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

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kacy Crowley and Her Crooked Cross

New England native Kacy Crowley, in her first decade or so in Austin, went from "Anchorless" -- her widely acclaimed 1997 debut that was picked up by Atlantic Records -- to "braless," her on-stage collaboration with fellow Austin songbirds Trish Murphy and Renee Woodward.

In between, Kacy joined the Lilith Fair, played the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, traveled with music's high rollers, had her second album dumped by Atlantic, recorded a third record with Jon Dee Graham, and set aside her roller blades long enough to learn horseback riding. Somewhere in the mix, Kacy has had her songs placed in three major films and various TV shows, survived cancer and drug addiction, and learned a lot about "struggle and hope."

My own first memories of Kacy Crowley (other than as a legend whose name was whispered as one more example of how the music industry has screwed Austin musicians) was on stage at Threadgill's during the "braless" era -- at some benefit whose cause I forget. Later, I saw her a few times at the Hole in the Wall -- but the truth is I never really listened to her songs until lately, after running into her at Antone's during a show by Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys.

So I really know little of this mesmerizing performer (who blew away the crowd at the recent Dustin Welch hoot night at Momo's) other than what I have gleaned from watching two different videos of "Badass" -- the cancer survivor version and the roller blader version. So I come to the brand-new CD, "Cave," almost as if I were hearing a brand-new artist for the first time. And after listening to "Cave" about two dozen times, I am glad I met this intriguing woman.

You want to root for Kacy -- she's the girl next door who has been stepped on, kicked at, spit on, and who knows what all else just for being special and yet vulnerable. She's the daredevil who's always getting banged up but keeps on ticking like the Energizer Bunny -- and in this new recording Kacy (once again) lets us in on her private little secrets of survival and joy.

The key line in the opening (and title) song, "Cave," is "I face the truth that lies here, this crooked cross I bear." [Note: The CD Baby spiel on Kacy's "Tramps Like Us" describes that record as "eleven disarming acoustic songs played by crooked girl on broken guitar."] "Trampoline" (or is it tramp-0-line?) communicates more with the mood than even with the lyrics that Kacy is an enigma even to herself (at least on the record). And yet this is a woman who is wholly anafraid as she sings [in "The Universe"], "I got a dream I gotta live it, plain old truth I wanna give it."

"Starting Over" reveals how Austin's eternal teenager is facing the fact that "she got older." One of my favorites, "Loneliness Stings," draws on that horseback riding knowledge but focuses on the caretaker for whom "there's no one to care for," whose solitary life is "just like living in a train car" -- and, yes, the message here hits home.

"Quicksand," which features the Tosca String Quartet and keyboardist Kevin Lovejoy, is the only track that is not just Kacy on acoustic guitar and vocals plus producer Billy Harvey playing all other instruments and singing backup. This is a song about the breakup of a lifelong love -- "I took you back to Amherst and I showed you where I swam" ... and what to do next -- "I'll take nothing for granted now I know the way that it works, everything eventually will be taken but your silence will be heard."

Billy is a longtime friend of Kacy's -- and listening to the record, I would love to hear his arrangements played by a live band. There's a lot of love -- and talent -- here. The record concludes with "Answers," an intensely personal song in which Kacy acknowledges that, "far and above the hardest thing is just to expect the suffering .... but there is love." Love, which here is much more than just human passion, is "the only reason I bother to .. get out of my house and wander the streets of a thousand strangers/dangers ...."

But then Kacy's been doing this sort of thing for decades -- baring her soul (Dylan style, someone once wrote), stamping her foot at anyone who says she is not worthy, past tense, or old news. And yet -- and yet, one has the sense that Kacy's best work is yet to come. One day she may receive the mantle from Eliza Gilkyson as a mature woman whose songs, and life, provide real nourishment for an entire community.

Kacy has upcoming shows on September 3 at Momo's and September 5 at Flipnotics. In a real sense, this is a brand-new performer, a person stripped of much of her own history and now wide open to tomorrow. She's traded in the baggage of a "scandalous life" to grow beyond just being a "badass" (cool a one as she was). Look for a brand-new Kacy to take off like a rocket!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

All That Jazz -- and Alt Country, Too!

Matt Hubbard at Ming's; Leah Zeger at the Elephant Room.

After four days in Arizona, it did the body and soul good to drop by the Elephant Room to catch a set from the Leah Zeger Quartet. The long-legged violinist (and budding fiddler) is, as we have noted before, a wonderful jazz singer who has assembled quite an array of talent around her -- that would include Pat Kennedy on drums, Ryan Bowman on five-string bass, and the amazing Matt Raines on seven-string guitar (his own design, by the way!).

