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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Future Wardrobe Summer Clouds?
My good friend Jonny Sanchez (who tunes my piano!) I first met as a founding member of Future Clouds and Radar -- and about the time the Summer Wardrobe's first record was being released. Recently I saw Robert (with Darin Murphy at the Mohawk) and Jonny (old FC&R photo from Ego's) playing on the same night for the first time in years -- but of course at different venues! Both of these creative guys have new records out with their bands, so it only makes sense to review both at the same time.

Future Clouds and Radar -- Peoria
There may be little more to say about the FC&R record, given the amazing writeup for the band in a recent Austin Chronicle -- but suffice it for me to say that Robert initially brought together a bunch of highly talented individual players and just let them grow into their roles in this band such that the sound has evolved organically over time. When Jonny left to focus on the Wardrobe, Robert just took over the lead guitar work. Josh Gravelin has given way to Joshua Zarbo who seems to have a light turned on as he plays his lines. Murphy took a brief leave of absence (I recall one night seeing Nina Singh on drums) but is back with his great voice and steady beat -- and the beautiful (and preggers) Hollie Thomas continues to bring that same mystique to the keyboards that I recall from her Halloween performance at the American Legion Hall a couple of years ago. Kullen Fuchs shows up when he can to add ambience (that is, trumpet, various keyboards, accordian, and whatever fits the mood).

To the fray. On the surface, the lyrics here speak of mortality -- the Chronicle's Austin Powell says the album brings "into question the worthiness of mortal accomplishment and mainstream acceptance." He also shows us a possible why -- Harrison's break from live music after the demis of his former band Cotton Mather. How can you live when your music, your very soul, is smothered or, worse, ignored? What makes your life worthwhile -- the recognition by others of your contribution, or is the experience of co-creating with the Eternal One enough?

"The Epcot View" -- "this dream's a self-made light show where some dark prince shall exhort us into battle licking the bones of his very last foe..." We are talking here again about the thane of transcendentalism whose house studio (the Star Apple Kingdom, same as the record label) is Harrison's version of Walden Pond. Old Edmund Ruffin is a real historical figure -- an ardent supporter of secession who took his own life after the war ended. Harrison grew up in Alabama (aka the Heart of Dixie) ... at a time when the longing for the Old South was still passionate. Or, in other words, if the product of our life is meaningless (or even negative?), what then do we do next? Thankfully, Robert's answer was to get up and get going again.

And why not? "Feet on Grass" suggests that, "they're gonna round us up and embezzle the loot, throw every model citizen under the jackboot -- and they'll shoot!" [Can anyone say, Ohio National Guard?] You have to resist the death culture! "Mummified" is a powerful description of the frustration of creation not recognized -- "beneath the ground, but I'm alive, I see you and I'm mummified." And, yes the music has an Egyptian flavor. "18 Months" continues the theme -- "I spent 18 months buried alive...." But the energy has returned, and you know we are talking past tense .. as he urges us to "feel my breath, join my fight." Anyone thinking of giving up? Play this record and dance all night to it -- this is good therapy. The anti-Jim Morrison.

"The Mortal" is a warning -- "the bereaved were so praised that idols were made and we all crawled like dogs straight from cradle to grave." Rather, we should "let each kingdom crumble until the one will shall be done .. that's the work, that's the real work." And the music here is a solemn march -- that extends into track 7. "Follow the Crane" is Robert talking to himself, "You're back. You took a break, follow me down right past the world right to here, a home where love can never sleep." And so he did -- and we are all enriched by that journey.

Now I got down to the Saxon for the band's CD release party and saw them again this week (without Kullen) at the Mohawk. Both sets were awesome -- and the band opened for Alejandro Escovedo at Antone's this week as well. Lots of songs from the double album from two years back that was so well received -- and I still kick myself for missing the show with the Tosca strings and East Side Horns and who knows what all else (at the Parish). Whenever you need to get outside the drudgery of everyday and remember your dreams, go see Future Clouds and Radar -- and tip the band extra well. They are MUCH cheaper than your shrink!

