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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Have I Died and Gone to Heaven?
Stefanie Fix; Jennifer Leonhardt; Hilary York with Kullen Fuchs; Aimee Bobruk with Darwin Smith; Chris Brecht; Jenny Parrott dancing with the birthday girl to JWW and the Prospectors (late Tuesday at the Scoot);

Must be so -- where else do you drop into the Dirty Dog on a Sunday evening and get treated to an amazing set from Feeding 5000 (their stripped down acoustic trio version) on top of four or five other excellent singer-songwriters, stop by Artz Rib House on Monday to relax with Sarah Elizabeth Campbell and the Banned and get treated to a stunning set from the captivating Stefanie Fix -- and then go over to the Scoot Inn for your birthday surprise from Jennifer Leonhardt (well, it FELT like my birthday - and for dessert we hiked over to TC's for a little bit of The Little Elmore Reed Blues Band -- and then back to the Scoot on Tuesday, where Chris Brecht and Gary Newcomb were the guest performers in what increasingly feels like the big living room of the house that Aimee (Bobruk) and Hilary (York) built with their own bare hands.
I could write a lot about Chris Brecht and the Broken 45's, whose new record is nearly completion. This evening the band had a camera crew in for a photo shoot, and Chris brought a lamp from home and who knows what all else to further enhance that living room feel. He also brought his great songs and great players (notably Ray Jackson on pedal steel and Matt Mollica on Hammond B3) -- and his new-found beard. Newcomb's own pedal steel playing was magnificent, and his Trio (Brandon Gonzales on bass, Outlaw Billy Doughty on drums -- he also played with Brecht this evening) played both covers and originals with a zest that kept the huge crowd (a house packed with songwriters and pickers) well within their comfort zone. The fourth Breather - Claire Hamilton - was in the house as well -- along with such folks as Ricky Stein, Tucker Livingston, Sarah Stollack, and Matt Maye. Hilary York is always a joy to hear -- that sultry, sexy svelte supernova.
But I cannot help but devote my space here to Aimee Bobruk -- partly because I have watched her work so hard to build her talent for bigger stages and yet recognize that sometimes she still wonders what she is doing in front of so many people (and her crowds will get much bigger!) and remembers that she is not alone. Her long-awaited CD, "The Safety Match Journal" (with cover art from Shuan Tan) is now available at Waterloo Records -- and she is having a CD release party (with the great players who lent their talent to what I am already recognizing is a CD every bit as special as (and very reminiscent of) the Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions (and yes Kim Deschamps played on both). But I promised Aimee not to publish my "review" until mid-February -- and yet just giving a little tidbit is not a review. So today's tidbit is that the artwork on the insert that also contains the lyrics and player lists is worth the price of the CD all by itself.
But then my wonderful Jennifer Leonhardt also has created some amazing music, some of which she showcased on Monday evening at the Scoot -- and someday soon I will write, but that evening I was just taken aback by her wonderful spirit and wrote nothing down at all. [Well, I was sitting with Joanna Barbera, Ann Sauder, and Tara Craig -- all friends of Jennifer -- but it was the first time I had heard nearly all of these songs and I just wanted to breathe deeply and get the FEEL rather than ANALYZE what she was saying. I was expecting maybe the high-energy Jennifer, but all of the songs were quiet but hardly mellow. Jhon Bellizia on bass, Victoria Hammill on electric violin, and Adam Temple on guitar helped create the mood -- but I was in the mood from the moment of that first two-minute hug. TC's was an extra treat -- with Jimi Lee and Eve Monsees and an amazing female harmonica player sitting in with regulars Willie Pipkin, Dale Spalding, Mark Hays and J. P. Whitefield (Mike Keller was on the road) -- and the cherry on top was Sasha Zoe blowing the house down with "Mojo Working" to close out the night.
On Sunday, I stopped by Jovita's early to catch half of Joker's set and all of Blues Mafia's -- got to hear yet another new song from this great young band (which shares its rhythm section with Joker). Then it was on to the Dirty Dog, where I had promised Jennifer to catch a set from Tara Craig (who had moved to Austin a while back but has just started playing out). Tara shared the stage with my new friend Matt Maye, and they were followed in turn by host Sideshow Rob (Cooperman) and Dertybird's Clayton Colvin (who hails from Muscle Shoals and clearly escaped with all of that city's famed musical heritage grafted into his soul). Rob and Monte have created a comfortable scene for musicians at this cavernous Sixth Street joint (with massive help from the Dog's Ben Davis and his great sound system).
But not every night do the boys have the likes of Feeding 5000 -- the five-piece alt rock band that has been making waves all over the place. But this was the Feeding 5000 acoustic trio - vocalist Kelly Scott Taylor, guitarist Michael Gonzalez, and drummer Alex Geismar on djimbe. Keyboardist Aaron Brown was present, but I missed bassist Jeremy Rocha. The trio is about to head off to San Diego to embark upon a major radio station tour to promote the full band's new CD, "The Books We Read," which is getting rave reviews from all over --and why not!
I am already thinking Austin's U2 not for their sound but for the content of their songs. "Amnesty" in fact sounds more like Kansas. These songs are like conversations set to music -- and yet the poetry works. Almost too well for the comfort zone (which if of course the intent -- to get us OUT of our comfort zones and into the fray). And "Amnesty" hits us in the breadbasket with these and other lines: "Remnants set in virtue burn within the haze; Far from righteousness iniquity remains."
