Austin’s public radio station KUTX 98.9 marks a special milestone Thursday as morning DJ John Aielli celebrates 50 years on the air. Aielli’s show Eklektikos, which airs daily between 6 and 9 a.m. is the stuff of Austin legend, known as much for Aielli’s random musings and his thoughtful interviews with local artists as his eclectic mix of popular and classical music.
To crudely paraphrase Lester Bangs, Austinites may never disagree on anything quite the way we disagree about John Aielli.
“He is very comfortable with people not liking everything he does,” says Paige Maguire, who used to do web design for KUT. “I think the key to his appeal and the key to people not liking him are the exact same thing. He is just operating in his own world.”
Representatives from the city will be on air to recognize Aielli’s achievements and declare “John Aielli Day” in Austin at 8:30 on Thursday. Then, fellow KUTX host Susan Castle will devote her daily “Ocho Loco” segment of listener suggested tunes to “Songs John Aielli Turned You On To” at 11 a.m.
Henry Roland is an Austin music lifer. He logged his first gig on Sixth Street at the legendary old Austin dive, the Black Cat Lounge, when he was just 16. During the ’90s, he played in the regionally popular funk outfit Gingbreadmen, before decamping to NYC for nearly a decade in 1997. When he returned town in 2006, he briefly messed around with rock ‘n’ roll in a band called Starchild, before diving back into his funk roots, this time as a solo act. “I wanted to experiment with how far I could push the looping envelope,” he says. “As far as songs with ‘verse/ pre-chorus/ chorus’.. that sort of song structure that is not common with conventional looping.”
He started playing gigs as a one man band in 2009 and rapidly built a solid following with his energetic live shows. His debut full-length as Henry + the Invisibles, “Musaic,” is due out on Saturday, Sept. 17, and he’ll celebrate at Empire Garage that night. The first single “Whoa” is a funky love song, featuring saxophone licks from Jeff Dazey, who also plays with Leon Bridges.
We caught up with Roland to find out a little more about the release and what’s next for his “Onemanphunkband.”
Austin360: Intricate layers of sound are so integral to funk music. As someone who used to make these sort of songs with a large band, what have you learned about yourself as a musician doing it solo?
Henry Roland: When I first started H+TI, I realized that in order to make the kind of music I wanted to hear I first had to get in some serious practice time. Although I had been a bassist in a few bands while living in NYC, the kind of funk bass I aspired to play was something I had to work for… still am. I also hadn’t played much piano in a live setting until H+TI… or created beats on a drum machine for that matter. I rented out a rehearsal space (a hospital ward in an old pre-war building that used to be a bomb factory… haha, I miss that place sometimes) and basically locked myself up there for about 2 years. It was there I finished my first EP, focused on my craft and made my looping station… what I now call “The Spaceship”.
I guess you could say I learned that with focus and diligence those kinds of musical goals, and I suppose most everything in life, are truly obtainable and ultimately rewarding.
How many instruments do you play and what’s the max you get going at one time on stage?
At a live show I’ll play the keys, guitar, bass, percussion pads, drum machine and I sing… soon to add the alto sax. I try to incorporate the variety of instruments differently for each song and most times use all that I mentioned. Sometimes playing a timbale solo while hitting some accompaniment on the keyboards, or a bass solo while keeping steady on the kick drum. I try to challenge myself with tricky combinations, as far as rhythm syncopation and harmony, and work those kinds of moments in my show. It definitely keeps me on my toes!
Obviously, the financial logistics of touring as a solo act must make a lot of sense, but is it harder to rock a crowd by yourself?
I can honestly say that after having lead a few high energy bands in the past, getting the crowd lit by myself seems quite natural to me. I feel the synergy from an enthusiastic crowd the same way I would feel the on-stage energy when performing with bandmates… it really is a beautiful thing to have that sort of reciprocity with a vibrant audience.
You talk about how the process of putting this album together included “healing myself with the messages of this music.” What do you mean by that and what do you hope other folks take from the album?
Yes, I feel most messages to be healing on this record… “You Made It” talks about how we are in control of our destiny, whether you believe it or not.
