Shakey Graves – an Austin musician with a big future, mark my words.
Every now and then I make a music discovery that is so good and so unexpected it stops me right in my tracks. Last night I was playing the free downloads from the Eye in the Sky Collective and I suddenly heard a song I never heard before that sounded like it might have been around forever - a sure sign of talent and inspiration. “Built to Roam” by Shakey Graves. Just a perfect, perfect song.
And after a bit of digging I got more shocks: Shakey Graves, aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia, is from Austin and has been featured by the Austin Chronicle and on KUT – by other people who were affected the same way by his music. I could have seen him live at South By Southwest if I had known. I will definitely be on the lookout for new chances to see him play.
Furthermore, I listened to his album, Roll the Bones on Bandcamp all the way through, and loved every song. His style is a blend of classic blues, alt country and folk music. Mainly just great songwriting. The picking in some of his songs make me think of blues legends like Bukka White. The songs are available on a “pay what you want” basis. Give it a listen and see if you don’t think it’s worth paying for. We need to keep this man in business. He’s brilliant.
Here is his Tumblr page, which includes dates for upcoming performances. If you’re in the Austin area, you can see him at the Hole in the Wall on Thursday, March 29 and at the White Horse on Saturday, March 31.
Shakey Graves will be performing at the Kohoutek music festival in Claremont CA on April 28 and is looking for other venues in the West – New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, etc. (E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas.)
Ever mix foods that don’t sound like they should go together and find out they really really do? Like peanut butter ‘n’ banana sandwiches? Sounded weird at first, but trust me, it’s a combination that was meant to be.
I recently discovered a musical example: The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a band with a funny name and an even stranger combination of styles, with members from Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Elgin, Waco and Liberty Hill.
It’s almost impossible to pin down their sound. Americana doesn’t quite do it. Blues, bluegrass, country, rockabilly, Cajun, R&B, funk… They’re all part of the mix. It’s such a weird combination of styles, but it sounds rootsy and natural, like folk music from a country that never was, but should’ve been.
The band has five members: Rory Smith of Elgin on vocals and percussion; Perry Lowe of Bastrop on percussion; Tres Womack of Waco (formerly of Bastrop) on guitar and vocals; Slim Bawb Pearce of Cedar Creek (by way of Sacramento, California) on mandolin and other stringed instruments and vocals and Dave Gould of Liberty Hill on string bass.
The percussion is a bit unusual, with Rory pounding on congas, scratching on a frottoir (rub board) and at times a Jew’s harp given to him by his Swedish mother-in-law. Perry plays a Brazilian box drum known as a cajón (that doubles as his chair) and an African drum called a djembe.
Each member brings something into the mix — styles, instruments and songs. Tres adds a country music flavor. Slim Bawb adds Louisiana and bluegrass influences (although he’s from California). Rory and Perry contribute R&B, funk and soul. Dave Gould, who also plays in the Watts Brothers Band, brings his skill on the bass fiddle.
“People compare us to the Gourds, but I think we’re more unique,” said Tres, who helped kick start the band. He hosted an open mic night that featured Rory and a CD release party where both Rory and Perry turned up to sing harmony. They enjoyed working together so much a musical relationship was born. In time they picked up Slim Bawb Pearce and Curtis Farley (the previous bass player).
“Tres, Rory and Perry had been playing together for a while and they needed a picker,” said Slim Bawb. “I played some slide mandolin and we meshed really quickly. It’s fun to play in this band. We have a lot of harmonies and you never know what’s gonna happen. There’s a lot of improvising going on.”
Slim Bawb moved to Cedar Creek from Sacramento five years ago. Before he became a transplanted Texan, he spent 20 years with a group called the Beer Dawgs, which was inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
Curtis, who owns Twisted Twig Studio, is still involved with the band on the production end. He came up with the name Chubby Knuckle Choir while poking fun at the musicians’ middle age spare tires and chubby hands. The musicians were having a jam session and singing harmonies. “Curtis was picking on us and said ‘y’all look like a chubby knuckle choir’ and the name stuck,” Rory said.
