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Chip & Tony Kinman

Chip & Tony Kinman

Sounds Like Music

Omnivore Recordings

Growing up in Georgia during the late ’70s, early ’80s didn’t exactly offer much in the way of culture. College football and southern rock were the norms. I couldn’t stand the oversized influence of football, and while I saw my fair share of boogie rock shows, by the time I graduated from high school in 1980, my listening was either the Stones, or punk. The Clash and The Ramones had (thankfully) cured me of my Molly Hatchet listening, but still, entire genres lay before me. One evening in the mid-’80s I was at the house of a guy who worked in a record store, and his living room was wall-to-wall LPs and tapes. He was in the habit of tossing me cassettes with the notion of expanding my musical knowledge. That night his gifts changed my life, in a way. He gave me Thelonious Monk’s 1968’s Underground, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble’s first, Texas Flood and the debut record from a band from Austin, Rank and File.

Now I was somewhat familiar with jazz – although Monk blew my little Georgia mind – and I was quick to get into SRV’s wailing, but Sundown from Rank and File, well, that was country. But it was on Slash Records, home to punk acts! But it was twangy, and as the opener “Amanda Ruth” played, followed by “(Glad I’m) Not in Love”, I was hooked. It was an entirely new vista for me, one I subsequently embraced. To this day Sundown is one of my favorite records, due in large part to the songwriting and heavenly voices of the Kinman brothers, Chip and Tony.

Now at the time I had no idea of The Dils, their first notable band, but I was entranced by the brothers, who, along with roots superstar in waiting Alejandro Escovedo formed R&F. So when I got notice of this collection from Omnivore, Sounds Like Music, I was thrilled. Little did I realize how chameleon-like Chip and Tony were, musically. The Dils (who’s “Folks Say Go” shows up here) were straight-up Cali punk, but I had no idea about their other pursuits, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation.

Blackbird has the most cuts on this collection, and you really can’t get further away from their previous sound. Formed after R&F broke up, Blackbird sounds a lot like Eno’s rock albums, very electronic and post-punk (with a nifty version of Tom Waits “Jersey Girl”, sounding a bit like early Suicide), and it’s arresting in its eeriness. Cowboy Nation returned, somewhat, to the country sound of Rank & File, and throughout all 22 cuts on this collection, it’s the harmonies of Chip and Tony that grab you. An alternate version of “Lucky Day” from Sundown is included, and the sound of those two voices, well, it melts my heart. Sadly, Tony died in 2018, but thankfully the music he and Chip made is, by virtue of this record, and Chip reuniting The Dils, remains accessible. Chip and Tony Kinman were incredibly influential in a wide variety of styles, from punk to country, and suffered the slings and arrows that befalls pioneers. So pick up this collection and change your life.

www.omnivorerecordings.com

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Music Reviews

James Williamson and the Pink Hearts

James Williamson and the Pink Hearts

Behind the Shade

Leopard Lady Records

When you’re a retired electrical engineer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, what are you going to do for fun? Why not round up some young buddies and make a kick ass record? The Pink Hearts are primarily singer Frank Meyer (Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs) and vocalist, violinist Petra Haden (That Dog). Williamson did all of the guitar work and a lot of the bass parts and Michael Urbano played the drums.

Behind the Shade is a fun romp. “Riot on the Sunset Strip” kicks things off with the sort of primal rocker you’d expect from someone who was once a member of the Stooges. The hard rocking continues with the fun love song, “Judith Christ”. “Pink Hearts Across the Sky” makes an abrupt shift to a yummy, strummy slice of Americana with Petra taking over primary vocals. The stylistic shift set the expectation for a rock record that has scope.

The fulcrum of the album are “Destiny Now” and “This Garden Lies”. The songs are not only in the middle of the playing order, but they define the arc of the album. “Destiny Now” is a pretty song sung by Petra about facing your demons. The lyric sounds like it could be from a spy novel. I love the line, “I bought you some phony passports.” Petra’s violin adds some nice coloration to the tune. “This Garden Lies” has words that I interpret as being about the pernicious spread of falsehood in the world. A lilting Mariachi trumpet line that reminds me of the Minutemen buoys the tune. These two tracks focus the themes of hope and despair that run through the disc.

