Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Jersey Mikes: Mike June and Thick Red Wine (Mike Wojciechowski)

New Jersey music means The Boss, Bon Jovi and – more recently, two guys who now live in Austin: Mike June and Mike Wojciechowski, aka Thick Red Wine.  Jersey Mike’s is of course a nationwide subs chain which started up in 1956 at Point Pleasant Beach (hometown of Matthew Jurasek whose band Thee, Idea Men, who stayed at the Flanfire house during SXSW)  – but our Jersey Mikes will fill your soul, not your tummy.

Mike June: Talkin’ Revolution Blues

When I first met Mike June he was working with the Killer Artist Agency and I did not catch on that he was such an accomplished songwriter.  I went to Strange Brew for the release party for his new CD, Talkin’ Revolution Blues, and was duly impressed with the songs and with his New Jersey band (with a couple of ringers – for example, New York born Jess Klein).   And with Ben Todd on lead guitar (his old band, Beautiful Mistakes, was one of my favorites), you can hardly go wrong.

The opening cut, “Pray for Rain,” is a rocker that showcases that lead guitar and presages the political content that culminates in the title track.  “The Pauper’s Princess” switches gears; it’s a bouncy love song, yet again with that have-nots theme.  “Charlie and Lily” is also cut from softer cloth musically, but again touts the theme of hard times and disappointments.  John Mellencamp would love this song.

“Hard Times” is an acoustic blues rant (until the organ kicks in) reminiscent of Woody Guthrie – and Billy Bragg.  Things have gotten so bad, says the protagonist, that “I don’t believe in hope and change any more…. the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  “The Lucky One” is a classic rock anthem – with more guitar and organ.

“Long Lost Brother” is gospel-tinged with lots of organ … feels a little like The Band.  And “April Showers” has that classic anthem rock riff throughout – a hint of Bob Seger maybe.  Back to back songs about the need to pray (not to mention Pray for Rain) … “Jesus was a rebel, when he died they took him corporate … you know the President knows him well.”

All that has gone before, though, is only the lead-in to the title cut – “You said you want a revolution, but you don’t want to walk the walk … [and so] it’s all just talk.”  A far cry from another East Coast lad I once knew.  Steve Scolnick joined the Revolution at age 16, having fled prep school with his camera and a dream to come to Washington to work with Marshall Bloom and Ray Mungo at Liberation News Service.  Stevie took a few great photos – one made it into Atlantic Monthly – before his camera got stolen and one day as he was driving up to Vermont his car ended up in a tree.

You get the idea that Mike June is a little bit like that seventeen-year-old charmer whom the ladies loved, smiling and talking his way into and out of trouble while serving a cause greater than himself.  And like Stevie, you get the idea that Mike June would rather live a revolutionary life that changes hearts while mocking the nakedness of the overlords of the Establishment than be the guy who violently pulls down one set of rulers to set himself up in their place with the same ruthless greed and arrogance.  And maybe that’s why I like this Jersey Mike.

Thick Red Wine (Mike Wojciechowski) – Never Wanted To Be Cool

I remember the first time I met Mike whose name is so long he bills himself as Thick Red Wine (well, most of the time).  He was just out of college in Chicago, a Jersey boy with stories to tell with his guitar and a voice not ready for prime time.  In fact, he admitted to not performing in public until the first time (or thereabouts) he stepped onto the front porch at House Wine on a Monday night.

As a performer, Mike was raw, and his “songs” lacked structure, but from the minute he opened his mouth to sing (really, as soon as you were engaged in conversation with him off the stage) you knew you wanted to listen to what he had to say.  The title song alone has endeared Thick Red Wine to a legion of fans – fellow open mikers to start with, truth seekers in general and of course the arrogant who might think they want to go on after him not realizing that their cultured voices and skillful fingers cannot mask the vapidity of their so-called songwriting.

And yet Mike kept on getting more polished (not noticeably so, that is, not losing his “charm”) – and more focused on making a real recording.  It did not hurt that his day job brought him into contact with one Darian Momanee – the same Darian that Kullen Fuchs had recommended to work with The O’My’s on their first visit to Austin in 2009, the same Darian who then took three high school boys under his wing and put them to work while also learning THEIR music.  That guy who plays trumpet and drums and co-produced Mike’s debut record.

Mike also gets help on this recording from fellow House Winers William Wallace, Shawnee Kilgore and Leah Nobel (who just released a lovely new video), along with Courtney Howell.  But it is Mike’s songs and his honesty – and for some, maybe, his boldness to write and sing even about excrement as handled by an innocent child – that have won him loyal friends and fans alike.

There are ten songs here, but I will only write about the title track – and let you all find your own way through the other story songs either live and in person or by finding this record for yourself.  I just would not want to spoil your party.

So to work – imagine yourself as a pretty cool kid who had the respect of your fellow fifth graders, until one day when one of the Bobbys of the world chides you for hanging out with someone who has been labeled “not cool.”  How many of us would back away from such a friend, not wanting to lose coolness points?  Mind you, Bobby himself is clearly not cool either – I mean he ate glue in kindergarten!  But he maybe had a family with significant enough assets to buy his way into coolville.