“Future” talks about the realization to take action in life. “Inspire” talks about that person or people that inspire you most… in this case I was singing about my fans, but the message could be translated in many ways. “Equinox” is a peace anthem for the World we live in… Lord knows we need it. “Long Way Home”, one of my favorites on the record, is all about the journey we call life and the lessons we learn along the way. “Fly On” is about the loss of a loved one and partly about a relationship that has drifted apart… and there are more tales of life which I feel we all experience and could use some music to help make some sense of it all
I think the beauty of poetry is that personal interpretation will speak to whomever needs the message needed at that time. My hope is that folks are going to appreciate some thoughtful lyrics with some solid grooviness and that the songs will help in some way to make life a bit brighter, and to remind folks to hang in there and to keep love strong in their hearts… and, of course, with the party tracks on this record to start dance parties in their living rooms!
“MUSAIC” is a collection of these emotions and stories that when given a moment to reflect, one will see the big picture of life… or musaic, in this case. Here is my definition I made for the word: MU·SA·IC – /myoo͞ˈzāik/ noun – A picture, pattern, or concept produced by the imagination created by the arrangement of vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to conjure beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.
You won’t see it on TV, but the revelation from Hayes Carll’s taping of “Austin City Limits” on Tuesday night at ACL Live was what happened when he tried to play “KMAG YOYO,” the title track to his 2011 album.
It’s a rapid-fire, wordplay-intensive tune that’s admittedly a challenge to pull off, and Carll crashed it into a brick wall at full speed twice while careening through the third verse. Finally he gave up. “That’s not going to cut it on ‘Austin City Limits,'” he mock-scolded himself. “There’ll be no ad-libbing babble tonight.”
Carll returned to the song in the encore and finally got down a version that should work just fine for the half-hour edit when his episode airs next season. But while the aborted first takes ultimately were a source of lively humor for his fans, they also testified to the change Carll has undergone as a songwriter and performer in recent years.
“Lovers and Leavers,” released in April, found the native Texan returning to his troubadour roots. Over the years since his 2002 debut album, Carll had drifted toward rowdy barroom rockers, but he’d increasingly felt less comfortable with that. It’ll always be a part of his identity, certainly: He cranked the tempo up on other songs in this 16-song set, including “The Lovin’ Cup” and the show-ending “Stomp and Holler.” But it’s clear that his heart is now much more invested in the acoustic avenues he followed on the new album.
Carll played seven of the record’s tracks at this taping, the second one he’s done for ACL. (The first came six seasons ago, in the wake of his breakthrough album “Trouble in Mind.”) Most of the new songs came in the first half of the show, which featured minimal backing from pedal steel guitarist Geoff Queen and percussionist Mike Meadows.
If the arrangements in that section got to be a bit predictable — Carll would play the first verse and chorus solo, then the steel and rhythm would join in — it put the focus squarely on the words, no doubt by design. Such an approach also favored a few extended introductions of the songs, which played well into Carll’s natural gift for storytelling.
He dedicated “Sake of the Song” — an original from the new album that shares a title with a Townes Van Zandt classic — to the late Guy Clark, colorfully recalling a songwriting session he once had with Clark. Prefacing the as-yet unreleased “Jesus and Elvis,” he explained that it was inspired by a visit to the delightfully campy North Austin bar Lala’s. Best of all was his introduction to “The Magic Kid,” a song about his young son’s determination to become a magician. “He knew this thing made his heart sing,” Carll marveled, before letting his own heart sing out the words and melody that his son inspired.
A quick mid-show reset of the stage converted Meadows’ percussion riser into a perch for keyboardist Emily Gimble. Meadows moved to a full drum kit in the back, teaming with bassist John Michael Schoepf for a more traditional full rhythm section. The expanded lineup ran through eight more songs, including the aborted and finally rescued “KMAG YOYO.” Another highlight from the new record was “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” which found soulful singer Gimble sharing the lead vocal with Carll.
At the end of that song, Carll noted that he co-wrote it with Allison Moorer and Jack Ingram, the latter of whom apparently was in the audience. Carll recalled having seen Ingram, a songwriter he admired, on “Austin City Limits” in 1997 and thinking, “maybe there’s a chance” he could get there himself some day. It took more than a decade, but now that he’s appeared twice on the program, it’s clear Carll has made the most of that chance.
