"Live at the Granada Theatre (Alpine, TX)"

Walking into the Granada Theatre in Alpine, Texas, hearing the Texas Tornados' "Hey, Baby, Que Paso" was somewhat of an other-worldly experience. I used to cruise the one-way streets on either side of the Granada blasting their debut album shortly after its release in 1990. Twenty-two years later, Texas Music magazine's editor Stewart Ramser brought the band to Alpine to perform as part of the Viva Big Bend music festival and industry conference.

Augie Meyers

After the passing of founding members Freddy Fender and Doug Sahm, I was cautiously optimistic how the band might carry on. They'd been a supergroup, uniting four legends of Central Texas' country, rock, and conjunto music communities. Accordion extraordinaire Flaco Jimenez still performs brilliantly, still attracting a crowd of adoring female fans on his side of the stage. Augie Meyers seemed very relaxed, perched behind his keyboard with a smile throughout the night.

Doug Sahm's son, Shawn, has stepped into his dad's shoes, bearing a striking resemblance both physically and with his stage presence. Vocalist Nunie Rubio fills in for Freddy's timeless vocals and does a wonderful job, teaming up with Flaco on "Volver, Volver," the ranchera popularized in 1970s by Vicente Fernandez.

The band paid tribute to Freddy Fender, covering his hit "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," and got the crowd rocking with Sam Sham and the Pharoah's "Wooly Bully." But it was the Tornados' original songs that whipped the crowd into a dancing frenzy (be it two-step, waltz, or cumbia). "Who Were You Thinkin' Of" and the humorously innuendo-laden "Guacamole" had the crowd pushing the chairs back from the small dancing area in front of the stage.

For those wondering what they'll get at a Texas Tornados show now that half of the original line-up has passed on, the band still puts on a fun, energetic show that gets a crowd up off its feet. As the Tornados' primary frontman, Shawn Sahm carries on his father's legacy from his cowboy hat to sunglasses and brilliant, sly Sahm smile. The Texas Tornados served as a fantastic Saturday night headlining act for Viva Big Bend's inaugural year. And if this performance was any indicator, Alpine would welcome the Texas Tornados back to town for many years to come.

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Live at Kokernot Field (Alpine, TX)
"Live at Kokernot Field (Alpine, TX)"

What an opening act! Mike and the Moonpies performed immediately following the Pecos League matchup between the hometown Alpine Cowboys and the visiting Roswell Invaders. In the bottom of the 9th inning, Alpine was down by one run with one out and runners on 1st and 3rd. The batter hit into what should have been an easy double play. But after tagging the runner out at second base, the throw to first sailed high. The Cowboy at third made it easily to Home, winning the game in dramatic fashion.

With a sound system provided by Texas Music Hall of Famer Paul Minor, Mike and the Moonpies took to the fast-assembled stage and kicked off a fantastic set. Their traditional country sound kept the crowd's attention and got some folks up and dancing in the landings. I hadn't seen the Moonpies before and had only heard a few songs online. The band impressed with their tightness. They put on a CD-quality show, without having the luxury of a sound check.

Drummer Kyle Ponder is a machine, his timing relentlessly steady and fixed with Preston Rhone's bass lines. Guitarist Catlin Rutherford and steel player Zach Moulton both blistered through leads on the upbeat tunes, but kept their licks tastefully appropriate to each song. Singer/songwriter Mike Harmeier's got himself a great band, and his songs give the band a solid foundation.

While most of the set included original songs, several from their brand new eponymous EP, the band impressed the crowd with their takes on a couple songs from legends of country music and rock 'n' roll. They blazed through a tight rendition of George Strait's "The Fireman." And to close out the show, they put on a rousing version of The Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down."

The beauty of a music festival like Viva Big Bend is that fans get to see bands they might not otherwise see, in venues where bands might not usually perform. Mike and Moonpies were the tenth inning of the Alpine/Roswell baseball match-up, and they lived up to the drama that unfolded in the bottom of the ninth.

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"the definite and indefinite​.​.​. integrals of logarithmic and exponential functions"

When I worked at a major label in New York over a decade ago, there was a buzz about the still-unsigned Dallas band, South FM. Being from Texas myself, whenever us A&R types got together, conversation frequently turned to the topic of great bands from Texas. When that happened, there was an inevitable, collective heaping of praise upon South FM's sound, great live shows, and their lead vocalist with an absolutely killer voice. The voice leading that band was Paco Estrada's. MCA eventually signed South FM, but Paco has been leading a solo career since 2006, when MCA's dissolution left South FM high and dry.

Estrada's latest album is sparse and gorgeous, entitled the definite and indefinite​.​.​. integrals of logarithmic and exponential functions. Twelve stories of love, angst, and yearning, told as much through their harmony and melody as their lyrics. It's a mellow album, volume-wise, but intense in its songwriting. Estrada writes a lot of love songs, though they vary among their sub-topics, including love found, love lost, and love of one's self.

Estrada doesn't shy away from writing about his own mistakes, at times admitting his own shortcomings.

Suppose I told you that I'm still in love and it won't go away.
The hardest part of letting go is knowing when to walk away.
I tried so hard at loving me, but loving you comes so naturally.
It's all I am and all I'll ever be.

But this is hardly an album of depressed self-loathing. Hell, Paco fronted a kickass rock band, so you know he's got to have some confident cockiness in there somewhere. Shades of that come through in "I Can Talk You Into Anything."

Stumbled in the dark, turned the radio up
Moonlight comin' through the room, it helped me get a better view of you

And you know that I know that nothing here is set in stone
And I know that you know every secret down in my soul
And I think we both know the deepest of the wounds love brings
But, baby, everybody knows I can talk you into anything.

Paco describes the definite and indefinite​.​.​. as "a bit indie and lowfi," similar to his previous releases in its soulful storytelling and passionate vocal performance. Because he has such a gifted voice, I was surprised to hear a vocoder on "I Belong To You." I suppose if there's a tasteful use of the vocal processor, Paco aims for it—not using it on every hook and the end of every line of a 3-minute pop single. But for me, the vocoder/processor's intense over-use over the past decade on Top 40 radio makes me cringe when I hear its warbly output.

the definite and indefinite​.​.​. integrals of logarithmic and exponential functions is comprised of the songs you want to hear when you're alone, on those nights when you're holed up at home with a drink, and want nothing more than to watch some old movies and revel in nostalgia. It's those nights when you reflect on life—the highs and lows, the emptiness and fulfillment. With this album, Estrada takes you on a journey, guiding you through those peaks and valleys, accompanied by a wonderfully melodic soundtrack.

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"Live at Hanovers Draught House (Pflugerville, TX)"

The Eggmen are hands-down the most renowned tribute band in Austin. In 2012, they won "Best Cover Band" in the Austin Music Awards for the ninth time (number nine, number nine, number nine).

It was this reputation that brought a group of Beatles-aficionado friends to downtown Pflugerville, Texas to catch The Eggmen at Hanovers Draught House. You could say that expectations were high among this crew. They'd read The Eggmen hype. Previously, they'd been patrons of the Broadway touring production Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles and are regular attendees of shows by Me & My Monkey, a spot-on Beatles tribute band in Dallas.

Hanovers' $8 cover charge was a bit of a surprise—a premium price in Austin, and very high for the suburbs. The show was also advertised as a 9:30PM start, so it was a bit awkward that the band was arriving at that time and didn't get started for another hour. But on to the show...

For many Beatles fans, the attraction of tribute shows is the attention to the most minute of details. For Beatles tributes, ensuring the bass player is left-handed like Paul McCartney is a must. Changes of outfits from mop-top to hippie-era is pretty standard, as well. Authentic equipment is also of the utmost importance (Paul's Höfner bass, George's Rickenbacker guitars, etc.). And, of course, the music must be note-for-note perfect.

With this precision in mind, it was a surprise before The Eggmen played their first note that there were five of them. A fifth Beatle? Maybe Stu Sutcliffe? Pete Best? The fifth Eggman sang some lead vocals, and played percussion & keyboards. His voice was good, but a keyboardist Beatle? This qualifies as strike against The Eggmen for avid tributeers.

Then there was the appearance. None of The Eggmen look particularly like any of The Beatles, and nary a mop-top wig was to be found. For what it's worth, Nigel the Eggman bassist bears a striking resemblance Beatles' long-time road manager Mal Evans, and The Eggmen's 'George Harrison' looks a little bit like Blondie bassist, Nigel Harrison.

On the upside, The Eggmen are certainly a good band. They have succeeded for 20 years in a musically critical town because they play well and nail their vocal harmonies. They incorporate both acoustic and electronic sound effects that mirror various noises on Beatles albums, from an actual alarm clock in "I Am The Walrus" to horn parts done on the fifth Eggman's keyboard.

The Eggmen did one costume change at Hanovers, from the early-era black suits to psychedelic tie-dye for their second set. It seemed a bit half-hearted, though, as their Facebook page shows them wearing Sgt. Peppers-era marching band uniforms.