Rory and Perry chose their percussion instruments for two reasons: 1) their cars weren’t big enough to hold trap sets and 2) they provide rhythm without overwhelming the vocals.
Tres also liked the idea of using those instruments to make the band’s sound more unique, and offset his strong country influence. The frottoir was a nod to Slim Bawb’s Cajun influence.
“What makes it work is we all like each other,” Rory said.
The Chubby Knuckle Choir has had its share of local success, performing at South By Southwest in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They have also opened for Austin musician Guy Forsyth, former member of the Asylum Street Spankers at Nutty Brown Café outside of Dripping Springs.
Most of the time they perform at the Lumberyard in downtown Bastrop or in Quoffer’s in Elgin, but they also play in other venues around the state and are slated to play in Elgin’s Hogeye Festival next October.
They are not trying to become a national act — although they are open to possibilities if they somehow strike it big. “We’re all at that age where we have responsibilities,” Rory said. “Perry has a couple of toddlers. If we get a following that’s great, but it’s not on the agenda. We just love what we do.”
The band is working on songs for the debut studio album, which should be finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can buy CDs of their 11-track album “Live at the Lumberyard” for $10. E-mail email@example.com.
The Chubby Knuckle Choir’s next show is at the Lumberyard is 8 p.m. Friday, June 10. The band will perform at Quoffer’s at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 23.
This one may be my favorite:
These are quite impressive as well:
It’s Always Something
The Live Experience
I caught the tail end of one of their shows at Quoffer’s bar in Elgin and went to see them again a few weeks ago in Bastrop in a really cool venue called the Lumberyard (it actually used to BE a lumberyard).
The audience was a mix of old and young who from time to time got up and danced. The band obviously a small but dedicated following (that recently grew by one).
Their set list featured some great original songs, along with some inspired covers. “Freakshow,” “It’s Always Something” “Farmer’s Tan” and “Ethylene” were among my favorite originals.
They did excellent covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the gospel standard “Jesus on the Mainline” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” Venue owner Jeff Brister joined the band on trumpet during “Ya Ya.”
Another highlight was Storytelling, a band tradition. Band members take turns telling stories from one concert to the next. The stories are supposed to be true. Rory told one about raccoons taking up residence in his attic.
Every story ends with “and I heard a song on the radio,” followed by a cover song. The one that night was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Never expected to hear a bluegrass version of that, but it really worked.
Very entertaining live show. I’ve been looking for a band to fill the empty place in my soul left by the breakup of the Asylum Street Spankers and I may have finally found it – right in my back yard.
It would be so clever to have a “Ten from Ten” list of favorite albums from 2010. Unfortunately, I can only come up with a top five list. I’m sure there were at least five more killer albums that would’ve rounded out my top 10. I just didn’t find them.
I never want to say that any year was a “bad year” for music. If you don’t have enough good music to listen to, it usually means you didn’t look hard enough. I didn’t buy as much new music in 2010 as I usually do, for a number of reasons: I was broke, very busy at work, and I still wasn’t finished with 2009 (which was an unusually good year for music, in my opinion. Just to name a few: Phoenix, Daniel Knox and Grizzly Bear put out some great albums that took a while to absorb fully).
There were some 2010 albums that I really do enjoy, however, albums that I’m sure I’ll be listening to for many years to come. It’s hard to rank them, really, but I’ll take a shot:
1. Beach House – Teen Dream
This one has probably spent more time on my stereo (and laptop, etc.) than any other album. Aptly named, it really does sound like a dream. In the past, Beach House mined shoegazer very well, capturing the atmosphere of bands like Slowdive. However, the songs I heard from them in the past didn’t really hold up that well for me in terms of melody and lyrical content. Style over substance in other words. This album definitely has both. The reverb is toned down so you can really hear Victoria LeGrand’s lovely voice. “Zebra” and “Norway” are excellent examples of indie pop. “Lover of Mine” is the best song of all, one of those songs that really tugs at the heartstrings. Every song on the album is solid. Modern dream pop.