1. Bad Liver and a Broken Heart
2. Love Is So Easy
3. Sake of the Song
4. Good While It Lasted
5. Jesus and Elvis
6. Girl Downtown
7. The Magic Kid
9. Love Don’t Let Me Down
10. The Lovin’ Cup
11. The Love That We Need
12. KMAG YOYO (aborted)
13. My Friends
14. Long Way Home
15. Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long
16. KMAG YOYO (revisited)
17. Stomp and Holler
Spoiler alert: Simpson thought the award was meaningless posturing in order to ride on the coattails of a legend mere months after his death.
You can read what he wrote here in full, but the latest development involves none other than Americana artist Jason Isbell.
“Yet, even though [Music Row] mostly go[es] out of [its] way to ignore artists like myself and Jason Isbell, I assure you they are more than aware of our existence. They are also well aware that we don’t need them,” Simpson wrote in a Monday night update to his Facebook post.
Indeed, both his and Isbell’s last records have sold more than 200,000 copies combined with almost no radio support, and both were at No. 1 on the charts shortly after their release.
Isbell was alerted to the commentary on Twitter, and at first backed up whatever Simpson had to say, sight unseen.
“‘You were just on the cover of Garden and Gun which is hands down my favorite magazine. So beautiful,’ Kimberly Perry says in the interview.
‘What was that like? I’m a photographer too and I love that side of things. So how was it shooting for the cover of that magazine?’ Neil Perry asks.
Chris Stapleton responds,
‘That’s a weird story. I’m not sure if I should tell it or not because their magazine’s supposed to be about manners and they don’t have any. They were literally supposed to put Merle Haggard and Sturgill Simpson on the cover, and they did a 30 minute interview with me and Will Smith for what was supposed to be the inside thing. And then they bought a photo off a guy that did a GQ shoot and put it on the cover. And I never knew anything about it. I never was told about it. And Merle was in the hospital when they did that. It wasn’t cool.'”
Stapleton is reportedly being heavily considered for nomination for Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and Single of the Year for “Nobody to Blame” at this year’s ACMs, and Simpson is also being considered for nomination for Album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and New Artist of the Year.
Simpson has already stated he won’t be attending the ceremony because of an already scheduled, sold-out show in Des Moines.
This Week’s Best New Song
From her upcoming album “Country Songs,” the eponymous single from Karen Jonas is a reminder that some of the best country songs are about sad life events. Here’s hoping that this single is the one that breaks her through to a wider audience.
This Week’s Worst New Song
He’s been called the Justin Bieber of country music, because of his start as a YouTube star. But at least Justin Bieber has “Sorry.” And doesn’t label himself as “country.”
This is the Country Music Roundup, a weekly blog where we’ll give you the latest news in country music releases and local country shows. For a more in-depth analysis of the genre and where it’s headed, check back with our weekly Gone Country blog every week.
Questions, comments, suggestions? Let me know on Twitter @jakeharris4 or by email: email@example.com.
The Deer at Waterloo Records. Initially assembled as a backing crew for sweet-toned singer Grace Park — their initial gigs had her name out front — this foursome featuring multi-instrumentalist Jesse Dalton, guitarist/producer Michael McLeod and drummer/keyboardist Alan Ecker is making music that stands out starkly amid the crowded Austin indie landscape. Their collaborative family tree overlaps with the progressive bluegrass of MilkDrive, the electronica spells of Bayonne and the film soundscapes of Richard Linklater. The 17-track “Tempest & Rapture,” initially issued in the spring, gets a double-vinyl release this weekend. The band marries melodic-pop instincts to inventive arrangements and rhythms, resulting in songs that go down easy even when the music is complicated. Free. 5 p.m. 600 N. Lamar Blvd. waterloorecords.com. (The band also plays a full show on Saturday at Strange Brew.) — P.B.
Also:Utopia Fest doesn’t kick off until the end of the month, but organizers throw a local pre-party featuring the heart-yanking confession pop of Les Ravand Shane Cooley & the Stacks at Strange Brew. … The Continental Club hosts a night of soul-seared rock ’n’ roll with NOLA artist Nikki Hilland Austin dynamos Tomar & the FCs. … It’s the Queen Bey vs. the Versace Don as Body Rock ATX matches up ’Yonce and ’Ye at Empire. … Local indie quintet White Label Analog celebrates its new album “In Case You Just Tuned In” on the indoor stage at Stubb’s with Coattails and Please Please Me. … The erstwhile South Austin Jug Band reunites for a show at Threadgill’s South. … Other top roots-rock options include Ramsay Midwood at Antone’s with Two Hoots & a Holler; Carson McHone at the Blackheart with Ben Ballinger and Jake Paleschic; and Barbara Nesbitt at the Townsend.
