Austin blues rocker Gary Clark Jr. was just days away from playing the Paris club at the heart of Friday’s terror attacks.
Clark is touring Europe, with gigs in London on Saturday, Sunday and Monday before heading to Paris, according his tour schedule. Clark’s schedule had him set to play Le Bataclan in Paris next Wednesday, but the club was the site of shootings and a hostage situation as the French capital came under an apparent terror attack Friday night.
Another American band, Eagles of Death Metal from Palm Desert, Calif., was playing the club at the time of the attack.
Each week, Austin360 music writers Eric Webb and Deborah Sengupta Stith listen to a wide variety of new albums and singles and offer first impressions on the Austin360 Periscope account. We put our favorite new songs from the week into the 360 Mixtape. Consider it your new music soundtrack to get you through the week.
DSS: After Gary Clark Jr.’s ‘Austin City Limits’ taping last night, I’m in full Stan mode, but I already was in love with this track. The acoustic guitar is a nice change of pace for Clark. It sets the stage for his vocals to really shine, particularly when laced with the lovely female vocal harmonies on the chorus. Also, that’s Clark playing harmonica, because the man oozes blues.
EW: This is a softer side of Clark that I think is good to hear. Since he’s arguably the biggest name from Austin’s music scene right now (in a national crossover sense, at least), a departure from the hot-guts blues that he’s made famous also reflects a different side of his hometown. This a beautiful, subdued trip to, well, church.
EW: Breaking free of the Disney mold isn’t just for Miley, Selena and Demi anymore. The erstwhile JoBro almost matches the smash success of “Jealous” with this slick club gem. I’m not ready to say that he’s evoking Michael Jackson here, but I am prepared to say that he’s evoking serial-MJ-emulators Jason Derulo and Bruno Mars. Nick is bringing the bedroom falsetto as usual, though filtered through that stuffed-up-nose voice that I might get used to soon. Bottom line: “Levels” pulses with bass-pumping mischief. Going up, please.
DSS: Wait, what’s this weird, uncontrollable twitching in my hips. Head. Won’t. Stop. Bopping. I’m dancing to Nick Jonas. You’re blowing my mind here, Webb.
DSS: I put this album on while I was cleaning this weekend and for the first half I was actively annoyed (and not just because my house was a mess). Most of these songs feel like they are trying so hard to be on the next R&B Radio Hitz compilation. Very generic. By the end, I was less irritated. She has a nice smoky tone on some tracks but even the better songs are still snoozy.
EW: Not bad, just generic. I think there’s a line of sexiness that this does not cross that maybe it should have. But what do I know? I voted for Blake Lewis.
EW: Finally! The most anticipated album (by me) of 2015 is here! My CRJ enthusiasm has been well-covered in previous new releases blogs, but I’ve got to say that everything you might have read about “Emotion” is true. It’s a better 1980s synthpop tribute than Taylor Swift’s “1989.” It’s a smart, earnest synthesis of the Debbie Gibson/Tiffany sound and indie-friendly production by the likes of Dev Hynes. Jepsen reportedly went out of her way to make a critically acclaimed follow-up to “Kiss” instead of trying to capture “Call Me Maybe” lightning in a second bottle. She succeeds. Seductive ballads like “All That” (which sounds exactly like a Blood Orange track) work a little less effectively than shiny rock candy like “Boy Problems” and “Run Away With Me,” but all in all, this is a drum-machine-skittering, Laffy-Taffy-bass-strumming, earnestly joyful take on all things romantic. Consider that the singles from this album have made little chart traction so far, and wonder why that is.
DSS: I’m not fully sold on this yet, but it’s a lot better than I thought it would be and deserves a full listen. Also, it makes me happy to see how happy it makes Eric.
EW: I like Carrie Underwood in general, though she represents a religious devotion to the Nashville machine sound, and her big ol’ voice doesn’t always connect to the lyrics the way one might want. Big swells and a story-song template swirl among working-class imagery. Feel free to throw back a Shiner as you listen, but don’t look for any wheel reinvention. But what do I know? I voted for Bo Bice.