The album closes with the sole cover tune, “Died A Little Today”. Haden sings this haunting Alejandro Escovedo penned tune. It’s a somber meditation on mortality that leaves the hard rock behind for a closet orchestra feel. For Williamson who has lived through so much, the notion that every day we’re a step closer to the exit, must resonate.

straightjameswilliamson.com

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Javier Escovedo

Javier Escovedo

Kicked Out Of Eden

Saustex Media

While he might not get as much press as this more heralded brother, Alejandro, Javier Escovedo is every bit the rocker. From forming The Zeros in 1977- their punky “Wild Weekend” is one of the highlights of the era- to joining his brother in the True Believers in the ’80s, Javier has honed his lean, cutting style of guitar histrionics into a Johnny Thunders/Rick Richards groove, and his latest, Kicked Out Of Eden will satisfy anyone looking for that certain something that has long been out of step since the New York Dolls quit treading the boards.

Opening with “Downtown” you’d swear it was Max’s Kansas City in the ’70s, Escovedo’s gritty guitar starting the record on a high note indeed. Joined by Brad Rice on guitar (The Backsliders, Keith Urban), they quickly establish a Stoneish strut with cuts such as “It Ain’t Easy” and “This Side of Nowhere”, while “Just Like All The Rest” is a slice of power pop fueled by chiming Rickenbackers, ala The Byrds.

But lest you forget what’s what, Escovedo pops out “Bad and Good” which is pure garage-style swagger, while “Gypsy Son” sounds like a lost Flamin’ Groovies outtake. Just pure bliss, full of Escovedo’s punk background and hard-lived life. Kicked Out Of Eden is pure manna from guitar heaven. Who needs Eden, anyway? Javier Escovedo sure don’t.

www.saustex.com

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Music Reviews

Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo

Street Songs of Love

Fantasy Records

Alejandro Escovedo has been producing solid work for so long now — from the punk rock of The Nuns to stops in Rank & File and the True Believers, and his great run of solo work — that it is all too easy to see a new release from the Texas troubadour as just another great record in a long line of the same. And while this is true, it doesn’t make Street Songs of Love any less vital. Continuing with the cast that made 2008’s Real Animal such a success, collaborator and guitar slinger Chuck Prophet (Green on Red) and über-producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T Rex, and a million more), Escovedo lays his heart bare, served up by a red SG and a poet’s soul. Opening with the rousing “Anchor” (“I’m in love with love”), he makes this stuff sound effortless. The cut “Street Songs” bubbles with a New York City street keyboard riff and slashing guitar with Alejandro hanging back and spitting out wry observational verse. Ian Hunter joins on “Down in the Bowery,” a song about growing into yourself, written about Escovedo’s punk rock son, Paris. Bruce Springsteen adds fuel to “Faith,” but with a performer as strong as Alejandro, guest stars aren’t really necessary.

By the time the record ends with “Fort Worth Blue,” an instrumental nod to the late great Texas musician Stephen Bruton, you know you’ve been listening to something special. Alejandro Escovedo is a major American artist, of a sort rarely encountered anymore. Passionate, literate, a rocker who paints cinematic landscapes of word and sound, he stands alone.

Alejandro Escovedo: www.alejandroescovedo.com

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Music Reviews

Keep Your Soul

Keep Your Soul

A Tribute to Doug Sahm

Vanguard Records

Doug Sahm is a Tex-Mex legend and most people haven’t even realized it. Until now. Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm has some of today’s best Tex-Mex rockers covering Sahm’s greatest hits with stellar results.

Little Willie G. takes the opening song, “She’s About a Mover” (popularized by Ray Charles) and kicks it up a notch with Ry Cooder’s guitar wailing in the background. Legends Los Lobos add a little traditional R & B to the following track, “And It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down.”

The album also shows Sahm’s versatility with Dave Alvin showcasing his country side with “Dynamite Woman,” while his ’70s psychedelic rock is on display on “You’re Doin’ It Too Hard” covered here by Charlie Sexton & the Mystic Knights of the Sea.

The best track is the straight-up Mexican “Ta Bueno Compadre (It’s OK, Friend).” Fellow Texas Tornado bandmate Flaco Jimenez joins forces with The West Side Horns for a cover that sounds like it came directly from your local Mexican eatery. Other well-known artists contribute worthy tracks such as Alejandro Escovedo (“Too Little Too Late”), Delbert McClinton (“Texas Me”) and The Gourds (“Nuevo Laredo”).

Doug Sahm’s music is hard to categorize because it incorporates so many genres that, like Texas, it’s just a melting pot of music. Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm is proof of that as these artists would probably never be found on tour together, yet they have all come together to celebrate the life and music of one of Texas’s most influential songwriters. This collaboration is well worth the listen.

