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

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Someone Old, Someone New,
Someone Borrowed, and No One Blue!

Tahni and Emme Lou

This week's Austin Chronicle features stories on Austin's young musical talent (the under 18 set). Flanfire, meanwhile, has been tracking the career of an even YOUNGER future star, Emme Lou Handal -- and earlier this week the 8 year old singer and actress blew away an audience ostensibly at Stubbs' to hear songs from her mom Tahni's (here on piano, but usually on electric guitar) new CD. Emme Lou, who last summer was a featured performer at the Zachary Scott's Summer Theatre Camp, calmly went back to her normal child's life after her too-short performance -- and yet you can tell from her swagger on stage she's already a pro.

Mom Tahni, meanwhile, has a new record -- To Kiss You -- that is the best of the three she has done since moving to Austin with Emme Lou and her faithful dog Annie six years ago (has it been that long?). Her first record, done with Woody Russell, was sweet Americana; her second, produced by Dony Wynn, was dramatic and intense. This record is just first-rate American pop -- produced by Kelly Donnelly (who is currently working with Eric Johnson) and featuring John Lockhart and Bobby Mack on guitars, Stewart Cochran and Mark Goodwin on keyboards, Vance Abeyta and Donnelly on bass, Kevin Hall on drums, and Brian Andrew Lee, Korrinne Billiat, Tina Allen, Mark Chandler, and Jayson Hoyt on backing vocals.

Tahni as a teenager was lead guitarist in an all-girl metal band that hung out with the likes of Ratt and Poison (and some bigger names as well). She still has her chops, but left the lead playing at her CD release to Julius Manno (once named Austin's best guitarist by Z-ROCK); Abeyta held down the bass, Cochran was on keys, and Sam Pulley played the drums. "Shooting for the Moon," the first cut, is a remake of an older Tahni song about moving to Austin, but with a new twist. The title track is a gentle ballad about seeking a new and deeper spark in an old flame -- as "I'm running out of time, and I miss you oh so bad, what I wouldn't do to kiss you."

"Roll the Dice" is the rockiest cut here -- features a heckuva guitar solo! "Been a loner all my life, that's the way it is...." "For the Last Time" is my favorite (though I also really like "That's Who I Am" and "This Time Around," which reminds me of Pat Benatar). I have to say just how much I like the backing vocals throughout this recording, and here again Tahni has written great vocal arrangements. "I wanna go out with you tonight, I wanna make everything all right ..." This is a great pop rock ballad -- deserves a duet with fellow Italian Jon Bon Jovi or Joe Perry (you get the idea!). [But locally, why not Craig Marshall?] TURN UP THE VOLUME!

Maybe Austinites will naturally want to check out "No Work Today" - a catchy tune about a sunny day with clouds that roll on by -- "drive up the coast, wind blows in my hair, if you see me hanging around I'll see you there...." EVERYBODY will want to join in on the chorus! Sheboygan fans will love this music! And then there is "Heartache," another ballad ... reminiscent of a Kacy Crowley tune. The last song, "In the End," was recorded at Church House with Cochran on David Boyle's 1913 baby grand -- this is a lament about a loss of a friend. "You never know what you will get, but if you listen you will find your way ... you never know what you find in your condition, might as well be blind ..."

Jodi Adair in Wonderland!

Jodi Adair flew away from New Caney, Texas, at age 18 and went to Europe, and just kept on traveling. Not that long ago she landed in Austin, to be taken in by such friends as Carolyn Wonderland, Karen Deschamps, Shelley King, and a host of others. Jodi is a singer, a songwriter, an artist and a poet -- and a story teller with a childlike quality and the overflowing love given to her by her man Jesus! I met Jodi months ago, but only recently got to hear her songs -- and find out just how much she is loved by so many of my dear friends.

Take Gregory Truett Smith -- whose upcoming project is to paint the Book of Revelation and who has been churning out amazing art for as long as he has had fingers. Flanfire has Smith's Humpty Dumpty in the Southwest on his kitchen wall -- and is in awe of the works he had recently on display at Thunderbird Coffee. One popular piece is the poster art for Carolyn Wonderland's "Miss Understood World Tour" - here she is an angel of light. Another is Courtney Audain, whom Jodi chose to produce her record after hearing what he had done for Steve Carter's wonderful "In Love Again." Then there's my dear friend Kris Brown, on stage on bass, and Cole El-Saleh on keyboards with Carl Ryals on drums. And, who else but Carolyn on trumpet (her new 1920 model), her hand-made mandolin, and of course guitar? Later, the fabulous LZ Love joined in on "Chauffeur Blues," which featured solo verses by all three of these God-loving dynamos.