My only complaint is the videos. I got the deluxe CD package with a video disk, and I’m just not feeling those at all. Silly, dumb, ugly, even painful to look at. All they do is detract from what is an otherwise blissful music experience.
Check this out if you haven’t heard them (avoid the official video if you know what’s good for you):
2. The Black Keys – Brothers
This was one of those impulse buys at Waterloo Records. I had a stack of CDs in my hands and a certain amount I wanted to spend and they started playing songs from Brothers. “She’s Long Gone” and “Sinister Kid” hooked me completely. Had to put something back, ask the guys at the counter what it was and buy it. I played the hell out of it for weeks and I can always go back to it and still enjoy it. I was already a big fan of Attack & Release. Their music is a perfect mix of blues and indie punk. Blues, with energy and punch. The guitars just sound so rank and nasty. Damn good songwriting too.
3. Legendary Pink Dots – Seconds Late for the Brighton Line
These guys just continue to amaze me. There was a time last year when I was afraid they might be able to call it a day. Niels Van Hoorn (woodwinds) and Martin de Kleer (guitar) quit the band. Then Edward Ka Spel’s mother got sick and their planned North American tour got put on hold. But past member Erik Drost returned to play guitar and the Dots put on an amazing live show in Austin back in November. The latest album turned out to be a grower for me, but it certainly has been growing in my esteem. “Russian Roulette” and “Hauptbahnhof” are classic Dots songs, as is “God and Machines” (the last being one of the best live songs from their show.
4. Crocodiles – Sleep Forever
I like this album better and better every time I play it. At only 35 minutes, it’s short and sweet. It satisfies and there’s no annoying filler to skip over. There is a unifying theme – death – and the songwriting is solid. “Mirrors,” “Stoned to Death” and “All My Hate and My Hexes Are For You” are my favorites. I get a little bit of a Stone Roses vibe from some of the songs, particularly “All My Hate…” in that the tunes sound so sweet, yet the lyrics are so mean and cutting. I love juxtapositions like that.
Big thanks to Mark Whitby of Dandelion Radio for turning me onto these guys from San Diego. He played their cover of Deee Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” and I was immediately hooked. Based on comments in YouTube and 0n sites like Rate Your Music, they seem to have a dedicated group of haters as well as a nice cult following. The big gripe seems to be that they sound too much like Jesus and Mary Chain. I hear an influence, definitely, but I don’t think the criticism holds water. In fact — and this ought to piss off the haters — I got out my copy of Automatic to refresh my memory and frankly I like Sleep Forever more. Also I don’t like Psychocandy. So there.
I’m having a hell of a time deciding which song to embed, but “Stoned to Death” ought to do…
5. Vampire Weekend – Contra
Very enjoyable album, already mentioned on this blog. I love the way they’ve brought world music influences into the realm of indie pop/rock. I get a big Paul Simon vibe off the album, especially “White Sky” (which is in no way a put down – Graceland is a hell of an album). “Cousins,” and “Holiday” are really catchy songs.
I may be forgetting something I liked from 2010 and I’m sure I failed to discover a lot of good music. I’d like to see some other people’s top 5 lists and check them out. It might put me behind schedule for my best of 2011 list, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes
Just found a great place to stream music: www.radiofreeneworleans.com It’s a feature of NewOrleansOnline.com, which is the official tourism website for the city of New Orleans. I’ve heard so much great music: people I knew already like Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Neville Brothers and Fats Domino; plus great acts that were new to me like the Rebirth Brass Band and the Soul Rebels.
The little player that pops up has several player options: vintage jazz, pop & rock, eclectic mix, contemporary jazz, rhythm & blues and gospel brunch. I usually leave it on R&B or eclectic mix.
