Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guy Forsyth - Leave Preconcieved Notions At Home

On Friday night I made my way over to The Saxon Pub to see Guy Forsyth.  For those who aren’t familiar, The Saxon Pub is an Austin live music institution: it’s dark, small and just seedy enough to feel like an adventure for the aging hipster set, which makes it a stellar venue to catch Guy Forsyth. 

Guy is an insanely talented musician.  He plies the acoustic guitar and ukulele with intensity, he plays electric slide guitar masterfully, and his skill with a harmonica is a beautiful thing to behold.  He doesn’t seduce his audience with gentle wooing and subtle caresses – he won’t appeal to those who prefer polite affections from their musicians.  Guy’s musical style reminds me of the bad boy your parents warn you about.  He’s the musical equivalent of the lover who slams you against the wall and strips every ounce of resistance from your brain.

At least, that’s the musician I thought I was trekking to see Friday night.  I had this beautiful metaphor mentally sketched when I walked in the door.  Imagine my surprise, showing up for a date with the tattooed bad guy that would have made a parent cringe, and finding the roustabout carnie who took the stage.  Was he here to play music, or was he here to set up a tilt-a-whirl? 

Guy was wearing hickory striped bib overalls of the Dickies variety with a black tank top, and sporting a pork pie hat.  He didn’t have sideburns – he had burnsides; no really, his sideburns connected to his moustache – a style straight out of GQ, The Civil War Issue.  The facial hair was fluffy enough that, from my side view of the stage, I kept remembering a pot that needed scrubbing back at home.  When he sat down to play the saw, I was convinced I saw a pouch of RedMan in his back pocket, and felt a moment’s concern for the folks at the table up front, who were easily within spitting distance.

My nose kept sniffing, expecting the blended scents of tobacco, sweat, dust and day old Irish Spring on the air.

Oy.  Forget rough lover metaphors, at least if my eyes were looking at the stage.

Although my eyes kept recalling scenes from HBO's Carnivale, my ears were not disappointed.  Guy is an amazing musician.  He can sell folky, socially conscious ballads, or jazzy ditties with a touch of Dixieland, or pure delta blues, or even Satchmo with equally convincing mastery.  He bends each instrument he plies to his will, and his intensity leaves you more than satisfied at the end of the evening. 

I plan to catch him again at Sam’s Burger Joint on June 24 and I’m intensely curious which visual version of Guy Forsyth will show up for the gig.  Tattooed bad boy, seasoned musician, or roustabout carnie, the next time I won’t walk in the door with preconceived notions; and, I know whichever it is, the music won’t disappoint.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Will Sexton – That Certain Kind of Something

Anyone familiar with the Austin music scene knows the name Will Sexton. If you grew up in the Austin area, you heard his name in the 80’s and early 90’s as he navigated almost every aspect of the profession – guitar player, singer, songwriter. As a teenager and twentysomething, maybe you caught his acts around town. Maybe you knew someone who had babysat for someone whose kids played with his kids. He was the Kevin Bacon of the Austin music scene, never more than four degrees away from practically everyone in town.

After that, Will might have fallen off your radar… until December 2009. That’s when we all heard that this seasoned but still young musician had suffered a mild stroke. It was shocking to everyone, but since I am exactly 3 days older than Will, I found it especially jarring. I read the article… oh, he had some clotting disorder called the Prothrombin gene mutation, that’s why it happened, whew… and then missed the Antone’s benefit for him the following February… and then let myself forget.

Last fall I happened to be at the House of Blues in Houston to catch Raul Malo. His opening act, Sahara Smith had a familiar face in her band - Will Sexton was playing bass for her. He looked great, he sounded even better. From that moment forward, Will lingered in the back of my mind. I kept reading the upcoming Austin show lists, subconsciously hoping to see his name.

And then, in March, my own life took an unexpected detour. On a routine visit to my doctor, my blood pressure was strange and my pulse was too high. As we sat discussing it, my doctor looked at my sandaled feet and said, “The veins on your left foot are raised, the veins on are right foot are flat. Have you ever noticed?” That led to a series of questions and tests, which revealed that I had developed a blood clot behind my knee and small pulmonary emboli in every area of my lungs. A referral to a hematologist and many blood draws later, I learned that I too had the Prothrombin gene mutation.

I’d been walking across a mine field, oblivious to the danger… until I got to the other side. Anyone of those clots, slightly bigger, could have ended me. Instead, each one was just small enough to pass through my heart, but not quite large enough to pass through the small vessels in my lungs. Now I am safe: as long as I stay with the rat poison, my body will heal itself and I shouldn’t develop any new clots. Still, I wrestle with big questions and curse this damn detour.

In May, as I mindlessly checked my local music venue calendars, I saw it: Will Sexton, at The Saxon Pub, May 12, 8PM.

The show got underway with a stage full of colorful characters. He had a drummer, a bass player, a lead guitar player, a piano player, and his girlfriend - Charlie Faye – playing acoustic. They surrounded him like a semi-circle of supportive talent. He looked just the same. That night, his guitar work was facile and technically unimpaired. His voice was somewhere between an early Tom Petty and a George Harrison, circa The Traveling Wilburys – melodic, and with incredible range. As the set progressed, I found myself entranced in Will’s amazing musicality, but a little distracted by so much band. If he was insecure in the wake of his malady, the only clues were the number of musicians on stage with him, and the little book he used to keep up with the lyrics. I enjoyed the experience immensely, and wondered what he would sound like without all that back-up.

I caught him again the following Monday, when he played a few songs in between Jess Klein’s sets at the Whip-In. This time it was just him and Mike Thompson on keys, all acoustic. In this setting, Will’s bluesy acoustic style and beautiful vocals were the stars, lightly punctuated by an old upright piano. I was easily lost for those few songs, and left craving more.