The only thing better than Leah would have to be Fai Jow's great food at Ming's -- and a jazz trio featuring Matt Hubbard on piano, Eldridge Goins on drums, and Brad Houser on bass (WOW!) and baritone saxophone. Plus Matt did a soft-shoe dance as an encore, and promised an even better show on Labor Day (with the lovely Jane Bond and others too). Check out the Udon noodle soup (a Japanese dish, by the way) -- I had it with chicken.

On Tuesday (August 12th), we were privileged to be invited to the inaugural taping of Greg Garing's American Backroads Revival -- a 2-hour musical revue hosted by the illustrious iterant fiddler (guitarist, mandolinist, and more!) and his exuberant sidekick, the fun-loving Ruby Jane Smith. Guest stars on the program included Austin's own Shotgun Party, Leo Rondeau, Dustin Welch, Phoebe and Stephanie Hunt, Bill Carter, Mrs. Glass, Matt Downing, and Cousin Royann Cooper (from Nashville!) -- plus a cast of "characters" that included some of the sponsors and the really cute Shannon Patterson from Garing's own band. Willie Pipkin (guitar) and Howdy Darrell (bass) played with just about everybody -- and those fiddling females were all over the place all evening long.

Garing opened the show with "Dig a Hole" and "Simple Melodies," with Ruby Jane, Howdy and Willie. Then Shotgun Party performed "Pickled Eggs" and another song -- and then Phoebe Hunt (fiddler/vocalist for the Belleville Outfit) accompanied Dustin Welch (on banjo) on two songs before Ruby Jane and the house band did two or three numbers. All of this was quite good -- but the best was yet to come.

First, Leo Rondeau, with Burton Lee on dobro and Howdy on bass, sang the classic "Don't Fence Me In," and then with Katy Rose Cox from Shotgun Party on fiddle, blew the place away with his "Lousianne" (and yes he had his own dancers for this Cajun fiddle song). THEN, Phoebe and Stephanie Hunt (from T-Bird and the Breaks) joined Ruby Jane for three-part vocal and fiddle harmonies on Johnny Mercer's "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (Mr. In-Between)," and Stephanie sang her own "Through and Over You," which she said was about high school and not some guy. It may be coincidence, but Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded both "Don't Fence Me In" and "Mr. In-Between" -- but while the fiddling ladies are just as hot as the world-famous sisters, Leo's performance was much more reminiscent of the Roy Rogers version of this Cole Porter favorite (though Porter merely borrowed, with permission, the words of a poem written by Montana highway engineer Robert Fletcher).

Bill Carter brought out a full ensemble of players for Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin'" and another number, and then Mrs. Glass (whom you can also see in "Best Love in Town") flat out rocked the house with his Delta blues on slide guitar and rough-hewn vocals. And that was just the FIRST rotation -- Greg brought everybody back a second time, and it was like having bananas Foster after eating tiramisu! [Double dessert for the uninitiated!]

On this round we got more of Matt Downing and his flaming banjo (okay, it just feels like fire is coming out from that little round box) -- and did I mention the comedy? For the record, on at least one occasion, Phoebe, Stephanie, and Ruby Jane billed themselves as the Wild Flowers -- but do not hold them to it.

Now this is supposed to be the pilot of what will one day soon become a weekly show -- featuring all kinds of music (Garing plays bluegrass, country, jazz, R&B, and even electronica -- and who knows what all else?). But for now, the best we can offer is (when the site is back up) archives from the streaming video that was shown LIVE at http://www.eventjourney.com/ and http://www.tvknob.com/ -- sites hosted by Anthony de los Santos and Doug Watkins, respectively. I also have to tip my hat to my old pal Jason Richard, chief sound engineer for the show, and to the lovely Jaime, who worked very hard on the show and also plays snare drum with the Greg Garing Band.

Before I leave off here, I have to tip my hat to the Austin American-Statesman for its wonderful article on five young Austin-based bands -- the Dedringers, the Fire Ants, Belleville Outfit, Dustin Welch, and Ruby Jane -- and to note that members of three of these bands were featured on this debut show of Greg Garing's American Backroads Revival. Gotta also note that Phoebe, and then Ruby Jane, and now Ian Stewart of the Fire Ants are the last three holders (for a year) of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin!