Wow, this really makes me sad. I just went on Facebook and saw an announcement that my favorite Austin band is retiring. The Asylum Street Spankers are like nothing you’ve ever heard – retro style, rockin’ sensibility, superb musicianship and funny as hell. There will never be another band like them. I don’t know what brought this about. Could be the bad economy is getting to them. Also, Christina and Wammo both have small children. If it’s what they need to do, then I wish them well. Musicians aren’t actually obligated to wreck themselves for our entertainment. They’re giving a farewell tour and if you get the opportunity to catch one of their final shows I would advise you to take it. Their schedule can be found here.
If you need any more convincing, read my recent post about the band: Asylum Street Spankers’ vintage sound captures Austin’s spirit That post also includes some great Youtube links that will give you an idea what Spankers shows are like, and a link to their Bandcamp site where you can stream Spankers songs or order mp3s or CDs.
Also, check out their albums on Bandcamp.
P.S. I’ve been asked why Wammo is not being listed on the ASS Facebook page. I also noticed a lot of the people who surfed into this blog lately entered search terms like “Is Wammo on Farewell Tour.” I don’t know the answer to that and would like to. If anyone has seen a show on this tour I’d like to know if Wammo was there. I’d also like to know why the band is retiring. I imagine it has to do with Wammo and Christina each having new babies. Maybe they’re all tired of touring and want to devote more time to their families. I can respect that. I just wish the band would let us know what’s up. In any case, I would still recommend catching one of the farewell shows if possible. If Wammo’s not on the tour it would definitely be a disappointment, but I did see one Spankers show when Wammo was out with the flu and it was still awesome. Speaking of which… It has occurred to me that Wammo could be ill. I’d at least like to know that he’s all right. If anyone knows anything, please let me know.
PPS. Saw a comment on the ASS Facebook site stating that Wammo was leaving for family reasons. Probably about what I figured. His wife just had a new baby and probably asked him to stick around and stay off the road. Fair enough I reckon. I will miss him though.
Update: Wammo sent out an e-mail announcing his plans and telling his reasons for quitting the Spankers. I reposted it here: Word from Wammo aka ‘Road Dog’
What do you know about ZZ Top? Long beards, big red car, sunglasses, cheesy music videos. Pretty much sums them up, right? Wrong. Long before the red car showed up during the early days of MTV and spoiled everything (and made them rich & famous), ZZ Top had a loyal following. The Texas trio (Billy Gibbons on guitar and vocals, Dusty Hill on vocals, bass and keyboards and Frank Beard on drums) was already known for its entertaining live shows (I never got to see one, alas), but the band also put out some incredible bluesy, country-inflected rock ‘n’ roll. They sang about things like drug smuggling, Mexican border blaster radio, the whorehouse in LaGrange, things that the rest of the country didn’t know about, but any Texan who ever had a pot-smoking friend recognized instantly. Furthermore, they were and probably still are, excellent musicians. Gibbons is one of the best blues guitarists out there. Songs like “Legs” and “Sharp-Dressed Man” are decent, but don’t even come close to their pre-Eliminator album releases. If all you’ve ever heard from ZZ Top are their MTV-era hits, do yourself a favor and get their 1977 The Best of ZZ Top compilation (not to be confused with the 1992 Greatest Hits. Then get as many of their early albums as possible. Tres Hombres or Fandango would be a good starting point. I wouldn’t go any more recent than El Loco.
A gimmick can be a double-edged sword for a musician. The right gimmick at the right time can capture the imagination of the public and lead to great success. However, audiences are fickle. There’s always the danger that people will conclude that you’re nothing but a gimmick and write you off. Some of my favorite musicians seem to have suffered that fate. ZZ Top, with the beards, red car and sunglasses, might be close. People don’t always realize what they really were and don’t bother to go back and listen. And of course there’s the simple problem of time. A band might start out strong and end up weak. Eventually, you end up with a lot of people who are too young to remember the artist’s hey day. They see images of the gimmick, hear a few weak songs and put two and two together – and get the wrong answer.