Maybe my favorite here is "Sing Out Loud" -- "Listen as the strong at heart sing out loud. May all the damned and all the lost be found." This is a call to those with songs in their hearts to "follow the sound" and to be wary of "Ol' Scratch." This music is all about power vocals -- that is, about being strong and singing out loud. Some words that wake us up -- "I promise to put on a better face" (Falling Further); "Fruitless face in the window, Vacant and hollowed, Eyes begging for mercy, Invaded and thirsting for balance from the tilt" (Last Wish); "Have we drained our discern? Conforming to structure. Ungrounded we suffer. Abating transmission. Will nobody listen in?" (Reach Out). "Fly" really does remind me of U2 - "To the sky, fly, elevate, lift your body from the ground." And "Carry On" brings the promise that, "If ever you fall I'll lift you from the ground. If ever you doubt, let me turn your faith around. Whatever it takes, we'll carry on." Good music -- provocative concepts expressed well. And, oh yeah, the music rocks, too.
One more thing -- what with Aimee having her CD release at the Cactus on March 4th and Hilary being so in demand so many places, there are rumors that their "Chicks with Picks" showcase will end its run at the Scoot Inn at the end of February. My friends -- this is the most fun one can have anywhere in Austin (okay Rich and Landry -- your Wednesdays at the Hole are fun, too, but this is almost like a private party to which everyone is invited if they only knew just how cool it would be to come). So my charge to you is to write your friends at the Scoot Inn's management -- http://www.myspace.com/redscootinn -- and let them know you want them to BEG Hilary and Aimee to stick around a few more months ... and keep the scene alive. [Maybe they have friends who can host once in a while so they can get more breaks -- but those who have been there know just how comfortable the Scoot on Tuesdays has become as a songwriter's gathering place -- where else would we all go?
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Youth, Age Will Be Served!
Stubbs' Bar-B-Q has long been known as an all-ages music venue as well as for its signature finger-lickin' food. We all owe a lot to the late C. B. "Stubb" Stubblefield - who like so many legendary Lubbock natives left his hometown to grace Austin with some great food AND great music.
This past weekend, state senator Kirk Watson sponsored a "Register to Rock" event at Stubbs -- featuring eight of Austin's hottest teenager-led bands, including Joker and The Daze, both of whom have signfiicant roles in the upcoming major motion picture "Will," whose stars include Vanessa Hudgens of the "High School Musicial" series, Disney star Alyson Michalka (of Aly and A.J., who just opened for Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus on Thursday night, and "Friday Night Lights" star Scott Porter (he's the quadriplegic quarterback).
An acoustic version of The Daze (Chris Ritchie and singer-songwriter Evan Butts; drummer Aaron Lemke was out of town) opened the show, followed by sets from Shockraid, Joker, Dell Valle's Noise in Action, and The Fireants (featuring Ian Stewart on electric violin) -- all of which acts I missed!? I DID get to catch Max & Henry (singer Max Tolleson, Henry Gillespie on lead, Victor Ziolkowski on drums, and Troupe Gammage on drums) -- those boys love to rock! Next up was keyboardist A. J. Vincent (who has some chops; his other gig is The Bright Light Social Hour) -- and closing out the show was Blues Mafia (which shares a rhythm section with Joker). Lots of people registered to vote during the event, which was well attended all afternoon. Apparently, Butts' mom came up with the idea for the register to rock show, sold it to Sen. Watson, and good things happened.
I had just been at Stubbs the night before for sets from The Alice Rose (who are already working on a new recording), The Lonely H (average age, 20), and The Century (the old Black Water Gospel but with David Jimenez replacing Jesse Duke on lead guitar). The Lonely H -- which hails from Port Angeles, Washington, and played SXSW two years ago and will be back this year -- plays classic rock. Lead singer Mark Fredson (who also plays keyboards) is not yet 19; neither is drummer Ben Eyestone. Brothers Eric (guitar) and Johnny (bass) Whitman, like Fredson, are surfer dude type blonds; Johnny (shown with Slowtrain bassist Matt Roth) just turned 21 -- these dudes could have stuck around for the Register to Rock show, but are actually on a three-month road tour that will take them just about all over the USA. They won over an Austin crowd chock full of other players who virtually adopted them and put them up for the night -- after what I hear was a "little" after-hours fun. But that's what makes Austin special -- that and the fact that the local lads were impressed that the "H-ers" had played Juarez, Mexico the night before. [Longtime fans note the absence of former lead guitarist Colin Fields -- who opted to stay in school this quarter, giving the moustached Eric Whitman the "lead."]
A highlight for the weekend, though, was the long-awaited debut of The Century -- with old BWG standbys Juan Gutierrez on vocals and guitar, Travis Woodard on drums, and Dan White on bass adapting to the very different guitar style of Berklee-trained Harlingen native David Jimenez (seen also with Bruce James). The same old songs have been recrafted -- a little slower, more dramatic (especially the wonderful "Goldmine" and "Conspiracy Row"), and maybe a little darker (how can you play dark sounds with the ebullient Mr. Duke?). Slowtrain's Adoniram Lipton joined the band for most of the songs, including "Big Black Cadillac" and some brand-new numbers toward the end of the set. Juan slipped in a Pearl Jam cover before ending with "I Shall Be Released," with Adoniram on guitar and Nathaniel Klugman on keyboard. One of the new ones, "Skeleton Tuxedo," has a jazz feel -- this was good stuff!!! And I cannot forget to mention that the boys also played "Fool's Good," one of my very favorites.
A. J. Vincent; Max & Henry; Blues Mafia's Sasha Zoe; Denia Ripley and Donna Hightower. At top: Mark Fredson of The Lonely H; Juan Gutierrez of The Century; bassists Johnny and Matt share secrets!

