On the first of October I got a double dose of sad news. I last saw that red-headed fiddler Amy Farris on stage with Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women at the Old Settler’s Festival in April (though she was with the band just two weeks ago at Antone’s). Just 40 years young and gone, officially on September 26th. I first saw Amy playing with Kelly Willis at Stubb’s I think for a KGSR T-Shirt show, and got to see her CD release at the Cactus Cafe not long after she had left Austin for southern California. I will steal one comment from Austin360.com –
Our dear, sweet Amy — For now, it is almost hard to be sad because thinking of you brings back so many hilarious and wacky memories. And don’t think that you pulled the wool over our eyes as parents — we figured out: That you spent every dime you earned as a music teacher buying rewards for the kids. That your extraordinary talent was just a means to an end, that your real objective, along with teaching a love of music, was to teach our kids how to love and accept themselves. But you knew that you first had to teach us as parents how to see our children as perfectly imperfect, glorious human beings, and to do that, you had to teach us to accept ourselves as perfectly imperfect, glorious parents. I am eternally grateful. You are pure love. I hope you will visit often.
The other news shook me to the core – Monte Wise was the husband of my dear friend Natalie Zoe, the stepdad of my wonderful friend Sasha Ortiz, and a very kind man who lent his talents as well to the memorial service for my beloved Nancy Flanakin. At the Blues Mafia show at the Saxon the day after Monte died over a thousand miles away, Sasha reminded the crowd that her stepdad had installed the sound systems at the Saxon, Antones, and many other places in Austin. Monte nurtured Natalie through a debilitating injury that left her with an artificial hip and other ailments from which she was just beginning to recover (though her voice was strong as ever as she belted out songs with her band CandiLand and with the Divas at a recent benefit concert in her honor. Now we all need to lift up Natalie like never before — just as she lifted up my family three years and some ago when my wife was diagnosed with lung cancer.
BUS TO BROOKLYN – ep
So I got this email a week or so ago from Jesse Felder, lead singer and songwriter for the Austin band Bus to Brooklyn, and HE says that he heard about FLANFIRE from Vanessa Lively (whom I just saw at House Wine for the John Grubbs and Valerie Fremin photo exhibits party). The band — Felder on guitar and vocals, Casey Halliburton on bass, Matt Reynolds on drums, and Spence Hughes on lead guitar — will be celebrating the release of this six-song EP at Momo’s on October 9th.
So when I got their CD in the mail and put it on, I realized that Vanessa would never steer me wrong. I look forward to hearing the live show, but if the record is any indication, those who come will not be disappointed. Jesse’s voice reminds me a little of Scott Taylor of Feeding 5000 (who in turn reminds me a little of Eddie Vedder).
The songs here are equally strong – “Oh, Serpeant” warns us against the liar and exhorts us to remember that “everybody has a path, a direction for their life,” while “Devil Release Me” is even more of a rocker that is sandwiched around the much slower, quieter “Sorrow Song’: ”Drinking Queen,” another rocker, is a topnotch ending song. I look forward to meeting these guys and hearing their live set on October 9th at Momo’s Club. [I also look forward to hearing Courrier -- CD release -- and Jets Under Fire at La Zona Rosa the night before (after Jarrod Dickenson's set at Momo's).]
ALEX DUPREE AND THE TRAPDOOR BAND – CROWN & ANCHOR
The first time I saw Alex Dupree on stage (at Beerland) I immediately thought, Tim Buckley. As I read the lengthy lyrics to his new CD, “Crown & Anchor,” I thought, James Joyce. The Trapdoor Band includes Seth Woods (Whiskey Priest, Sad Accordians, Zookeeper) and a cast of characters that (on the record at least) includes Sean Padilla, Nicole Kern, Matt Matherne, and Aisha Burns but can include more or fewer at any time. The liner notes, written by Drew Stout, state that this is not an album of answers, but rather “these songs ask the unanswerable questions that seem to loom indefatigable in the loneliness of experience. But it is the terrifying vastness of these questions, their imposing persistence, that is the very possibility of life.” This is not exactly party music.
But then again, the MUSIC that augments these poems is very engaging (and very varied). “Little Stars,” which opens the door to this nautical adventure, is a quiet ballad (that is, until the cacaphony at the very end) in which our protagonist realizes that “it seems that my mind by some grace has already been pardoned” for having a heart that had hardened. “Have You Built the Ship of Death?” has six stanzas and references to Zachariah, St. Francis, Evangeline, Barbara Allen, and Solomon — and the questions raised in this song alone verify Drew Stout’s analysis. Just one line here tells enough — “ten million voices from across the sea are gasping underneath the hurricane, and the wind of their collective cry puts a creak into our rustling weathervane, a creak just like is in the captain’s bed when he stumbles home soaked with moonshire, but not loud enough to turn a sailor’s head, or to unwind my arms and alibis, bound with rosaries to Evangeline, well if you’re going to make me live here, could you give me the keys into your door? give me consciousness? give me quiver? could you pull your needle out and rent me maybe one more attic room, forsaken?”
The bouncy “City of Wheels” also references Evangeline in the context of finding a room to rent, but she responds, “No Sir, I cannot spare anything for you, “well, then, white boy, why did you come down anyway?” “If I Could Fall in Love” is another ballad of sorts, in which our poet admits his incompetence to love without feeling weighted down like the law. “I Cannot Call Affection Sweet” takes the words of a hymn by James Montgomery and turns them in to a plea sung with a full chorus. “Bottle Belle” is yet another quiet lament, “There are two black birds I’ve never known; one she calls me from the throne her family rents; the other one will end up walking home with my best friend.”
“Stone by Stone (Let Them Go)” is a African gospel-feeling song with that incredible line, “the children that he loves our God will surely drive insane,” while “The Holy Mountain” speaks of a love who challenges our poet, “how will you stand in the rolling wind? in the grasses bent and whitened? when she looks down on all the world with a solemn vow of silence…” Alex ends with a vow to walk alone into the world “until a love for one becomes a love for every other.”
The title cut (Alex notes the Austin bar with a similar name and Joni Mitchell’s song “Blue” which inspired him here) has even more verses than “Ship of Death,” more words than even a song from Danny Schmidt. And just as challenging! [I am trying to get you dear readers who seek out the deep things to take some time to listen to this tall, shy poet who is often on the road.] This cut opens with a piano solo (with organ and violin following) and Alex’s soft voice, “for eyes that cannot look to see her features disassociate and drift away unmoved, for hands that cannot shake a man, or fold inside a bluff, or hold the door …. good God, y’all, is there no one who will crown and anchor me?” Somewhere in this dream/nightmare, Alex sings, “so, sick with huner, I went up to the hilltop in the last watch of the night; I demanded there an audience with the tribulator of my soul ….” only to get this answer, “for what grievances do you address yourself to me?” And yet, at the end of the song, our protagonist agrees “to be grafted in the goodness of that indiscriminate decree,” and to “step int with the chorus then, come and crown and anchor me.”
It is not just the lyrical symbolism that led Drew Stout to proclaim that this album is “so dominated by water.” Listening to this music is like rolling in a small boat on a huge sea — undulating with the wind and the waves, wondering if you are about to be thrown overboard, given over to the feeding sharks, or perhaps (miraculously) rescued just as you fade out of consciousness into peace. We need to hear the Trapdoor Band at a venue like the Cactus or the Bugle Boy — where others actually let you LISTEN and let the music and the lyrics be absorbed into your very being.