DSS: Carrie Underwood is patently inoffensive by design and so is this track.
EW: Forgot to spin this one on Periscope, but I think it’s worth including here. I’m not entirely sold on this British band’s particular brand of uber-dramatic post-punk emoting. “All the Sad Young Men,” at least, makes me feel like I’m running down underground to a dive bar in a West End town. See what you think.
Given that Wednesday’s 33rd annual Austin Music Awards at the Convention Center Ballroom ran a good four and a half hours, it seems the shifting of some presentations to last week’s separate Industry Awards event didn’t necessarily mean for a swift night at the main show. But judging from the size and response of the crowd as the celebration hit full gear in its final two hours, Austin seemed plenty happy with the changes.
It helped that the final two musical segments were brilliantly conceived and presented. The “Return to Austin High” segment featuring notable musical alumni from the city’s historic namesake school brought out brilliant performances from the likes of indie sensation Shakey Graves, hip-hop artist Phranchyze and jazz saxophone master Elias Haslanger before childhood pals Gary Clark Jr. and Eve Monsees took the stage together to drive it home with blazing bluesy rock ‘n’ roll.
An earlier themed set, titled “Viva La Diva,” had featured performances by Gina Chavez, who received multiple honors including Album of the Year in the final award presentation later, as well as Tameca Jones, Sunny Sweeney, Nina Diaz, Jazz Mills, Sunny Sweeney, Dana Falconberry and Carson McHone. But the show-stopper was the final set of the night, a stirring tribute to the late Austin keyboardist Ian McLagan of the Small Faces and Faces.
McLagan’s longtime Bump Band mates Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Jon Notarthomas and Don Harvey all took part, with a handful of A-list locals also paying their respects. Alejandro Escovedo joined in for “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” a Kinks song he recorded with McLagan last year for the ALL-ATX benefit CD, and Patty Griffin sang a beautiful rendition of McLagan’s poignant “Never Say Never Again,” which she’d sung with him on David Letterman’s show a few years ago.
The bill had promised a special guest, which turned out to be Little Steven Van Zandt. The E Street Band guitarist and “Sopranos” actor came aboard for the Small Faces classic “Tin Soldier” and stuck around for a grand finale that included the Faces’ “Stay With Me” and “Ooh La La,” the latter of which featured most of the evening’s performers crowding onto the stage and singing along: “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger…”
The other reason the McLagan segment, and the whole evening, worked so well was the addition of a house band that would be the envy of any city in the world. With guitarist Charlie Sexton as bandleader, the rhythm section of bassist George Reiff and drummer Conrad Choucroun locked in step all night, with Michael Ramos providing essential keyboard support.
The authority of their presence almost demands a return next year, though this year’s model will be hard to top. The awards show has hosted many memorable moments in the past, from Townes Van Zandt and Daniel Johnston appearing on the same bill at the old Palmer Auditorium in 1990 to Bruce Springsteen crashing the party at Austin Music Hall in 2012. But no show ever felt as dialed in to the city’s musical identity as this one did. It’s only Wednesday, but the Music Awards easily will go down as one of the highlights of this year’s SXSW.
As part of our year-end package in last Friday’s Austin360 section of the American-Statesman, we picked our personal top 10 local releases of the year. Those lists of favorite records didn’t necessarily skew toward some of Austin’s highest-profile albums of 2014, so what follows is an additional list of 10 major Austin records that came out in the past 12 months.
Below that is another bonus list — 10 notable 2014 records that may not be entirely local, but feature strong Austin ties. And finally, our personal lists from Friday’s paper are recapped at the end. All lists are presented in no particular order.
Spoon, “They Want My Soul.” Britt Daniel, Jim Eno and company made a big move by leaving Merge Records for the major-label affiliate Loma Vista. “They Want My Soul” equaled the chart performance of their last record, 2010’s “Transference,” by debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.