The evening at the Amsterdam (which HAS to be the best new music venue in town!) began with a soaring solo set from Aimee Bobruk, whose bright-eyed mom was in the house shaking a leg and spreading joy all around. Aimee brought lots of energy to her set, including playing to the dozen or so folks sitting outside (through the window glass) in the smoking section. The crowd swelled for Jodi to standing room only -- some had surely come to hear Carolyn play, but this was the newcomer's night -- and the real coming out party for the Amsterdam.

You meet Jodi and you feel the love. She reminds me so much of Donna Fargo -- a country girl with a big white Ford truck and an even bigger dog -- but a HUGE heart! So when she opens her set with "Sunshine "Worry 'Bout the Weather)" you feel you are in church (and you are, of course), and then when she continues with "Let Me Love You," the answer is a resounding YES! But back to the record. Jeffery Bouck is on drums, and W. C. Clark gets the lead guitar on "Bad Man Blues." My buddy Oliver Steck blows his horn on "Praise," an honest to God worship song, and Price Porter is on pedal steel on "Daddy Was Gypsy." Otherwise, Carolyn and Kris Brown split electric guitar leads, El-Saleh provides keyboards and even "strings," Audain adds just about everything else, and Jodi provides the songs, the voice, and the joy.

"Devil's Beating His Wife" is just Jodi and her acoustic guitar -- the way she plays Wednesday afternoons 4:30 till 6:30 pm at Mesa Ranch (south) -- and look for Jodi at the Hole in the Wall on Sunday, November 2nd -- a MUST ATTEND SHOW! But back to the show - and the CD. As noted, "Bad Man Blues" is just hot stuff! "Wild Fire" and "Cabin Fever" are songs I will not easily tire of hearing -- "Lessons Rough" is very different from the rest of the record, reminds me of Raina Rose. But then "Daddy Was a Gypsy" has that pedal steel and that story about "a pretty Texas queen" who stole daddy's heart and about the girl who also became a gypsy who "settled down easy" after traveling the land -- and yet this is also a song of praise. Indeed, Jodi's myspace moniker is "The American Gypsy."

"I Love You More" is an amazing song about faith in the faithless -- shows Jodi's range both vocally and emotionally. Gotta love Cole's piano here (and Courtney's organ adds). "Spoiled Child" is an edgy number -- "what makes you think you matter to me?" "I'm just a spoiled child out there in your world," Jodi sings -- and you know she is being honest even with herself. Now my pal Gregory beamed when Jodi started singing "Big Texas Smith," but I suspect the song is about a blacksmith ... this one features Kris Brown on dobro slide guitar and Jodi's own rough-hewn acoustic guitar and the story of a man whose legend might rival Paul Bunyan or Big John.

Earlier in the week I had the great pleasure of watching the wonderful Brennen Leigh, who (with Justin Kolb and Silas Lowe) showcased songs from her upcoming and eagerly awaited CD and maybe a few that will have to wait till her followup record. I stuck around at the Hole in the Wall to catch Shotgun Party on the eve of their world tour of the Eastern United States (boy do we miss those honeys when they are traveling on!). Here's Katy Rose Cox fiddling away as Jenny Parrott (you can see her dress) encourages the band's new bassist Jared Engel (just down from Noo Yawk City!) on his amazing work on their songs!
Finally, we have Steve Ulrich and the Djimbe Packers after their wonderful set at Cafe Caffeine on Friday. Steve (Zeus Muldoon, Steve Convenience, and more) was a longtime fixture in the Austin local music scene but he found true love in Guatemala and moved to Portland, Oregon, with his bride Elizabeth and comes back home only once in a while to see his sons and grandkid.
Gotta get out to Jovita's on Wednesday for Blues Mafia -- and so much more to do!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Majoring in Paul Minor!
Paul Minor has had a long, interesting career in the Austin music business -- all the way back to his high school daze. He also has a Master's degree in conflict resolution -- practical stuff for a bandleader.