Well, our hero “never wanted to be cool,” and upon realizing that his friend was not taking this condemnation very well, he was not at all going to play it cool.  With his very best Stone Cold Steve Austin imitation, young Mikie chased Bobby around the school yard and put the hurt on him … and went back to hanging with his “uncool” friend.  You really have to listen to the song – but now you know why Mike is such a magnet.  He much prefers to be real than cool.  In real, not cool, life!

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The North Door: Blum and Bonnie and Colin Gilmore too!

I am told that the North Door, Austin’s coolest, perhaps most hidden from view, music and arts venue at 5th and Brushy (just east of IH-35 and half a block from Progress Coffee), has a direct connection backward to the old Electric Lounge, a long-lost venue that I got to visit a couple of times long after its heyday.  I have watched this venue evolve and well remember in early 2010 Brandon Badillo putting on his second annual Nina Simone tribute show there … with seating … and watching Bryce Clifford and a host of others grace that gorgeous stage (with great stage lighting).

Back then,  the North Door (aka the ND or the Independent at various times) did not have its liquor license as it does now.  There was no pizza oven just inside the doors, and the venue was only open now and then, as construction was continuing (including work on the balcony).  Nowadays you enter the North Door via, of all things, the north door, in the alley, as if it were a speakeasy in the Twenties.  And you walk into the back bar, where last night some of the guys who work there and some friends were putting on their own songwriter showcase– and these are not small potatoes talents: Nathan Singleton, Will Evans, Joshua Bain, and company.  Old friends, many Momo’s refugees, home from the road and having fun together.

Up front, my longtime friend Bonnie Whitmore had put together a nice showcase featuring new Austinite Chris Porter (half of the duo Some Dark Holler, the other half is Helen Gassenheimer), the Colin Gilmore band, and her own new project with Jason Blum and (for the evening, at least) the incomparable Dony Wynn.  The North Door has become one of my favorite haunts, largely because of the stage and the fact that old friends work there … but also because musicians I enjoy listening to enjoy performing in this relaxed environment.  Our chief complaint is that not enough Austinites have found their way to the venue.

Chris Porter opened playing solo, singing songs he boasted would be sad enough or even sadder (some with Bonnie, who may have persuaded him to leave his native Alabama for our sunny climes).  But not to worry, because it was Colin’s birthday party (a few days late, but who cares when you have gluten-free strawberry cake!) and his lovely wife Tammy got up to sing a Townes song with him.  Colin’s band featured Andre Moran on  lead guitar, always a treat.  Every time I see Colin, I also think of Nathan Hamilton, another wonderful Austin songwriter whose character I admire as much as his work on stage.  And like Nathan, Colin’s songs strike chords of real life with all of its pain and all of its joy.BLUMANDBONNIE

I like Jason Blum.  I just rarely get to see him play — so last night would have been a treat if he had been on stage solo.  But when I read a short time ago that he and Bonnie were going to be performing together (she as his bassist, he as her guitarist, and both swapping great songs with strong vocals), I was getting really hungry!  Blum and Bonnie — What a tasty treat — surf and turf, one might say.  Bonnie was a tigress at the mike, growling out songs with her big voice that somewhere reaches to the sultry side of Stevie Nicks.  The much-traveled Jason with his stories and songs and his minor key riffs.  And both from families with music deep in their bones.

Now Bonnie had already been on the road playing with Brent Mitchell for years before I met her at the age of 19 when she joined the Shelley King Band. We got to know her a lot better when Shelley and Susan Gibson hosted a cruise that was my 25th anniversary present to my beloved Nancy.  Then there were the Bonnie and (Jamie) Blythe years and the year that Bonnie coached big sis Eleanor to leave off being a super side woman and stand in front of the mike … and to become half of the powerful duo the Mastersons with hubby Chris.  Then there were the “lost” Nashville years that led to her first CD, “Embers to Ashes,” which some say gives Izzy Cox a run for her money as “queen of the murder ballad.” [Note: "lost" means only that Bonnie was not in Texas, and so I got to see her only occasionally; she was playing with Hayes Caryll and getting herself all over the country as a top bassist and honing her singer-songwriter skills to near perfection.]

Somewhere along the way, Bonnie also became a professional baker — well, we did once call her “bon bon.”  But much more importantly for this writer, she recently moved back to Austin and now with a new record about to drop, Bonnie is ready to come into her own as a featured performer.  Brother-in-law Chris Masterson produced and played guitar; other players include Falcon Valdez on drums, George Reiff on bass, and sister Eleanor on vocals and fiddle.  This new venture with Jason Blum debuted last night, and I gave it two thumbs and a round of shots up!

Cannot leave you without mentioning two people I met last night — Texas (and Seattle) songwriter Russell Bartlett, who had just been on a West Coast tour with Colin Gilmore, and Ishaq Clayton, a lifelong friend of the Whitmore family who just moved to Austin and is putting together a band.  Clayton, a longtime violinist (and cellist who encouraged Bonnie on that instrument) who grew up in Denton, switched to bass a while back and told me he is working on getting his violin chops back up now that he is back in Texas.  Russell, Colin and the all too infrequent visitor to central Texas Waylon Payne have a show scheduled in San Antonio later this spring.