The Eggmen are the most popular tribute band in Austin. But if you want a spot-on re-creation of your Beatles, you'd be better served to drive 3 hours north on I-35 to check out Me and My Monkey. The downside of that, of course, is that after the show you're in Dallas instead of Austin.

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"Live at Headhunters: SXSW 2012 Official Showcase (Austin, TX)"

San Antonio's Piñata Protest went above and beyond for their 2012 SXSW Showcase, first as members of their musical community, then as four guys who can rock the hell out of a late-night crowd.

Their timeslot was 1:00-1:50AM at Headhunters, a cramped rock venue nestled in the heart of Austin's 'Red River row' of live music venues. The SXSW stage manager informed all bands (12 total, since Headhunters has two stages) that they were all to load-in at 6pm. Being all too familiar with Headhunters' lack of space, Scorpio Rising singer Madame Scorpio emailed the Stage Manager and all bands, suggesting there be a backline for the whole night, saving everyone from babysitting their gear on the sidewalk outside the club. Piñata Protest stepped up. Though they had to make the trek up I-35 from their home in San Antonio, they offered to take on the role of host, loaning their (good quality) gear to the 6 bands playing the inside stage.

So there they were, four humble, friendly Piñata Protesters, loading in their gear 6+ hours before they played, for the benefit of all. Piñata Protest are unassuming gents—four amiable, appreciative, fairly soft-spoken guys who supported each of the other bands on the bill, even as those bands left after their own sets.

The band's leader and singer, Alvaro Del Norte, dressed sharply in a vest, dress shirt and slacks, clean-cut perhaps as a helpful requisite of his day gig as a parole officer. It made almost made sense when he took the stage and pulled out his accordion. I had heard some high praise of the band earlier in the night from Hickoids' bassist, Rice Moorehead, and learned Piñata Protest was signed to Saustex Media, the label run by Hickoids singer, Jeff "Smitty" Smith. Still, I had no idea of the punch Piñata Protest was packing.

The sonic assault that began at 1:00AM floored me. The best I can describe Piñata Protest is that they are a tight, super-charged punk band who heavily infuse their fast, energetic sound with Cumbia, blues, and some form of nuclear polka. They rock, smoothly. They scream into their mics, stylishly. They are raw yet refined, playing punk rock with a musicality that most punk bands lack (either intentionally or not).

A highlight of the night to the throng that packed Headhunters, approaching 2AM Wednesday morning, was "Cantina." Think Dropkick Murphys en Español. For oldschoolers, a Brave Combo sound, but both heavier and with more influence from Chicano culture. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that Headhunters went ape-shit during "Cantina." These friendly, clean cut guys Killed. It. Beers were shaken, opened, and sprayed (by the crowd, not the band) all around. There was pogo-ing. Cumbia-ing. Slam-dancing. Moshing. And broad smiles crossed the faces of everyone there (except when they were in the midst of being shoved, or were shoving themselves).

Piñata Protest did it how it's supposed to be done: come in quietly and carry a big stick. Their big stick is their live show, which you absolutely must see. My Dad would love this band, as would my metalhead friends. And it was refreshing to see a band that rocks this hard, yet possesses humility, appreciation, and a communal approach toward their musical brothers and sisters.

¡Viva Piñata Protest!

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Sweetheart of the Music Hall
"Sweetheart of the Music Hall"

Sweetheart of the Music Hall screams out of the gate at 100 miles per hour with "New Mercedes," a classic Bryan Dunn power-pop gem. He perfected this songwriting craft years ago, with his consistently witty lyrics, tight arrangements, and hooks that have you singing along both immediately and for days to come. But Sweetheart... is far from a rehash of Dunn's old poppy exploits.

The title track slams on Mercedes' brakes—a bleary eyed ballad that transports you to a piano bar at 2 A.M. after a few too many. Michael Leonhart's trumpet solo evokes the mood perfectly, played brilliantly, stylistically capturing the garbled sounds you actually hear while sloppy drunk. These ebbs and flows of musical moods continue throughout the album.

Sweetheart of the Music Hall (the album) is Dunn's most ambitious project to date. The production is stellar, yet thrives on its organic, human feel. Producer Chris Cubeta kept the album clean without it becoming sterile, and with the extensive instrumentation—18 singers and musicians playing everything from accordion to violin—credit Cubeta for tastefully managing myriads of recorded tracks.

The album genre-jumps, covering many of Dunn's personal musical paths. "New Mercedes" and "Geraldine" give you your Pop/Rock; "Sweetheart of the Music Hall" takes you to the aforementioned piano bar; "Marlene" Latin-infuses its verses (and throws in even more variety with with mandolin, accordion, and a clarinet solo) but outright rocks in its choruses; "6 Black Horses" and "3 Years On" bring a straight-up Americana vibe. And Dunn doesn't abandon his his singer/songwriter roots, with "American."

While the album is exploratory with respect to its broad instrumentation & multiple genres, it also includes some re-recorded versions of tried and true previously released songs. The most notable redux is the long-time fan-fave "Audio/Stereo/Radio" ("Geraldine" and "3 Years On" are the others).

Explaining the decisions to include some of the old in with the new, Dunn shared, "I'd never really had versions of 'Audio,' 'Geraldine,' or '3 Years On' that I completely loved. [Chris Cubeta and I] wanted to make the strongest record we could, and those songs worked. I demoed 30+ tunes, most of them new, but some didn't [make the cut]. Chris [and I] had a lot of fun working together and I wanted him to be invested in the songs we were recording rather than just me saying, 'These are the 10 songs I'm doing.'

Sweetheart of the Music Hall covers many bases. It's fun and beautiful, it rocks and pops, has some sure-fired fan-faves and more songwriter-pleasing songs. And even on a song like "American" that doesn't get me personally charged-up and ready to rock, its percussion and instrumental groove makes it an enjoyable listen. Sweetheart of the Music Hall is well worth the cover charge.


Musicians performing on Sweetheart of the Music Hall: Bryan Dunn, acoustic guitars & vocals; Chris Cubeta, guitars, keyboards, percussion, vocals; Jeremy Goldsmith, guitars; Jeff Berner, guitars & vocals; Mark Marshall, slide guitar; Jim McNamara, upright bass; Gary Atturio, electric bass; Drew McKeon, drums; Ryan Vaughn, drums & percussion; JP Schlegelmilch, accordion; Hideaki Aomori, clarinet; Misty Boyce, keyboards & vocals; Michael Leonhart, trumpet; Tarrah Reynolds, violin; Joseph Brent, mandolin & violin; Emily Easterly, vocals; Casey Shea, vocals; Grace Love, vocals

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"Live at Headhunters (Austin, TX)"

Headhunters nightclub on Red River and 8th Street in Austin, Texas is generally known for its gritty, heavy metal and punk line-ups. Taken from the club's Facebook Page, recent attractions have included Metal Fuckin' Mondays, Ta-Ta Tuesday with "boobies a-jigglin' to some good fuckin' tunes," and a Kickass Psychobilly Show. But tonight was a bit different. Nestled between MC Whateva's hip-hop set and Scorpio Rising's electro-rock show, Treetop Sailors brought their A-game, in the form of a '70s rock and blues-infused show better suited to Antone's or The Continental Club.

Singer Jacob Mecham's onstage presence is reminiscent of Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon—long-haired, hippy-happy with a brilliant smile, and a voice that uniquely makes his songs his own. Mecham's retro appearance and passionate voice caught the club's attention and kept it throughout the Sailors' entire set. And remember, this is Headhunters, not a Cactus Cafe listening room crowd. Guitarist Jonathan Ellington plays aggressively, with a take-charge style but with enough of an emotional bluesy influence to pay fitting tribute to the band's new Austin home. Drummer Chris Fadely and bassist Nick Casillo lay down a locked-in, spot-on groove—stopwatch-steady yet with an abandon that separates the live show from sterile musician's clinic.

I had not heard of Treetop Sailors before sharing a bill with them last night, but was thoroughly impressed. And, oh yeah, according to a friend of the band in the audience, the guys are all young. "19." Can you say "promising future"? Look for Treetop Sailors to make a name for themselves in Austin. Soon. Go see them while they're still playing dive bars for free.

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"Live at Concrete Street Amphitheater (Corpus Christi, TX)"

A cool front had just moved in and it was about 78 degrees with a slight breeze. PERFECT conditions other than the early start time. Let's ROCK!!

I always like to say, nothing much "rock n roll" goes on in daylight. But Thin Lizzy rocked my ass off on this early October evening at 7pm. They played a killer set with no help of any stage lighting. Just old school goodness.

The dude Lizzy has singing is a dead ringer for Phil vocally. Straight up. And he played guitar too, so 3 guitar attack for most of the songs. The 3rd guitar helped them sound like the records. Filled out the sound. They played the big hits. I had 4-5 songs in my head I wanted them to play also, or in place of what they did play. but alas, ...Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society had to play..

... BLS is the worst sh*t I have ever heard! No hook-having, no dynamics, bad axel rose sounding, too loud of stage volume, only fast soloing, droning jibberish... in one ear out the other as fast as possible.. I don't get them. ?