The OTHER venue I visited (TWICE!) this weekend was Central Market -- yes, the food, but Suzanna Choffel on Friday and the amazing Miss Donna Hightower on Saturday would be more than enough for someone on a total fast to show up for the music meals they served. Suzanna is -- please go to www.famecast.com and vote for her and/or Ginger Leigh -- just back from Vegas and the Dell Lounge, and on this evening drummer Eldridge Goins wore a suit and tie. Johnny Vogelsang and Laura Scarborough added their touches to make Suzanna's show a hit with diners.
BUT not even Suzanna can hold a candle to the 81-year-young Donna Hightower, who has been blowing people away with her voice and driving men wild with her smile (just ask BB King!) ever since she was "discovered" while singing as she cooked food in a Chicago restaurant over half a century ago. "Little" Donna spent most of her career living in Spain where she shared stages with nearly all of the greats of the jazz era -- but God graced us here when she "retired" to live in Austin a decade or so ago. She still gets around on the local jazz circuit when not singing in church -- or cooking up a storm for her friends and family. Donna and Natalie Zoe have been recruited by Central Market for a musicial menu television show where they will once again sing while they cook -- just like the old days.
Donna's show on Saturday featured duets with the lovely Denia Ripley (whom she calls her "granddaughter") on "Bye Bye Blackbird," "April in Paris," and more plus solo work by Donna on "Georgia on My Mind," "Secret Love," and others -- plus Denia doing songs like "Teach Me Tonight" -- and that was just the second set!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Great Scots!? Bruce and Bruce!

Bruce Smith jumping for joy! Joanna Barbera, who plays Tuesday at Momo's, out seeking a new fan at Threadgills.

So I was at Antone's the other night to hear T-Bird and the Breaks, and got an extra treat when I looked up and saw Bruce James and his new band. Then later I was back at Antone's to catch sets from Craig Marshall and Ricky Stein -- and there was Bruce Smith and HIS band sandwiched in the middle. With all due respect to Bruce Hughes, these two scions of Robert the Bruce are both making excellent music for Austin ears.

James' CD, "Junkyard Soul," is an apt portrait of this white rhythm and blues keyboardist and soulful singer whose career includes fronting the Austin R&B outfit, Tunji, and playing with Leon Russell as well as in festival arenas. Most of the CD was recorded live to tape, with Chris Grady on bass, Chris Trafton on drums, and Bruce on piano and organ -- with guitarists Paul Mercurio, Keith Davis, and J. T. Holt (who also engineered), saxophonists Marcus Caldwell and Kris Kimura, and Geoff Queen on pedal steel and slide guitar.

Junkyard Soul is late-night music to unwind to, though at Antone's Bruce and the band played very early indeed on a Monday. James wrote 11 of the 12 songs, including "Superstar (nothing left to do)" which leads off. My favorites might be the uptempo "Snow on Sunset" (boulevard), the ballad "Nashville (rain)," but especially "Darker Days," which is reminiscent of early Bobby Blue Bland but as sung by Joe Cocker or Gregg Allman. [Note to Will Taylor: WHEN you do the Allman Brothers show, get Bruce on board!!!] This song is all about things happening in the world today that are too large for us to handle alone -- and it also showcases James' vocal mastery and his piano dynamics. "Darker days call for brighter torches, these are the darkest of days, fill my lamp and keep it burning, guide my path and light my way," James cries out to God -- and somehow we know that the Almighty is both ready to answer his prayer and also to get his autograph -- He has to be a fan! [For the record, the final cut is Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows" sung with the kind of power that not even the Beach Boys could have ever envisioned.]

Bruce Smith, meanwhile, has been spending much of his time not playing music working at Eddie V's and building a huge fan base in the process. This, folks, is pure, old-fashioned rock and roll -- Texas style (even though Bruce is a New York City transplant!). At Antone's (he's there on Sunday nights for the foreseeable future) his band includes Jasper on guitar, Steward Copeland on keyboards, Jamie Porter on bass, and Rob Lee on drums -- Randy Cabellero played keys on the CD, "Another Day in Texas." Bruce dances all over the stage with and without his guitar -- having much more fun than a guy over 30 is supposed to be having.