The Summer Wardrobe - Cajun Prairie Fire
Hidden in the crevices of the CD jacket to Cajun Prairie Fire is a tall tale of the Cajun Ocotillo Sundown and his travails and travels out west from the land of crawfish. There is real truth somewhere within these stories, and yet the discovery is less important than the music itself. Jonny Sanchez and his bandmates -- Marty Hobratschk (bass), George Duron (drums), and John Leon (pedal steel) once again have brought joy to the hearts of their fans with eight songs straight from Jonny's own journey [including a well placed cover of Roky Erickson's "Mine, Mine Mind"]. Mark Addison is also back as producer, and on occasion live (as for example at Lovejoy's one fine October night) one might find Kullen Fuchs or Claire Hamilton joining the band to liven up the sets. I have even see Addison himself on stage (at a most memorable show at Ruta Maya when Leon was otherwise engaged).

The combination of Sanchez's own guitar virtuosity and Leon's flexibility on the pedal steel join to create a unique sound -- with lots of reverb, lots of crescendos, and lots of bravado. Now the band has been playing most of these songs for quite a while -- and so for me the CD itself has some familiarity. But this music just does not get boring -- or old. I mean - "Baby Let's Switch Graves" and "When You Died" -- this is after all an imagination up there with that of the afore-mentioned Robert Harrison. And just as serious a guy underneath it all. Every Wardrobe show is a blast -- and one may wonder whence the lion and the witch.

"Highs in the Mid-90's" IS new for me -- gritty and rough, with the line "good wasn't good enough" to get us thinking. Over six minutes long, much of which is blazing guitar! "Ocotillo Sundown" is as smooth as silk, with lots of pedal steel, as Jonny sings that "everything revolves around the hammer and the sickle" (see liner notes). "Cajun Prairie Fire" is luscious, psychedelic music, with Duron's drums creating lots of space for the twin leads -- and what leads! "Is this a dream? Is this a lie? (followed by another one)? Is this the end?"

Gotta quickly mention the artwork on the jacket -- by Victoria Renard (who also took the photos for the band). Lots of symbolism -- some palm reading notes included. "Graves" is like New Wave power pop with a driving beat and very singable lines that you can dance to (while switching graves, what better than to dance on them?). I think David Bowie would want to cover this one. "Venus of the Merchant Marine" is also new to me -- starts off as a march (amazing how both these bands are feeding off the same themes while being so distinctly different at the same time). Lots of power chords make this a very rich number -- with a pungent lead line as the chorus (who needs words?). I am thinking velvet cream cake. With sorbet or better yet, gelato. And espresso. And moonlight.

The subtle shift into "When You Died" leads to an opening shocking statement -- just who are we talking with here? By this time, of course, who cares what Jonny is singing about -- you are so mesmerized by the music. But then again it IS Elevators music -- 6-1/2 minutes of pure acid rock. And after all, Jonny and the guys DID serve as Roky's backing band for the past year or so (including last Halloween in Hollywood). "One Longtime Feeling" opens with Jonny on acoustic guitar and nothing else, adds quiet drums, and then the pedal steel (and a subtle bass) -- this is the song with the best connection to Sparkle and Fade and the feel of the band's debut CD. You will have to buy the CD and read the liner notes (sorry, guys, downloading will just not do!) to get the band's own take on this song and its relationship to the saga of Ocotillo Sundown the Cajun revolutionary ... but all the clues are in the song itself and its impact on our souls.

The Flanfire Follies

Okay -- with these two fun recordings finally reviewed, I can mention a few of the shows I have seen of late -- not including the amazing sets from Drew Smith and Suzanna Choffel at Lambert's on Friday the 21st (more on those next time). I hardly remember the order of things here, but let's start with Carrie Elkin, whom I ran into at the Hilary York Revue at the Continental a week or so back. Carrie brought pals Robby Hecht (with guitar) and Danny Schmidt to join her onstage with Mark Addison and Mark Williams at Momos -- it was great fun.
Then there was this Saturday at Momos when I actually went to see Warren Hood -- and found out he has been fortunate enough to win the services of Corey Keller on drums and the amazing Emily Gimble (Johnny's granddaughter) on keyboard and super vocals. Emily has been playing with the Marshall Ford Swing Band of late -- but from the first time I heard her sing I was hooked! Willie Pipkin blew me away with his guitar licks, and Nate Rowe was solid as ever, as was sax player Jon Doyle.