Willie Nelson, “Band of Brothers.” Willie co-wrote most of the album’s 14 tracks with producer Buddy Cannon, marking the first time since 1996’s “Spirit” that he’d put out an album of primarily new original material. It debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and hit No. 1 on the country chart.
Shakey Graves, “And the War Came.” Alejandro Rose-Garcia broke through to national audiences with his first record on the influential indie Dualtone, appearing on Conan O’Brien’s late-night show and playing a major Americana Music Association outdoor concert in Nashville with the Avett Brothers.
Ruthie Foster, “Promise of a Brand New Day.” Like its two predecessors, Foster’s latest received a blues Grammy nomination, though its contents also draw heavily upon folk and gospel.
Eliza Gilkyson, “The Nocturne Diaries.” Also nominated for a Grammy, in the folk category, was the latest collection from one of Austin’s longest-tenured singer-songwriters; it’s Gilkyson’s first Grammy nomination since 2004’s “Land of Milk and Honey.”
Marcia Ball, “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man.” Ball has had plenty of Grammy nominations herself, and while her fifth album for the Alligator label didn’t get one, it’s another sure-fire collection of broad-ranging rootsy material from this Austin-via-Louisiana institution.
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, “Our Year.” Austin’s first couple of country music took a long time to release their first collaborative record with last year’s marvelous “Cheater’s Game,” but they issued their second disc quite quickly, turning a bit more toward covers this time (including the title-track remake of the Zombies hit).
Jamestown Revival, “Utah.” Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance moved back to Austin after a couple years in Los Angeles and issued an impressive album that got picked up by major label Republic Records this fall for national release.
Christopher Cross, “The Secret Ladder.” Cross is also back in Austin from California, though he was out there for decades after breaking through to pop stardom in the 1980s. He’s been a welcome presence at the All-ATX HAAM benefit concerts, and he played a memorable Waterloo Records in-store when this record came out in September.
Dale Watson, “The Truckin’ Sessions Trilogy.” Part reissue, part new release, this triple-set from Austin’s increasingly high-profile honky-tonk man gathered his two previous “Truckin’ Sessions” volumes and added a fresh batch of similarly themed material.
LISTEN TO OUR FAVORITE LOCAL RELEASES ON SPOTIFY
10 NOTABLE 2014 RELEASES WITH AUSTIN TIES
Spanish Gold, “South of Nowhere.” Only one member of this trio lives in Austin, but guitarist Adrian Quesada is a major presence on the local scene, and this was one of the year’s most auspicious debut records.
Delines, “Colfax.” Another terrific debut, this disc from the Portland, Oregon, band spearheaded by Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin spotlights the spectacular lead vocals of Amy Boone, who made her mark in Austin in the 1990s with the Damnations. The group reportedly had a brief in-studio reunion in Austin in December to record a track with Shinyribs’ Kevin Russell for an upcoming Ted Hawkins tribute album.
Various artists, “Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne.” This impressive collection featured major national names such as Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt, but because it was issued by Austin label Music Road, it also featured quite a few locals, including Bob Schneider, Shawn Colvin, Jimmy LaFave, Kevin Welch and Eliza Gilkyson.
Delta Spirit, “Into the Wide.” Dualtone Records issued the fourth album from this rock band that has ties to Southern California and Brooklyn but includes singer-guitarist Matt Vasquez, who grew up in Austin and moved back here this year.
Billy Joe Shaver, “Long in the Tooth.” Though Texas legend Shaver doesn’t technically live in Austin, he’s here enough to have honorary status, and he got lots of attention for this release (including a duet with Willie Nelson on David Letterman’s show in December).
Amy LaVere, “Runaway Diary.” Rootsy bassist and songwriter LaVere hails from Memphis, but expect to see her around these parts a lot more after her recent marriage to Austin guitarist Will Sexton, who’s featured on the album.