The Original Wailers at Empire Garage. The spirit of Bob Marley has been strong at Empire this summer. In July, his son, Stephen, opened minds and hearts while celebrating the release of his new collection of hip-hop/reggae fusion at the club. Now the uplifting vibes and vital calls for peace and unity continue as Marley’s longtime guitarist Al Anderson leads the Original Wailers, an ensemble he hand selects to “honor the history and integrity of Bob’s music.” Recently reunited Austin reggae faves Pressure open. $20-$25. 6 p.m. doors. 606 E. Seventh St. empireatx.com. — D.S.S.
B3 Summit at Antone’s. In a move that harkens back to founder Clifford Antone’s fondness for booking B3 masters Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Jack McDuff on the same bill, the club’s new downtown location is convening an impressive quartet of B3 organ masters for a special show. The ringer is Ike Stubblefield, who played on many of the great 1960s Motown records and toured with everyone from B.B. King and Curtis Mayfield to Eric Clapton and Jerry Garcia. He joins local kingpins Mike Flanigin, Red Youngand James Polk for a night that no doubt will have the late Ian McLagan looking down from above and smiling. $12-$15. 10 p.m. 305 E. Fifth St. antonesnightclub.com. — P.B.
Also: Party like a Queen and raise money for AIDS services of Austin at the Freddie For a Day party with Magnifico, at ABGB. Or party like a dog to the sounds of the Stooges, the Buzzcocks and more played by Brendan Bond and friends to raise money for Austin Pets Alive at Barracuda. … Flamenco rock band Del Castillo returns from an extended hiatus to play two sold-out shows at 3Ten. … Louisiana blues guitarist Tab Benoit appears with Rochelle & the Sidewinders at the Parish. … Husband-wife psych-pop outfit Peaking Lights stops by Sidewinder. … Trap rapper Trill Sammy is at Vulcan Gas Company with Dice Soho. … A recent Fool’s Gold Records signee, L.A. producer/DJ Hoodboi, plays Empire. … Texas country fans likely will flock to Nutty Brown Amphitheater for a double bill of Stoney LaRue and Cory Morrow at Nutty Brown. … Other top local roots-rock options include Band of Heathens at the Saxon Pub, Mike Stinson at Little Longhorn Saloon and Blue Water Highway indoors at Stubb’s with Grady Spencer.
Benefit for George Reiff at C-Boy’s. Early reports from Austin bassist George Reiff’s brother indicate that his recovery from brain surgery has gone well after his recent cancer diagnosis. But there’s a long road ahead, and thus his fellow local musicians are continuing with a series of benefit concerts. This one features Joe Pug, the Mastersons, Uncle Lucius, Joe King Carrasco, the Happen-Ins, James McMurtry, and Ian Moore & the Lossy Coils. $20. 8:30 p.m. 2008 S. Congress Ave. cboys.com. — P.B.
Also: It’s hardly a holiday without an obligatory show from Bob Schneider, who celebrates Labor Day at Nutty Brown Amphitheater. … Saxophonist Kyle Turner visits One World Theatre for a jazz and R&B show with trumpeter Joey Sommerville, violinist Michael Ward and singer Pamela Hart. … Dallas country singer Deryl Dodd plays Threadgill’s South with Prophets & Outlaws. … Up north at the original Threadgill’s, some of the participants in the “Threadgill’s Supper Session” live album recorded on Sept. 4, 1991, commemorate its 25th anniversary with an informal gathering. … Monte Warden & the Dangerous Few come down from on high — that is, their usual upstairs perch in the Continental Gallery — to play the 7:30 p.m. slot at the street-level Continental Club, following Casper Rawls’ afternoon “Planet Casper” show and preceding country mainstays Heybale.