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Calculated Carelessness Kickoff at Club DeVille – a real treat!

laurengwithchristy

From the first time I laid ears (and eyes) upon her as a member of the Pistol Love Family Band, Lauren Gurgiolo has blown me away.  There was for example this magical night of music and theater at the Cathedral of Junk with dissonant chords from a band spread out all over the edifice and hordes of people in attendance with mouths agape.  But that was a while back.  Since then, Lauren has become the lead guitarist with Okkervil River, started her own project The Dialtones, joined up with Neal Kassanoff in the Dead Left, and lent her many talents and charm to a host of other projects.

So when I saw her email about Calculated Carelessness, described as “an installation art piece” that Lauren had conceived, I took quick notice.  Lauren explained an the blurb that the piece “incorporates music, interactive sculpture and projection to transform one’s perception of space within a dynamically immersive environment.”  The installation will take place April 11-14 at the Museum of Human Achievement in east Austin.  Lauren’s inspriation is Soren Kierkegaard’s work, “The Seducer’s Diary.”  It began as a collection of songs for The Dialtones but grew into a full-blown inter-media project bringing together creative (visionary?) minds from architecture, design, music, sculpture and animation.  You can learn more about the project at Lauren’s Kickstarter page, http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2019852060/calculated-carelessness-an-inter-media-installatio .

To kickstart the kickstarter, Lauren and some of her many friends put together a benefit concert at Club DeVille’s outdoor amphitheater on a cold night in January (thankfully there are propane heaters).  The special treat was some southwestern (means it has cactus in it) gumbo made by Lauren’s father, together with some King Cake (it is nearing Mardi Gras, and this was still gumbo!) served up by her mom and maybe aunts and uncles were in the mix — a real family affair.

And so was the music.  Lauren plays lead guitar these days with Christy Hays, who started the night off with some of her great country songs.  I remember meeting Christy at the now-defunct Jovita’s and noted tonight that her band, her songs, and her on-stage presence have just gotten better and better.  Next up was my dear friend Aimee Bobruk, playing solo on her electric guitar and singing songs from the CD she will be unveiling on January 26th at the Continental Club Gallery (with help from producer Brian Beattie, world class drummer and all-round raconteur Dony Wynn, and more).  Aimee, who was just featured in “American Songwriter,” has titled the new effort “Ba-Brook.”  I could go on and on … others have already done so … but I will hold off for the CD review.

Next up was fellow Dialtone Michael St. Clair, the first of many one-man bands for the evening.  Michael played keys, trumpet and guitar and who knows what all else … and then Lauren got back on stage with her mandolin to play some old standards with the legendary Stanley Smith (apparently this duo has been doing quite a few shows at the Elephant Room, but I somehow had been in the dark).  By this time the gumbo was largely eaten, the King Cake searched for the baby, and people were ready for a little something extra.

That of course would mean Te Dialtones themselves, with Will Landin filling in for Lindsay Greene, Karla Mansur on lead vocals, and the aforesaid St. Clair on keys.  Oh, yeah, Lauren plays lead guitar here, too — This is the quirky music that Lauren loves (and so do I) .. indeed, on this occasion the music that will be the backdrop/focal point of the coming installation.  To give Lauren a rest for a moment, the not quite shivering audience was warmed up considerably via a rare solo performance by the man I call “The Voice,” Paul Banks.  Paul, whose new record “Yelling at the Sun” was ranked the third best Texas made album of 2012 by Texas Music Magazine, brought the house to a standstill — with  a voice described by the Austin Chronicle as able “to go from sounding like a folk-singer Strokes frontman to a gorgeous Roy Orbison to stripped down Muse.” [Yeah, they compare him to Jeff Buckley, too!!]

The highlight of the evening, though, had to be the Dead Left set with Gray Parsons on drums and vocals, Lauren on lead guitar, Wil Landin on bass and renowned songwriter and bandleader (and founder of the Groundworks Music Project) Neal Kassanoff on guitars and lead vocals.  I had never seen Neal sing with such power and conviction (and he always does!) — maybe it was the stage, the lighting, the occasion, the incredible guitar work that Lauren was laying down, maybe it was the gumbo.  Whatever, he looked and sang like a rock star.

One might call the solo sets that followed — by band mates Gray Parsons and Wil Landin — the denouement.  But that term would properly be reserved for the tearing down long after the music stopped. Parsons, known more for his drumming, was standing at the keyboard with a guitar slung around his shoulders tonight.  Landin’s set featured his washboard bass, his ukulele that he played at one time strapped in place while he was picking his one-string washboard bass and banging on a makeshift drum built around a 3-gallon water bottle.  At other times, the uke and also his electric bass were backdrops for some fancy finger picking so food Colonel Sanders would have wanted a lick.

Just when we all thought the night was all over, DeVille soundman Will Rhodes (himself quite a musician) gave quite a speech (as we had all profusely thanked him for his hard work and good sound) about the entire day — working with the Gurgiolo family and signing up for a private lesson in maing a good roux.  Then he proceeded to serenade us all with some amazingly bad so-called country (impromptu for sure) songs.