For nearly a decade he hosted the Rock and Roll Free for All at the Hole in the Wall, giving space for such bands as Spoon, Fastball, Rilo Kiley, the Scabs and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (and countless others). I personally know little of this history -- and only very recently have I focused in on the man some have dubbed the "urban cowboy." I DO remember the buzz over the release of Paul's earlier solo CD, but never actually listened to the songs or even caught a live show. So I come to his new CD, "The Marfa Project," as a newcomer to Minor Productions -- except that my pal Bryce Clifford highly recommends his new roommate and his music.

The other night at the Hole in the Wall began with a hot set from Sheboygan -- which I totally missed in order to hang out with my friend Esther as her brother Josh's band The Afters played at Momo's Club. I HATE to miss Sheboygan sets! But Rusty and Cory hung out all evening, and Cory even got up and sang with Paul and the band -- Jeff Johnston on bass, Gary Newcomb on pedal steel, Austin Jenkins on guitar, and Steve McCarthy on drums. [Mind you, David Beebe (also bongos and harp) and Wayne Duncan split the drumming on the CD, which also featured Adam Bork on keys, Michael Crow on Moog, chimes and trumpet, Chip Dolan on piano, organ and accordian, Matt Hubbard on piano and organ, Mario Matteoli (also at the show) on guitar and mandolin, and Gergory Smelley on bass (along with JJ, who also played saw and chimes).]

I gotta say that my early favorite here is "Windmills," a real folk song about hanging out in the Texas Hill Country ... sampling the grapes at the Luckenbach vineyard, stopping beside an old windmill and took a few pictures ... but this song is really about the joy of togetherness now lost. "Here I Am" sings of a two-lane road that opens up my mind and lightens up my load. Love the keyboards on this one. "Lord Help Me" also reaches back into the depths of the author's soul -- it is an all out moan that comes from Minor's childhood days in inner city Houston. I would love to hear Ben Harper get hold of this one -- with the Blind Boys of Alabama (for example).

The CD opens with "Devil May Care," a song that Fastball ought to record! It could be their biggest hit since "The Way." The bridge is especially memorable -- "I'm just another disappointed soul without a clue." Another favorite is "Afterthought," which opens with that anthemic strum and then the haunting harmonica ... that makes you beg for the lyrics to begin. And so we get, "I lost my mind with my heart's assistance," and "I put you before me as an afterthought." I hear this song live with a big organ solo and maybe even a falsetto vocal -- this is another ditty just waiting to be covered by a major artist. Minor makes it wistful ... but you really want to have this lyric and the melodies burn deep into your DNA.

"Slow Burn" is maybe the most Dwight Yoakum song here, a real honky tonker. And, yes, Bandstanders, you can dance to it. But then, "Lettin Off Steam" is more George Strait -- the boys in the band just lettin' off steam. "Out of My System," cowritten with Matteoli, is the bounciest tune on the record. "Lucy" shows yet another vocal style, closer to Jimmy Buffett (with bongos yet). The final cut, "Live and Breathe," is another traditional ballad, and the more I listen the more I like Minor doing this type of music (kinda like McGuinn with the Byrds singing Dylan). And, as noted, his songwriting provides great opportunities for some of his pals.

The third band on the Friday night bill was the Brothers Lazaroff, which still hails from St. Louis even though Brother David has lived in Austin for a number of years. Brother Jeff (the one with the beard THIS week!) brought down Grover Stewart (drums), Teddy Brookins (bass), and Scott Bryan (guitar) to join Austin's Lindsay Greene (keyboards this time) and Gary Newcomb (pedal steel) -- with Elizabeth McQueen joining in on vocals at their Jo's Sinners Brunch show on Sunday. I LOVE THIS BAND -- and they have just about finished their second CD ... which they will likely debut on their next trip to A-town!

Left - Josh Havens of The Afters; right - Juan Gutierrez of The Century at the Hole in the Wall.

Earlier at the Hole I caught up with Juan Gutierrez, who played an acoustic set with guitarist David Jimenez (who also sang an amazing version of "Satisfied Mind") and bassist Dan White. Juan handed out a demo with eight songs, including new versions of "Gold Mine" and "Fools Gold." Nice stuff!