Earlier that same evening I had been at the Amsterdam Cafe (I love this venue!) to see Elizabeth Wills (left) and HER band and my good Kiwi friend Jackie Bristow -- and both women were just fantastic! Jackie, who lived for years in Sydney and for a time in Lost Angels, just relocated to Austin and has already played the One World Theatre twice! She's top notch -- and fun, too! Elizabeth was on the bill for the ACL Fest this year and decided that Austin was a nice town to live in even if you are on the road a lot (as she certainly is).

I COULD post yet another photo of Dustin Welch, but why -- when instead we get his lovely sister Savannah and the cutest couple on stage together in Austin, Joe Beckham and Trisha Kiefer. And, yes, that IS Rob Hooper on drums (and of course joining Dustin in song was the effervescent Andrew Smith). This was the very first show I have heard with the Continental's vaunted new sound system -- and I will wait awhile to share any opinion, knowing how hard it is to tweak a room with old toys, much less new ones.

Another Thursday, another great night of music. First off was a quick stop at Austin Java for the songwriter showcase run by Jim Patton and Sherry Brokus -- here's Patterson Barrett with Julieann Banks on bass. Every third Thursday -- and the December lineup is always amazing! Then it was over to Momos to catch the wonderful Will T. Massey with his all-star band -- Richard Bowden on fiddle, Marvin Dykhuis on acoustic guitar, Mark Addison on bass, and the extremely gifted Mike Meadows on percussion -- plus a couple of visits on stage from Sally Allen (whose own debut Austin record, produced by her handsome hubby, should be out early in 2009). And as I said, I later that evening migrated down to the Mohawk -- and you know the rest.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hilary for President!

I got to know Hilary York when she and Aimee Bobruk were hosting a songwriter showcase at the Scoot Inn. I have seen Hilary and her sultry alto voice numerous times -- and have never been disappointed. But I had NEVER seen this blonde bombshell with a full band until last week at the Continental Club at a show she put together that also included sets from Claire Hamilton and The Breathers and Li'l Cap'n Travis.
It is little wonder that Hilary (playing duos with the likes of Joe Reyes and Kullen Fuchs) has been such a hit at the Driscoll -- she's Julie London all over again. [Wikipedia describes London's voice as "slow, smoky, and sensual," and Hilary too is as gorgeous as that World War II pinup girl!] Her last record, "The Moon," was done in part in San Antonio with that nefarious bunch of characters known as Buttercup [and in part in Austin with the equally nefarious Mark Addison the star maker].
At the Continental, her band included Fuchs (on Wurlitzer and trumpet), Reyes on lead guitar, Zachary Firnhaber on bass, Clay Fain on drums, and the wonderful Julie Lowery (whose band The Service Industry has a CD release at Emo's on November 28th) on harmony vocals. The truth is I was having too much fun to write down anything about the set list, but it is impossible to forget "Parlour Tricks" The party level jumped up considerably when Hilary's go-go dancers jumped up on the stage (see photo) -- and yet the highlight of the evening may have been later when Jeff Johnston and Li'l Cap'n Travis encouraged Hilary (and Kullen) to join in on "Wichita Lineman." Hilary was simply radiant .. we MUST have MORE of Hilary with a full band.
As for the Breathers, my introduction to Claire Hamilton was through Eldridge Goins, who produced the band's 2003 album, "Work and Sleep." But that was with an entirely different band (Landis Armstrong on guitar, for example) -- these days Claire has the Gary Newcomb Trio (with Billy Doughty and Brandon Gonzalez) with Gary playing his Fender, not his pedal steel -- and blowing away an audience full of guitar players. Claire and the boys did songs from their 2006 CD, "I'm Still Curious," and some newer songs, including my favorites "One Is One" and "1,000 Million." Good Grief! PLEASE play more gigs and get some new product out!
I have to mention Blues Mafia, playing in the wind at Nuno's North (just look at Sasha's hair!), getting ready for their Ireland trip, and the B Sterling Band, with some new members, rocking the house at the Carousel. Mister Archer may be the tallest lead singer in Austin since Luke Axtell -- but there are OTHER reasons to look up to him. I also got out to the Hole in the Wall the other night for Leo Rondeau -- who FINALLY has a fiddle in his band! And it's not Missy Beth (shown here with Izzy Cox, with whom she will be playing some shows at the Carousel and at Beerland on November 18th). What a hoot THAT will be -- the queen of the murder ballad joined with Alaska's gift to fun and frolic!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Austin Pops: Great for Moms Too!
I owe a HUGE debt to my pal Ulrich Ellison (shown here with electric guitar) for turning me onto a ticket to the Austin Pops concert at River Bend Center that also featured (Sir) John Mills, Ruby Jane Smith, Leah Zeger, and the rest of the great orchestra that founder and conductor Jamie Desautels has put together (including Chris Maresh on electric bass).