ABGB’s Third Anniversary Party. Labor Day 2013 heralded the arrival of the coolest new South Austin hangout in years when Austin Beer Garden Brewing — ABGB for short — opened its doors to serve up in-house beer and pizza. The spacious room soon became a hot spot for local bands as well, so of course there will be live music for this all-day birthday bash. Come early for brewery tours, or arrive at 4 p.m. to see exactly what Leslie Sisson’s Olivia Newton John Project is all about. (If it’s the Moving Panoramas leader singing the likes of “Xanadu” and “Have You Never Been Mellow,” we’re intrigued.) Hear more covers from the Motts (playing Willie Nelson), Draft Punk and We Are Not Men. Free. 1305 W. Oltorf St. theabgb.com. — P.B.
Also: Songwriting great Gary Nicholson brings his Whitey Johnson band to the early Blue Monday show at Antone’s, withNakia & the Blues Grifters extending their residency into September for the late show. … Other top residencies include theChurch on Monday jazz band at the Continental Gallery and Motown Monday with the Nightowls and Matchmaker Band at the Highball, and Mystery Monday with Christine Albert at El Mercado Backstage.
His new album is called “Midnight Motel,” but on Sunday, Sept. 4, country singer Jack Ingram will hit stadium prime time. The University of Texas announced today that Ingram will sing the National Anthem before the Longhorns’ game with Notre Dame at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
It’s a fitting honor for Ingram, whose ties to the Horns include co-hosting the benefit concert series “Mack, Jack & McConnaughey” each year with former UT coach Mack Brown and actor Matthew McConnaughey. Ingram will take the field shortly before the 6:30 p.m. kickoff to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The appearance is part of the Texas Athletics’ concerted effort to involve more Texas music in the university’s sporting events. It follows on the heels of blues-rock guitar great Jimmie Vaughan’s appearance at halftime of last year’s Thankgsiving Day game with Texas Tech.
Live music from Django Walker, son of legendary troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker, will be part of pregame festivities dubbed Texas Football Fan Fest, starting at 3:30 p.m. inside gates 8, 14, 16 and 25 on the north end of the stadium.
Admission to the game is available only to holders of season tickets, which are still available via TexasSports.com/tickets and 512-471-3333.
We caught Ingram on Friday at Waterloo Records as part of “One Night in August,” the latest in our monthly series surveying live music across Austin:
“When we moved here six years ago, we didn’t know anyone,” Jonathan Mahone, the artist better known as Chaka, said as he and his wife, Ghislaine a.k.a. Qi Dada, took the stage at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard on Saturday night. It was about 9:30 p.m. and they looked out on a diverse crowd that cheered wildly in response. A cluster of parents with young children found space in the throng near the front of the stage while other families stretched out on blankets and elders applauded from lawn chairs in the back.
With stellar sets from soul maven Tameca Jones, soon-to-break electro pop artist Mobley, massive hip-hop collective Sip Sip and RAS themselves, Riders Against the Storm Day was a musical bonanza, capped off with some of the best interstellar jazz this side of the galaxy from the Sun Ra Arkestra.
But it was also much more.
The triumphant success of RAS Day, is a testament to the powerful impact the hip-hop group has made on the city they decided to call home. Instead of creating a fan base, they decided to build a community. They created a space for Austin’s Afro-centric arts and wellness scenes to flourish. Go inside the scene on the ground with Reshma Kirpalani’s video.
Blue Monday at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard. Helmed by Harold McMillan, every Monday, the Eastside Blues Syndicate brings together some of Austin’s elder statesmen of jazz and blues and young guns who are picking up the torch for a laid-back blues jam in the rolling open air venue next door to the historic Victory Grill. It’s a low-key, family-friendly event with food trucks and vendors on site. Pay what you can afford. 7 p.m. 1106 E. 11th St. facebook.com/kennydorhamsbackyard. — D.S.S.
Also: The Continental Club is undergoing renovations for a few days, so Dale Watson & His Lone Stars are taking their Monday residency down the street to C-Boy’s Heart & Soul for a night. … Hotel Vegas celebrates Michael Jackson’s birthday party with DJ Dennis Jimenez. … Prog rockers Finite Fidelity headline an inside show at the Mohawk. … Joining host Christine Albert for Mystery Monday at El Mercado Backstage are first-class local instrumentalists Rich Brotherton and Kym Warner. … Singer-songwriter Jane Ellen Bryant wraps up a month of Mondays at Geraldine’s.