Zach CAN play guitar, don't get me wrong,.. I just don't get the songs. Not my thing. D was disgruntled with their suck too!!! ....(That's my girl!!!) We left our seats and walked around after two songs o' theirs, and scouted the venue/GA section out for kicks.

The Concrete St. Amphitheater is dope! It's outdoor. An old concrete factory. Cig smoking is no prob (for all you tobacco heads).

I got searched with the "empty your pockets"and a slight pat down. D sed they patted her down pretty good. I was all allergy like that that day, and sed loudly... "you gonna make me empty my pockets of my kleenex!!!?? Disss!!!" and laid half a box o' kleenex in a clump o' sheets down, with a bottle of nasal spray on the table. He barely frisked me after that. I could of got my camera in, dang it!!

The Concrete St. reminds me of Southpark Meadows or the old Backyard location, with the vibe of the old infamous Austin, TX, rock club The Backroom!!!!! Old school METAL fucks like us and a bunch of young kids with their dads.

Smoking seemed to go on right when the bands started. When the lights dimmed for any band, it smelled of the sticky ikky... Real quick. I saw glass pipes getting lit, and I was wondering the method of getting such in? Makes me go hmmm?? Where do you put the glass pipe when there is a frisk involved?

Our row 11 "seats" (and there were about 50-70 rows) I reckon) were folding chairs bound together by plastic ties, and were in a section surrounded by the GA peeps standing at a fence! It was like walking into the gauntlet to get to our seats. Sort of "thunderdome" like?? A definite feeling of a caste system or some shit? fuggit. Pay the cost to be the boss. They have a nice GA area, a paved section/grassy hill, where the beer stands, pissers, and merch are. Lots of hanging out talking. Tons of Bud/Coors talls sold for $5.75. No pinché Milller Lite to be found.

About the grassy hill: it's where real people go to see concerts! I believe that straight up. We went up there and just sat down, far away 800-1,500 ft or so away, and just dissed the F out of BLS to each other!! How could one not?! And it sounded better there than it did in our 11th row shitz too!! We gave BLS a chance. Peepz was having fun up in that area.. Not paying much attention. When BLS ended, few cheered.. D pointed that out to me at the time. A telling but true factoid. Onward...

JP took the lazers and smoke and shit up a few notches from the other bands. AS they should! I liked the song list mostly, but they dissed a few of my faves - "Freewheel Burning," "Exciter," and "Running Wild".. but fugggittt. The set was nice.

I wasn't keen on the idea of JP without KK, but... fuck that.. the new dude was nice. Check it!- They gave him his solo .... in the ENCORE!! To me that is a bold statement. When have you ever seen a "solo" in an encore?? WTF?!! I swear he mocked ZW a bit... as he is a long haired blonde, and played a white les paul hung very low. He started out playing fast gibberish a la ZW, but a bit cleaner, and WAY better tone, ..and then he stopped, ...and with a "mocking, dramatic" smile.. went off.... with some tastey, thought out shredding solo. Dynamics included!!! Respect. He threw picks out all night, in fact made an effort to throw picks to specific peeps!! Try and try again stylie, like 80's era Rick Nielsen in a way. He connected with the peepz in a cool way.. D almost got a pick.. but it caught wind and carried a row back, two seats over. Close but no cigar. I saw it go down out of my peripheral, but I thought it was an unruly moth.

There were a few JP songs were the bass was DEEP!! I saw Ian Hill playing moog bass pedals! Dancing all around trying to play them and the bass guitar at the same time. werd, Respect!- You could feel it when he did it. THE LOW!!!

There was Lady Starlight dj sets in between bands? She's a DJ. She basically played old metal classics.. "Ace of Spades," "The Trooper," "Reign in Blood," "War Pigs," etc... And she acted the songs out with props—swords, indian tomahawks, shields, etc.. She looked a bit like Kat Von D, and tried to sell it, but... I ain't buying. She had shirts in the merch booths. I hope she sold nil. pinché poser. Metal ain't vaudville!!!

D and I came to a conclusion that we will be back at Concrete St. Amp. if a good show comes up. It was old school fun.

After the show we payed our respects to Selena. r.i.p. We also ate at Whataburger. That's what you do in CC tx.!!! better ask somebody.


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"Vicious Cycle of Promises & Apologies"

The band is Johnny Hi-Fi, and four songs into Vicious Cycle of Promises & Apologies, I’m loving it (and they're not even glam rock). I’m psyched about this album—long story as to why, but this album’s got a killer backstory that involves love, marriage (successful and otherwise), playing in front of 20,000 people in China, becoming a millionaire (and not), selling wine around the world, and learning a shitload about human nature.

As opposed to the circuitous routine suggested by the album's title, Johnny Hi-Fi's Vicious Cycle of Promises & Apologies is a spiritual exploration into self-awareness and emotional rebirth. Though the songs' inspiration may have been an exercise in cyclical frustration, these recordings capture youth, death, and an appreciation for the life lived in between.

The album opens with "Dear Death," an intensely spiritual song written by Johnny Hi-Fi frontman Eric Hsu, who for years lived an openly neutral spiritual existence. From the onset the song sets a quick driving pace, a musical race for life. "Dear Death" culminates in the inevitable end we all face:

i'm all alone, is anybody out there
i'm all alone, does anybody care

take me to somewhere i don't belong
tell all my angels i'm gone

"Home" is a major change—a major-chord-based anthem of hope and optimism.

open your eyes, you've walked another million miles
and open your eyes, you've never even took the time
to open your eyes, you'll see the signs that'll save your life
so open your eyes, tonight and sing a lullaby

The fever pitch of Vicious Cycles... is "This Is The Song." With this song, Johnny Hi-Fi channels a refreshing vibe reminiscent of the 70's song "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," in the aspects of offering hope, optimism, and changing the world into a better place. The choruses erupt in harmony:

then you'll see the sun come out
how does it feel

this is the song, and after all these years
this is the song that makes us breathe
this is the song of hope that goes out to you should stop waiting in line
and you could start changing your life

It took Johnny Hi-Fi three years to complete Vicious Cycle of Promises & Apologies. In celebration, its original release was offered as a free download. Vicious Cycles has since moved to the major online stores, but continues to reward new fans who buy what is Johnny Hi-Fi's best album to date.

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"Live at Frank Erwin Center (Austin, TX)"

NOTE: This review assembled from the interweb transmissions of Wonderbred, Scorpio Rising Producer/Bassist/Onstage Freak of Nature.

God DANG that was a GREAT show! If she really is only 25 yrs old, and has a hand in everything she does—the stage sets, costumes, projections, merch, etc, etc.—she is a straight freekin' genius. Staging, lights, projection, sound, performance, vibe, all on SERIOUS point.

I didn't think she could sing as good as she does. She can bring it. It was way more Rockin' than her recordings sound. Two guitarists playing Les Pauls and Gibson V's pretty heavy through the whole show, some shreddin' here and there.

[my friend] rD sed he heard them at sound check and they were playing Slayer's "Reign in Blood." I'd loved to have seen that! He did say when he heard them playing Slayer, he went into the arena to see what was going on and was told he had to leave immediately.

I was pretty impressed that while during her piano ballad song (don't even know the name of it?) they created a 8 foot tornado of fire on top of the piano. It spun and spun, perfectly controlled. Real fire. How the f*ck???!! I kept waiting for her hairdid to go up in flames. Especially when she stood up on the bench and started playing it with her stiletto heel, all in pitch/tune somehow? Her head got REAL close to the fire tornado!!

35$ official lady gaga sun glasses. T-shirts were $50 and there was 10 or so to pick from. WTF?!!

From our seats, which were about as good as I could imagine, we had a clear view of the sign language interpreter, who wasn't part of the official show, but was slightly spotlighted so as to be seen, so it was part of the show to me. It was crazy to watch signing of stuff like " ga-ga- ga-ga-ga- -gahh... " ...and when she would cuss up a storm, and call everyone motherfuckers, bitches, and talk about weed... as soon as she said something controversial , I'd look and watch them sign it. I just wanted to see if they were censoring. But it didn't look like it. That would be fucked if they were censoring what she was sayin' to the deaf. I wonder what the protocol of all that is? The Signers were INTO it too! IT looked to me like they had learned the words to her songs b4 hand, so it was like a performance, all dramatic and shit.

Instead of a longer intermission between her 2 hours of performance, a curtain would drop after every 3 songs and they would project these Warhol-esqe films for 3-5 mins, the size of the Erwin Center, roof to stage, to give them time to change the stage sets. This one blew me away! Awesome...

YouTube: This video may contain material flagged by YouTube's user community that may be inappropriate for some users.

Just impressed with the balls to be an act that made $55 million in 2010 and have this play on such a large canvas, and GET AWAY WITH IT!! I was hooked after this vid. So over the top. My Gummo quota filled.