Don’t forget, you can give to this effort at The Dialtones’ kickstarter, http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2019852060/calculated-carelessness-an-inter-media-installatio .  But most of all, if you see that the Dialtones, the Dead Left, Christy Hays, or Stanley Smith (or anyone else who played tonight) give them a shoutout and go hear Lauren play.  You will not be disappointed!

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Big Talent on the Big Stage!

OKAY – I was so busy DOING IT that I did not yet get around to reporting formally on last weekend’s Big Stage Music Fest – where all of the performers were under age 18. First off, kudos to Joe’s Place and its wonderful backyard stage (and great food!) and to the French Legation for providing two great backdrops for all of this awesome talent. Second, hats off to Nia Bonds and Mary LaTouf for organizing this outstanding event! And to Andy Ellis for ensuring that the sound quality was topnotch even long after he was supposed to be on his own time!
But let’s get real — the musicians make the show, and this all-day, two-venue event had some of the best young (heck, forget young!) talent I have seen in quite a while. I only have time and space to focus on a few of them — but let’s start with San Antonio’s Victoria Celestine, who performed at both venues. Victoria is 16 but made her debut CD, From the Outside, at age 14, and it is one of the finest pop music records I have heard this year. Now we saw Victoria on solo guitar, but the CD is blessed with Ryan and Sean Jacobi, Brian Beken, Cindy Cashdollar, Brian Donohoe, Brian Standefer and more — and Victoria’s amazing songs and clear, rich vocals. And, yes, she sometimes sings in her father’s native French!
On the rock and roll side of the aisle, we had Gypsy, which features Devin (age 17) and Dave (age 14) North on bass and lead guitar and Payton Keller on vocals (everyone compares her to Ann Wilson of Heart!). With a substitute drummer, they focused on covers and not their power-packed originals, but the band really brings it. Maybe the most impressive band set of the day came from The Bare Feat, an nine-piece (but missing their bass player) combo from Austin High led by guitarist-songwriter Mason Ables, with Luz Zamora trading off vocal lines that reminded me so very much of It’s A Beautiful Day! I would hire this band to play anywhere, anytime!!!!!
Etienne Alonzo brought some powerful songwriting to his band Lonely Playground — I want to hear more from this 17-year-old! But organizer Nia Bonds has to be congratulated for securing the services of Charlie Belle — which just blew people away at the Austin City Limits Music Festival! Of course, given that singer-songwriter-guitarist Jendayi Bonds (age 14) and drummer-harmony singer Gyasi Bonds are her children, she might have exercised some pull to get them signed for the show for much less than their normal paycheck! Jendayi totally blew me away with one line in particular — something about chocolate truffles of your heart.
Best news of all — these are by no means all of the talented teens making REAL MUSIC here in Austin! And lest one forget, Leeann Rimes was a star at 13, and Steve Winwood was touring with the Spencer Davis Group at 15 — and then there was the Jackson Five. Nobody in this town, thankfully, treats young musicians as curiosities — or keeps them from playing before all age audiences! Well, almost nobody!
BOTL for all of these — and other — young performers and catch them while you can still sit or stand up close! You never know when tickets to their shows will be much harder to get!

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What a weekend — Ghostbusters, Joanna Barbera, and The Bellmen (and more)

Okay, I admit it. THE highlight of the weekend was lunch with my goddaughter and her family at Panera Bread. That said, the top adventure was Ghostbusters the Play, directed by Lucy Kreutz with original music by Jeff Luna and Eddie Lehwald – and a cast and crew that included a full dance troupe and a full orchestra. Special thanks to David Hess (Peter Venkman) and Caitlin Macklin (Dana Barrett and Zuul), but truly the entire cast did a great job. And of course the entire cast and crew are not necessarily real actors — and did I mention the set and props and costumes? Leralynn Productions is in reality a group of friends wanting to have a good time together — this is the group that put on “The Princess Bride” last spring at Boggy Creek Park. There are two more shows (March 10-11 at 6 pm) at Metz Park and this family friendly production is indeed, as the players hoped, something truly inconceivable — and brilliantly done.

But that’s not all! Friday night it was mostly Antone’s for Cowboy and Indian (sans Jesse Plemmons) and David Ramirez with full band. Packed house. Jazz Mills as always amazed with her vocals and her very presence, and Daniel, Peter and Darien rocked the house. Ramirez unveiled a few new songs and several chestnuts — it is always exhilarating to hear this guy sing.

Earlier it was Hailey Tuck singing with the Blackbird Trio (Sean Hopper on bass, Wayne Duncan on drums, and Angelo Lembesis on piano) at Central Market – gotta like that girl, who also played at Papi Tino’s (with Angelo plus Sam Lipman on sax and Michael St. Clair on trumpet) on Saturday and at East Side Show Room (with Sam Lipman on piano and Joe Tuck on drums) on Sunday night. Hailey is a real jazz singer of the old school — her voice is like a female Al Jolson, and she just bounces through classics and hidden gems that she has found via extensive research in her dad’s music library and beyond. And, yes, she is playing a set at Waterloo Ice House on 38th Street on March 17th during SXSW (among many other coming gigs with various groups, including the Copa Kings).