On Wednesday I got over to the new Mesa Ranch for Happy Hour with Jodi Adair (CD release October 25th at the Amsterdam -- see below -- featuring Carolyn Wonderland on guitar and Kris Brown on bass!) and stuck around for a wonderful set from Jon Emery and Karen Mal (with the amazing Steve Carter sitting in for three songs). I like this venue -- comfortable environs and tasty morsels -- and I was thrilled to see the new, funkier Karen, one of Austin's most beautiful people inside and out.

Kim Deschamps is playing Tuesdays at the Amsterdam (8th and Colorado) -- the food is good, the beer is cold (though I had a bottle of wine that evening), and the ambience is Austin! Yup - that's Leeann Atherton blowing the harpoon with Tony Velasco on bass and the very handsome Perry Drake on drums.

Finally, kudos again go out to Sideshow Rob Cooperman (the guy needing new jeans) and Monte Peck from Shut Up and Sing -- who ply their trade every Sunday evening at The Dirty Dog and again on Thursdays at Waterloo Ice House at South Park Meadows. These guys are keeping alive that great tradition of song sharing out in public -- and providing really talented people opportunities to make new friends here in Austin. And Oh, Yeah, I ran into Izzy Cox on Sunday at Jo's -- she has another new collection of murder ballads and more about ready for the world -- just got back from another tour and ready to sing her guts out for the folks here in town.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Double Dose of Gentleness: Dana and Eleanor!