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"No Less Days"

Inspired by the likes of Yes, Rush, and The Alan Parsons Project, Francis McGrath has created in his solo album, No Less Days, an intricate amalgam of genres, moods, and instrumentation. From the opening notes of the ominous instrumental "Megalopolis II" through the grandiose fanfare of "No Less Days (Reprise)," the album emanates an extensive intellectualism, landing somewhere in between concept album and a Sondheim soundtrack.

No Less days is a musical production with a dazzling variety of instrumentation that simultaneously conveys powerful lyrical messages and lessons—aiming to do it all in just under an hour. The trek through the album presents intended mood ebbs-and-flows. The sound effects (wind, church bells, explosions) of "Megalopolis II" give way to the Rush-like arrangement of "Nature of Greed." "I Might As Well Be in Prison" brings in a peppy boogie woogie piano lilt, countered later in the album by the tongue-in-cheek electro-Irish waltz style of the war critique, "For Lack Of A Better War."

While musically exploring many realms, lyrically McGrath offers numerous critiques on society's commercialism, distribution of wealth, and industrialization. "Nature of Greed" laments, in a driving progressive rock arrangement, our being too caught up in day-to-day life to notice the beauty of nature.

We’re stuck in our cars, Traffic's trapped, push and pull.
The sunset is clear, And the moon will be full.
Too many people don't look as the world turns away from the sun...

"She Limps In Beauty Through The Mall" musically channels a Burt Bacharach ballad, while lyrically exploring misdirected vanity.

A monument to modern sins: The rows of stores extend for miles...
Through this a mutant woman toils; With legs deformed she barely crawls.
Her cysts her pimples, warts and boils Are blasphemy to hallowed malls.
Like cathedrals with their gargoyles, She limps in beauty through it all.

No Less Days' themes are not entirely heavy, however. "Midnight" is playfully reminiscent of Todd Rundgren's "Bang On The Drum All Day" and humorously answers the question it poses:

The clock on my VCR always blinks midnight
Do you know what that means? Or haven’t you heard a word I say?
It means it's always, always, always a brand new day.

No Less Days is the product of McGrath's wide swath of musical influences. It explores sound and style aggressively, not carrying a single thematic style throughout the album. The songs jump sonically from decade to decade, genre to genre. Listeners decide whether this refreshing or distracting...or a bit of both. There are not many albums whose descriptions can accurately contain a collection of words including gothic, ominous, playful, futuristic, retro, tribal, Rundgren, boogie woogie, Bacharach, Irish, ethereal, and political. McGrath brings all of the above, and more, into No Less Days.

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"Restore Us"

TaylorWise is an Austin-based group whose musical past travels across progressive, rock, folk, and even children's music genres. Their debut album, "Restore Us," is praise album that touches on their diverse musical styles, but is based firmly in a single, unflappable belief in God and the group's deep convictions toward spreading the Christian faith.

Knowing much of JR Taylor's work over the past decade, this album embodies his characteristic high level of musicianship and production. His years of formal music study and work as a producer/engineer shine through on "Restore Us." Crystal-clear vocals up front, spot-on and varied instrumentation, and well-thought-out arrangements are pervasive throughout the record.

"God Most High" exemplifies the more complex structure of TaylorWise's musical praise. This song, as well as several of its counterparts, is a far stretch from a straight-ahead 1-4-5 traditional tune. Horns, Hammond B3, gritty electric guitar, key modulations, time-signature transitions, challenging vocal harmonies—there is a musical depth and complexity that showcases the duo's talents. But at its essence, it comes down to the message. The major-chord resolutions and angelic choruses shine melodic spotlights on "all who call on the name of the Lord."

TaylorWise plans to spread The Word not only through selling their album online and at performances, but also in the form of church music directors using their songs in services and at praise events. For interested music directors: more than one TaylorWise song will require a talented ensemble to pull it off successfully. Not that any song's reproduction need be (or should be) note-for-note. But for ambitious groups hoping to replicate these songs, TaylorWise presents formidable musical opportunity.

Toward the album's end, "To Hear You" speaks to the significance and sheer awe of what it would mean to hear the spoken voice of Jesus Christ. This song does not impress through its complex musicianship or arrangement. Rather quite the opposite, its structural simplicity brings out the power of the question itself. It is the shortest song on "Restore Us," and merely rises and falls with the singer's emotions as he formulates a response.

what would it sound like if you spoke / would it be loud if the silence broke
and shattered to the ground / an unfamiliar sound

honestly i'm a bit afraid / in light of all that you have made / i would come undone

but to hear you say...anything / would mean to me...everything
to hear your voice would mean everything / i would come undone and that would be okay

'cause to hear you say...anything / would mean to me...everything

TaylorWise has assembled a truly passionate album. The lyrics resonate from deep within the hearts of Taylor and bandmate Jerry Wise. The music blends seamlessly their technical knowledge with their mutual soul-fueled quest to write songs for the glory of their Lord. For fans of Christian praise music, this album is a no-brainer purchase. And for those who might generally shy away from Christian music, TaylorWise has put forth a recording of well-crafted, honest, and inspired songs.

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"so far"

Bryan Gorsira's new album so far brings together his original songs, new and old, in a collection that features the singer/songwriter-styled aspects of his repertoire. Where past efforts have moved swiftly across genres and moods reflective of his broad musical influences, Gorsira's aim with so far is to create a more cohesive compilation of his writing. In addition to the new songs, on which he sings and plays guitar, so far's ten tracks come from his 2008 release, The Best Years, and 2007's New World.

so far is self-described as being made up of songs "about searching for that hard to catch mate, finding him or her, and enjoying it all when caught." And what is clear on this album, as with The Best Years, is that Gorsira has an immense amount of love that he has chosen to express through his songs. His lyrics are sincere, heartfelt, and present to the listener a genuine story of love found and thoroughly embraced.

"Something Right" captures an any-day moment...

Wife is working hard putting flowers in the dirt
Her garden hands are turning brown
Throws me a smile that still melts my heart
I just nod and walk my way

And all is right with my world today
Let the sun shine down

Sparse and simple, the new songs "Something Right," "Again," and "StepChild" anchor so far's second half. His lead vocal, mellow and controlled, adds an even more personal touch to his songs. His voice comes across delightfully unpolished, completely on target melodically but with a meekness that befits the humble thankfulness in the lyrics.

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Cold Drink
"Cold Drink"

Sybil's debut album Cold Drink is full-frontal, non-apologetic rock 'n' roll. From the vocal harmonies of "All I Like" channeling a bit of King's X, to their ode to Austin's defunct all-nude Show Palace, Sybil's songs cater to a crowd who enjoy downing a few beers and leaving everything behind but a desire to rock. What listeners are rewarded with at Cold Drink's end, is an instrumentally spot-on cover of the Scorpions' "Wind of Change." The band recorded the 1990 hit for the award-winning indie film, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, on which Sybil's singer Robert Murphy served as Director of Photography.

Covering a 1990 power ballad is a stylistic departure from the rest of Cold Drink, but in doing so Murphy avoids any attempt to replicate Klaus Meine's uniquely shrill vocals, instead going with his own natural range and bluesy lilt. Murphy's voice is ideally suited for the band's originals, however, which lean toward the harder end of Austin-esque blues-influenced rock.

Something the band does not do is take themselves too seriously. While Sybil members' musicianship is solid (guitarist Gordon Kahan studied under some guy named Satriani) and the album's production is crisp and clean, songs like "Jessi's Ass" and the aforementioned "Showpalace" convey a light-hearted approach to the band's songwriting. "L.J.B.F.," a slow harmonica-laced blues track, pleads, "if we can't be lovers, we'll be the greatest of friends...with benefits, and lots of sex, and six kids."

Sybil manages their career by staying loose, their website capturing their vibe at its essence: "Sybil: A Band That Serves Up Majestic Trickery Followed By Ninja-Like Throat Strikes." However, the band carries themselves with a modicum of professionalism and achievement. In addition to the "Wind of Change" film soundtrack placement, both MTV's The Real World and another indie film, Sexless, have used Sybil's songs. And they travel wherever the gigs are—across Central Texas, from Manchaca to Austin's 6th Street, Georgetown to Lake Ray Hubbard, Sybil goes where the rock leads them. Perhaps you may enjoy a cold drink while listening to Sybil play songs from their album dedicated to your refreshing beverage.

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Siskabush Tales
"Siskabush Tales"

Siskabush /sees-ka-bush/ - a Cree/English pidgen word referring to those who gather at the edge of the woods to feed their addictions

Rarely does one come across as eye-opening a first line of an artist bio as that of Canadian singer/songwriter, Art Napoleon, a self-described "bushman from the boreal foothills of Northern BC, [who] can still skin a moose with a pocket knife..." A one-time chief raised by Cree-speaking grandparents, Napoleon's latest album Siskabush Tales paints a unique lyrical picture when set against the album's sonically Americana/alt-country backdrop. Combining his Cree heritage with influences from storytelling songwriters the likes of Dylan, Cash, and John Hiatt, Art Napoleon has created a slice-of-life recording not often heard through mainstream outlets.