This is barroom, dancehall music -- and it is hard to sit down while this band is playing songs like "Rhonda of the Rodeo," "Julie Took the Dagger," "Marisa," and "Where My Heart Used To Be" -- but flat out impossible to sit down through "Stray Cat" or "The Longbranch Inn" (where Bruce used to hang out back when Calvin Russell was playing there regularly). And who else but a transplant would dare put "Texas" AND "Texas Son" on the same disc? Almost as gushing about Texas as Roger McGuinn was about his "Chestnut Mare." Slowtrain opens at 8 pm this Sunday for Bruce and the band -- and bring your dancin' shoes and lose ALL of your blues.

Now, we HAVE seen other music recently (wrapped around a 3-day road trip to deep south Louisiana to the Houma Indians lands where my mother taught them how to read and write English for the first time over 75 years ago). Went to see Raina Rose at the Dirty Dog (along with folksinger Douglas Jay Boyd) -- part of the weekly Sunday night Shut Up and Sing! interactive showcase (always a lot of fun!). Got out to see Erin Ivey at the Hole in the Wall (learned she's singing at a wedding down in Cozumel in which the entire wedding party is taking the Carnival Cruise there and back) and Marcus Rubio and band (with Sean McCarrey on theramin) at the Parlor -- yup, that high schooler Marcus trekking to Austin on a SCHOOL NIGHT! And looking forward to Victoria Hammill playing her electric violin with Jennifer Leonhardt Monday night at the Scoot Inn -- and to much more music next week. Gotta go now -- Suzanna Choffel early or late (Central Market or Momo's) and The Century (aka Black Water Gospel's new lineup) at Stubbs.

Sean and Marcus; Raina Rose and Douglas; Erin Ivey!

Hats off to Joker -- landing a major role in the upcoming Walden Studios film "Will," and to The Daze -- who got a smaller part. Catch BOTH bands (and several others) at Stubbs on Saturday afternoon as part of Mayor Will Wynn's register to vote shindig!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Three-Fifths of Son Volt (Almost!)
What with their impending move to New York City, I felt it vital to get out to see Son Volt guitarist Chris Masterson (along with Son Volt bassist Andrew Duplantis) at Flipnotics Triangle location and then trek over to catch the beautiful Eleanor Whitmore playing fiddle and singing backup with Will Hoge's hot band. And I stuck around Antone's a while to see what all the buzz was about for Jason Isbell and his band -- which supposedly is featuring Son Volt keyboardist Derry de Borja who WAS on stage with a keyboard but could not be heard in the mix.

Chris and Andrew are quite a pair (lots of fun on stage) and good singers. I like Chris' "Collapsible Plans" and Andrew's "Justice Wind" (written with the Damnations in mind), but I left early to get to Antone's before Will Hoge's band was finished. On the way out, I ran into my pal Nick Ulrich (son of Steve), who had been out in the cold seeing Kelly Willis (with Eleanor on fiddle, of course!) and caught up with where this amazing dancer is spending his time these nights (Continental's Gallery, the Elephant Room, and Antone's, etc.).
Got to Antone's in time for half of Will Hoge's set -- guy had an all-Southern band and played some great Southern rock -- and Eleanor was spectacular in her debut with the boys, who hail from South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and of course Tennessee. Wish I had heard more -- but I DID run into Juan Gutierrez, who told me his new band (which is essentially his old band but with David Jimenez replacing Jesse Duke on guitar) will be debuting at Stubb's next Friday -- new name, too -- The Century. I had just seen Jimenez playing with Bruce James and was very happy with what I heard from this Harlingen native who prepped at Berklee.
Earlier in the week, I stopped by Austin Java to catch the Third Coast Music showcase, hosted by old friends Jim Patton and Sherry Brokus (Edge City). Guests included Cleve and Sweet Mary Hattersley from Greezy Wheels and Detroit-born songwriter Melissa Greener. Melissa, whom I had not seen in a while, had some wonderful new songs which may be on an album she is doing with Jeff Jennings (producer of Mary Chapin Carpenter and many others). Cleve sang "Running Naked" and we all sang along -- wearing our heavy coats in the semi-outdoor arena. Patterson Barrett emerged from the audience to sing "Concrete and Steel" (not the Lucinda song) -- and Sweet Mary's fiddle enhanced many of the evening's offerings.
Later that same night I stopped by The Parlor on North Loop for some great pizza and to catch a set from Maria Mabra's punk swing bluegrass and sometimes gospel band Corinne Rose. Maria covered Sheila E, Merle Haggard, and Hazel Dickens all in one set while also showcasing two songs from bandmate Billy Cook -- and of course some of her own. Cook plays lap steel, mandolin and guitar, while Maria is one of the few female drummers in town, maybe the only one who is also her band's lead vocalist. Cute, too! The band, which has a hot new single, "Quick and the Dead," will be at Room 710 on February 1st.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Visions of Joanna!

