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Category Archives: Music

New Song from Crooks

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Crooks have a new album coming out soon and its one I’m really looking forward to. Something about that tejano-influenced outlaw country sound is infectious. I think the thing that I like most about Crooks is that they take what could be a pretty cut and dried formula, Tex-Mex Country, and make it much more interesting.

Take “Fork In The Road” for instance, which is pretty deceptively simple upfront. Listen carefully and you’ll hear them play around with the structure of the song, mixing elements, bringing sounds in and out of the foreground. This is more than some simple cantina band at work. This is a well-honed dancehall machine at work.

Anyway, the new album is called “Wildfire” and it drops this summer. We’ll wait with baited breath.

Show Review- Kacey Musgraves at Tricky Falls

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It’s a hard thing trying to be all things to all people. Especially in Country Music. Especially now. Especially if you’re a woman. Kacey Musgraves finds herself in the same weird position that k.d. lang and Dwight Yoakam did before her. She’s a smart, retro-minded act in a genre that exceedingly prides itself on willful ignorance and distance from it’s past.

Armed with funny, insightful songs and a girlish voice, her show is better suited to an attentive crowd that knows how to listen, and how to follow along with a perfomers whims. This was not that crowd. Country music doesn’t produce that kind of crowd. Folks came to sing along to the songs they knew, and hoot and holler over the talking. Instead of viewing the night as an interaction between performers and audience, they acted like it was a TV show with no screen between them and the performance.

None of which is El Paso, or Kacey’s fault. I blame the mainsteam audience Kacey has to placate. We don’t really need to go into how much the country audience has changed or look at pictures of the trashed stadiums anymore. A George Strait cover and a few bars of “Como La Flor” by Selena were big hits and seemed natural. The Bob Marley cover and the request to put lit cellphones in the air like lighters felt forced. But, again, this is a pretty quirky, singular artist by Nashville standards and telling the crowd how to react emotionally to canned moments seems like a concession to the CMT crowd. Reggae singalong at a country show? Yes, because that’s what country music is now. If it’s the price that Kacey has to pay to stage eccentric shows with neon saguaros and light up Nudie suits, I’m all for it, I guess. She has a fun, self-deprecating way about her that’s likable and stands in contrast to a history of brassy, brash country ladies.

Which isn’t to say that the show wasn’t fun. It was. I had fun and I hope Kacey had fun. I hope she continues to have fun and do the fun, kitschy stuff she likes to do. Country music is better for having her around, and hopefully, she’ll find the niche she needs to to stick around. Lord knows we need her.

New Music from John Moreland

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Cherokee is the new song off “High On Tulsa Heat” the new John Moreland record. The video lays out in a pretty stark and surprising way what the song is about. I don’t want to say too much because there’s so much going on, but I’d be surprised if you weren’t haunted by this song as soon as you get to the end of it.

Fin De Semana! 2-13-15

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Digging up the past at one of Texas’ oldest missions.

Texans and their tie to the land.

Most of us saw this coming. That, is those of us who don’t hold office.

Remembering Waylon Jennings, who passed away on this day.

What I’m Listening To This Week:

J.D. McPherson-Let The Good Times Roll-McPherson makes straight-up, unabashed old-fashioned rock-n-roll like no one else. Taking a more R&B based tack than rockabilly, he breathes new life into one of America’s most vital art forms. Part of this is in the way he approaches what has traditionally been considered a hide-bound genre. Using modern production techniques that owe more to RZA than Sam Phillips, his songs are sneaky. They’re full of little modern ticks that ear doesn’t quite pick up, making everything sound fresh. It isn’t until you listen closely that you realize these aren’t straight up recreations of 50’s rock, but crafty homages. This is a long, fancy way of saying I love this record and I can’t stop listening to it.

What I’m Drinking This Week

Tecate, because it’s in the high 60’s and sunny out right now. We’ve got another cold front moving in, so better drink up and enjoy the sunlight while I can, right?