The songs of Siskabush Tales explore not only what Napoleon describes as "the beauty, pain, and awe of the human experience," which are written about by many songwriters, but also life from a First Nations point of view. His metaphors and references touch on aspects of reservation life—round dancing, Elders, spirits—as well as North American particulars like the aurora borealis, all of which are rarities among typical alt-country lyrics.

From the opening track, Napoleon's lyrical intensity makes a powerful statement. "Little Molly" addresses familial loss and inspiration, using the beauty of culture and geography to create the song's vision. "If I were an angel I would break the frozen skies to be with you...I would ride the Northern Lights to see you through." The following song, "Ready To Go," a heavy blues groove, dismisses today's international border squabbling by providing a historical aboriginal perspective, "Left and right wing politics, lord it's just a great big show / the immigration problem started many moons ago."

Siskabush Tales is a quality addition to the ever-growing Americana/alt-country genre. With its clean-yet-still-organic production quality, tasteful and skillful musicianship, and compelling songwriting, the album fits nicely amongst personal playlists while also standing out from the crowd with its well-written and too-infrequently told true First Nations stories.

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Vicious Waltz
"Vicious Waltz"

The danceable groove of "Television Song" introduces Bryan Dunn’s latest release, Vicious Waltz. The 10-song album constitutes Dunn's best recording to date, with regard to his songwriting, production, and musical maturity. While his lyrics have drawn listeners into his songs since the early '90s, fans could previously count on his themes to frequent autobiographical loves and loves lost (more the latter than former). Vicious Waltz does not sidestep the topic entirely but surrounds it impressively with topics ranging from "Ordinary"’s comment on Top 40 artists' egos to "The Ghost of Abe Lincoln"’s anti-war strains.

With Vicious Waltz, Dunn consciously makes an impressive (and successful) effort to include a large cast of performers he’s worked with since relocating from Austin, Texas to New York City in 2001. Among them, Lara Ewen’s half of “Ten Dollar Ring”'s vocal duet and Jeremy Goldsmith’s lead guitar on “Silver Line” and "The Ghost Of Abe Lincoln" add a delightful variety to the album's instrumental brilliance. Dunn has contemplated bringing piano into his own songs for years, and Misty Boyce does a phenomenal job of incorporating just the right parts into each song she plays.

Boyce's tasteful lilts throughout "Ten Dollar Ring" create a late-night saloon vibe, giving the song a bottom-of-the-glass bluesy confessional feel that help expose the characters' rawest emotions. Then, taking several stylistic sharp turns, her piano amps-up the old-timey swing of "The Ghost Of Abe Lincoln" and then adds a beautiful depth to the travelogue/dedicatorial, "You, South Dakota." Still, similar to the rest of Bryan Dunn's repertoire, Vicious Waltz's greatest strength lies in his keen ability to write poppy, melodically pleasing narratives that hold listeners' attention throughout an entire album.

Dunn crafts carefully worded, succinct phrases to simultaneously paint visual pictures and convey entire spectra of emotions. "There’s a ten dollar ring on your finger / And a five dollar ring in my hand" brings to light two people's romantic incompatibility, their diverged paths in life and differing socioeconomic values. In the same words, we learn about the speaker's disappointment and feelings of material inadequacy. "Ordinary" takes a shot at the egotistical rock star type, "A subtle fraud, a wink and nod, you just want someone to applaud / And when you say 'love' you mean 'penetration.'" In just two lines, Bryan deftly attacks an overblown persona, onstage posing, selfish motivation, and cheap lyrical clichés. While I'm not sure of the song's exact inspiration, I envision Noel Gallagher acknowledging the tribute.

Vicious Waltz reaches its pinnacle in "Hollow." Bryan's vocals and Boyce's piano begin delicately, exploring the powerful emotions involved in an impersonal, physically intimate encounter. "All those pictures in their frames, I will never know those names / 'cause I can't say I didn't want that / I just needed something else." The album comes full circle at "Hollow"'s highpoint—all instruments and a chorus of singers uniting in the lament, "it leaves us hollow."

Each of Bryan Dunn's recordings, though truly enjoyed in their entirety by listeners, seems to uncannily produce one unofficial yet crystal clear fan favorite song. His contribution of “Sunshine” to 1993’s eponymous Echo Juliet album is still requested when he returns to his musical hometown of Austin. More recently, “Audio, Stereo, Radio” from 2005's Static and Scripture has garnered him both critical praise and elicits audience sing-a-longs at his gigs.

Perhaps this collection of songs will provoke more introspection as a whole, and not have that song that begs for happily inebriated hoots at live shows. Or, maybe the fan favorite might grow along with Dunn's work. My personal example being that after numerous listens to multiple mixes of the album over the past year, “Hollow” is still the one song that stands above the rest. Yet given its tempo, mood, and a more intense emotional subject matter, I'd feel a bit odd hollerin' for it in a club (but please, Bryan, consider this an advance request for "Hollow" at the next show I can attend).


Musicians performing on Vicious Waltz: Bryan Dunn, acoustic guitars & vocals; Misty Boyce, keyboards & melodica; Jeremy Goldsmith, guitars; Emily Helming, electric bass & vocals; Andy Mac, vocals & piano; Drew McKeon, drums, percussion, & guitars; Jim McNamara, upright bass; Jennie Muoio, vocals; Su Walenta, percussion; John Atzberger, mandolin & banjo; David Cerequas, electric bass, vocals, & harrassment; Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen, trombone; Lara Ewen, vocals on "Ten Dollar Ring"; David Luther, saxophone; Nick Ogawa, cello; Chorus on "Hollow": Craig Chesler, Jesse Glendon, Mandi LeBlanc, Kelli Rae Powell, Emily Helming, David Cerequas, & Bryan Dunn

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"Live at Flipnotics (Austin, TX)"

December 18th brought to Flipnotics Coffeespace Café the last of a seven-date residency by singer/songwriter Claire Small. Originally from Nashville, Claire relocated to Austin a year or so ago after a visit sold her on Austin's music scene, friendly folks, and overall creative vibe. Since her arrival she has performed on Brian Beck's KGSR In The Morning, NPR's Mountain Stage (singing backing vocals for Peter Bradley Adams), and found a musical home for a few months at Flipnotics. On this Thursday night, she played with her full band—a trio comprised of herself on vocals and guitar, drummer Stephen Belans (Rosie Flores), and bassist Matt Eskey (Randy Weeks, Mike Rosenthal).

Opening with a new song, "Promises," Claire quickly put her elegant vocals on display by weaving her voice in and around the music, her phrasing and movements seemingly painting her words around the microphone. The band's unity shined through in the second song, "Angels Over Texas," though their bold playing took a tasteful backseat to Small's vocals. The pleasantly crowded room received the band warmly, applause coming even from the folks relegated to standing room down the hall toward the kitchen.

Claire presented a set comprised almost entirely of new material. Only "Rewind" made it to the set list from her second album, Ledger. And whereas Ledger was impressive in its clarity, quality, and musicianship (with guests the likes of Calexico's Paul Niehaus), Claire's songs truly took flight in-person. Her vocal improv—a sort of Americana twist on Corinne Bailey Rae—along with the entire ensemble's ebbs and flows, created a vibrant and palpable pulse throughout the room. Though this level of energy is often difficult to capture in a recording studio, the group will attempt just that this spring if Claire's between-song banter holds true.

"Promises" announced, "You make them / you break them / you take them from me / so I will keep your promises cautiously," and along those lines Claire seemed to bring to her newer material a newfound maturity. While her earlier writing seemed to appropriately capture the emotions of a young woman, newer songs like "Daylight" tell the tale of someone who has lived through several taxing ups and downs, going through a life-changing revelation or two along the way. Describing "Daylight," Claire shared, "this is the one that came to me and smacked me in the face, keeping me from taking another dreadful day job and got me to focus on music."

Moving to Austin not only provided Claire with perspective, but brought into her life a new pool of friends and an extended musical family. The show's opening act, singer/songwriter Juliana Murphy, joined the trio to sing harmonies on a brilliant rendition of "The Track," a song available via a YouTube'd cell phone video on Claire's website. Beginning as a slow countrified version of the tune, the band soon double-timed their parts and laid a powerful groove which, alongside Juliana's backing vocals, allowed Claire the freedom to more elaborately explore her own improvisational abilities.

Her cover of Stephen Wedemeyer's "Can't Come Undone" once again put the focus on Claire's voice, as she explored every nuance and nook & cranny the song and her band's performance allowed. The only other non-original music was Small's borrowing of the chorus of Mahoney & Weinrich's 1914-penned "When You Wore A Tulip," an interesting historical side-trip in an otherwise autobiographical presentation.

After a first listen to Ledger about six months ago, it was apparent to me that Claire Small was a talented singer and burgeoning songwriter. Now, after having taken in a live show, it is clear that her accolades would be incomplete without noting both her performance quality and ability to start anew—to give life to new songs with a new band in a new city. Expect to hear more about Claire Small as her songs and voice attract the attention of the same music lovers who originally attracted her to Austin.