Living in Austin is just one big joy after another. After noshing on East Side Pies at the Austin Music Foundation mixer at Rio Rita's, my friend and I strolled (well, drove) over to the Scoot Inn for the Aimee-Hilary showcase. Caught a set by the wonderful Brennen Leigh -- big happy surprise was brother Seth playing electric guitar (with Justin Kolb on bass). We stuck around for Aimee Bobruk's set, which featured Kullen Fuchs bringing out his French horn (a debut performance?) along with trumpet, TWO different accordians, and the xylophone with and without fiddle bows. Darwin Smith on guitar and vocals made this yet another Aimee set not to be missed -- and she claimed she was not wholly well. I have added Sandy Denny as one of the few singers I have ever heard with such a clear and gentle voice. Aimee's CD will be out in a month or so -- but catch her every Tuesday and fall in love all over again with just pure singing!
But that was just the appetizer this night. Jen had insisted we get over to Momo's to catch up with yet another Austin newcomer -- Joanna Barbera hails from New York City, but spent her last five years in San Francisco where she really began singing in public. Wearing a dress she claims to have "stolen" from a close friend, Joanna quickly established herself as a flanfire favorite -- she had me with her big beautiful eyes.
Looking a lot like Maria Muldaur when I first met her, Joanna proved herself to be a talent worth watching (and listening to) in about a New York minute. Great songs, great hooks, a top notch band -- the amazing jazzman Kyle Clayton on bass (About! Blank!; Free Brass Cartel), J. J. Baron on guitar (Slaid Cleaves, Ted Hadji and the Wholly Ghosts, and his own highly acclaimed music), Jordan on bass, and Ann on harmony vocals, tambourine and dancing on stage and wearing furry boots. [She's from Indiana.]
Joanna had just gotten in a supply of her new sampler EP with four of her songs (some of which you can find on her myspace page). "Beautiful Life" is a story of moving from automaton to living, breathing soul -- "I can't lay here six feet under in a life of nine to five." I want to know who is playing fiddle on these songs, especially "Red Roses" talks about moving as a child from the Lower East Side to a better home for raising a family -- and a trek across country after "a long trail of tears" from leaving that home -- and the loss of a parent. There's more, but you will just have to get out to her shows -- Momo's on January 29th (and again twice in February) or Botticelli's on January 31st.
Now for the teaser -- at the AMF mixer, I ran into the lovely Jane Bond and encouraged her to go hang out with her buddy Brennen at the Scoot - which she did. Jane is playing a set at the Aimee-Hilary showcase NEXT Tuesday (Jan. 22) with Country Matt Giles and Cornbread -- and she just looks great. Apparently she was for a while out doing some recording with Benmont Tench and friends in Los Angeles -- and if "Why You Wanna Hurt My Heart" and "Skeleton Key" are samples from those sessions, Jane's next album will be a MONSTA!!!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Monday, January 14, 2008

SOUL Music Returns to Austin!
T-Bird and the Breaks! There IS a GOD!

Sasha and Steph kick it up!; these people are dancing - and so should you be the next two Mondays at Antone's. Below: Scotty, Houston, and Matt - the T-Bird Horns; Tim Crane with Cody Furr. Far below -- Renee and Sparky; Jessica, Deanne, and PJ praising God in song.

I have been lamenting the death of soul music (James Brown has passed!) -- and the fact that both African-American AND Caucasian youngsters have seemed much more interested in such art forms as hiphop, rap, and, well, what I call musical self-destruction. Where are the Doo-Wop groups, where is the power of horns backing tasteful guitars and great backup vocals? Where are the SONGS (not rap poems)? Where is the PASSION, the angst, the mystery of soul? Or to put it another way, who are today's young Arethas, Wilson Picketts -- heck, where are the new Platters and Clyde McPhatters? Where is the MUSIC?

But, Austin -- there is not only a GOD -- there is honest, real, genuine (albeit white-boy) soul music and you can find it at Antone's (where else?) for at least the next two Mondays. [If I were Catholic, I'd be saying a BUNCH of Hail Marys!] But how could this happen? Austin DID of course launch the great career of the legendary Bobby Blue Bland -- whom I sincerely hope will join these lads on stage some day (in my presence, to be sure). But two white kids (Tim and Sam -- see below) from western Massachusetts? With a dream and a prayer they showed up in Austin a few months ago and began rounding up players.

I learned of T-Bird from my beloved Sasha (Ortiz), who with her lifelong BFF Stephanie Hunt forms the female vocal wing of this 10-piece (maybe 11 one day) ensemble that just blew the doors off Antone's on Monday night in what was only their sixth gig ever as a band. But not just vocals -- these two women dance the entire show with their own choreographed moves that have also inspired the horn section to work out their own dance steps (including twirling the trumpet while boogeying). Houston Rawls (nephew of Casper Rawls) is on tenor sax, Scotty from Seattle (just moved here two months ago) is on trumpet, and Matt is on trombone.

Then there is the rhythm section (Cody Furr from Lubbock on bass, Mark Lionetti from San Francisco on drums) -- and the twin guitars -- Sam Patlove and John Allison. But what makes T-Bird tick is lead singer Tim Crane who just never stops moving on stage and belts out classics (like "Tobacco Road" from War or Wilson Pickett's Funky Broadway) and originals (Sunday on My Own, Take Time, or Plenty of Soul). And I think even the drummer is dancing on stage. Certainly large portions of the sizable crowd (flanfire included!) spent much of the night on the Antone's dance floor -- and there were numerous promises to come back next week with half a dozen friends. Maybe you?
As one who has seen lots of music here in the "capitol of the world," but nothing even close to this -- and put together so quickly too. Which means the band has just begun to find out what it can do as a unit. Again, this was their SIXTH SHOW EVER! We haven't even SEEN the daring duo strut away from their falling-off-the-stage posts (band right!) to dance right in the middle of the stage with the lead singer -- and/or belt out a soul power duet. Word on the street is the boys (and gals) are still looking for a keyboard player. Heck, they are just getting around to writing songs together -- and finding their place in the sun here in Austin while trying to organize to go on the road once their debute recording is in the can. We are just waiting for the band to break out into classic James Brown -- complete with Sasha and Steph bringing out the cape. And lest anyone think to be a purist, imitation is the SINCERIST form of flattery -- but these kids have gone beyond imitation to innovation. BRAVO!