And speaking of the Belleville Outfit, I caught them a couple of Sundays ago at Hot Mama's Expresso Bar where they were performing for a benefit held by John Grubbs that raised money to fight leukemia and lymphoma -- the event, "Blood Feud - Melinda's Revenge," was named in honor of John's late sister who was stricken by leukemia in the 1960's when just 4 years old.

The night before I just HAD to get over to the Hole in the Wall for the mid-summer visit home by the Lonesome Heroes (and what a show they put on). The show also featured sets from Chris Brecht, the revamped Frank Smith (no banjo, no girl singer, and louder guitars), and the McMercy Family Band (whose faux gospel music is hard to tell from the real thing). [Lindsey Verrill joins the Heroes on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" -- AFTER she hd persuaded an entire roomful of beer-drinkers to join hands and sing "Amazing race" along with her band.]

Seems like a long time ago now that I trekked over to Thunderbird Coffeehouse (on Koenig Lane) to catch a set from the wonderful Tara Craig and her new band -- Marco Arroyo on drums and Wayne Decker on bass. Love her passionate, thoughtful songs (like "Hiding" and "City of Sorrows") -- and her gentle soul. That same evening I also checked out the Dimestore Poets (who are working on their FOURTH record!) at the Irie Bean and the soulful LZ Love at the Saxon Pub.
Another highlight was the songwriters in a straight line at Threadgill's Old No. 1 on North Lamar -- also known as Stefanie Fix and the four fellows, Dustin Welch, Jeremy Nail, Will T. Massey (whose new political album will soon be released), and Nathan Singleton (who played his guitar acoustic and sidesaddle). One of the many highlights was the duet by Jeremy and Dustin on their co-written "Forgotten Child's Cry." Word is there will be more of these events!
I continue to listen to Kacy Crowley's intense new record -- and will soon share my thoughts on the eternal teenager and wanna-be roller girl (see her "Badass" video) and her songs. Warren Hood's long-awaited debut solo album is also on the horizon -- and I am eagerly awaiting the Drew Smith CD release at the Continental early in September. And somewhere along the way we will be getting the tracks from Dustin Welch's studio work.
One more thing -- there is room in the Flanfire house for an extra person or two. North Austin near Emmis Radio (KGSR, KLBJ, etc.) -- and right off IH-35 and US 183. Has to be the right person! Also, we are selling our family's other house -- check it out at www.8111shenandoah.com and pass the word on to people you know who are looking!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Better'n Grape Juice! The Dustin Welch Singalong Show!