Vanguard Records: www.vanguardrecords.com

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Music Reviews

Bermuda Triangle Service

Bermuda Triangle Service

High Swan Dive

Self Released

Bermuda Triangle Service’s Cynthia Wigginton’s resume is quite impressive. She was a founding member of The Doubters and The Bedlam Rovers. She’s also acted as the touring violinist for Alejandro Escovedo and The Mekons. The problem is, up to this point in her career, she’s never held songwriting duties, and it shows on High Swan Dive. Wigginton and the other members of her trio can turn out pleasant enough country-tinged pop songs, but for the most part the disc feels flat and forgettable. The decision to inject a handful of songs with Hawaiian elements helps greatly — Wigginton conceived much of the album’s material while visiting the islands. The occasional inclusion of melodica is a wise choice as well. Still, there’s little in the most basic arrangements of these songs to recommend them over the forerunners of this sound, or over Wigginton’s former outfits, for that matter.

Bermuda Triangle Service: www.bermudatriagleservice.com

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The Chris Stamey Experience

The Chris Stamey Experience

A Question of Temperature

Yep Roc

Once and future dB Chris Stamey issued his first solo record in over a decade last year, Travels in the South. He spent most of that decade manning the soundboard as a producer for folks like Whiskeytown and Alejandro Escovedo. Now, as if making up for lost time, Stamey has issued a quick follow-up; this one a fascinating collaboration with the great Hoboken trio Yo La Tengo. Behind the board is one of the architects of the ’80s southern jangle-pop scene that Stamey was a part of, Mitch Easter. And along for the ride are Caitlin Cary and dBs bandmate (and previous YLT collaborator) Gene Holder, among others.

This record includes a handful of originals, both old and new, plus some well-chosen, politically-charged covers. Although it occasionally has an odds-and-sods disjointed feel, the highlights here are sublime. Following an opening barrage of noise, Stamey and company launch into the bouncy, psychedelic Yardbirds nugget “Shapes of Things.” “Come tomorrow … will I be … a soldier,” Stamey ponders as Yo La Tengo work themselves into a cacophony of sound. They also cover Television’s “Venus,” Tift Merritt’s pretty “Plainest Thing” and a 1970 Eddie Harris/Les McCann tune called “Compared to What” that protested the Vietnam War in words that somewhat echoed a better-known Edwin Starr classic. “The president, he’s got his war / No one knows just what it’s for,” Stamey sings. The dreamy lullaby “Sleepless Nights” is surprisingly not a cover of the Boudleaux Bryant number recorded by the Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons, Elvis Costello and others. Instead, Stamey repeats a simple refrain as YLT add interesting sound effects.

Stamey also re-visits his 1978 single “The Summer Sun” (heard here in two versions), which inspired the title of a 2003 Yo La Tengo release. It sports one of those sweet, inventive pop melodies Stamey was known for back in the dBs days. He performs all the music himself on “Come On,” an instrumental with plenty of ’60s influences. There’s also a standard-issue, early rock and roll-inspired number called “Desperate Man.” And there’s even a jaunty little whistling song with bluegrass quartet Chatham County Line joining in.

But the album’s centerpiece, and reportedly the raison d’etre for the collaboration with Yo La Tengo, is an epic, slow-mo character study called “McCauley Street (Let’s Go Downtown).” It affords Yo La Tengo guitarist Ira Kaplan the opportunity to jam for about four minutes of the song’s ten minutes-plus length. Exceptional stuff.

It’s great to have Stamey back on the other side of the sound booth, giving the fans two stellar releases in a relatively short timeframe. But the best news of all may be that Stamey is reportedly performing and recording with his old dBs bandmates, perhaps ensuring a new jangle-pop revolution for the 21st century.

Chris Stamey: www.chrisstamey.com • Yep Roc: www.yeproc.com

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Music Reviews

The Gourds

The Gourds

Blood of the Ram

Eleven Thirty

Okay, I admit it. I have yet to drink the Kool Aid that would allow me to get where this Austin-based quintet is coming from. Perhaps best known for their 1998 bluegrass take on Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice,” The Gourds have a nice, gritty roots-rock sound. But I find the band’s lyrical experimentation on Blood of the Ram difficult to connect with.

The proceedings do get off to an agreeable start, however. It’s the sound of Louisiana that pervades the opening track, “Lower 48.” Even so, the band manages to squeeze in mention of the other 47 states; “Montana’s cold as the titties on witches,” guitarist Kev Russell sings at one point.

Russell also offers a slab of Memphis soul on “Escalade,” one of the record’s best tracks. It sounds something like John Hiatt covering the Reverend Al Green. “Illegal Oyster” is a loping, banjo-fed number that recalls The Band, a frequent point of comparison for The Gourds (along with NRBQ and Los Lobos). Mandolin colors “On Time,” courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston, a veteran of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco who joined The Gourds in 1999.