Charlie Mars, “The Money.” The Mississippi singer-songwriter visits often — he had a couple months of weekly residencies at the Saxon Pub this year — and he used an Austin backing band for the third album in what he calls his Texas trilogy.
NRBQ, “Brass Tacks.” The legendary East Coast bar band features only Terry Adams from the original lineup, but the shuffles opened up the drummer’s chair for Austin ace Conrad Choucroun, whose mug is pominently featured on the album cover.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, “Love Yourself.” The band hails from California, but when your frontman is Willie Nelson’s son, the connections to Austin are natural.
Bobby Patterson, “I Got More Soul.” Dallas is home for the classic old-school R&B/soul crooner, but this record was made in Austin with Zach Ernst from the Black Joe Lewis band.
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH’S TOP 10
Gary Clark Jr., “Live.” It might be unfair to put a major national release in amongst the locals, but every Austinite should be proud to own this electrifying work from a homegrown instrumental genius that perfectly builds on Austin’s blues rock roots legacy.
Brownout, “Brownout presents Brown Sabbath.” An unholy marriage of congas, horns and vaguely satanic declarations come together to form the greatest Latin funk/heavy metal mashup ever put to wax.
Golden Dawn Arkestra, self-titled (EP). Expansive, psychedelic jams unwind into layered compositions, rich with texture, rhythm and groove.
Mindz of a Different Kind, “Sarah Bellum.” Laying “vivid rhyme schemes” over lush hip-hop grooves sliced with sharp cuts and scratches, this free mixtape establishes the crew of Cipher Austin alums as one of Austin hip-hop’s next great hopes.
Gina Chavez, “Up.Rooted.” With her clear and beguiling alto, Chavez guides the listener on a musical journey through Latin folk rhythms, hip-switching cumbias and straight-ahead pop.
Sour Notes, “Do What May.” I love the band’s loosely retro indie-rock joints, but it’s the gorgeous swells bubbling up on songs like the heartachingly melancholy “In the Meanwhile” that seal the deal.
Magna Carda, “Like It Is.” Austin’s full-band hip-hop crew is maturing into something fantastic. They slipped this platter of smooth grooves and smart rhymes in under the wire to provide the perfect soundtrack to ease you through the holiday stress and into 2015.
Ume, “Monuments.” Epic, driving, hair-whipping, head-banging blasts of hard rock from the soon-to-be-famous local trio.
Blxpltn, “Black Cop Down.” Take no prisoners, kick down the doors afropunk that captures the simmering social rage that’s come to the forefront of the national consciousness in the last six months.
Roger Sellers “Primitives.” Loop pedal artists are a dime a dozen these days, but Sellers is some kind of musical mad scientist. He’s thoroughly captivating live, and his electronic compositions are utterly engrossing.
PETER BLACKSTOCK’S TOP 10
Stephen Doster, “Arizona.” Brilliant, sophisticated pop songcraft from an Austin mainstay who plays regularly around town but hadn’t issued a record since the 1990s.
Willie Nelson & Sister Bobbie, “December Day: Willie’s Stash Vol. 1.” Willie’s “Band of Brothers” was his higher-profile 2014 release, but there’s a subtle beauty to this collection with his piano-playing sibling.
Mastersons, “Good Luck Charm.” Another collection of great rootsy pop by this husband-wife duo who also play in Steve Earle’s band.
Ian McLagan, “United States.” A bittersweet but superb last album from the legendary British keyboardist who became a beloved Austin fixture in his final 20 years.
Christine Albert, “Everything’s Beautiful Now.” The Grammy exec put her creative talents back into focus with an exquisite set of personal originals and well-chosen covers.
Elias Haslanger & Church on Monday, “Live at the Gallery.” A terrific document of arguably the most rewarding residency gig in a city that’s full of them.
Ray Benson, “A Little Piece.” Asleep at the Wheel will be back in full swing next year, but Benson wisely spent much of 2014 promoting a solo record that revealed more about his own heart as an artist.
Betty Soo, “When We’re Gone.” One of Austin’s rising talents fully came into her own with this challenging yet accessible singer-songwriter record.