The Vortex Theatre on Manor Road is one cool venue for music -- even though it is mostly used for live experimental theater.
Erika Maassen; Gina Dvorak, Dana Falconberry, and Erika!
But Roy Taylor works at the place, and he also produced Dana Falconberry's sparkling new recording, and so several dozen of the luckiest people in town got the chance to hear Dana and her vocal trio (backed by bassist Andrew Bergmann) in extremely fine fashion (yes, Roy also ran the sound and hung the stars and kept the songbirds chirping!). He also manages the band.
The glorious night began quietly enough (except for some rustling among the crowd to get another drink during the show, something that would NEVER HAPPEN at the Bugle Boy!). A gushing Erika Maassen (star above her head as it always should be) showed off her pipes with four songs, including Mr. Nothing (which she did not write), then Gina Dvorak followed with five songs that also left most of the audience begging for more. No wonder the three-part harmonies sound so good!
Did I mention that all three women came out in white -- and that the entire aura of the evening was much more heavenly than the cream cheese ads featuring silly angels! Dana Falconberry hails from Dearborn, Michigan, but she came to Austin in part by way of Conway, Arkansas, and her songs are often haunting (Doug Burr's songs are a reference here!) and always unique.
I have to start with a song that has captured my heart -- "Singing Lullabies" is maybe the most joyful tale of death and afterlife that I can remember ... "Nobody knows that I was singing when I died, and I was peaceful, I said all my goodbyes, and I was happy, I was singing lullabies." The title of the new CD, "Oh Skies of Grey," is the first line in "Blue Umbrella," which on stage often features Erika on cola (or beer) can. Indeed, the musical framing of these songs goes way beyond the lyrics themselves to create a special time.
I remember my first encounter with Dana Falconberry -- two Halloweens ago at Epoch Coffee House (outside under the stars) with Bonnie Whitmore all dressed up to play the cello and wearing her roller skates. Sister Eleanor was there that evening, too, with her (then) new BF Chris Masterson. Dana's backing band that evening included Michael Longoria and Luis Guerra (who also play in Terremoto and have Patty Griffin connections), and they of course are all over the new record. Like Seth Walker, Dana seems to have been teleported to Austin from another time -- Seth from the Fifties, Dana maybe from "The Shire."
I started going to see Dana at Momo's and thought as I first heard the trio that this was even better than the earlier (for me) stuff and that maybe she could keep this concept going. But would these two very talented women subsume their own individual careers? Not that long afterward, Erika found out her old high school buddy Andrew was moving to Austin -- and that he had become a pretty fair city-slicker bass player. Next thing you know he was a fixture -- and my joy over this wonderful woman and her musical entourage grew again.
Back to the live set, which includes Dana playing a very fuzzy electric guitar, Gina picking up the banjo, Erika adding keyboards now and then, plus whistling, tambourines, and more. A major highlight was a hot version of Sam Cooke's "Cupid" -- brought down the house! A favorite of mine has to be "Birthday Song," which I can claim is written to me, as MY birthday is in September, too. But it is songs like "Baby Blue Sky" that remind us that Dana has that amazing quality of making everyone around her feel younger -- and cleaner inside and out. Lucky folks can catch Dana on October 15th at the Mohawk opening for Tom Schraeder -- and again at the Mohawk on November 5th opening for Sea Legs (both CD release shows).
My early memories of Eleanor Whitmore are always as Bonnie's amazing sister who plays fiddle and mandolin -- and how she made Slaid Cleaves a household name for me (along with Oliver Steck). I held Bonnie's hand during Eleanor's dreadlocks days ... and rejoiced when she reemerged from exile in Arlington to pick up not only her fiddle and mandolin but also to go to work here and there for Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. Then I heard that she was singing harmony vocals with Bruce on his new CD -- and so I was excited to get out that cold evening it seems forever ago at the Red Eyed Fly (inside!) to hear Eleanor debut her own songs with sister Bonnie at her side.
This, of course, was long after that fateful aforementioned Halloween, so I am certain that SOMEONE was encouraging her to step up. Maybe it was that certain SOMEONE who also was smiling at her as she debuted her guitar picking at Antone's a few weeks later. That SOMEONE (Chris, of course), also produced the new recording, Airplanes (which to me is a counterpart to Dana's Paper Sailboat).
I love these songs -- "The River," cowritten with Michael O'Connor (whom I got to know years ago on a big boat with Shelley King and Miss Bonnie and others), "Airplanes," cowritten with Chris Masterson, but particularly songs like "Sing" and "Coffee in the Rain" (so honest!) Maybe the second best thing on the record (besides Eleanor's gentle voice) is Eleanor's heart-warming fiddle (sometimes violin! -- after all she is also a symphony player). Speaking of players, the cast of characters on this recording includes George Reiff on bass, Paul "Falcon" Valdez on drums, Sweney Tidball on piano and Wurlitzer, and maybe a few others whose identities have so far been unrevealed.
The record opens with "Never Say a Word" with one of those microphonic gizmos (harmonica mike?) and then all of a sudden you get the real Eleanor and that Wurlitzer -- and then there are some sepia-toned background harmonies to give the song that old-time feeling (a not-so-distant relative of Dana's music). But of course, with Eleanor, you get the violin/fiddle and are carried away to Never-Never Land where she really lives (she only SAYS she lives in Brooklyn now). [And you have to know that a skinny kid from Bertram must be flying high to have such a genuine musical princess at his side.]
"Sister Sleeps" is a nice little song that speaks of everyday life when your lover is away. "Waltz of the Mystery Ship" is just a little interlude that sets up "Just Friends" (when she really wants more!) -- subtly subtitled Eleanor ROCKS! "Awake To Remember Me'' really showcases the growth in Eleanor's vocal power -- this song has that Sixties feel (early Airplane?) - I hope for a real power solo by Mr. Masterson at the next Eleanor show (which in Austin means opening on October 22 and 23 for Carrie Rodriguez -- yet another fiddle player who can really sing!).
I also love "Fly," which is the nearest thing to a traditional top 40 ballad on the record. I can just hear Donna Fargo on this one (if she could handle the subtle political reference). "Sorry" opens with muted trumpets ... OKAY, this too is a real ballad ... that ought to be heard on Majik 95 and other stations that play music for people to really listen to and enjoy. The more I listen, the more I love this song! Even so, "Coffee in the Rain" to me is the purest Eleanor -- I can just see her with her finger properly curled around a fine china coffee cup while wearing cutoff jeans. "Sing" is yet another waltz (with lots of action along the way). And "The River" is ALSO a waltz, but one with that Wimberley touch! Guess I will just have to cough up the big bucks for Carrie (even if I end up missing her set) because I just cannot get enough of Bonnie's Big Sis!