Calexico: The Cosmopolitan Border

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When we think of the border, we generally think of sweltering deserts, seedy red light districts, border checkpoints under a brutal sun. And while that’s true, there’s more. The border between the US and Mexico is an international border. I can recall the Border Patrol picking up immigrants who had just crossed the Rio Grande. Sure, plenty of times there were Mexicans and Guatemalans, but also Cubans, Central Americans, South Americans, Chinese, Iranians and Ukrainians. The entire world percolates through the southern border. People come from all over to cross that line and plenty of them stay here. They put down roots, plant little seeds of their culture, their music, their language in the first bit of American soil they set foot on. The border is a place with cities like Tucson, San Diego, El Paso. There’s a cosmopolitan border, if you know how to look for it.

Calexico understands what a worldly place the border is. They fuse sounds like steel guitars and rollicking rancheras to electronica, indie rock, and a slew of Latin styles. Take the ubiquitous cumbia. It’s a product of Colombia, but it’s wound it’s way north by countless immigrant trails, taking hold all over the Americas. In Calexico’s hands, it sounds somehow brand new and well worn, putting a 21st century spin and Tom Waits grit on it that reflects the swirling influences found on the border. It’s a sophisticated spin on regular folks music. Equally at home blaring out of tinny car speaker or in a concert hall; Calexico, more than any other band I’ve heard, epitomizes what the border is and sounds like: alluring, rough around the edges, cosmopolitan, sprawling, exotic and familiar.

The new Calexico album drops in March. I’ll be reviewing it here. Until then, here’s Cumbia de Donde to tide us over.

Fin De Semana! 2-6-15

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We’ve probably reached Peak Marfa.

Can’t wait until the Coen Bros make this into a movie.

A somewhat more sensationalistic look at el Valle de Juarez.

New Mexico’s favorite industry is back in business.

What I’m Listening To:

Dwight Yoakam-Secondhand Heart

Man, I am really glad to see Dwight Yoakam back on a major label and making new music. He’s going out on tour again, and Sam Outlaw is opening for at least one date if you want a great night of California country, that’d be the one to see. Dwight’s always played with form and sound, trying to meld a lot of different things. His newer stuff seems more ragged and rockin’ drawing more on Liverpool than Bakersfield. I’ll take it.

What I’m Drinking

Shiner Birthday Beer. I try to pick up a sixer of these every year. This is certainly one of the most memorable of their birthday beers, a chocolate stout that tastes pretty much exactly like a chocolate cake. This one’s good in small doses, since it’s heavy and rich. Definitely best enjoyed on it’s own or after dinner.

Honeysuckle Rose; or Willie is as Willie Does

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As a songwriter, he is without parallel. As a guitarist and vocalist his warmth and eccentricity are instantly recognized. As a public figure, he’s always used his fame to stand up for underdogs and regular folks of all stripes. If there’s one thing Willie Nelson isn’t known for, it’s his acting.

To be fair, expecting Willie Nelson to deliver credible acting performances is like expecting John Wayne to play a good Othello. Their strength as a performer is so rooted in their persona, they can really only add variations and shades of the same character over and over again.

Part of it also that, geez, it’s WILLIE NELSON. You don’t get to write a million timeless songs, record a million albums, tour a million miles and be the closest thing to an actual Uncle Sam AND get to be a good actor too. That’s just gilding the lily.

Willie excels in roles where he basically plays Willie. And he does it best in “Honeysuckle Rose.”

At it’s heart the movie is a Saturday Matinee western, the sort Willie’s heroes Gene Autry or Roy Rogers would star in. Willie is the singing cowboy with a very large and chemically active bunch of sidekicks, roaming the west song by song. The stakes are never particularly high, because we know Willie is the hero and he’s going to win. But it’s fun to watch the hero go through the motions. The villain isn’t particularly evil, because, well, Willie is basically the villain of this movie too.

