I saw a really good concert the other night from my favorite local discovery, The Chubby Knuckle Choir. They played in Cedar Park at a place called Reunion Grille. It was a nice, open air venue, with little kids running around. This time it was a trio, with Rory Smith on percussion and vocals, Tres Womack on guitar and vocals and Dave Gould on stand up bass. Singer/percussionist Perry Lowe and singer/stringed instruments of various kinds player Slim Bawb couldn’t make the gig, which was scheduled on short notice.
As always, they were great live, although they were performing in the trio configuration for the first time. It was good music and they kept it fun. This time they were also promoting their self-titled debut CD. Go see them live and get yours there if you get a chance. If you can’t, you can get it at CD Baby.com.
I had a nice visit with the band during the break. Interesting to hear them talk about their musical influences. Rory surprised me with his knowledge of classic rock groups — the same ones I listened to when I was a teenager. Dave Gould surprised me by saying he once saw demented carnivalesque Attic Ted perform, one of the weirdest acts in the Austin area and one of my faves.
The band has been playing a lot of gigs in New Braunfels lately, making an impression on the out-of-state tourist crowd. They’re still playing there a lot this summer, with more of a Texas crowd.
Catch the Chubby Knuckle Choir live if you can. You can hear some of their music and see their upcoming schedule on their Reverbnation page.
Upcoming shows include:
July 19 – Oma Gruene’s Secret Garden in New Braunfels at 2:30 p.m.
Once again I had a hard time counting to 10 as I started thinking about my favorite albums of 2011, because I continue to commit the sin of buying whatever music I want, without considering whether it’s new or not.
So, here are my here are my top five albums:
1. Tune-Yards – Whokill
Unique album from a talented and creative artist. There’s something naive and complicated at the same time about Tune-Yards’ African-influenced indie rock. It’s as if Merrill Garbus found some uncontacted tribe in the African rainforest and instead of going the Deep Forest ethnic-ambient direction, turned it into something off-kilter and funky. I guess I would have to say this is not for everyone, since a couple of people I tried to turn onto this album didn’t seem to take to it. Maybe they’ll come around.
2. Rebirth Brass Band – Rebirth of New Orleans.
This was an impulse buy at Waterloo Records. I picked it up last July and I still can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s a jazzy mix of New Orleans second line, funk and hip hop. Mostly instrumental, but with some great shouted choruses, in songs like “Why Your Feet Hurt” and “I Like It Like That.” I gushed about the the band a little bit in in a blog post which includes an awesome video of the band in the streets of New Orleans.
3. Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down
Very impressive sophomore album. I love her voice. Her original material continues to impress me, but her covers are amazing, especially her cover of Radiohead’s “The Tourist.” I also love “Annabelle Lee,” adapted from the poem by Edgar Allan Poe. She also has some really good bluegrass musicians backing her up.
4. Pickering Pick – Tiger Balm
This one caught me off guard. Sam released this in June, but I just discovered it a few weeks ago. As always, excellent songwriting, beautiful melodies and sweet vocals. This time he had a new studio and you can really hear it in the production. He’s busy updating the equipment, so the next album will sound even better. I love every song on the album, but “Like a River” is truly amazing.
5. Daughters of the Sun – Ghost with Chains
Nice album from one of my surprise discoveries at this year’s Psych Fest. And by the way, they are very impressive live. It’s partly psych, partly ambient, but with tribal-sounding percussion and shoegaze vocals. To look at them, you expect some kind of heavy metal, but instead you get this hypnotic psychedelia. Catch them if they come to your town.
And here are my top five artists discovered in 2012:
1. Sleepy Sun. I found this group at Psych Fest in Austin back in April. Awesome, trippy, acid-drenched blues. Fever has become one of my favorite albums and it would’ve made my top five of 2010 if I had discovered it in time. Check out their website which has an embedded live version of “Marina.”
2. Atash. Kickass Austin-based group I discovered almost by accident during SXSW. I was hunting for free and cheap shows and was just about to give up when I found them giving a free performance at Central Market on North Lamar. They put on a HELL of a live show. Their music seems to have Gypsy, Persian, Indian, and other influences. I downloaded Republic of Love off Amazon.com and I’ve really been enjoying it.
4. Dana Falconberry. One of the musicians featured in the wonderful documentary Echotone. There were actually several new artists in that soundtrack that impressed me (Belaire was another), but Dana’s “Possum Song” was especially wonderful. I got a free soundtrack album from Paste Magazine (I think it still works – enter your e-mail and see) and I’ve been playing the hell out of it for months. She just came out with an EP, Though I Didn’t Call It Came, which I have yet to get my hands on.
5. Jogja Hip Hop Foundation. This was a recent discovery, one of those truly startling discoveries. The idea of melding hip hop with gamelan music never even occurred to me. They’ve created something unique and vibrant and I think we’ll be hearing from these guys for years to come.
Just got an update from my new faves, the Chubby Knuckle Choir, about upcoming shows (I’m on the mailing list). If you’re lucky enough to live in Central Texas you might be able to catch them.
They’ll be at Quoffer’s Pub tomorrow night, June 23, starting at 8:30 p.m. No cover. I have to cover something for the paper, but I’ll try to catch at least part of that show.
Friday, June 24, the Choir will be in San Marcos for the Cheatham Street’s annual Bigfest. Bigfest will raise money for the Cheatham Street Foundation. Other bands performing include: Tournpike Troubadours, Kyle Park, Jamie Richards, James Lann, Jason Allen, John Evans, Greezy Wheels, The McKay Brothers, Doug Moreland, Red Volkaert, Big John Mills, and more. (I won’t make it – Western Days in Elgin will be getting under way.)
Saturday night, June 25, the Choir will peform for the first time at Floores Country Store in Helotes, startng at 9 p.m., followed by Scott Wiggins.
Wednesday, June 29, the Choir will be at Billy’s Ice House in New Braunfels, starting at 9 p.m. No cover.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Not necessarily in that order… Lots of good stuff coming up. It’s going to take me a while to digest it and put it together.
Just got through interviewing Monte Thomas of the Elgin, Texas gospel group the Thomas Family, I love the music I’ve heard from them so far. I’m working on a story for the local paper and I’ll blog them and put up some downloadable mp3s (with permission).
Tonight, I’m going to see a group called The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a group that has members from Elgin and Bastrop. I’ll be writing them up for the paper and this blog in the near future. I’ve heard a little of their music before, and I can’t describe it easily. Kind of a rootsy mixture of blues and country and maybe a bit of funk?
Then Sunday morning, I’m going to the Mt. Vernon-Zion AME Church to take a picture of the Thomas Family performing. That ought to be quite a segue from Saturday night.
I’ve also been editing an interview with Joanne Gabriel aka Caterwauler, one of my favorites from the old days at T61.