Check out these videos and I think you’ll agree there’s more to ZZ Top than many people realize.
I don’t do “guilty pleasures.” I only like awesome music that may or may not be appreciated by fellow music lovers. Whenever I can, I will try to set the record straight. I’ll do that for other “gimmicky” artists when I think of them.
Austin has drawn me like a magnet for almost as long as I can remember. The culture, with its mix of Texas cowboy brashness and hippy tolerance, is wonderful and totally unique. For a creative type like myself, the live music and open-minded nature of the place is irresistable. I love my state in general as most Texans do, but Austin is the best part for me. It’s like an oasis.
Few bands embody that Austin spirit like the Asylum Street Spankers. The band has become my favorite live act. I’ve seen show after show, each one different from the one before, but always enjoyable. The group takes its name from Guadalupe Street in Austin, once referred to as Asylum Street because it runs by the state mental facility. The term “spanker,” is a double entendre. It can mean a skilled musician, or just exactly what it sounds like. In fact, the band’s entire name is a double entendre. Think about those initials.
It’s hard to describe the band’s music. Styles include swing, jazz, country, blues, hip hop, ragtime, gospel — you name it. The music has a vintage sound, with all acoustic instruments, but the songs are immersed in rock ‘n’ roll lore and pop culture references. The band’s central figures are Wammo, a funny, mouthy dude who looks a bit like a biker, and Christina Marrs, a pretty woman with an even prettier set of pipes who has a demure girl-next-door appeal — but can belt out the raunchiest lyrics you’ve ever heard. The remaining lineup changes a bit from year to year, but always features top notch musicians. Sometimes former Spankers turn up and fill in. It’s almost like a collective.
The Spankers absolutely refuse to be pigeonholed. They’re funny, but they’re not a comedy act, and no way are they a novelty act. They’ve done X-rated albums, a drug album, a children’s album, an Off Broadway show and most recently, a gospel album. You never know what they might do next, but it will always be entertaining. You really have to hear them yourself.
Luckily for me, they’ve made it easy. Most of the Spankers albums are here on Bandcamp. You can stream the songs for free or purchase the albums as downloads, or as physical CDs. I like everything they do, but I especially recommend What? And Give Up Show Biz? because it captures the band’s live sound, which I love.
Some of my favorite songs are “Beer,” from Spanker Madness, “Hick Hop,” from Mercurial and “My Favorite Record” from the album of the same name.
Check out the band’s website: www.asylumstreetspankers.com. You can also order some albums that aren’t posted on Bandcamp, including their X-rated EPs, T-shirts and members’ solo albums. And check out their tour schedule. If the Spankers turn up in your town, go see them. You won’t regret it.
These videos will give you an idea what the band’s live act is like:
Jim White was kind enough to send me a personal e-mail after I posted about my last blog post on his forum. Apparently he’s been very busy lately and has a lot of great stuff in the works.
Thanks for the kind words. At present I’m at work on 3 albums, and while I’ve never been intoxicated by the notion of commercial success, I certainly wouldn’t avoid it if it came knocking down my door.
I’ve got a book of short stories about done. It’ll be called Incidental Contact, and details odd encounters I’ve had while wandering the fringes of culture.
The 3 albums are as follows:
An album of music I wrote for a Sam Shepherd play recently staged at Julliard Music School up in NYC.
An album of classical guitar etudes written by me in the 1980s when I only had 2 fingers that worked on my fretting hand due to a table saw accident. These songs are performed by the guitarist for the Georgia Classical Music Quintet.
An official Jim White album. I recently broke free of my label and so the album should reflect my newfound autonomy. The songs range from straight old time country to blues/jazz hybrids.