Saturday night was Jason Ludwig (still a newcomer, from Cincinnati, big voice) and the beautiful birthday girl Joanna Barbera … whose music I have loved since I first heard her sing — at Momo’s — four years ago. Joanna has a Kickstarter to raise funds for her new album — and we heard a few songs that just might make the cut. Later I stopped by Bryce Clifford’s, as it was also HIS birthday.

Another IMPORTANT event on Sunday was the benefit concert at First Down and Stassney for Paul Buddha Mills, longtime drummer for the Killer Bees, Miss Lavelle White, the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers and many many more (and yes Paul can sing!). The gentle, jovial and always giving brother has lost strength in his legs and is in need of a lot of love — fortunately, he has made so many friends over the years that he will get probably more of that love than he would ever expect — but then again that’s Austin! I also stopped by the Mean-Eyed Cat to catch a little of Quenby and the West of Wayland Band and by Baker Street — Marc Palaoro on electric guitar and his poetic songs was a real highlight!

I cannot, however, write about the weekend without tossing a huge thank you to Travis Sutherland, Dustin Dub Halsell, Reid Faist, Jeremiah Silsby, Benjamin Taylor and John Rogers who have been a band for considerably less than a year but bring an upbeat rocking show every time they play. Hopefully they impressed the people choosing a band out of Sunday night’s show (six bands in all) for an official SXSW Showcase. Travis also puts on Utopia Fest which this year will be the last weekend in September — and yeah, plan ahead to get out to the beautiful Hill Country for this great event.

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Kem Watts and Hailey Tuck

Hailey sings jazz, 1940′s style. Kem is straight from the 1950′s. Both are pals of the lovely Ashley Monical, who is a classic bluesy country vocalist a la Bobbie Gentry. Keep on the lookout for all three. Ashley and HalleyAnna are also the Wildflowers, a name soon to be a household word. Kem’s band, just rechristened the Engineers, is pretty good. Kem is as n Energizer Bunny making up for years not playing enough. Her songs grab your dry gulch soul. Hailey is developing her own style, mixing classic phrasing with a modern approach to tempo. Ashley just melts away your stresses when she sings.

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A star studded weekend all the way around!!!!!

Friends, I thought I had done well to have my friend Laura Jean Thompson down from Chicago and play at the Whip In, Romeo’s, Cheatham Street, Baker St.,and the Ham Jam Concert Series — and to meet with Charlie Stewart and work on plans for Folk Alliance and beyond — but that was just the prologue (and indeed Laura and i had some fine adventures togethe!).

No sooner than I had dropped Laura at Austin Bergstrom on Tuesday did I get myself to the Contintental Club to see Dustin Welch with Steve and Mike Bernal on bass (and cello) and drums, Roberto Riggio on violin, and Eric McFadden on lead guitar and lead and/or harmony vocals. What a show — “Two Horses” as I had never seen it before, with Steve Bernal reaching notes on the cello rarely heard. Afterward, I ended up at the Korean karaoke joint on North Lamar singing and wishing Sarah Temple at happy birthday. Wednesday it was Trophy’s for Josh Buckley and Gilded Splinters with Phil Hurley sitting in on lead guitar. Thursday began with Barbara Nesbitt singing her heart out to a warm and fuzzy crowd (lots of fellow musicians) at Maria’s Taco X-press, then a quick jaunt to Baker St. to catch a set by Jennifer Ellen Cook, and off to Stubbs for shows from Les Rav and the White White Lights (with a stopover at the Mohawk in between). Barbara has a voice that melts gold into butter, and Lauren Bruno and Les Rav have added the impeccable Jenni Wieland on French horn and Andrew Noble on violin (and a little lead guitar!). Special thanks to my pal Scott Andrews, who was at the show the night before he played Houston’s House of Blues.

But Friday’s on my mind, and after a long day of work (missing day 1 of the Austin Songwriters’ Group’s annual confab) getting to the Continental Club with my pal Josh Buckley to see the Mastersons (Chris and Eleanor, with the bonus of sister Bonnie Whitmore in the house, and of course Falcon Valdez on drums. Chris has long been one of Austin’s (well, Bertram’s!) finest guitarists and songwriters but even he admits people come just as much to see and hear (and marvel at) Eleanor, who has developed from a strong side woman (violin and mandolin) to hardcore troubadour guitarist and lead singer. Their new CD, Birds Fly South (due in April, except for some advance copies the kids had with them), is just gorgeous, especially IMHO the title track! They’ll be back for SXSW so do not miss your next chance!
At the show (the reconstituted Derailers followed) Josh and I met two great new friends and he got to play them some of his own songs late into the night.
Saturday I finally got to the Omni for the ASG shindig and ran into so many old friends and met a few new ones – and got to hear Sonny Throckmorton and Joe Manuel (with Marvin Dykhuis and Will Sexton) sing some of their greatest hits, hear some top experts in booking, management, and more share their secrets, and have a wonderful time! Thanks again to Lee Duffy and Rick Busby and the whole crew for putting on such a powerful event (featuring indstrry pros from all over the place).
But life is all about Saturday night, and this one was super special — the return to the stage of Jazz Mills and Cowboy and Indian before a packed house at Hotel Vegas (which had already seen Nakia, the Dead Left and the fabulous Greyhounds). Never enough props for Neal Kassanoff’s songwriting, but adding the love of my life, Lauren Gurgiolo (if you ever watch her play guitar you will know why!), to his band (thanks in large part to the genius of Lindsay Greene!) was a stroke of genius mixed with sheer good fortune. Lauren, lead guitarist for Okkervil River, promises new things from her own group, the Dialtones, in coming months, and Neal was beaming when I asked him how his nonprofit music teaching organization for disadvantaged children, the Groundworks Music Project, was going. He had just gotten a major grant that will cover his entire budget for 2012. GOOD TIMES!!!!!! OF COURSE I cannot be objective about Cowboy and Indian — they are all family to me — Dorian, Peter, Daniel James, Jazz, Jesse and Stephanie RULE MY WORLD and are just downright wonderful! Now part of our evening (thanks, Josh and Anita for hanging with!) was spent at the hottest new country bar in Austin, the White Horse, listening to the Carper Family and later to Clyde and Clem’s Whiskey Business (who as always were a barrel of laughs and a joy to behold!) — and Denis O’Donnell, Mashall McHone and the gang also had a packed house. There was also this amazing ring around the moon — part of one magical night in Austin! And tomorrow — new adventures await, as I wait for another show from Cowboy and Indian (to help out our beloved Ruby Jane) and from the stripped down T-Bird and the Breaks quartet!