Durawa with Chris Duarte at Strange Brew. Drummer Ernie Durawa, whose distinguished career has included tenures in the Texas Tornados and Delbert McClinton’s band, is so beloved at Strange Brew that the club officially named its stage after him last year. He holds down a weekly early evening-slot that features a different special guest each week, often bringing in friends who are ringers for a small-room performance. This week he welcomes hot guitarist Chris Duarte, who recently moved back to Austin after many years in Atlanta. $6. 6 p.m. (Separate-ticket shows later feature Bruce Hughes at 8 p.m. and Band of Babies at 10 p.m.) 5326 Manchaca Road. strangebrewloungeside.com. — P.B.
Also: Eclectic four-string talent Linda Akinkunm, a.k.a. Violinda, plays an inside show at Stubb’s. … Beerland hosts a 9/11 Noisefest Fundraiser with Aunt’s Analog, Quttiniripaaq, Kiran Arora and more. … Spider House’s Sun Sets series presents a free early show with Leticia Rodriguez. … The Continental Club may be closed for a few days, but the upstairs Continental Gallery is still open, with James McMurtry holding court for his usual Tuesday acoustic show. … There’s great talent all evening long at the Saxon Pub, starting with Casper Rawls‘ happy-hour set followed by Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh at 8 p.m. and then Bonnie Whitmore at 10 p.m.
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals at ACL Live. Harper’s new record “Call It What It Is” is a broad musical platter that serves up his signature folksy but soulful rock with a hearty double helping of blues. Harper tackles the hard issues, the polarizing racial strife and police brutality that have defined the past few years, on an album that’s a deeply reflective portrait of the artist who has gracefully matured into a thoughtful middle aged man. This tour finds Harper reuniting with his longtime touring band the Innocent Criminals for the first time in seven years. (They’ll stick around to tape an episode of “Austin City Limits” on Thursday.) It’s worth noting that the Dixie Chicks have been closing their current tour with Harper’s tune “Better Way.” $49.50-$65. 8 p.m. 310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd. acl-live.com. — D.S.S.
Also: Sun Radio’s “Texas Radio Live” series at Guero’s features Bob Livingston’s outfit Cowboys & Indians plus honky-tonker Weldon Henson. … 3Ten’s free summer series “The Wine Down” is indeed winding down, with Blue Healer playing the next-to-last event. … You can’t go wrong all night at Antone’s, with Bill Carter and the Tommy Shannon Blues Band early plus Eve & the Exiles late.
Krewella at Parish. It’s been a busy summer for EDM artists Krewella. Following a contentious split with a third member, sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf released their first EP as a duo, landed a residency at a Vegas mega-club and even took a break to cover the Democratic National Convention for Billboard. The new songs blend melodic pop hooks into an electro-grinder of beat-drop EDM. This is the duo’s tour kickoff. Technically sold out. 8 p.m. doors. 214 E. Sixth St. theparishaustin.com. — D.S.S.
Also: It’s a big night for KGSR’s “Unplugged at the Grove” at Shady Grove as local treasures Marcia Ball, Carolyn Wonderland and Shelley King team up. … Americana artist Rob Baird is at 3Ten. …Alt-hip-hop producer the Gaslamp Killer plays Kingdom. … Flatulent punks Beltones play Grizzly Hall with Punks on Parade. … Husband-wife duo the Stacks mix up old-timey blues and gospel at Barracuda on a bill that also includes great local party-punk band Basketball Shorts. … Cactus Cafe features rising local stars Carson McHone and Ben Ballinger plus Jake Paleschic. … Sweetheart Studios celebrates one year with JD Clark, Slow Motion Cowboys and more at Hotel Vegas.
Brad Paisley is modern country music’s greatest guitarist. There is no denying this fact. No other mainstream artist who sings, writes and performs his own songs can play the six strings better than Paisley can. Take a listen to the entire “Play” album if you don’t believe me. Paisley seemed destined for country stardom from youth; he was opening for country acts such as The Judds, Ricky Skaggs and George Jones as a middle schooler.
That talent has been showcased on 11 albums, with another on the way. His technical prowess on the axe is rivaled only by his ability to make fun of himself and craft elaborate set pieces, sometimes at the same time. The music videos for “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” “Celebrity” and “Online” were breaths of fresh air on CMT in the early aughts, when CMT still aired music videos on a regular basis. His songs, especially when he was first starting out, were modern, but recalled early bluegrass and the heroes of old country showbiz like Little Jimmy Dickens and Buck Owens.