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"Amid The Crash"

Amid The Crash is an eponymous debut album built upon a two impressive pillars: the phenomenal musicianship of the band's members and the indomitable spirituality of lyricist/guitarist/vocalist, JR Taylor. The album is clearly inspired by Taylor's devout Christianity, and it is rock music. Yet it lies far from "Christian rock," even with the great variety that genre has enjoyed in recent decades.

There are many roads that promise hope but there's only one that leads me home
- "The Only Road I Know"

Taylor writes with a mission. His words' serious tone are not random utterances woven around random melodies. There exists a purpose in Amid The Crash's songs, to explain one man's passion and the resulting ups, downs, and challenges derived from it. What does not come through in the lyrics is the joy you might expect from a religiously based album. There is no ever-present smile here, no hand-holding strains of "Kumbaya." Those may surface on future recordings (though I doubt it), but Amid The Crash focuses almost entirely on our souls' work to be done, on the difficulties of striving yet coming up short, and on the struggle of a high-striving plight that ends with the realization that we are all still humans...imperfect in every way.

Here I am, crying out, hoping I have surrendered, but it seems I can't let go all the way
- "'Til I Return"

I also do not want to convey that Amid The Crash is an exercise in self-loathing and negativity. Quite the opposite, in fact. The positivity just emanates not so much from song lyrics as it does from the music itself. The significant uplifting vibe comes almost entirely from the melodic structures and the ensemble's musical performance. While "Waiting For You" somberly refers to the Rapture, "we are waiting for You while the sun is fading away and the moon is turned to blood," the band is all-out wailing on their instruments amidst a wall of major chord delight. Similarly, the album opens with a sonically inspirational "The Only Road I Know," its swayable groove and soft vocal leading nicely into a crisp, sweet-melodied chorus.

Earth and sky will fade but what you say will stay
- "The Great Endeavor"

What cannot be emphasized enough, aside from the lyrics, topics, chords, and moods, is that these three men can play their instruments. "'Til I Return" may be Taylor's most impressive song, vocally, simply for the power he demonstrates during the choruses. On guitar, his speed impresses frequently, as do his varying combinations of effects, achieving just the right tone for each song. Jim Shields' bass playing compliments Taylor's guitar, at times doubling it on hairy harmony leads. On the rhythm front, though, Shields also lays down mind-numbing grooves—not as eratic as Les Claypool but every bit as impressive. And on drums, Ty Cobb is a living, breathing machine, pulling off fills of blazing speed amidst multi-metered grooves without missing a note (and he's as spot-on live as in the studio). For a musician, Amid The Crash brings smiles similar to pulling out an old King's X record. When players are just monsters on their instruments, it makes for fun listening.

Still a struggle lies within my heart and my doubt; if I weren't so afraid of falling I could just let go
- "Might Fall"

But Amid The Crash is about the songs—what they mean, why they were written, and why a listener would want to hear the songs time after time on their iPod. And that's where it all comes together: these songs are not just for devout Christians looking for a rock music fix. The album is for anyone who's experienced inner conflict, has been disappointed at their own shortcomings, or wants to believe there's a grander purpose to it all. Though Taylor writes of his experience in his own religious context, his stories represent a human experience to which we can all relate.

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"Live at Austin Christian Fellowship (Austin, TX)"

In a city where you can find an indie band CD release party as easily as a decent Tex-Mex restaurant (and I've gone to dozens of both), on Friday night I saw one of the best entirely homegrown CD release shows since arriving in Austin seventeen years ago. The phrase, "can you come to my/our/my-boyfriend's/this-dude's/a-kickass CD release party," can result in many things. But usually, it involves a small gathering of friends and family at any one of Austin's many downtown music venues. You fight traffic, pay for parking, pay your cover, then watch the band play in a dirty, smelly room (at midnight on a Sunday) in which they've had about 20 minutes to throw their gear onstage and pray that the sound guy's worked the venue for more than a week. Then, if all goes well, their weeks of rehearsal isn't sabotaged by a terrible mix and you get about five minutes to visit with the band before the next band (usually of an entirely different genre) plays and your buddy's band needs to rush their gear out into their double-parked cars before they're towed. Charming, ain't it?

Amid The Crash has been there and done that in their former existence as Room 213. Now, a bit older and wiser, taking more pride in their music than to roll the dice with a venue over which they have no control of environment/sound/time/date/etc., Amid The Crash put together a stellar CD release performance. Through their ties at Austin Christian Fellowship, and with the gracious help of a number of devoted friends, the band planned and pulled off a flawless night of music and celebration of their self-titled debut CD. Utilizing the church's youth building, the band took a full week (a step-up from 20 minutes!) to set-up—they tweaked the stage, sound, lights, projection screen, and prepared a multi-camera video shoot of the entire show. They also set-up a well-laid-out atrium complete with food, beverages, and merchandise booth that you might find at a U2 or KISS show: multiple flatscreen TVs cycling through photos of the band, traditional CD/shirt/sticker sales, and a laptop computer available for either signing-up on the mailing list or ordering a CD online from

So there's the set-up and blueprint for other bands reading this. Let's get into the show...

The Austin Christian Fellowship youth building morphs very well into an impressive mid-size (300+ capacity) music hall. The lighting rigs are better than most Austin music venues and an impressive-sized projection screen serves as a backdrop behind the stage. The ample free parking is a pleasant change from downtown or SoCo, as well. So perhaps local bands could look into utilizing this venue, though without a draw of at least 100, the room would swallow you up.

The stage layout is open, sans curtains, raised about two feet above the room floor. Amid The Crash enters the room from the back of the building to the applause and delight of the crowd. Drummer Ty Cobb's kit sits stage left, facing center stage toward lead singer and guitarist JR Taylor. Bassist Jim Shields takes stage right. The band tears immediately into "The Only Road I Know," a smooth, driving opener played even tighter and crisper than I remember their impressive shows during the Room 213 days. The projection screen broadcasts a beautiful view of a bright daytime partly cloudy sky, a vision as crystal clear as the band's flawless opening-number performance.

"'Til I Return" begins with Shields laying down a pulsating 16th-note bass line that drives right into a dizzying bass/lead-guitar harmony with Taylor's voice soaring impressively above it all. The crowd delights in the music, pushed to the limit with Cobb's machine-gun-perfect drum chops wowing the crowd, who now comfortably fill the room. Between songs Taylor speaks seriously, almost somberly, sharing his thoughts and beliefs that inspire each song's lyrics.

Leading into "Might Fall," he quotes John 8:32, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Continuing, "even though my chains have been broken, I cling to them. If I weren't so afraid of falling, I could let go. But I just can't shake this fear that I might fall." Accompanying Taylor's intense spiritual inspiration is Amid The Crash's jaw-dropping musicianship, displayed prominently throughout "Might Fall." Music critiques routinely use "blistering" to describing picking technique like Taylor's. The song recesses into airy sections with the above lyrics, then peaks into multiple frenzies of razor-sharp stops and starts.

Amid The Crash hasn't put together a pop show—this crowd may not walk away singing a chorus to any one particular song, which almost seems to be intended. These aren't pop songs. Taylor has written a collection of six 3-to-6-minute lessons...his own lessons, certainly, but not ones he's yet mastered. Just as writing is a process, so are these songs. They're not to be decoded immediately, revealing a single, simple, ultimate answer. Instead, the listener learns just as Taylor has: always taking in more, but never becoming all-knowing.

Leading into the final song, Taylor conveys, "This song touches the heart of the Amid The Crash. How long must we continue to see children starving? How long must we lose those we love? We're waiting for you." The closing number is the most exploratory of them all—Taylor singing in falsetto, a more plodding and less precise rhythmic structure, and in a major key (at least to begin with) as opposed to some darker vibes in other songs. As Taylor explodes into lightning fast arpeggios, a crowd of teen boys front-and-center simultaneously drop their jaws in awe, looking at each other in disbelief, one mouthing, "did you see that?!" The boys were wowed as I am, though they may hope to shred as Taylor has, whereas I hope that independent bands take notice of this entire evening: Amid The Crash has set the bar incredibly high when it comes to pulling off an impressive and successful CD release show. They haven't settled for any aspect of what the music scene offers to new bands. They have taken musical matters into their own hands and created a performance worthy of the time and effort put into Amid The Crash.

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"The Best Years"

Bryan Gorsira has written songs for decades, and twelve of them from his recent and distant past comprise his latest effort, The Best Years. The album ranges as greatly in style as it does in date-of-composition, including aspects of singer/songwriter sentimentality, backwoods zydeco, boogie woogie, and even a diversion into prog rock balladeering.

The album begins delightfully with its title track, a dedication to his wife and children that clarifies just which of his years have been the best. With a lyrical simplicity and sincerity reminiscent of Randy Travis' "Forever And Ever Amen," Gorsira's mid-tempo tribute features sparse instrumentation accented nicely by violin and backing vocals. Among the various genres tapped into throughout the album, this track hints that Gorsira's later-in-life singer/songwriter explorations yield his best writing.