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Alyse Black at One World Theatre and Thanksgiving Week!

I did not really want to go. I mean, you drive down this steep hill just to get in, then you park and walk up a lot of steps just to get to the box office. THEN you stand outside in the cold (or heat, or rain, or whatever Texas weather the day brings) before they let you in (or you stay downstairs and hobnob with the usual pretenders crowd of one-percenters, as they are now called). And, yeah, rain or shine you have to walk up this outdoor spiral staircase … and that’s all BEFORE you get into the theatre.
But, OK, it really IS worth it all, because the acoustics are great and there is not a bad seat in the house (unless you do not really enjoy getting up for late arrivers with middle of the row seats). You have to stand in line to get a drink, and there is only a single unisex bathroom upstairs (and who wants to traverse those circular steps and miss half the show?). The theatre seats really are from an old theatre, with oversized cup holders suitable for 40-ounce soda pops. And all of the music — until recently, that is — is out of towners whose clientele is the snobs who never come to the Saxon, the Continental, or even the Spoke. Well, ,mostly.
The truth of course is that none of those venues has what One World has to offer. Parking, to start with (OK, the Spoke has a parking lot!). A huge stage with great lighting. Great sight lines and high ceilings. Not even the heralded Paramount has as many seats that close to the action! And when it is Alyse Black and Little Brave, you feel really great that Austin musicians are on a stage worthy of Austin talent.
Little Brave opened, with Gum-B (Mark Williams) sitting in on cello — a stripped down Brave with K Phillips ONLY on accordian, Michael Christmas on drums, and of course Stephanie Briggs at center stage on guitar, keyboards, and ukulele. [After the show, a 16-year-old singer-songwriter was so thrilled to meet Stephanie, as she too plays those three instruments with her songs!] It was funny to see Stephanie wonder whether it was okay to “cuss”!
But this was Alyse Black’s night. She had a seven piece band PLUS special guests — notably Kalu James and White Widow. The band itself was pretty special: the afore-mentioned Gum-B on standup bass and cello, Shawnee Kilgore on backing vocals and guitar, Will Wallace on lead guitar, Alex Henley on electric bass and guitar, Bruce Logan on drums — and a trumpet player too. One of the things that makes Alyse’s shows special is the care she gives to her fellow players — it is as much their show as hers, in her view.
The show was officially to unveil Alyse’s brand-new project, “The Honesty EP,” along with her live album, “The Triple Door Sessions.” The set list, though, included selections from her two earlier releases and some special surprises — not the least of which was Alyse’s very sexy red sparkly dress, which she claimed to have found just a day earlier at Goodwill (yeah, right!).
The blown away moment was Alyse’s rendering of the Willie Nelson classic, “Crazy,” with only Will Wallace’s acoustic guitar (including an amazing, lengthy solo). Songs like these show off the power and tenor of Alyse’s radiant voice — and this was followed by a song from Shawnee Kilgore about her favorite pirate — with Wallace and Kilgore on twin guitars and Alyse also providing vocal support. White Widow and Alyse rocked out together, and Kalu’s powerful song about his Nigerian homeland was given quite a special full-band arrangement.
The new recording is stripped down — and thus I suspect it will rapidly become my favorite Alyse Black record of all time (until of course she puts out something even newer). I mean, people like her flirtatious spirit onstage and her bouncy songs (including an Adele cover this night), but truth be told, Alyse’s real strength is singing ballads without a lot of instruments to drown out her voice. The banter keeps the show alive and energetic — and then she drops the H-bomb on you with “Even the Best” (or really just about any song from the new EP).
Okay, I admit it. I loved going to One World when we won tickets to see Judy Collins (by knowing that Sandy Denny wrote and originally sang “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”) — but I never saw One World as a local music venue — until tonight! And better yet, the management is talking about an entire SERIES featuring local music … now THAT to me is worth the steep driveway, the outdoor climb, and the other stuff. [Aside - do smokers even care that they sometimes miss half the show to step outside?]
Other Music Highlights from Thanksgiving Week
Bar none — Drew Smith and the Lonely Choir in what may have been the best performance EVER by this amazing band — my favorite (and Ihor’s) for several years running. Jake Owen played what may have been the most powerful guitar solo I have ever heard during Drew’s song, “Bending Like a River Flowing,” and Ryan Bowman (bass), Kyle Thompson (drums), and Matthew Russell (keys), along with Drew, played inspired music in what may have been their last show for a while (the BoDeans are going on tour, taking some of Drew’s players with them).
Earlier that evening, the Beckham Brothers once again showed they are a band to be reckoned with — and one that needs to get off the Willis Alan Ramsey kick and RELEASE the music they have recorded. The Band of Heathens as usual really brought it — and yes I took a detour on Friday evening to go hear Max Frost along with Face, Tiny and Dave Scher rock the house at Beale Street Tavern. Even earlier I had caught a smokin’ set from Edison Chair — which plays Wednesday night at the Parish — if you like the Beatles you will love this band that has that same energy and real potential for playing bigger stages (for example, opening for Fastball New Year’s Eve at Uncle Billy’s on the lake).
Thanksgiving Day was wonderful, the crowd gathered for the third year in a row at Donny Jones’ country estate to chow down and jam. Later I slipped out to catch Dustin Welch’s set with Steve Bernal (cello), Mike Bernal (percussion), and Roberto Riggio (violin) … and it was the way I have been hearing Dustin’s music ever since I saw him with Joe and Trisha Beckham and Brian Standefer on cello at Lambert’s. And Saturday night we stopped by to see Dale Watson (who will be taking a hiatus from performing starting in February to act in a play) and ran into Sunny Sweeney and her new husband at the Spoke — and then dropped by Momo’s to see George DeVore with his brand-new hot band. And there was even MORE!