All of that is to say, Brad Paisley is extremely talented. Which is why it’s sad that his performance Friday night at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park felt lacking.
When you’re that talented, it goes without saying that you practice. You practice a lot. And when you take your show out on tour, you have to plan it out down to a T. That means when you can’t get famous duet partners Demi Lovato, Randy Owens and Carrie Underwood to join you live, you have them pre-record video segments that play along with you as you sing (the Underwood one was made to look like a completely improvised FaceTime call).
It also means, when you play your college football-themed “Country Nation,” you definitely tailor the accompanying video to the city you’re playing in. Friday night’s show featured the Longhorns; Saturday’s show in Dallas may feature a shoutout to the SMU Mustangs or TCU’s Horned Frogs. His September show at West Virginia University will most definitely feature a video dedicated to the Mountaineers.
And it also means that the set pieces are fantastic and pulled off to perfection— the stage during “Online” lit in futuristic blue hues out from “Tron“; the house lights bathing the crowd in warm purple during the love ballad “She’s Everything.”
All of the pageantry, technical wizardry and ace guitar playing were technically profound, but felt empty. It felt at times like Paisley was reciting instead of performing. The guitar solos tacked onto some of the songs felt planned rather than organic. Even the stage banter between tourmates Maddie & Tae and Tyler Farr seemed scripted in some parts. (Perhaps Paisley’s eight-years-and-counting stint as the host of the CMAs has influenced his concerts more than he would think.)
But that’s not to say the collaborations weren’t warmly felt. Maddie & Tae’s interpretation of Alison Krauss’ verse on “Whiskey Lullaby” was one of the crowd highlights of the night.
The only real, seemingly authentic moment of the show, even though it’s been documented at other stops on the tour, was when Paisley preformed a new humorous song about the dangers of taking selfies you regret.
At the end of the night, all the hits were sung. All the right notes were hit. The production looked fantastic. But even when Paisley led the crowd in a closing sing-along, it was clear that he was still firmly in his “Southern Comfort Zone.”
“American Saturday Night”
“Without a Fight” (with a prerecorded Demi Lovato sing-along)
“This Is Country Music”/”Mama Tried” (with Kevin Fowler)
“I’m Still a Guy” (with Tyler Farr)
“Whiskey Lullaby” (with Maddie & Tae)
“Old Alabama” (with a prerecorded Alabama sing-along)
“Beat This Summer”
“I’m Gonna Miss Her”
“You Oughta Be Ashamed Of Your Selfie”
“Remind Me” (with a prerecorded Carrie Underwood sing-along)
“Southern Comfort Zone”
“Mud on the Tires”
“On the Road Again” (with Kevin Fowler, Tyler Farr and Maddie & Tae)
“One Night in August” is the fifth installment of our monthly series in which we visit a half-dozen local music hot spots on a single evening. Austin overflows with live music on weekends, and thus our options were plentiful. We hit a variety of locations, from a longtime standby to a brand new venue to a campus haunt to a record store to a couple of hotel bars. Here’s what we heard:
5 p.m.: Jack Ingram at Waterloo Records. Celebrating the release of “Midnight Motel,” his first album in seven years, the Texas troubadour treated fans to an extended sampling of new tunes plus a poignant set-closing cover of Guy Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.” These Waterloo in-stores usually run a half-hour at most. But in the spirit of his new album, which includes extended spoken introductions and casual banter with his bandmates, Ingram kept the vibe loose and rambling as he played for almost an hour.
He seemed especially pleased that the store had the new record on vinyl, remarking it was the first time he’d ever seen one of his albums in that format. Before heading to a table in back to sign records for fans after the set, Ingram joked that he might buy a vinyl copy and sign it for himself.
6:30 p.m.: Amanda Cevallos at the Hyatt Regency. With its towering atrium and glass elevators zipping by constantly, the spacious open lobby at the Hyatt could feel a little intimidating to a solo singer-songwriter. But if that was the case, you sure couldn’t tell from the confident and poised performance Cevallos delivered to a modest crowd scattered around the bar and restaurant in South Austin’s grandest hotel.
