On a lineup that includes Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt, it can be hard to stand out. Still, when those artists and more gather at the Erwin Center for Friday’s sold-out “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” hurricane relief benefit, the act I’m most intrigued to see is Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.
In some respects, it’s not surprising that the bill includes Brickell’s band, which rose up quickly from Dallas three decades ago with a 1988 album that went double-platinum and featured the top-10 single “What I Am.” The band split up shortly after the 1990 follow-up “Ghost of a Dog,” and in 1992 Brickell married Paul Simon, who she met when the band played “Saturday Night Live” in the fall of 1988. The couple raised three children in the ensuing 25 years; Brickell released a few solo albums and lately has collaborated with comedian Steve Martin on his bluegrass albums.
With Simon among Friday’s headliners, adding Brickell was an easy call, but it’s especially intriguing that her band is also aboard. They’ve played a handful of Dallas dates in recent years, including a hurricane benefit with the Old 97’s last weekend. But the last Edie Brickell & New Bohemians show in Austin was more than 17 years ago, at La Zona Rosa in June 2000.
The present-day New Bohemians lineup features all five musicians who made the group’s first recording in 1986: Brickell, guitarist Kenny Withrow, bassist Brad Houser, percussionist John Bush and drummer Brandon Aly. That recording, an independent cassette-only release, featured early versions of several songs that ended up on the band’s Geffen Records debut “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars,” including “What I Am.”
Geffen insisted on adding “Edie Brickell and” to the band’s name, against their wishes. “It’s just unnatural; I’m not comfortable with it,” Brickell told me in a December 1988 interview before a New Bohemians show at the Back Room (now Emo’s).
More profound damage was done when Geffen executives dismissed Aly during the “Shooting Rubberbands” sessions. But his return to the lineup after the band’s radio heyday spoke to the bond these musicians have for each other.
Though they’ll always be most associated with Dallas, the New Bohemians have a distinct Austin imprint now. Houser and Bush live here and have become integral players in the local music community. Keyboardist Matt Hubbard, a longtime Austinite who’s recorded with many luminaries and plays regularly at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, will be in the lineup for the Erwin Center benefit.
Another local player joining them Friday is Skyrocket guitarist Kyle Crusham, who’s been producing new tracks for the band at Austin’s Arlyn Studios. New Bohemians reconvened in 2006 for the Fantasy Records album “Stranger Things,” but the Arlyn sessions may lead to their first release in more than a decade.
The band played a couple of benefit shows a few years ago in Blanco, where Aly now lives, but Bush acknowledged earlier this week that “it’s been a long time coming to play in Austin.” The next wait won’t be so long, he added. “We’re looking forward to doing our own gig here sometime soon. We’ve got a new record in the can, and we’re working on more stuff as well.”