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Gram Parsons, Doug Sahm, and Turner Stephen Bruton —

Sunday I knew wsa going to be busy — but there was more than even I knew, starting with a quiet party at Quin Ulrich’s to honor his dad Steve and the lovely Elizabeth (on their way to Guatemala again!). Mark Ambrose was there, as was Tony Velasco and even Matt Silaski got there bfore I headed out to Threadgill’s for the big GRAM PARSONS TRIBUTE, organized once again by Patterson Barrett.

Now if you konw me, you know I always say that Gram Parsons changed my life with his songs. Sunday night, there were over three hours of Gram songs, songs Gram sang and even a couple of songs ABOUT Gram … most of my favorites except “The New Soft Shoe,” which was on the bill but the performer was unable to make the show at the last minute. Now it being Gram’s music, and it also being a lot of my friends on the stage, I liked everything I heard, especially liked the spirit of the evening (and the weather!). But a few performances stand out, perhaps because of the song itself as well as the performance. Earl Poole Ball (WHO PLAYED WITH GRAM) was his always delightful self, and the handsome Steve Carter has not lost a step. Karen Abrahams, who opened the show, reminded me once again why she is just royalty in central Texas, and Leeann Atherton and Julieann Banks showed that Girls STILL just wanna have fun.
Bu when Brian Pounds broke into “A Song for You,” the tears just started streaming down my cheeks. Same story when Phil Hurley (sans guitar) interpreted a song so good not even Townes could have written it — Thousand Dollar Wedding. And Bill Carter with Will Sexton did Hickory Wind, and Noelle Hampton backed by a quartet of lovely ladies sand “She.” I got to hear Sahara Smith for the first time as she sang (in a voice almost too high for the song) “Sin City” — and there was Dallas Wayne (whose powerful voice just survived the fires that took his home) and so many others … Gram Parsons would have turned 65 on November 5th, and he would be very proud of his daughter Polly, who now lives here in Austin and does amazing work through the Gram Parsons Foundation. The Threadgills audience sang together with an expanded band on “In My Time of Darkness,” one of those songs that once again (and I am surely a heretic as a native Texan for saying this!) NOBODY has reached deeper into our hearts with. My only hope is that next year, someone will sign up to sing “Hippie Boy.”

The night at Threadgill’s was over — but not the night itself — heck, it had hardly begun! Next up was the Saxon Pub, where Amanda Cevallos had gathered another group of fine musicians — some of whom were doing double duty (herself, Steve Carter, and the incredible Mike Stinson among them) — to celebrate the music of Texas music legend Doug Sahm on what would have been his 70th birthday. Performers included Leo Rondeau, Mike Harmeier, George DeVore, the beatiful Beth Lee (and of course the equally beautiful Amanda Cevallos), and David Jimenez. The show stopper, though, had to be the finale, with Tameca Jones belting out “She’s About a Mover” as two of the Southern Sirens shook short-skirrted, fishnet-stockinged booty so impressively that more than one of the players admitted being at least a little bit distracted (not enough to affect their playing, to be sure). The house band for the evening included members of Amanda’s own band, most notably the same Neil Flanz who was a member of Gram Parsons’ band the Fallen Angels. This show was a lot of fun and featured a lot of that San Antonio flavor.
And, yeah, after THAT show was done, I trekked over to Momo’s to catch part of the King Biscuit set featuring Will Webster jamming with David Jimenez and Jonah Kane-West of keyboards, with Wil Landin sitting in on sousaphone. Kurt McMahan keeps finding formulas that work for bringing great players together to have a good time and entertain anyone smart enough to come.