Willie plays Buck Bonham, country singer, nomad, family man. His old buddy/guitar player Slim Pickens retires and Willie hires Slim’s daughter (Amy Irving) to take her place. Willie and Amy are musically sympatico, and that leads to other more intimate dalliances that shatter his marriage and friendship. Eventually though, Willie is able to make amends, save his marriage, get back on Slim’s good side and put on the big musical jamboree at the end. In Willie’s world, everything begins and ends with songs. Music sends him out on the road, complicates his life, mends it, brings everyone back together.

If you’re looking for something bigger and more complex from Willie, you’ll have to listen to one of his albums. If you wanted to show someone just why Willie is important, why he’s the beloved performer and icon he is today, you show them “Honeysuckle Rose.”

The movie isn’t without it’s faults. It’s soapy and melodramatic. It leans a little too heavily on performances. Willie, for such a laid back guy, is a wooden actor. It’s the joy of performing though, the love of playing music with and for people that sells the movie. Music, and the way Willie engages the world most directly through it, is the real focus of this movie. We get an idea of who Willie, or in this case Buck Bonham, is, but we don’t KNOW who he is until we’ve seen him sing his life to a crowd of strangers.

That’s the central paradox in many performers lives, though. Singers might be strangers to us, and they may guard their private lives or even mislead us with stories, when they’re singing their songs, they’re baring all their vulnerabilities for us. Few people have been doing this longer, or better than Willie Nelson.

(Trivia: “On The Road Again” was written as a throwaway song to accompany travel montages in this movie. Jerry Weintraub, the producer, didn’t think anything of the song. It’s one of the songs most closely identified with Willie Nelson now, and more well known than the movie that birthed it.)

Book Review: The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock by Jan Reid

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Austin in the 70’s has the same sort of cache as New York at roughly the same time period. It just doesn’t have that special association with as many people. I think it should though.

Jan Reid, who was starting what would be a long career as a writer, happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the scene as it was starting to blossom. Reading this book in it’s initial publication would have been like reading a guidebook to a fun place to live. Reading it now it’s an interesting historical document, something we’ll inevitably weigh by our knowledge of everything that’s happened since.

B.W. Stevenson and Bobby Bridger get a lot of page time but aren’t the most well known performers today. Willis Allan Ramsey remains the enigma he started out as, with his one legendary album. Willie was still something of an unknown quantity at the time and Jerry Jeff Walker was still, putting it kindly, a train wreck. These two men are now probably most equated with the whole cosmic cowboy thing that happened back then, but at the time of writing they were both testing the limits of the world they inhabited. Willie blew up and became the American icon he was born to be (and probably always was), where Jerry Jeff became more of a regional hero who paved the way, spiritually and logistically, for Texas Music.

I have to say, the profile that intrigued me most was Michael Martin Murphey. I grew up knowing cowboy singing, family values, folk music Michael Martin Murphey. Hippie Murphey the Cosmic Cowboy was a surprise (even though I have a bunch of his old pre-Western records). Despite all the hippie lingo being thrown around and talk about drugs and politics, there’s a very clear and surprising intellectual consistency in his words in actions. Michael Martin Murphey, the hippie getting burnt out on counter-culture and Michael Martin Murphey the hardcore cowboy are the same guy, the same line of thought played out to it’s logical conclusion. This is a guy who never took his eyes off the ball and followed his muse all the way.

Kinky Friedman gets a bad rap in the book for being unabashedly careerist in his attitude toward his music. In that milieu, it’s understandable, maaaaaaaan. In today’s economy though, where everyone has a side gig, or a blog (ahem) or both, it just seems natural. Kinky, is of course, still out hustling, writing books and running for office, somehow managing to seem both more and less ambitious than ever.

The hippie talk can get kinda thick and incomprehensible, but then again, twenty years from now the hip hop argot of say, Kendrick Lamar, might be equally dense. Our culture moves at such a quick pace that pop culture works like this tend to date themselves quickly. It’s also interesting to see everyone try and figure out how to build the infrastructure to make Austin a musical capital like Nashville. Now it seems like a foregone conclusion that Austin is going to be the Live Music Capital of the World, but at the time of writing the Armadillo was barely hanging on and there was only one recording studio of note in the city.