And speaking of fiddle players, here's the perky JoBelle Smith (aka Ruby Jane's mom) with a pal having a BLAST at Roadhouse Rags -- dancing to the sounds of the Austin Fiddlah. [When the kid's away in Washington, DC, Mom gets a night out to live it up!]
Sarah Stollak organized this fine evening of music, in what she has billed as her farewell performances with the Lonesome Heroes and American Graveyard, who shared the stage with the Flatcar Rattlers - and will again on November 15th BTW. LUV Roadhouse Rags!
Sarah says that all that fiddling around has just made her crabby and she wants to focus on her jewelry and other handicrafts (she has also been known in this town as Sarah Millenary). We have been blessed in this town to hear Sarah with these two bands plus Marshall Jones and the Frontier Phrenologists and here and there with Girls with Vices and still more performers.
I have to say the Heroes show was bittersweet -- Sarah is just tired and may not even realize just how much her music has moved so many of us over the years. Meanwhile, Kullen Fuchs was showing his stuff for a special visitor -- even brought out HIS Wurlitzer piano for the night.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

With Friends Like These ... You Never Die!

Max, Sasha, and Patrick of Blues Mafia; Dustin Welch and Drew Smith at Threadgills.

Confessions of an ACL Festival dropout. Here's No. 1. There is so much good music in Austin that it is hardly worth the price, the dust, the hassle, or even the downgrade in music quality to lose six days (three at Zilker, three more in recovery) and six hundred dollars (after you pay for all of the food and drink, the stuff, the tickets, and of course the lost wages and more) just to be able to stand four hundred yards from Beck.

Therefore, on ACL Friday, I stopped by Momo's for great sets from the Sideshow Tragedy and Drew Smith and his Lonely Choir. Next evening it was Blues Mafia in their Momo's debut -- and by the way, they are already mixing their just-recorded debut CD (produced by Dave Sebree at Austin School of Music, where the band was born). More on Drew Smith later, but Nathan Singleton, Jeremy Harrell, and Justin Wade Thompson showed off a few new songs and the high energy that is their trademark. The Mafia -- opening for Patrice Pike -- started off like a band that had not played a gig in a month, but about five songs into their 90-minute set, the pilot light morphed into a five-alarm fire. The kids play at the Mohawk on October 16th and at Luna in San Antonio two days later -- warming up for the CD release and their Ireland trip in December.

Next, it was off to Creekside for my first take of Slowtrain without Brett Staggs on skins. The good news -- guitarist Andy Keating has taken over the harmony vocals, and the boy's all right! More news -- Jason from A Few Nice Things was on drums, and then that band (with Adoniram Lipton and Matt Roth plus Jason, Justin and Jesse (see photo) offered up some glam rock that reminded one of early Poison and Ratt (both of whom once shared practice space with my old friend Tahni Handal). Gotta see these guys on a higher stage (lots of energy and glitz).

Then it was two (more) days at the Cactus -- first off, for my favorite red-headed fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore and her Burnet County stallion Chris Masterson. Eleanor has a brand-new CD, "Airplanes," produced by Chris and featuring 12 of her songs (one each cowritten by Chris and Michael O'Connor), all of which I love. [More on this record next time.] Afterward I jumped over to the Hole in the Wall to catch part of Leo Rondeau's set (with Mario Matteoli on lead guitar) -- and found Tres Hombres [Rich Russell, Landry McMeans, and Brennen Leigh] and lots more folks enjoying the music and madness that is the Hole.

I went back for a wonderful set from the WOW girl, Molly Venter (with Joe and Joe). Full house again -- a real love fest.

After Molly had totally revved me up, I trekked down to the Mohawk for a KILLER set from T-Bird and the Breaks and stuck around for maybe an even BETTER set from Moonlight Towers. James Stevens is so well known as a music producer that we sometimes forget just what a powerful singer he is as well.

While there, I got to share some of T-Bird best bud Sam Patlove's birthday pie (!), eat some jumbalaya and in the process help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and hang out with Kat Edmonson and the amazing Kevin Lovejoy. But I ALSO got to check out the Mohawk's wonderful Green Room (the upstairs bar often set aside for visiting touring bands as their private hangout), and one day hope to hear Mister Lovejoy tickle the ivories on their baby grand. Nice view of Red River Street -- and a great place just to relax.

Somewhere during the week I stopped by the Parlor for pizza and the bonus round too -- Lubbock's The Diamond Center and Austin's Sad Accordians. On Sunday, it was over to Antone's for a smokin' set from Ricky Stein (aka Willis Allan Ramsey-Stein) -- who promises his long-awaited debut CD will be out in February. Better be, or his massive fan club (three members pictured here) will likely shave his head.