I keep searching for meaning, as if age and music and rat poison form some kind of cosmic trinity linking people together.  So far, the only cosmic truth I've found is this: sometimes life takes a detour, and maybe the alternate journey is meaningful. Or maybe not. 

I'm still working on it.

It looks like Will's going on the road for a while; I hope he finds his way home to Austin soon. Until then, we’ll just survive with a Certain Kind of Something.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rodney Parker and 50 Peso Reward – They Do It Exactly Like I Like It

As I mentioned in my Aaron Einhouse post, Saturday night I ventured out to The River City Grille in Marble Falls for good eats, good music and cold beer. That is just what I found – and then some.

I had seen Rodney Parker and 50 Peso Reward at Sam’s Burger Joint in February, opening for Sean McConnell… it was instant love. When I saw that they were back in the area, I knew it was time to visit Marble Falls. The River City Grille is a venue I will definitely visit again. Located on banks of Lake Marble Falls, you can sit on the lower patio by the lake. The river breeze felt great. The food was superb. The beer was cold. Add the tunes coming from the lakeside corner of the patio and you had the makings of a perfect Texas night.

Their music is somewhere in that nebulous land between country and rock, forged in the red dirt and dust of North Texas. The band features Rodney Parker, a serious songwriting talent whose voice has a Jakob Dylan vibe, but with better diction. The lead guitar player rocks a Peavey T-60 through a Vox amp, which gives the band’s sound a rich and solid guitar foundation when mixed with Rodney’s beautiful Taylor acoustic and a pedal steel. The bass and drums were spot-on, creating a very well executed, tight mix.

They opened with Firefight, a song with sounds like a rollicking horseback ride across the old west, but whose lyrics include, “We’re all so soft and clean, like a hundred dollar bill in a washing machine.” They covered Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City and Kinky Friedman’s Wild Man From Borneo, both of which were wonderful takes on classics. I’m Never Gonna Get Married is destined to remain a single guy’s anthem (good luck with that fellas…), cleverly followed by a cover of Linda Ronstadt’s Willin’.

Megaphone is a dirty little ditty about meeting someone at a wedding, and goes on to describe an elevator encounter in a most evocative manner. Good thing there was a cool breeze blowing off the lake.... (...I ordered another and one more for another, and left the reception but this time I am not alone... In the southern cell, we're inside the Ash hotel, in an elevator inside a perfect stranger.... I make my decision, I crumble to the ground, I rise to the ceiling, I whisper in a megaphone....)  Evocative, no?

If I had to pick one favorite, however, it would be Guitars. This song is the In Search of Betty title track. It describes perfectly how I feel each time I think I might find that other plane, the one that can only be reached on the sound waves of good music. It’s the song that plays in my head every time I’m on my way to see a Tab Benoit, or a Seth Walker, or a Carolyn Wonderland, or a Rodney Parker.

Standing in the dark just a little too long,
I can’t see it but I know it’s true.
It might be the sun or it might be a song,
but something is coming alive in you.
So bring me a jar full of lightning bugs.
Take my hands and move your feet.
Shine a light on a ditch that I have dug.
Put your fingers on your wrist and count to me.Cause I’ve been waiting, staring up at the stars.
Yeah I’ve been waiting, for the beam of the morning light,
anticipating the part when the music starts.
Well the guitars are coming alive tonight.
The guitars are coming alive tonight.

The guys were toasting the departure of their drummer Saturday night. I couldn’t resist drinking a shot of tequila with them. And then, all the way home, I couldn’t help thinking it might be time for a tattoo…. What? Oh yeah, THAT’S why I don’t drink tequila anymore. Next time, I'll try to stick to the Grey Goose.

Here’s hoping they find a new Peso soon, and that the road brings them back on my radar in the very near future. In the mean time, there’s always Guitars (and Megaphone, but only on special occasions.)


Aaron Einhouse – He Had Me From The Word Cougar….

On Saturday night, I heard that Rodney Parker and 50 Peso Reward were in the neighborhood, so I ventured out to Marble Falls in search of breeze, cold beer, eats and music.  The River City Grille delivered all these and more.

We arrived about midway through the opening act.  I had heard of Aaron Einhouse but was unfamiliar with his music: what a delightful discovery!  Anyone who knows me understands that one direct path to my affections starts with a man and his guitar, alone on stage, plying his craft, with no embellishment.  I am delighted to have my first experience with Aaron begin in such a fashion. 

Aaron’s voice is pure Texas – clear, with a slight drawl.  His tunes fall cleanly on the country side of the Americana genre.  A Texas style troubadour, his songs are celebrations of the land and the human experience – stories told with insight and occasional humor.  His smile is engaging, and a true love of his craft radiates in an aura around him. 

I found myself smiling as he sang “Fallin’ Insane” with its staccato guitar and the question, “Am I goin’ insane or falling in love?”  How many times have I asked that same question?  When he sang “The Cougar Song”, I was horrified, but hooked. 

“She was the hottest thing around, around 15 years ago,
but her friends all tell her she’s still lookin’ fine. 
And if she keeps on buying drinks, you might not tell her no,
when she asks you if you need a ride.
Cause she’s a cougar, she’s a prowler, she’s huntin’ night and day. 
A sexual predator and you’d love to be her prey,
cause she’s a cougar, she’s a prowler, she’s constantly in pursuit.
Yeah she’s young enough to enjoy it and she’s old enough…
to know what she’s doin’.”

Haha! So I will be at the Saxon Pub on May 18 for another taste.  But I won’t ask him if he needs a ride home....