Now, this IS Austin, so the opening act tonight was - well, better than Turkish delight. Bruce James I met when he was playing with Sunny Sweeney at the Poodle Dog and later at Jovita's with his own band. Somehow I never got his still-new CD, Junkyard Soul (a problem now fixed -- look for a belated review!), but I had heard most of the songs as belted out through Bruce's gravelly voice. Tonight Bruce had the wonderful Chris Trafton on drums, Jim Spivey on bass, and Austin newcomer David Jimenez (who hails from Harlingen by way of Berklee School of Music) on very satisfying lead guitar. A real find! I loved Bruce's "Superstar," "Snow on Sunset," and "Darker Days" (in particular) as well as his renditions of classics like "You Are My Sunshine" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" Bruce is playing at III Forks and other places around town. Great to see him.
Again, this IS Austin -- and as noted many of the T-Bird band members "flew in" from all across the country just to meet up here to start their project. But they are hardly the town's only newsomers -- talking with DJ Ruben (who spun some tunes in between sets tonight), I learned he is in a band called Natural Soul whose lead singer, Rhapsody, just moved down from Mendocino -- and I THINK she is so young she had no idea who Doug Sahm is. But she loves funk, soul and reggae (and she is also in for a big surprise when she sees the MauMau Chaplains) and their band has spots of each of these art forms. They're playing out at Ruta Maya soon.

And, as noted, this IS Austin -- so Sunday night we trekked over to Momo't to catch a set from Warren and the HOODlums -- compleat with new Fabulous Thunderbird member Mike Keller. Earlier, we had dropped by the Dirty Dog (where a brand new music scene is beginning) to catch a set from Strumero -- a trio formed recently by singer-songwriter Mike Romero with Michele Garcia on keyboards (she also writes for the band) and percussionist Neal Shotwell (who was very good indeed!). Nice songs in the set to be sure -- and a good feel. Strumero was the first of a number of performers at the Shut Up and Sing! showcase that just moved over from Club 115 (which died a second death last month). Robert Cooperman and Monte Peck (both from American Sideshow) host the weekly series, which includes interaction with songwriters (which means the hosts ask them questions about their music).

And since this IS Austin, earlier on Sunday I was at Maria's Taco X-Press to hang out with PJ Lyles and his Gospel Project -- featuring Jessica Shepherd and Deanne Smith on vocals, Kyle Judd, Will Dunlap, and Tom Cobb on guitars, Lee Vickers on bass, and Tom Dunnam on drums. PJ was still celebrating the story in the Statesman on Christmas Day about their helping provide food and longjohns to the city's homeless. PJ used to sing in the South Austin Gospel Choir, and so when they did a couple of old Choir numbers, he brought up director Renee Fuqua and the irascible Sparky to sing along. What a time of joy for me, as Nancy and I met half of Austin by starting with the Choir.

Well, there's ALWAYS more -- for example, next Sunday Belleville Outfit will play Momo's at eight before the Hoodlums, while the Marshall Ford Swing Band, which played at eight last Sunday, will be back on around midnight next week. What a lineup! Dance all night, dance a little longer. Sing all night, sing a little longer. And blow your troubles away!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Beneficial Night -- Thanks, Jen!
Jen Marchand with Sumner Erickson hanging out; Mark Addison playing with Summer Wardrobe. Below: Matt Maye; Mandy Mercier.

As one who has been the recipient of much love from a benefit concert, I do what I can to get out to concerts aimed at benefitting others in need. Friday night at Ruta Maya was no exception -- Jen Marchand was hit by a car driven by an uninsured motorist and required extensive surgery (she looks GREAT again!). So naturally, many of her friends showed up to help out -- from Carolyn Wonderland (and others whom I missed) to Fastball (as an acoustic duo), the Murdocks (punk-pop trio, great set!), the Summer Wardrobe (without John Leon, but with producer-guitar god Mark Addison showing great chops and higher energy on a white Epiphone guitar that looked a lot like the one Jon Sanchez uses too), the Alice Rose (first time I have seen them), Chili Cold Blood, and the tower of power Amplified Heat (lots of ancient Fender amps, double bass kicks, and lots of hair on the Ortiz brothers).
But I started off the evening at Austin Java (out in the c-o-l-d) with Gina Chavez and Austin newcomer Matt Maye. Now here is a New Yorker (upstate!) with a nice vocal style and good songs -- like "Burning the Exits Tonight,"The Desert in Her Heart," "Halfway There," and "I'm Right Beside You." I'd love to hear this guy with a band with a piano -- lots of poetry in his lyrics that just beg for music that reflects the colors and tones he is laying out there. "Please Stay" opens with some chords reminiscent of Neil Young's "Razor Love," while the desert song reminds one of Glenn Frey and the Eagles. Halfway There cries out for a jazz guitar solo. This guy is of the Andrew Walker school of songwriting -- maybe it's that cold-weather winter thing. Matt plays January 27th at the Dirty Dog and in February at Cafe Caffeine and the Irie Bean. Gina, meanwhile, was her usual radiant self -- brought up a friend visiting from New York City to sing harmonies on several of her songs .. including the newbie, "Don't Let Go" (title guess!).