Savannah, Dustin (with Drew Smith), and Kevin Welch -- it can't get any better than THIS!
Or maybe it can. Dustin Welch said "goodbye" to Mondays at Momo's in style a couple of weeks ago (okay -- flanfire is moving and had no time to write till now!) with about two dozen of his closest friends joining him on stage and singing their favorite Dustin Welch tunes. It was a fitting end to a year-long (plus) run for the young songwriter who is wise beyond his years (he admits to having had great teachers, including his dad) -- and indeed he is blessed with a sister whose voice is as beautiful as her soul.
Maybe it's the Tennessee, but Savannah Welch needs to sing a whole lot more in public. With Sally Allen singing harmonies, the slender songbird proved her brother right for encouraging (well, demanding) that she interpret "Dresden Snow," a song he wrote with her Dolly Parton like voice in mind. Dad Kevin got to sing the first song he and Dustin wrote together, "Glorious Bounties," and it was glorious indeed. And Dustin -- joined by a houseful of friends -- led the entire room in "Poor House" and "Don't Tell Em Nothin."
Highlights were plentiful -- Nathan Singleton on "Heartbreak" and the brand-new "Lost at Sea"; George DeVore on "Idaho Moon"; Suzanna Choffel on "Too Blue to Tango" (another new one); and Kacy Crowley just baring her own soul on "Two Horses." All amazing -- along with songs from Willie and Micky Braun, Dan Dyer, Johnnie Goudie, Bukka and Sally Allen, Jeremy Nail, and the incomparable Drew Smith. Special praise, though, goes to Jack Martin and Justin Wade Thompson (with help from Savannah) on "Whiskey Priest" (you just had to be there!). The packed house will long remember this wonderful evening!
Meanwhile, Dustin has a very busy schedule -- with upcoming shows at Momo's with Freedy Johnson and with the Dedringers, at The Oaks with Graham Wilkinson, at the Continental Club with the Heartless Bastards, and on August 17th at Threadgills with his dad at the Music March for Heroes. But MY favorite upcoming show could be Wednesday night at Threadgills Old No. 1 (North Lamar) -- with Stefanie Fix, Will T. Massey, Jeremy Nail, and Nathan Singleton.
Very quickly I want to mention some other shows I have seen recently -- and to note upcoming reviews of new music from Kacy Crowley and others. First off, maybe I forgot to mention in my review of the Goldcure CD that those boys can P L A Y !!! Especially when Stephen Doster joins them on stage (as he did at a recent Saxon show or two) to make it three guitars (most evident in the lengthy introduction to "Never Alone"). Then there was the lovely Charlie Faye with Jeff Botta on drums, Cornbread on bass (bread and botta, she mused) -- and Will Sexton and John X. Reed on guitars. That was also the night Aimee Bobruk turned me onto Jesse Sykes (and I stayed up till after 4 am listening to her ethereal music).
Speaking of Aimee, she's been doing a video for her song "Fools for Love." Even Flanfire wore a dunce cap at the Hole in the Wall for the shoot, but he was wise enough to catch her short set of brand-new songs a few days later at Momo's -- and wise enough to plan to be back at the Hole for happy hour with Aimee this Thursday.
It was also the same night I met up with Dominique and Niki, the two "blondes" from L.A. (okay, Dominique has a Texas driver's license and owns property here!) who played bass and drums twice this past week with Austin natives Kathy Valentine and Eve Monsees as the Bluebonnets. So I introduced the visitors to Justin Wade Thompson (one of my favorite young bass players -- and poets) and it turns out Dominique was already a fan of his.
So the next night I trekked over to Antone's for the girlie show (uh, lots of women playing music, including Paula Nelson and Carolyn Wonderland and legendary Beaumont native Miss Barbara Lynn) to catch the Bluebonnets and came away quite impressed. Dominique is also a very good singer (so I learned), and the whole band just flat rocked out. I somehow MISSED their Saturday night set at the Continental (but did hear the Mississippi based Blue Mountain), but one guy I spoke with later admitted that HE too wants a female drummer having seen Niki in action.
But back to Tuesday -- later in the evening at the Beauty Bar, the two beauties and their posse [here's Dominique with her makeup on!] showed up for a smokin' set by Justin, Nathan Singleton, and the Sideshow Tragedy. Drummer Jeremy Harrell (see photo) is the oft-neglected huge asset to this high energy trio.
The very next night I was back at Antone's for the Common Threadz benefit -- this nonprofit "marries apparel and art to make a difference in the world" through purchasing school uniforms for children in developing nations out of the proceeds from selling designer T-shirts. Caught sets from Blues Mafia [more next time on their Sunday set with Van Wilks] and American Graveyard (see photo). That millinery-making fiddle player (Sarah Stollack) is quickly becoming a major asset to this band (whom Betsy Moore calls her very favorite in the whole world, and she knows Austin music!).
One recent Monday night also found me at an early show at the Carousel to catch Seth Woods and the Sad Accordians and their sometimes eerie music -- songs like "Bottomless" and "So Slow" and "Into the West" (shades of Aimee Bobruk's new song, "No True West"). One of their new songs was an instrumental that reminded me of spreading apple butter and Nutella on fresh home-baked seven grain bread. Yummy!
I also caught up recently with my pals Jack Martin and David Lloyd Wofford at Beerland for the Austin debut of their one-time New York hot band, Cause for Applause, which also features Jeffrey Bouck on drums. David's vocals here remind one of Screamin' Jay Hawkins doing "I Put a Spell on You," while the band itself has been compared with Captain Beefheart. They play August 5th at the Beauty Bar. What great fun! Here's Jack playing acoustic guitar at a recent Momo's gig.
One final note -- jazz is alive and in increasing health here in Austin. One example -- pianist Nathan Hook and the Austin Jazz Trio, whom I caught at Jovita's a few days ago (with Max Frost on bass and Bowman Thompson and James Wiseman switching off on drums). Yeah -- all these guys are still in high school except the recently graduated Bowman, who will sit in with The Daze this Thursday at Antone's (after Del Castillo).
And Austin is also blessed with Austrian super guitarist Ullrich Ellison (no kin to Sims and Kyle), who is playing an early show at Momo's Wednesday with Billy Wilson and Latin at Heart. Ullrich, for the record, just won this year´s Downbeat magazine student award in the category "Best rock/pop soloist 2008" for his CD, "Tales from the Kingdom Electric." Having heard his music, I invited Ullrich out to hear Van Wilks on Sunday -- but my review of that show will have to wait for another evening!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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