This was also my very first visit to the Riverbend Center -- one of the finest venues I have seen in years. Just WOW! [Okay -- it is a LONG way down from the entrance to the front row.] The acoustics are amazing, and of course the stage backdrop is stunning. This "In the Mix" show, which featured original songs from Mills, Ellison (the debut of Glorious Heights), and Zeger and Desautels (Just in Time and Can't Go Wrong) plus arrangements of classics Layla and November Rain and a bunch more. Note that Leah did not even bring her violin/fiddle to Riverbend -- this is a photo taken at a Hudsons show a week earlier (see below). Austin is SO blessed with young, beautiful jazz/pop singers, but Leah may be the only one who has a degree in opera performance -- and who can play a mean fiddle too!

Ruby Jane's four-song set (yes, our girl now has a pretty dress as she nears her 14th birthday) had her jousting with orchestra soloists and (as usual) getting the audience involved. The (Texas-born) Mississippi Fiddler jammed with concertmaster Shana Bey (shown above with Ellison) on "Carroll County Rag" as her jazz fiddle teacher Martin Norgaard looked on from his Violin II post; she got the horn section involved (especially Ron Wilkins on the tuba, Mills, and trumpeter Rich Haering), and kept Maresh, Ellison, drummer Rob Casaneau (like Desautels, a native Canadian), and percussionist Laura Mordecai (whose hubby Mike is also in the ensemble) busy with numbers from Bob Wills, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash.

The Austin Pops has two more shows this season in its "Live Music Legacy" series -- on February 7 (Newbies and Oldies, featuring Daniel Stokes of the Flatcar Rattlers) and May 23 (Fiddles & Folk, featuring Phoebe Hunt). Check out their website for updates - and if you have a few bucks, get out to a show sometime.