Singing beautifully both in English and in Spanish, Cevallos — who regularly plays joints such as the Continental, White Horse and ABGB with her honky-tonk outfit the High Hands — surveyed country classics from the likes of Hank Thompson and Randy Travis. Toward the end, she slipped in a couple of her own original tunes, including one called “I’m Not Going Back to Smithville” that she wrote after a friend made that vow. “I thought, ‘That’s a country song if I ever heard one!'”
7:30 p.m.: Rich Harney & Redd Volkaert at the Driskill Hotel. Though many Austin clubs have gotten hip to happy-hour gigs over the last couple of decades, hotel bars remain viable standbys to catch early-evening sets, and nobody has done it better, or longer, than the Driskill. It helps that the historic hotel regularly books some of the city’s finest musicians, like this pairing between jazz pianist Harney and country guitarist Volkaert.
The two traded off occasional vocal numbers, sprinkled between lively instrumentals that sought out the swinging common ground where jazz and country come together. One of the coolest things about the Driskill is that a few seats sidle up literally right next to the piano, and three patrons took advantage of that spot as Harney dug deep into the Bessie Smith classic “Salt Water Blues.” (Elsewhere in the crowd, we spotted luminaries from the local scene including boogie-woogie piano great Marcia Ball and nightclub owner Susan Antone.)
8:30 p.m.: Water & Rust at the Cactus Cafe. Heading up to the University of Texas campus, we were greeted by the surprise sight of a fully lighted orange tower, apparently in celebration of the Longhorn Network’s fifth anniversary. (Used to be those lightings were reserved for more significant occasions, but, well, it was a pretty sight regardless.) Our destination was the storied room in the Texas Union Building where Water & Rust was impressing a mostly full house with its electic, acoustic-based music.
Combining guitars, percussion and fiddle with radiant four-tiered harmonies, the quartet has created a sound that’s unlike anything else being done in Austin right now. Part folk, part gospel, and touching on R&B and jazz, they have their own style, as well as an easy banter onstage. Casually joshing with each other and the audience, they’ll occasionally tap into a revealing cover, as with the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” on this night.
9:15 p.m.: Don Harvey & A Is Red at the Townsend. “I’m having a 60-year-old moment,” drummer Harvey cracked as he tried to recall the intro to a song in this avant garde band’s set that was booked partly to celebrate his 60th birthday. Long one of Austin’s most accomplished drummers, Harvey played with Ian McLagan, Charlie Sexton, David Halley and many others before forming this mostly instrumental combo to explore esoteric avenues.
The five-piece group sounded especially engaging in the Townsend’s acoustically primed black-box space. “This room was built to hear music in,” Harvey marveled. Those who couldn’t fit into the tight confines could still hear and watch the band in the venue’s front bar area, which pipes in not only the audio but also the video on three large, artful digital screens that feel almost like live-action paintings hung on the wall. Sure beats a sports-bar TV setup, if you’re here for the music.
10 p.m.: Belle Sounds at the Saxon Pub. Fridays at the Saxon are anchored by guitarist Denny Freeman’s wildly popular happy-hour gig, but the music rolls on throught the night with subsequent separate shows, and so we caught this fine folk-rock five-piece at the tail end of their 9 p.m. show (before Hector Ward & the Big Time closed things out at 11 p.m.). The Saxon has plans to move further south in a year or two, but for now, its venerable South Lamar home remains an anchor on the local scene.
It’s tempting to draw parallels between Belle Sounds and Fleetwood Mac, given the triple-threat interplay between band leader Noelle Hampton, masterfully atmospheric guitarist Andre Moran and keyboardist-vocalist Emily Shirley. Backed by bassist-vocalist Nathan Harlan and drummer Jim Echels, they play sophisticated pop originals and have a great rapport with the audience, whether they’re joking about which bad TV theme songs they should consider covering (“Different Strokes”? “Three’s Company”?) or giving props to the club’s highly respected soundman, Richard Vannoy.
Join us again next month for “One Night in September” — date to be determined.
One Night, By the Numbers: 8.7 miles driven (from Point 1 to Point 6, not including to and from home). $3 spent on parking (street meters downtown); probably about a mile total of walking from parking spaces to venues, as weekend nights often require finding spots a little further from the venues. Admission charges: Free at Waterloo, Hyatt Regency and Driskill. The Townsend often charges a cover, but Harvey’s birthday show was free. Saxon Pub and Cactus Cafe: $10 each.