I appreciate you devoting your time to helping me out. Good luck with your endeavors.
Jim White is a hard man to pin down. He’s a self-taught guitarist and singer who has seen a lot of life. He grew up in Pensacola, Florida and has been a fashion model, professional surfer, boxer, preacher, a comedian and more.
His music runs the gamut – alt-country, indie pop, experimental music of various kinds. His music is by turns deep, catchy, dark, beautiful, sad, and funny. Above all, he’s a brilliant lyricist and storyteller. It might be that wide range of styles that keeps him from mass market success (or even, apparently “mass indie” success). He’s too quirky and experimental for the country crowd, and has too much twang in his voice for the indie crowd. It could also be the fact that he’s not extremely prolific and doesn’t tour heavily. I have read that he is considering a career as a writer – not surprising given the brilliant short story he wrote for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus booklet. I would certainly love to see what kind of books he might write.
I almost get the feeling he doesn’t care about being a huge success. His observations about the South, and about human nature in general are so perceptive, he’s almost more of a philosopher than a musician.
He was a bit of a slow-grower for me, a common hallmark of the artists I love most deeply. I first discovered him through a used comp CD with “10 Miles to Go on a 9 Mile Road” on it. I liked it well enough to buy the album, No Such Place. I played it a few times and liked it OK, but nothing really jumped out at me. It didn’t really go into heavy rotation.
Then one day I put the CD on, just on a whim, and realized the songs were brilliant. Why didn’t I notice before? Then I bought his debut album, The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus! and put that on and the music hit me like a bolt of lightning. This was something unusual and very special. I have since bought every album and eagerly await anything else he might put out. I wish there were more!
Favorite songs come from all his albums (not necessarily in order except for the top 2):
1. “A Perfect Day to Chase Tornados” The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus!
2. “Still Waters” The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus!
3. “Borrowed Wings” Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See
4. “Bluebird” Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See
5. “Diamonds to Coal” Transnormal Skiperoo
6. “Pieces of Heaven” Transnormal Skiperoo
7. “Crash Into the Sun” Transnormal Skiperoo
8. “Plywood Superman” Transnormal Skiperoo
9. “Christmas Day” No Such Place
10. “Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi” No Such Place
By the way, there’s another indie musician out there by the name of Jim White, drummer for an ensemble called The Dirty Three. Don’t get them confused.
Visit his website, which contains links to his merchandise, a forum for fans, lists of his favorite artists, movie directors and authors, some of his thoughts on life and more. The man is a really deep thinker.
I went out on a CD run a while back and spent more than I probably should have in Waterloo Records. On a whim, I stopped at a Goodwill on the way home and checked out their CD stash. Saw a few likely ones that I already had or that were too scratchy. Got tired of looking and decided to give this one a chance. And it might have been the best thing I got that day. Also interesting, because I was in a Texas music mood that day and didn’t know Anson Funderburgh was a Texan till I looked him up.
Sins, released in 1988 by New Orleans-based Black Top Records features some great rockin’ blues and R&B. Funderburgh is a great blues guitarist with a hell of a band and Sam Myers, who was the band’s regular singer and harmonica player from 1985 until he died in 2006. If you’re into any classic blues by the likes of BB King, you should check this band out. I will certainly pick up more of their albums when I need to scratch that particular itch. Kind of embarrassing in a way – this is a band I should’ve known about already. Better late than never I reckon, though I really wish I could’ve caught them live while Sam Myers was still around.
Interesting bit of trivia I picked up from Wikipedia: He wasn’t on this particular album, but in 1989 and 1990 Mike Judge was their bassist before he went on to greater fame as the animator and creator of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill.
(The other ones I got on the same CD run were Long Leaf Pine by San Antonio-based The Krayolas and a 2-CD compilation of Texas Swing by Adolph Hofner. I haven’t made up my mind about those yet. I’m still digesting them. Especially the Hofner comp – 35 is a lot of songs!)