Timberos Del Norte, self-titled. Deep danceable grooves driven by ebullient horns and vocals mark this collection of Cuban music that sounds like it could have come straight out of Havana but was made right here.
Various artists, “All ATX: British Invasion.” The annual disc benefiting Health Alliance for Austin Musicians reached a new high this year, with local acts taking on a variety of 1960s classic rock and pop songs from the U.K.
Are you an Austin-area act with a new record coming out? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary Clark Jr.’s song “When My Train Pulls In,” from his “Blak and Blu” album, provides the music for a seven-minute video narrative directed by Carmela Makela that makes its debut this week on nowness.com. (Parts of the video are NSFW.)
Clark’s camp also announced that in addition to his July 4, 2015, appearance at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., as part of the Foo Fighters’ 20th anniversary concert, he’ll also do a month of dates with the Foo Fighters next September and October. Clark was featured prominently in the Foo Fighters’ recent Austin episode of their HBO series “Sonic Highways.”
He’ll spend a couple weeks next spring touring Australia. Full tour dates are here
About the time Jimmie Vaughan walked onstage to join Gary Clark Jr., who was already out there, the Foo Fighters’ nearly three-hour “Austin City Limits” taping pretty much went off the hook — and off the script, too.
A pumped-up packed house at ACL Live helped the TV show bring a rousing close to its 40th season, which continues airing on public television stations through the winter and spring. The two local blues guitar greats’ guest appearances midway through Thursday evening’s performance helped push the Foo Fighters to another level — one that included a lengthy detour through classic-rock covers before finally wrapping up with a one-two punch of the band’s own “Best of You” and “Everlong.”
Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl developed a special relationship over the past year with “Austin City Limits” executive producer Terry Lickona, who was interviewed for the recent Austin episode of HBO’s “Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways” series. Lickona also provided the band access to the show’s former home, KLRU Studio 6A, for their HBO filming. Thursday night, Grohl seemed bent on returning the favor.
The band opened with a blistering eight-song rampage, including older staples such as “Times Like These” and “My Hero” as well as the new album track “The Feast and the Famine,” that took up almost the first hour of the show. Grohl explained that they’d charged through the initial segment because they had a long night planned and wanted “to play until they kick us out. Are you cool with that?” You can guess the crowd’s answer.
Part of the occasion for the taping was the “Sonic Highways” series’ accompanying album, which came out earlier this month. “Congregation,” from the Nashville episode, seemed to rev up the band members at a midpoint where they otherwise might have started flagging; that led directly into “What Did I Do/God As My Witness,” the new album’s two-tiered standout that was recorded in Austin.
Clark played on the recorded version, so it was no surprise when the guitarist emerged from stage right and helped the band drive it home. On the album, the tune fades out as Clark’s solo rages on, but the live setting offered an opportunity to stretch it, and they took full advantage. Clark’s deeply rooted blues licks served as more of a collision with the Foos’ fevered rock attack than a blending of the two styles, but it was no less fascinating for the contrast.
The real fun began when Grohl insisted Clark stay onstage as they brought out Vaughan and launched into “Tuff Enuff,” the signature song of Vaughan’s Fabulous Thunderbirds. That turned out to be foreshadowing for a home stretch during which the band unraveled with covers that included Queen & David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.”
Most entertaining was a take on the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” in which Grohl turned the lead vocals over to drummer Taylor Hawkins and strolled through the audience, taking a short break to watch the band from the sound board before finally returning and joining Hawkins behind the drum kit. Midway through the song, with most eyes fixed on Grohl’s theater-wandering, Clark snuck back out and chimed in on guitar.
If they didn’t get to Roky Erickson’s “Two Headed Dog” (which was on the set list), and missed an opportunity to finally have the Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes on “Austin City Limits” (something Haynes had joked about during the “Sonic Highways” episode), well, you can’t do everything. Or maybe they’re just holding those cards for a return visit.