OKAY -- so by now you are wondering why I have a photo of Drew and Dustin at Threadgill's. The answer -- Marcus Grogan's 28th Birthday Bash, where the daring duo opened for Jeremy Nail and the Incidents and Goldcure. Drew and Dustin -- two GREAT songwriters who are just amazing together (even when harmonizing with Nail and later with Goldcure). Here's Marcus getting a hug from Goldcure's Adam Buhrman; earlier, Justin Wade Thompson and Gavin Inverso swap poems (or something) and revel in the glory of the evening. Marcus, my man, with "friends like these," you will never die -- even if you say "Goodbye."

One SPECIAL thing about this evening was the wonderful sound from James Duvall (and his sidekick Eli Smith). I had never heard Jeremy and his band (featuring Chris Ware on guitar!) sound better -- and Goldcure's set was way past amazing, thanks also to new bassist Marcos, who in his second show with the band, showed great energy and "length" -- good chops, too! Now I gotta also note that our birthday lad is the guy who keeps Goldcure's Craig Haskell from starving with buckets of Threadgills' food. So I owe the guy big time!

Drew Smith -- Dude Grows on Me!

First few times I heard Drew Smith I thought, Vegas act! Next few times I heard Drew Smith I thought, maybe I need to listen because these songs are pretty good. New few times I heard Drew Smith (singing duets with Dustin Welch) I really began to get into the big guy. Then there was the Drew Smith CD release at the Continental Club -- what a great show, so many friends, so much great music. I mean, I love Dan Dyer -- but Drew Smith makes me laugh and cry and stand up and applaud all at the same time. Gotta LOVE his CD jacket -- what a band! I mean, really! Matt Russell on keys, Ryan Bowman on bass, Daniel Doyle's screaming guitar, Dustin when he can, the horn section (sometimes Rick White on trumpet, Dave Renter on sax, Jeff Freeman on trombone, and Joey Colarusso on baritone sax) -- and always lots of friends singing harmonies now and then. Guests on the record include Warren Hood, Ed Jurdi, and (yes that's his shy wife Shelley on doo doo doo's on "Travel My Dark Road"). But enough blah.

I like Drew Smith's voice (sometimes Van Morrisonesque), but I love his songs -- from "Nilsson Sings Newman" to "Silver Pictures" to "Diamonds" to the wonderful "NYC Song." But let's get real. "Follow Me Down" and "Are You Lonely" enlist every LIVING soul in the audience as part of the "lonely choir" -- because you are just so very comfortable hanging out with Drew and his entourage, sharing a brew and maybe more and singing together into the wee hours. Drew would say (correctly, to be sure) that his pal Matt and his musical arrangements are what make the record, even the live performances, so memorable -- but that humility is what makes Drew (and for that matter, Dustin Welch himself) so unforgettable. Drew's songs reflect the person he is -- take, "So I sat stunned from the beauty of an evening glowing brilliant" from "NYC Song," or the opening line from "Home" -- "Home feels just ike an old friend that I hold through slumber all the day.."

POSTSCRIPT!!!!! I met Will Callery the other day -- guy whose hit songs include "Hands on the Wheel" and whose old comrades include Jerry Jeff Walker. Will, whose musical success was wrecked by powder, chose God and gave up music for a long-time career as a lumberjack, is back playing guitar and writing songs .. including "The Great Divide," which will appear on the album series, "Voices of a Grateful Nation" and as part of "Welcome Home," a project begun by Eric Clapton's longtime drummer Jamie Oldaker and Craig Hillis to honor our troops. Players on his new record include my good friend Greg Lowry, Joe Forlini, T, Gosney Thornton, Ted Sweeney and Eddie Cantu and Pat Menske.

POSTSCRIPT II!!!!! At the Marcus birthday party, I also ran into Nick Drozdowicz from the band Twilight Broadcast, which moved to Austin a while back from Madison, Wisconsin (note to all cheeseheads -- get to know these guys!). He gave me a demo copy of their soon to be released CD, "The Variety Show," and I listened to it twice through late into the night -- and then again the next day. More on this band soon. Hmmm -- like Goldcure, this band started with two singer-songwriters hanging out together playing their songs.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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