TER­RELL’S TUNE-UP

Pasatiempo - - Tempos - Steve Ter­rell

What I did on my spring break I had to at­tend to some (happy) fam­ily mat­ters in Austin, Texas, last week. But even if mu­sic wasn’t the prime pur­pose of this lit­tle va­ca­tion, you just don’t go to the Live Mu­sic Cap­i­tal of the World with­out catch­ing some shows.

I was there dur­ing the week im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the South by South­west Fes­ti­val. The whole town seemed to be kind of hung over, but there were still plenty of good shows from which to choose (with­out the crazy crowds and im­pos­si­ble park­ing you find dur­ing SXSW). Here’s what I heard:

Dale Wat­son at The Bro­ken Spoke: See­ing Wat­son at the Spoke is pretty much the full-on Texas honky-tonk ex­pe­ri­ence. This place is an au­then­tic mu­si­cal in­sti­tu­tion in Austin. A sign on the build­ing out­side said the joint has been open for 46 years. Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and Wil­lie Nel­son have graced its stage.

I al­most didn’t rec­og­nize Wat­son when I first walked in. His jet-black pom­padour has turned to a rich sil­ver since the last time I saw him. (He’s not even 50 yet.) But his mu­sic hasn’t changed a lick. If he looks older, his stamina on­stage is as strong as ever. Wat­son played more than three hours with­out tak­ing a break.

He and his band, The Lone Stars, which in­cludes a steel gui­tar, fid­dle, and a stand-up bass, play pure, raw, un­adorned beer-drinkin’ honky-tonk. Wat­son’s voice has a lot of Hag in it, as well as a touch of Way­lon.

Wat­son mostly per­formed his own tunes. There were plenty of re­cent ones, such as “Hey Brown Bot­tle,” an ode to Lone Star beer. He did a song called “Big Daddy,” about a shoeshine man who was do­ing busi­ness in the Bro­ken Spoke that night. Wat­son fre­quently plugged him on stage: “Get a shoeshine, a boot-shine, any­thing but moon­shine.”

He also played some older songs in his reper­toire such as “Truck Stop in La Grange,” in which he in­cluded a part of the ZZ Top boo­gie clas­sic of sim­i­lar name. In fact, Wat­son in­cluded a whole mess of cov­ers of coun­try clas­sics like “Sil­ver Wings,” “Fol­som Prison Blues,” and Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop a Top.”

A lit­tle so­ci­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non I ob­served at the Spoke: It was ladies’ night at the club, and the place was full of cute col­lege-age girls dancing with old guys who looked like Hank Hill and his friends. I asked my daugh­ter, an Austin res­i­dent, about this. She said it’s be­cause the old red­neck guys know how to dance. “The young guys don’t know what they’re miss­ing,” she said. Be­ing an old guy my­self, I prob­a­bly shouldn’t tell them.

Ralph White, John Schoo­ley & Wal­ter Daniels at Beer Land: Schoo­ley nor­mally is a one-man band, a wild blues stom­per who records on Voodoo Rhythm Records. That’s what I was ex­pect­ing to see last week at this free show. White, who was a found­ing mem­ber of The Bad Liv­ers, re­cently played Santa Fe, open­ing for Scott H. Bi­ram at Co­razón. I caught Bi­ram there but ar­rived too late to see White. I fig­ured he must like play­ing on bills with these crazy one-man band types.

But in­stead, at the Beer Land show, Schoo­ley was part of an acous­ti­cal trio. He played slide (mostly on a res­onator gui­tar) and a lit­tle banjo with White (who sings and plays fid­dle and banjo) and har­mon­ica player/singer Daniels. Though I would have loved to have seen Schoo­ley in his usual hands-on-gui­tar/feet-on-drums mode, I wasn’t dis­ap­pointed with this team-up.

Ba­si­cally, the trio played mourn­ful, spooky old moun­tain songs, coun­try blues, and proto-blue­grass, some­times veer­ing off into John Fa­hey ter­ri­tory. They cov­ered tunes by Muddy Waters, Dock Boggs, and R.L. Burn­side and even took a shot at Char­lie Walker’s honky-tonk clas­sic “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.”

The open­ing acts here were also worth not­ing. There was Wes Cole­man, a singer/ gui­tarist backed only by a drum­mer, whose melo­di­ous melodies re­minded me a lit­tle of the old band House of Freaks. And there was an ex­tremely fun lit­tle scuz­zgrass band called Dad Jim, whose front­man Robert Al­lan Cald­well is re­lated to the fa­mous Cald­well brothers of the Mar­shall Tucker Band. Be­sides its rowdy ver­sion of “Ya’ll Come,” the thing I liked most about Dad Jim is the fact that the band had a black dog that made it­self com­fort­able on­stage through­out the set.

Ex­ene Cer­venka at The Mo­hawk: Cer­venka kicked off her tour for her new al­bum, The Ex­cite­ment of Maybe, in Austin last week. As any­one who has fol­lowed her knows, Cer­venka solo is far more low-key than her work with the band that made her fa­mous, X. In fact, on her own, she sounds closer to The Knit­ters, that X off­shoot folk group of which she was part.

I ap­pre­ci­ated her Austin show more than I did her new al­bum. The record is quite en­joy­able, with some nice tracks with Dave Alvin on gui­tar and Maggie Bjork­lund on dreamy steel. But her stage sound was more stripped­down than that of the al­bum. Cer­venka’s band was a hearty lit­tle en­sem­ble with Austin gui­tar stud Will Sex­ton and, on the last cou­ple of tunes, banjo picker Gretchen Phillips. But my fa­vorite part of the band was the drum­mer, whose name I didn’t get. She used a wash­tub as a bass drum. She’s no Buddy Rich, but she banged that tub with spirit. And, oh yeah, Cer­venka sings her guts out. My fa­vorite songs she did were the up­beat “I’ll Ad­mit It Now” (which works bet­ter with­out the horn sec­tion on the stu­dio ver­sion) and the wist­ful, coun­try­ish “Dirty Snow,” both from the new al­bum, as well as one of the songs she did with Phillips, “I Wish I Was A Sin­gle Girl Again” — an old folk song per­formed by The Mad­dox Brothers and Rose.

Back from the shad­ows again: I’ll be back do­ing The Santa Fe Opry 10 p.m. on Fri­day. You can hear Dale Wat­son and other artists I re­viewed in this col­umn. And don’t for­get Ter­rell’s Sound World, same time on Sun­day, both on KSFR-FM 101.1. It’s scream­ing on the web at www.ksfr.org.

Grand­pappy’s boo­gie: The lat­est episode of The Big En­chi­lada is wait­ing for your ears. Hear it and 33 other episodes at www.bi­gen­chi­ladapod­cast.com.

Ex­ene Cer­venka

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