But it’s the band’s oddball lyrics that ultimately make The Gourds a love ’em or leave ’em proposition. Southern vernacular, literary references, goofy wordplay and bizarre humor find equal favor here. Bassist Jimmy Smith’s “Let Him In” offers these lines: “Have you been a drinkin’/Old Bacchus taught me well/And yes I do remember/What the hell does that gots to do with anything?” Or how about these memorable lines from “Spanky”: “Why you could serve a turkey/On that man’s belt buckle/Well even if he whooped me/I couldn’t give a fuckle.”

Many rave about The Gourds’ live show and combination of endearing sloppiness and jam band-like virtuosity. For me, I just couldn’t find enough on this disc to pull me in. The down home sounds are nice as far as they go, but the lyrical diversions remain a taste I have yet to acquire.

The Gourds: www.thegourds.com • Eleven Thirty: www.redeyeusa.com/eleventhirty

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Music Reviews

Amy Farris

Amy Farris

Anyway

Yep Roc

Austin native Amy Farris has spent most of her career playing second fiddle (and viola and mandolin) to a host of Texan singer/songwriters. Among them: Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Alejandro Escovedo. She steps out on her own here with an impressive collection of tunes produced by Dave Alvin. Although Farris’s voice is not as distinctive as Willis’s, her songwriting abilities and instrumental prowess shine through on Anyway.

Farris wrote or co-wrote six of the eleven cuts, including the title track, which features multi-tracked vocals out of some ’60s girl group number and a stick-in-your-head chorus. “Pretty Dresses” has an old school country sound with honky-tonk piano and pedal steel. There’s also the blues-y “My Heart’s Too Easy to Break,” with its terrific Alvin guitar solo. The bouncy Sartre-referencing “No Exit” has personality to spare. And the dramatic, castanet-clacking “Let Go” allows Farris to show a deeper vocal range while accompanying herself on both violin and viola.

Unfortunately, she can also sound a bit chirpy on tunes like “Heading East” despite lyrics like, “Well we drank a lot of whiskey in our sterile hotel room/A conscience-stricken bride and a drunken, ghostly groom.”

Farris also covers Robison’s “Drivin’ All Night Long,” harmonizing with herself in a voice that’s a little bit Nanci Griffith, a little bit Exene Cervenka. Speaking of Exene, Farris takes on X’s “Poor Girl” from More Fun in the New World.

A couple of dull torch songs here don’t leave much of an impression, and show that Farris needs to work on setting the mood and conveying emotion in her songs. But Anyway is a promising step to the front of the stage for a talented performer who’s been a back-bencher for far too long.

Amy Farris: www.amyfarris.com / • Yep Roc: www.yeproc.com/

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Music Reviews

Amy Farris

Amy Farris

Anyway

Yep Roc

Austin native Amy Farris has spent most of her career playing second fiddle (and viola and mandolin) to a host of Texan singer/songwriters. Among them: Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Alejandro Escovedo. She steps out on her own here with an impressive collection of tunes produced by Dave Alvin. Although Farris’s voice is not as distinctive as Willis’s, her songwriting abilities and instrumental prowess shine through on Anyway.

Farris wrote or co-wrote six of the eleven cuts, including the title track, which features multi-tracked vocals out of some ’60s girl group number and a stick-in-your-head chorus. “Pretty Dresses” has an old school country sound with honky-tonk piano and pedal steel. There’s also the blues-y “My Heart’s Too Easy to Break,” with its terrific Alvin guitar solo. The bouncy Sartre-referencing “No Exit” has personality to spare. And the dramatic, castanet-clacking “Let Go” allows Farris to show a deeper vocal range while accompanying herself on both violin and viola.

Unfortunately, she can also sound a bit chirpy on tunes like “Heading East” despite lyrics like, “Well we drank a lot of whiskey in our sterile hotel room/A conscience-stricken bride and a drunken, ghostly groom.”

Farris also covers Robison’s “Drivin’ All Night Long,” harmonizing with herself in a voice that’s a little bit Nanci Griffith, a little bit Exene Cervenka. Speaking of Exene, Farris takes on X’s “Poor Girl” from More Fun in the New World.

A couple of dull torch songs here don’t leave much of an impression, and show that Farris needs to work on setting the mood and conveying emotion in her songs. But Anyway is a promising step to the front of the stage for a talented performer who’s been a back-bencher for far too long.

Amy Farris: www.amyfarris.com / • Yep Roc: www.yeproc.com