"Caught," with a notably more ominous minor-keyed tone, introduces female lead and harmony vocals by Dana Cooper and Julie Forester. Melodically, "Love Is Pain" takes on a Neil Young "Heart Of Gold" feel, complete with a dynamic harmonica lead. "Carry Me Away" shifts to a boogie woogie piano-centered shuffle, followed by a zydeco-influenced gospel redemption song, "Wash Me." The genre-shifting goes into high gear with the mysterious phaser-heavy "Another Old Day," with its alternating electric guitar and flute leads harkening to a 70's progressive rock influence.

Gorsira hits his stride in The Best Years with the album's final five songs. With more sparse instrumentation, his lyrics become the focus. His stories of everyday emotions are certainly endearing and compelling aspects of his writing: "Give me a day and a bottle of wine / and the sun shinin' sweet / an open field with flowers / and you and I'm complete." But it is his love for his wife and children that comes across strongest and most genuine, and accordingly has become his most convincing songwriting inspiration. "I'm so glad you're here with me / I'm glad she dropped into our lives / stay a while and we will see / what kind of family we can be."

The Best Years is an enjoyable listen, even with its significant style shifts and genre hops. Though I do not have dates of each song's penning, the album gives the impression that Gorsira's songwriting strengthened after a familial infusion of strong, heartfelt emotions. And whereas this album combines songs old and new, resulting in some inconsistencies, Bryan Gorsira's best album is very likely yet-to-come, once each and every lyric, chord, and note are drawn from the same well of inspiration.

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I first met SkinGod's singer/songwriter/spiritual-guide Ronnie Shingelo in the summer of 2003, as he assembled an early version of the band to play a daytime slot before one of Bruce Springsteen's 10 sold-out concerts at The Meadowlands. As the drummer for that show, I quickly became aware that SkinGod was not merely an assemblage of songs. Ronnie takes his music seriously, living and breathing it as one might incorporate yoga, meditation, and diet into their lifestyle. Rehearsals and voice lessons are Ronnie's own musical church, through which he communicates his innermost thoughts.

With Frailty, SkinGod has captured pristine, energetic interpretations of newer songs alongside others that have developed over the past several years. "Inside" comes across with a musical power and intensity that matches its lyrics. "Ghost" drives deliberately, with bass and drums pounding unrelentingly through the verses, a haunting guitar flowing around them, but all giving way to a half-time chorus that features a high-and-tight vocal harmony. The song ends with a build on all fronts, wailing guitars and drums and a delightfully unique Shingelo shriek (as seen here, where SkinGod rocks New York's legendary Bitter End as hard as it can be rocked).

Though built around brooding minor keys and tom-pounding drumbeats, there's a passion and belief in SkinGod that goes beyond the sound. There is a faith, a dedication, and a focus that drives SkinGod forward. Frailty serves as a brilliant illustration of what happens at this intersection of musical precision, beauty, strength, creativity, and one's inner passions.

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"Live at American Airlines Arena (Dallas, TX)"

I did not know beforehand that jeans and a black short-sleeved button-down shirt doubled as an unofficial uniform for gay men in Dallas. So with the exception of my wife's company, I blended into the American Airlines Arena crowd quite naturally to watch George Michael's first Dallas performance in over 15 years.

The starkness and darkness of the pre-show set is a surprise. Considering Michael's turn toward dance music in recent years, one might expect something other than a complete absence of color, ornamentation, and instrumentation. Only a single microphone stand sits center stage. The stage is blanketed by a wide, black, ribbon-like structure--a river of darkness reaching three stories high, spanning the center third of the stage. It flows from atop the back curtain, down to the floor, and over the stage's front edge.

The late-arriving crowd gets a long good look at the barrenness because, despite the tickets indicating an "8:00PM sharp" start time, 8:50PM comes and goes with no George in sight. Fans eventually resort to doing the wave, which makes several rounds before the arena lights finally dim.

From out of the darkness, fans quickly learn that the giant black apparatus is actually an enormous video screen, flanked on both sides by two additional oversized video walls. And though there were no signs of instruments beforehand, curtains part between the three screens to reveal two 3-story platforms containing a 9-piece band (drummer, bassist, percussionist, 2 keyboardists, 3 guitarists, and a saxophone player if you're counting). The performance begins with his six back-up singers softly repeating the from Listen Without Prejudice's "Waiting (Reprise)."

Michael addressed the crowd four songs into the show by first thanking his partner Kenny Goss, a Dallas native, for making this a homecoming performance. He then thanked fans for their 25 years of support and, to their delight, promised 2-1/2 to 3 hours of music. It was quite apparent that he was thankful and pleasantly surprised to have a full house of 10,000+ eager listeners. And eager they were, the entire crowd up-and-dancing during Wham's "Everything She Wants." "For anyone who doesn't remember the 80's," Michael coached the few young attendees, "just look to your left and imagine that person with four times as much hair."

But after some dancing and reviving of way-back playlists, Michael reminded everyone why "Faith" won the 1989 American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Album. Flanked by his back-up singers toward the front of the stage, he pulled off a stunning gospel-tinged rendition of "One More Try." Fans are loving this show, from the front row to third mezzanine, the setlist a brilliant mix of old, new, dance, soul, and cover songs (The Police's "Roxanne" and the Roberta Flack hit "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" from his own Songs from the Last Century).

After a 20-minute intermission, George is joined center stage by three band members (congas, electric guitar, acoustic guitar) for a stripped-down rootsy take on "Faith." Transitioning back to his dance repertoire, "Spinning The Wheel" brings the crowd to its most energetic state of the night (excepting the "Freedom" encore, to come). During "Spinning..." a film strip of tragically famous faces scrolls up the center video "tongue," its most practical and powerful use of the evening. The seemingly continuously surprised Michael muses, "I didn't think I would hear [applause] in America, but God knows." The night wasn't all apology, hits, and dance, though, as he performed a bluegrassy song he claimed was the first song he ever wrote, at age eight.

Another of the evening's recurring theme's was redemption--perhaps within himself as much as that of his public reputation. Michael truly seemed pleased that Americans, Texans no-less, once again embraced him and his music as they had a decade-and-a-half earlier. Noting some changes during that time, he mentioned of California's legalizing of gay marriage and his finding a powerful and lasting relationship with partner Kenny Goss. "You changed my life" were his words to Goss, leading into "Amazing." Taking a shot at his own transgressions, he changed into a police uniform for his ode to public affection, "Outside."

One last time, ensuring the crowd was with him, he asked (twice), "Do you forgive me?" receiving a resounding ovation. This Dallas crowd was with him, as they had been then and would be on his return...hopefully sooner than fifteen years from now.

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"Live at Blue Rock Studios (Wimberly, TX)"

Blue Rock Studios owner Billy Crockett read a quote describing Steve Forbert's music as being "like running into an old friend and learning that they’ve been doing very well.” Forbert's songs evoked just that emotion on this evening as he made selections from an enormous set list--two sheets of paper with song titles scribbled in two columns down the entirety of each page, some noted with key signatures, and even more titles scribbled in smaller lettering in the margins. Steve seemed to choose songs not quite randomly, but rather more appropriate-to-the-moment based upon nuances of this performance. At one point, an audience request didn't prompt that song being played, but spurred Forbert onto another song and storyline that fit just a bit better into that particular moment.

The performing room at Blue Rock (a spacious living room) is at once relaxing, comfortable, and informal, as well as completely state-of-the-art and professional with regard to its audio and video set-up, providing a pristine listening experience for the capacity crowd of 150 or so. Billy and Dodee Crockett created Blue Rock as a peaceful, inspirational Central Texas recording oasis. The home/studio/artist-retreat is architecturally a neo-Spanish outpost, complete with an observation tower overlooking the surrounding hill country. Inside, however, is a high tech audio- and videophile's dream. Room after room is wired for hi-def video and sound recording, with one of the recording rooms designed such that one wall is a picture window overlooking the valley below, where you'll find the studio's namesake bluish boulder at rest in a meadow. Artists who record at Blue Rock can stay in the main complex or opt to live in a separate artist-in-residence building located a short walk away, through the trees.

Once a month, Blue Rock hosts a public performance. Cover charge is in the form of a suggested donation, usually $20 or so, of which 100% goes to the performer. These shows serve as both showcases of the artist and of the recording facility, as attendees are free to tour the entire complex before the show and during intermission. Refreshments are home-baked goods and Dodee's own peach iced tea, available at modest prices, with 100% of those proceeds going to Wimberly's Community Center Acoustic Enhancement Fund.

Billy and Dodee personally greet everyone at the front door, and tonight Billy's introduction of Steve Forbert was equally as personal. Billy empathized, "I know many of us in here have had a hectic week. While you’re in here, you can let that go. Take a deep breath. And enjoy.” Forbert took over from there, creating an inspiring night of music, his personal approach to songwriting relating to everyone in the room. After the plaintive and lovely “There’s Everybody Else And Then There's You” Steve explained, “That’s from the divorce record. Everybody has one. There are county records that prove it.” His sincerity, even in sarcasm and self-deprecation draws listeners in. His lyrics relate to the conviction and admission of imperfection in all of us. Introducing “Good Planets Are Hard To Find,” Steve admitted being pleased after writing this song because he thought he’d caught onto a clever concept, only to see shortly after completing it a bumper sticker containing the same phrase.