Then it was over to Jovita's to catch a shortened set from Mandy Mercier and Marvin Dykhuis with Tommy Taylor on drums and Andy Salmon on bass. Folks -- our pal Mayo is not well but of course refuses to let anyone lock up the place so he can get a little rest. But seven songs was enough -- Mandy opened with "Get There," which she just sang for my Nancy last Saturday, then did a song she wrote "a long time ago" with Andy -- "Break My Heart." Later Mandy took up her fiddle on two songs Marvin sang -- "White Horse" and (written by John Hartford's son Jamey) "Good Things Happen When You're Around."

Just a few words about the Ruta Maya doings. I had never seen Miles and Tony singing as an acoustic duo -- but man that was good! Summer Wardrobe has been in the studio with Mister Addison working on a new CD. I had heard some of the songs they did (all new music) at the Hole in the Wall a while back, and already knew all of the words to (for example) "One Longtime Feeling," but Mark and Jon just TORE IT UP on the guitar solos. Addison was all over the stage and having more fun than a guy "his age" is supposed to be able to have without a LOT of liniment the next morning. One song was about switching graves , and there was another brand new one about being dead. Jonny also does great work tuning pianos ... and be sure to catch him and John Leon on stage with Roky Erickson (and Billy Givens) on Austin City Limits this week.

On another note, I have been meditating a lot lately about the absolute necessity that everyone in a band must remember that what they do as individuals -- good or bad -- might impact the entire band. What brought this to mind was a story told last Saturday about my wonderful Nancy -- how she insisted on learning Spanish and getting her Spanish teacher to come to the office for group lessons for her co-workers. That little bit of extra effort turned into a major contract with a Mexican women's domestic violence group that Nancy's boss says will be helping women in Mexico for years to come.

SO I got to thinking about how when most band members are taking lessons, growing in their craft, and others are just stagnating, living off yesterday's gifts, the whole band's energy can get off a little, and then a little more .. same thing when one or two members show up late, stoned, or otherwise unable to play at their highest skill level. Confirmation? Just ask Jim Morrison's bandmates from The Doors how much money -- and respect -- they lost because of his on- and off-stage drunkenness. [Most of you could find examples much closer to home!]
Two thoughts -- If you ARE the person who is screwing around while your mates are working hard, you could opt to let them find someone else more committed (without a nasty fight) or change your own behavior and make them much happier partners in music and life. If you are in the other shoes, well - one band I know fired a bass player briefly and that led to a lot more honest discussion and some real changes that improved the whole band as well as the members' interpersonal relationships. Main point is -- do not let such differences, real or just perceived, fester because that can lead to ugly blowups. Second point -- remember that in a band, what one member does impacts every other member (not to mention their families and friends). So being on the same page -- or at least compatible pages -- matters a lot.
End of "sermon."

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Craig Marshall: Austin's Buddy Holly?
Craig Marshall; Jeff Botta on drums; John Thomasson on bass. Below: Zak Perry.

Okay -- Buddy Holly never was a swing jazz singer, never fronted any band close to the Lucky Strikes. But every time I listen to Craig Marshall doing his own pop songs, I think about how Buddy Holly was such an influence on the Beatles that they named their band after an insect to mimic Holly's Crickets. Marshall has that same ability to make people smile -- and that same early Beatles touch.
I remember meeting Marshall down at Woody's South (another Austin venue now defunct) -- and listening to his music for the first time I just felt good afterwards. Wednesday night at the Dirty Dog on Sixth Street, Craig and his band -- Jon Notarthomas on lead guitar and vocals, Jeff Botta on drums and vocals, and the incomparable John Thomasson on bass (just back from the Dell Lounge in Vegas with Suzanna Choffel at the Computer Electronics Show) -- lit up the dark stage as if there was a full-on light show.

Marshall's third solo album is due out in February, but this set went back to his debut "Popular Crimes" for "It's Coming Back," "Knock Me Down," and the much-loved "I Like Saturday Night." Second release Before the Fadeaway was represented by "Settle for Me," "Stop and Go," and the amazing "Corner of Lost and Found." Craig even did a brand new song or two -- "Play to Win" was pretty darn good. But my favorite had to be "Lost in Space," or whatever Craig actually uses as that song's title.

Craig Marshall is what "That Thing You Do" (the movie) was supposed to communicate about pop music. Only in today's perverted corporate music environment would a talent such as this be so obscure. Hopefully, today's new generation is beginning to rebel against the Disney-Clear Channel universe in which the nastier your sex tape, the more outrageous your driving record, the volume and nature of your drug and alcohol use, or even the number of children you have statutorily raped are the biggest factors in determining your marketability. [A world, that is, in which Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy is touted as a pro-life statement by marketers who otherwise could care less about such matters!]