I did I did also see Leah with Hudson Mueller and Brian Hudson the night before Halloween (hence the Hudsons' amazing outfits); Aaron Starr aided on harmonica and vocals on a couple of songs and later demonstrated another of his many talents. That same evening I got out to Lambert's to see New Zealander Jackie Bristow (who is living here for the next 6 months or so) and Australian Kara Grainger (one of my very favorite people anywhere). I felt really bad that the "best" Kara could do for a band was Chris Maresh (there he is again!) on bass, Brian Austin on drums, and Jake Andrews on guitar (sharing licks with Kara who is hardly a slouch!). I could have posted action shots but opted to show just how much Jackie and Kara enjoyed the boys in the band -- especially when Chris sang "Diamonds."
For the REAL Halloween, I was very fortunate to get out to the Compound (E. 4th Street) to celebrate All Hallows Even with T-Bird and the Breaks, who all showed up as hobos in contrast to their normally suave attire. Phoebe and Stephanie Hunt were all decked out as orange flowers, and there were costumes all around. Amazingly, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (!?) showed up to promote her appearance on Saturday Night Live. There were to be prizes for the best costumes but I cut out a little early and did not find out who won -- my vote would have gone to Fidel Castro (no photo for security reasons!) and the Zombie Bride!
Late Friday, I stopped by Ringside at Sullivans (which oddly closed up at midnight?) to catch a set and a half from Wendy Colonna and her fabulous band -- Chad Hot Rod Pope on guitar, Dave (beardless) Madden on piano, Leslie McCurdy on bass, and Brandon DeMaris on drums. Wendy and the boys really had the crowd going -- and then Ginger Leigh showed up, and it was Ladies Night until the manager unexpectedly pulled the plug. Ginger has a great new video out promoting her nomination for the position of Texas State Musician (currently Shelley King) -- check it out at her site, www.gleigh.com .
All great music -- and yet my PERSONAL favorite night of the past two or three months had to be last Thursday (when I forgot my camera and thus have NO photos to share). Started off with half a set at Flipnotics from the Fundamentalists (all five members on one little stage!) -- that's Brennen Leigh, Silas Lowe and company. Then it was over to the Saxon Pub to catch MOST of Sunny Sweeney's wonderful set -- gotta love that woman, AND her new guitarist Cole Rich (and yes, he is kinfolk to Charlie Rich).
But all that was just the warmup for the rest of the night! A CD release from Robert Harrison and Future Clouds and Radar (with Hollie Thomas, Darin Murphy, Kullen Fuchs, and Joshua Zarbo) -- and a great set at the Saxon. THEN, thanks to a beautiful, mysterious redhead, I motorvated over to Lovejoys to catch a set (and a new CD) from the Summer Wardrobe -- and got an even MORE unexpected bonus -- Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves, compleat with appearances from Sally's folks -- all the way from England -- and George Duron's lovely mom. AND Sally's forthcoming CD, which she will release in January after a December tour of England. Sally's Sixties power pop (with a twinge of punk?) is good stuff, and Sally herself just infects you with her exuberance and energy. Just being around her cures any case of the blahs!
Okay, already -- you will have to WAIT for my reviews of all three of these recordings! But you can catch Future Clouds live at Antone's on November 21, Sally at the Mohawk on November 20 (with Golden Bear, Leatherbag, and the eclectic Ethan Azarian), and the Wardrobe on November 28th at Emo's. But why wait for fun? The Breathers (yes, Claire Hamilton sings on the Summer Wardrobe record and actually got on stage at Lovejoys with the band!) have a show at the Continental with Li'l Cap'n Travis and the sultry Hilary York on November 13th. And let it not be missed - The Service Industry has a new record, "Keep the Babies Warm." out November 18.
Finally, to the theme of this puzzle -- note the afore-mentioned moms of Sally and George. But today we are talking about Ruby Jane Smith and her enterprising mom Jobelle -- but also about Jobelle's own mom Honey (and her dad, too), whom I met at Waterloo on 38th on Friday at the Ruby Jane Show -- on Honey's actual birthday. We all got a piece of the birthday cake that Jobelle admits not to making herself -- and my Mississippi mother was thrilled to meet people who knew her Jackson so well. Best of all, we got to hear Ruby Jane pick and sing with David Carroll on bass, Marvin Dykhuis on acoustic guitar (is there ANYBODY better?), and the handsome (just ask Phoebe) Willie Pipkin on electric and acoustic guitar. And, yes, Phoebe herself got on "stage" for a few numbers, notably "Blue Skies."
Gotta go -- catch some Z's so I can get out to see Leo Rondeau and Joanna Barbera and HER new band at the Hole in the Wall on Monday! And just remember -- dance like you would if nobody was watching! And, yes, folks, that's A. J. Vincent tickling the ivories at Momo's the other night -- and, yes, I did see some other music that I liked but am not writing about here.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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