I’m biased towards thinking this is all fascinating and awesome, but I think there’s a broader interest here in seeing a lot of the culture than eventually becomes part and parcel of the Austin brand in its nascent stage. You also get the pleasure of people complaining that “Armadillo Homesick Blues” (the ACL theme song) is a one note joke and nothing special. Ideally, this would come with a soundtrack so you wouldn’t have to dig through your records to compile the whole thing. Reading about Austin’s musical past is fun, but like the saying goes, it’s sorta like dancing about architecture. But what architecture, and what dancing.

 

Fin De Semana! 8-22-14

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In honor of Santa Fe’s annual Indian Market, here’s a photo set from Dangerous Meta taken at the ’09 Indian Market.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grittier memoir is being released in a heavily annotated edition. My Dad often referred to the TV show as “Little Morgue on the Prairie.” Looks like this might be a little closer to his quip.

Enough with the plastic boots from outer space already.

What I’m Listening To This Week

Noel McKay-Is That So Much To Ask

If Noel McKay is good enough for Guy Clark then he’s dang sure good enough for you. His album with Brennen Leigh is one of my recent favorites (the two of them duet on the lead off track from his new solo album above) and this new solo record is no slouch. “Are You Still Takin’ Them Pills” is just pure country heartache. “Ojitos Negros” is by far the best, most authentic ranchera I’ve ever heard from a white guy. It sounds just like a jukebox classic I’d hear at my favorite bar. “One To Run The River With” has a Celtic lilt and lyrics that’ll tug at your heartstrings if you’ve got any. McKay writes killer country songs that to my ear split the difference between all three Flatlanders. That’s not a compliment I’d give lightly. Go get this record.

What I’m Drinking This Week

Indio is supposed to be a Mexican version of an oktoberfest style beer. It’s not as strong as that, but it is a fine brew for knocking back with some snacks. Malty and slightly sweet, this went really well with some fresh roasted green chile (it’s chile roasting time!) on a corn tortilla. It seemed a little more still than most Mexican beers, which certainly helps with it’s quaffability. If you’re looking for something a little sweeter than a Shiner, or maybe just a change from Negro Modelo, you could do a lot worse than Indio.

Album Review- “Traces and Trails” by Jacob Furr

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Lots of albums have some intensely personal story behind them. I’ve always liked the term “album” for that reason, because it suggests a collection of memories. The title “Traces and Trails” has those same connotations, a bundle of memories paged though over and over again.

Merging autumnal Americana with expansive rock, “Trace and Trails” is a tribute to Furr’s late wife Christina. Intimate but never hushed, the album moves through 10 tracks with extraordinary grace. There’s a lot of sorrow in these songs, but a lot of hope, too.

I’m struck hardest by the opening verse of “Blake’s Song”-  Early in the morning/before your eyes are open/she’s unlocking the golden gates/and she steps so softly down the path she’s been walking/to wake up another day–  it says so much about being around someone who knows they won’t be around much longer. There’s joy and trepidation in those lines, and it’s those two moods that intertwine throughout the album.

Furr isn’t all fingerpicking and strums though. There’s the angular guitars that well up like a stampede in “Falling Stars” or the ragged Band-esque riff on album opener “Branches.” The way the album marries more rockin’ sounds with the folky instrumentation is something I really enjoy. Like the rest of the album, it’s a study in balance. It creates a sense of space thats hard to describe. Something about it captures the distances and expanse of the desert. This album sounds, to me, the way West Texas looks.

Summer’s almost over, and fall is going to be here soon enough. For me, it’s the strangest, most beautiful transition of the year. One minute, everything is in full bloom, the next, it’s all fading out. Musically, it’s weird time too, as all the bangers and summer jams start to sound a little silly in the cooling temperatures. This a good audio companion for enjoying those last long sweet days of summer and for tiding you over into the longer, colder nights of fall.

(“Traces and Trails” drops September 16th. You can find it here.)