It was a special treat that Kat Edmondson and her piano player pal Kevin Lovejoy popped in (after their gig at Eddie V's) to catch the show. Kat promises maybe TWO recordings later this year -- a jazz record, to be sure, but also her own pop songs (which she says is what comes out when she starts to write). Craig will be BACK at the Dirty Dog on January 23rd -- he is my male singer of the year, and if you are not familiar with his pop (or jazz, for that matter) songs or his great delivery, you just might want to trek down to Sixth Street or to any of his other shows -- or to his myspace page or his website.

Cannot leave without noting that the earlier time slot at Dirty Dog was filled by St. Louis white boy blues man Zak Perry -- whom Nancy and I used to hang out with Sunday afternoons at Austin's Pizza on South Lamar. Zak and his bandmates have been gracing Austin stages for about six years -- in between tours that almost always go back through Missouri.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Aimee's Ice Cream Tuesdays at the Scoot!
Aimee Bobruk and Darwin Smith; Leo Rondeau. Below: Dony Wynn and Jon Notarthomas enjoy the music at the Scoot. Below below: JWW and the Prospectors.

Aimee Bobruk sings like Margo Timmons and is the all-American girl next door that everybody wants to love. Her Tuesday night showcases -- a partnership with Hilary York -- at the Scoot Inn have taken on legendary character, with more musicians showing up who are not playing than those who are to be on stage for the evening. People are coming because of the vibe -- a combination of camaraderie made secure by Aimee's dedication to the craft (Hilary's too!). [And, yes, I meant that these Tuesdays at the Scoot are just as wonderful as a big scoop from that homonymic purveyor of the high-fat dairy product.]

Aimee has a new CD, "The Safety Match Journal," in her hot little hands, but she is scrupulously keeping it away from Flanfire until closer to the early March date for her CD release party at the Cactus Cafe. Frustrating as this might seem, the early takes (and others' comments -- for example the beaming smiles of Jon Notarthomas!) and the promises to me from producer Darwin Smith will just make the music that much sweeter when I can finally let my readers know that this is a not to be missed recording. [Lots of other guys I know also helped Aimee and Darwin on this project -- including Dony Wynn and Kullen Fuchs and Aimee's sister Erin.]
But I digress -- this night was all about camaraderie, hanging out with bassist (and guitarist) Kevin Fox (with Darwin's band tonight along with Josh Vernier -- and the aforesaid Kullen sitting in), and introducing my friends Gina Chavez and Matt Maye (just down from New York City and already playing with Gina on Friday at Austin Java 12th and Lamar) to the collegial group of revelers out to enjoy the ambience created by Aimee (and Hilary when in town).

Darwin's sets are always full of color and pathos, and Aimee had Darwin and Kullen in her set. In between we got to hear Leo Rondeau and his trio (Howdy on bass and Burton Lee on pedal steel) and some of Leo's Western country songs. Earlier, it was Graham Weber (new CD out this week but he's already planning a jazzier next effort) and a player whom I totally missed. Later in the evening, JWW and the Prospectors began what is billed as a weekly Tuesday late show -- six piece Western swing band with pedal steel, fiddle (Heather Rae -- who shares vocals t00), smokin' lead guitar, standup bass, drums, and JWW (Jeremiah Wade) on lead vocals and rhythm guitar.

Also in the house was Tom VandenAvond, who is performing at the Scoot on Fridays with Woods Boss (former members of the Weary Boys), the lovely (Rose Red to her sister Bonnie's Snow White) Eleanor Whitmore, whose debut CD is about ready for release (thanks in large part to production by her very good friend Chris Masterson) -- and others too numerous to mention but notable in any case. Kevin and I shot lots of pool in between sets and afterward, and we all wondered just what is going on with the time slot given the early announced start for JWW (who graciously waited till nearly 11:30 to go on stage this evening) and the huge scene that Aimee and Hilary have built up over several months (longer, really).

This was NOT flanfire's first venture out since having his life turned upside down and backwards in late November -- but we were on the road nearly all of December and working hard on the celebration of Nancy's life last Saturday (speaking of great music!). Did get out to Ego's last week and over to a great New Year's Eve party with the Addictions and others ... and on Sunday visited Threadgills' (Brennen Leigh), Maria's (Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers), AND Central Market (Belleville Outfit) all in one Sunday brunch period.

And, by the way -- reviewing the music I have reviewed during 2007, I give the award for best album to Nathan Hamilton and No Deal -- Six Black Birds blows me away every time I hear it -- and for best new artist to Gina Chavez. But there were so many I really enjoyed -- Ruthie Foster's and Papa Mali's records very both very exciting, for example. [Now, if you are NOT mentioned here, just remember I tend to only review CD's that I like -- JB, SF, GQ etc. were all listened to by me on NUMEROUS occasions.] Papa of course produced the recording that has taken Ruthie to new heights on the touring stage. Gotta mention Mr. Brown's "Boderation" in any good music list. The EVENT of the year, though, had to be Wendy Colonna's massive concert and live DVD taping at Antone's -- all of which led to her winning the POP competition to become Famecast's Pop Fenom!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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