horse Thief," the first of many songs here that showcase Gary's wit and wisdom (not far from the Far Side!) -- "A man must have a trade, have a bed in which to lay .. I took what should have been and made it mine .. O driver wake me up on the other side." This is a great tune!
"Snow Day" -- takes us back to grade school -- but "Helen of Troy" takes us somewhere else! What a trip it is -- funky, smoky -- and all of a sudden a carousel! Billy's drumming is HUGE in setting the tone here ... and did I mention this is a beer (and whiskey and wine) drinking song? Next we go on a journey down to "Sycamore Street," where "it's all milk and honey," maybe in the 1890's? There's this kid wanting to buy a music box and a bouncing ball -- and maybe a marionnette... and more. [I can just hear Donna Fargo doing this one!] Yeah, this is a waltz!

Okay -- I am NOT going to tell you any more about the other songs -- you will just have to buy the CD (and you should RUN RUN RUN to get one). This is WONDERFUL music, timeless and pure and amazingly childlike. [Okay! Gary does take us off to "The Greyhound Races," and we can just watch the dogs running silently and sleekly around the track.] And "Lazy Eye" is the closest thing to a real country song on the whole record; you can two-step to this one. "Late, Late Last Night" is yet another love song (and of course another waltz).

And then there is "Daisy Don't" -- a shuffle to be sure, but with some odd twists that might frustrate the "average" Broken Spoke dancer (but not the real pros -- and the Lawrence Welk dancers would have had a field day!) "Local Honey" is totally a pop ballad -- no country here. Finally, Gary reveals that he has always been "One of the Wild Ones" -- as if we did not know (after all, he does hang out sometimes with Rich and Landry and the other Lonesome Heroes). Sure, the song says "you" are one of the wild ones staring into the sun -- but we know. Brandon on bass just kills on this number ... which the Heroes MUST COVER!!!!! This is travelin' music.

What a TOTAL feast Gary Newcomb's set was at the Continental Club. But gluttonous us -- we had another two-plus hours of music left (that for me after eight bands in showcases all afternoon, but that's ANOTHER blog story). The beautiful Lily and her gregarious brother Will -- Brothers and Sisters down to five pieces (David Wilcox on guitar, David Morgan on bass, Greg McArthur on drums - right?) -- just as good as ever and with a brand-new CD due in July! How sweet it is!

And the night had really just begun. Jeff Johnston's entire family (or so it seemed) was in the house for the first of what promises to be MANY shows by the re-formed Li'l Cap'n Travis! And Jeff brought down the house when he switched from bass to guitar on "Wichita Lineman,"which Jimmy Webb wrote and Glen Campbell made famous -- but Jeff now owns. The versatile one also took over on pedal steel while Gary Newcomb (equally versatile) showed his lead guitar chops! I could not, of course, write about this show - I was too busy dancing all over the room tired as I thought I was. Everybody was overjoyed to see the angular form of C. Christian Braafladt back on the Continental stage and to hear the harmonies on these immortal songs.

Gotta save some props for the Brothers Lazaroff -- David who lives in Austin and Jeff who (still) lives in St. Louis (who brought down the guys from his band there to play here a few shows). Brunch at Jo's featured in the band the lovely Elizabeth McQueen (and hubby Dave Sanger on percussion) and the immortal Lindsay Greene playing keyboard and accordian (Jeff had brought Teddy Brewkins, his amazing bass player, and drummer Grover Stewart); Jerry Hagins on (unmiked) banjo, and of course the ever-present Gary Newcomb on pedal steel.
This was a collection of songs mostly NOT on the band's "Pure Delight,"and featured an oldie, "An Image Through a Row of Trees," "Union of the Soul," and "Let It Be Love" -- all amazing. Elizabeth has been covering the brothers' "Dreaming" so naturally she sang it at Jo's. Jeff has this voice that is better than a massage -- well, almost! What a great morning with my pal Jack.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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