I cannot leave talk of this great first weekend in November without mentioning yet another music legend — the man whom T-Bone Burnett has called “the soul of Texas music.” — Turner Stephen Bruton. Here is a little vignette:

“He was one of the bright spots in the lives of anyone who was close to him,” said Kris Kristofferson, who hired a 22-year-old Bruton to be his guitar player in 1971. The gig lasted 17 years and made the pair as close as brothers. Bruton also played in the bands of Bonnie Raitt and Delbert McClinton, plus he produced career-defining albums by Alejandro Escovedo, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Marcia Ball..
“I feel fortunate that I was able to get back to L.A. last night and say farewell,” Kristofferson said. “He finally knew he was going, after fighting it so hard for so long. I said I would see him again down the road, probably sooner than later.” The two talked for awhile, then, late Friday night, Bruton said he had to go to sleep. He never woke up. He was 60.
“Stephen Bruton was the soul of Texas music,” T-Bone Burnett said in a statement Saturday. “This is an incalculable loss. He was my oldest friend and I loved him like a brother. I learned more from him than I can say.”

TAG — Monday night madness — began at the Whip In, as Stonehoney’s Nick Randolph played his first solo set in maybe a decade before a packed house that included almost the entire California expatriate musician community in Austin (Josh and Teal, Andre and Noelle, Clint and Q, the list goes on). I had invited my friend Lily out to hear some songwriters, and promised her the second half of the evening would be at House Wine. And what an excellent choice! From Marc Palaoro to Will Wallace to Tammy Kantor (with Drew Howard) to Katy Priestley (of KP and the Boom Boom) to Scott Andrews to Luke Benson (just back from Moab, Utah) to Kole Hansen (just back from a four-month tour) to Craig Marshall, there was no letdown at all — and we missed some very good performers who had gone on earlier in the evening. Kole has a major show at Momo’s on November 17th (a Thursday night), and Will Wallace will be sitting in with her band.

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Wisebird, Kinky Machine

Creative guitarists do seem to abound in Austin. This will be a short post — but I just had to write about Kinky Machine, featuring Ethan Kennedy and Matt Muehling on guitars, with Matt Sheffer, Sam Pankey and Drew D’Entremont on percussion, bass and drums, respectively. Mahshad V. says Kinky Machine is “the new black” — and after just their second show tonight at Frank, the other word is “yum.” This is progressive rock that cannot simply be described — just go see and hear for yourself. There is a lot of work to do here — but this quintet of young but very talented players has already sent a statement that they are a band to be reckoned with — and now they need to (a) do some recording, (b) get a video, but mostly (c) keep playing and getting tighter and adding songs to their repertoire. And of course (d) having fun and making money (ha!). I DO love Frank as a venue — I DID place Madi Diaz and Kyle Andrews there for next Wednesday and add Meggan Carney (with Ethan K on guitar of course) to the bill — and it’s not just because I like a good hot dog (though that’s another reason to like Frank!).

Now I knew that when i got to Momo’s to hear Wisebird I would likely run into Luke Benson, just back in town after a very productive summer — yup, he is working on a new record, too. True, the joint was jumping with lots of friends (including my long-lost pal Rob Cooperman, whom I knew was back in town but had not yet seen) — all were there to relish Joe Beckham (bass), Dave Meservy (drums and vocals), and Will Webster (guitars and vocals) just rip the stage apart with joyous sounds. Eric Hokkanen, who has been a mentor to Webster, also showed up to admire his and Will’s joint handiwork.

Speaking of Matt Muehling, I am reminded that NEXT Friday his old bandmate Sam Lipman releases his debut solo CD, “Nebraska,” at Momo’s — Sam may be the nicest Aussie ever created .. and he is one heckuva musician and creative genius — dress up and make this night special!

Speaking of “special,” Raina Rose is a mom … she and Andrew Pressman are the proud parents of a baby boy! I will never forget the first night I met her at the Ham Jam — her aura just totally filled the living room (which is two stories high) … and her songs were so real you could get your fingers wet just touching their wet paint.

Just as special in its own way, Graham Wilkinson is releasing his new EP, The Spiritual Acxcessories, on November 4th at Momo’s — with Drew Smith and the Lonely Choir following at midnight. I can only suggest that we in Austin are so blessed with such songwriters as Jon Dee Graham Wilkinson (which is to suggest that Graham’s songs remind me of Jon Dee’s in their raw honesty and passion). This EP may be the record of the year … and Graham says it cost (an unbelievably small sum) to make, leaving him enough money to actually do some marketing. But this is a free tip to the wise — get two, one to keep and one to share (and of course burn baby burn more). And, yes, with Drew Smith in the house, there might even be a Michael Lahrman sighting.

[And downstairs from Momo's there is a sign on the door noting that the "Powder Room" has applied for a liquor license.]

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