Throughout the evening Forbert warned, “I’m gonna play a couple fun ones and a not-so-fun one.” Though the notice of upcoming un-fun lyrical content was informative, even in his more serious songs he still manages to bouncingly critique our collective transgressions--against the environment, among politicians, and internationally via acts of war. Forbert plays with a youthful, almost elf-ish air. Though graying a bit, his slightly shaggy hair flips around while he jumps along to his songs. He refreshingly lets loose his younger self that he's never grown out of, his kicks and hops accenting his wonderfully imperfect, seemingly random strumming style.

I was fortunate enough to sit front row, which in this venue means directly in front of the singer's microphone stand. My knees touched the stage monitors. I was close-up enough, in fact, to watch the scorpion who passed the time by climbing around the stone hearth rising behind the singer. The setting had the comfort and informality of your own living room, while also rivaling the live music experience of any venue in Austin.

Steve played an old, worn guitar. The machine-gunning and bombing in "Baghdad Dream" was simply Steve making the sounds into the mic, as any boy does while playing war in the backyard. If you haven't seen Steve play, you also notice that he stands on a piece of wood, amplified so that his stomps and foot-shuffling adds percussion to his performance. Completing his one-man-band, he straps on one of his full-complement of harmonicas to play in many of his selections.

His audience knows and loves his songs. Steve will frequently not end phrases, allowing his eager fans to complete the lines. On this evening, the venue is a perfect fit for the personal show Steve Forbert puts on. Everyone seems to know one another at Blue Rock, just as they know Steve, his music, and how to let an experience like these few hours collectively transport us from our daily grind into a wonderful musical world of laughter, humor, and an all-encompassing familiarity.

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A Vague Recollection of Dancing (unreleased)
"A Vague Recollection of Dancing (unreleased)"

NOTE: This is a review of Bryan Dunn's album, Vicious Waltz, during its production phase. As it turned out, Bryan continued to write, record, and produce this recording for another year, resulting eventually in Vicious Waltz. So read this, but don't look for this album. Anywhere. It was never released as described below. Still, the mid-production recording was pretty damn good.

The danceable ½-disco groove "Television Song" sets the tone for Bryan Dunn’s latest release, entitled A Vague Recollection of Dancing. The 10-song record constitutes what is easily the best effort of Dunn's career, with regard to his songwriting, production, and musical maturity. While his lyrics have consistently drawn listeners to his songs, in the past Dunn's themes could be counted on to frequent autobiographical loves and loves lost. Recollection does not entirely avoid the topic, but surrounds it impressively with topics ranging from "Ordinary"’s comment on Top 40 artist egos to "The Ghost of Abe Lincoln"’s anti-war strains.

Not to be overlooked while listening to A Vague Recollection of Dancing is the impressive effort Dunn made on this album to include many of the songwriters and musicians he’s worked with since relocating from Austin, Texas to New York City in 2001. Among them, Lara Ewen’s half of the “Ten Dollar Ring” duet and Jeremy Goldsmith’s lead on “Silver Line” add a pleasing variety to the brilliance of this album. Still, as with his past recordings, Recollection's greatest strength lies in Bryan’s keen ability to write poppy narratives that hold a listener’s attention from first chord to the last reverberation of his guitar strings.

Each of Bryan Dunn's recordings, enjoyed genuinely as whole works, seems to uncannily produce one unofficial, yet crystal clear, fan favorite song. His contribution of “Sunshine” to 1993’s eponymous Echo Juliet album is still requested when he returns to his musical hometown of Austin. More recently, “Audio, Stereo, Radio” from 2005's Static and Scripture garnered him both critical praise and audience catcalls. After several listens to A Vague Recollection of Dancing, it’s unclear which will be this recording’s fan staple. Perhaps this collection will elicit more generalized thought and reflection from listeners than hoots at live shows. Perhaps, should you catch Bryan at one of his frequent New York City appearances at Rockwood Music Hall, you can see for yourself. After just a few listens to my under-the-table-obtained rough version of Recollection, “Hollow” has my vote.

Musicians performing on A Vague Recollection of Dancing:
Bryan Dunn, Acoustic Guitars & Vocals
Jeremy Goldsmith, Electric Guitars
Drew McKeon, Drums & Electric Guitar on “You, South Dakota”
Jim McNamara, Acoustic Bass
Emily Helming, Electric Bass
Andy Mac, Piano
Lara Ewen, Vocals on “Ten Dollar Ring”

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Static and Scripture
"Static and Scripture"

A Brief History

Having followed Bryan Dunn's career intimately close for the better part of two decades, something readily apparent throughout those years has been listeners' quick identification with his songwriting, both musically and lyrically. His "timeless" writing style has been cited by more than a few, on more than a few occasions. Perhaps contributing to fans' affection for Dunn’s writing is that he expresses personal truths, both ups and downs, honestly through his storytelling. Whereas some wear their hearts on their sleeves, Dunn's heart lies wide open, spread across his discography fully exposed for his audience's entertainment...and entertained they've been.

While there is a commonality that binds his songs together, this does not imply monotony. To the contrary, Bryan has managed to dynamically write his life around the sets of folk/pop 3 Penny Opera in Austin during the 1990's, and adapt his verses to Simple Thing's crisp, commercial power-pop efforts in post-turn-of-the-century New York City. Where Bryan has struck gold, however, is not crafting his songs around a certain style of music but instead, in recent years, putting efforts into writing his very own. With his first solo effort, Static and Scripture, Bryan officially closes the book on being the primary songwriter for a band and begins a new chapter in his artistic life by removing the abstraction of a band name from between he and his listeners.

With this album, we find Dunn in his earliest solo artist incarnation--taking this first step toward musical independence by co-producing the album with former Simple Thing bandmate, David Cerequas. A backing band not having yet been assembled, the drum tracks are programmed and the duo records everything themselves over several weeks in their Brooklyn studio. They also include several songs on the album that are not technically "Bryan Dunn solo originals": three come from Simple Thing's later live show set lists ("Sally Wait," "Pleasure," and the hidden "Sleep") and Cerequas co-writes the spacey Duran-esque "Life as Fiction" and "Your Doppelganger."

Static and Scripture

Static and Scripture is an effort long-awaited by Bryan Dunn's following, some having urged him to record a solo album 10-15 years ago. The album is at once ambitious with its eleven-song length and careful in its teaming with the familiarity of Cerequas and previously utilized recording environs.

The album begins with the deliberate tempo of a hometown-inspired "Leaving Austin, 7AM," its closing refrain "You are home to me" a tribute to Dunn's self-professed musical birthplace. "Cold Dead Thing" follows with a sardonic, heart-wrenching autobiographical pop feel, familiar and endearing to his long-time fans, who sympathize and identify with many of his lyrics. The break-out fan-favorite from Static is "Audio Stereo Radio," a Beatles-era vocal-harmony-heavy pop song that pays additional tribute to that band with a "Love is all you need" reference. Like many a Dunn composition, the hook is key—its simplicity, universality, and ease for singing-along-with all coming together for maximum appeal.

Another Austin-alluding track is "3 Years On," containing a "Travis County sweethearts" line. But more prominent within these lyrics is a gem of a Dunn-ism, or what is deemed for this review "a lyric that jumps out and sticks with you long after you’ve turned off your I-Pod":

They like to think they’re pretty but they’re not.

And another:

Beauty is a sickness without cure,
but I had to break her heart to be sure.

And yet another:

I threw down my guns without a fight,
but she was lyin’ when she wore that dress of white.

And a kicker, rounding out each chorus:

Everybody loves me
but nobody will miss me when I’m gone.

On display throughout Static and Scripture is the wonderfully multi-dimensional structure of a Bryan Dunn song. Each will have its hook and catch phrases, almost without fail, which are certainly both hooky and catchy. But delving further into lyrics like "They like to think they’re pretty but they’re not" you discover the lead into that phrase being "A thousand lovely step-sisters, a thousand Cinderellas for the plot…" followed by the second Dunn-ism quoted above. So in this instance, you get autobiography, fantasy, bio-based geography, love, heartbreak, vengeance, tradition, all knocked into place with a tasty dose of artistic self-degradation.

Static and Scripture continues with an ode to ex-lovers ("Queen of New York City"), a beautiful interpretation of a drunken beckoning ("Sally Wait"), and eventually ends with the aforementioned and non-documented "Sleep." This album is certainly not Dunn’s best effort, based solely on the knowledge of the certainty of future recordings. With Static and Scripture, however, Bryan Dunn has begun to find his independent songwriting voice. With years of honing songs for many other people and many other purposes behind him, it is clear with Static and Scripture that he has found his ultimate purpose and destination: writing music that expresses himself--openly, deeply, honestly, and impressively--to all who will listen.

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