Austin Chronicles: Craftsmen At Work!

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By Brian Wise.

Austin, Texas – Monday September 25, 2017

Dan Penn /The Flatlanders – Paramount Theater, Austin, TX – Friday September 22, 2017

The advantage that longevity often brings to musicians is a catalogue of songs that can be mined for a live show – even better if there have been a few hits that audiences have been able to cling to over the decades.

In the space of a weekend we were given the chance to listen to several artists who had enjoyed huge hits in Roger McGuinn and Boz Scaggs, one who had written hits for others in Dan Penn and The Flatlanders, a band that had never come close to having a hit record. In each case the approach was different but no less rewarding.

Dan Penn has a pile of stories to tell and one wonders why he hasn’t committed them to paper yet. During his one-hour show this master songwriter takes us on a nostalgic journey from Memphis to Muscle Shoals with songs that have become old friends. Just a few of Penn’s songs and co-writes that he sang tonight included ‘I’m Your Puppet,’ ‘Cry Like A Baby’, ‘Do Right Woman’, ‘It Tears Me Up’, ‘Dark End of The Street’, ‘Nobody’s Fool’ and ‘Memphis Women and Fried Chicken.’

Seated centre stage with just a guitar, the 75-year-old Penn, dressed in his customary overalls treated us to an hour of great songs and stories. Rather than merely running through a set list heavy with the ‘hits’ Penn embellished most of them with a tale. It is the sort of thing I had wished Eric Clapton had done (maybe to a lesser degree) just a few weeks ago and it is a strategy that has served Penn well. And, in case you were wondering whether he had retired his latest project was the new AJ Croce album.

The Flatlanders are local heroes, hailing from just up the road in Lubbock, and they were greeted as such. Their 1972 recordings took about 18 years to be released and was aptly titled More A Legend Than A Band. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock had, in the meantime forged their own careers. (Ely was, in fact, brought to Australia to tour with Cold Chisel). It was only in the late ‘90s that they got together again on a semi-regular basis. The partnership endures and it is obvious that the trio play just enough together to maintain the enjoyment.

This is real Texas ‘country’ music – about as far away from the mainstream country as you can get. This is the sort of music that you will not hear on country radio, emphasising the importance of the Americana label in at least giving it a home.

While Texas might be considered a conservative stronghold, Austin certainly is not. This probably explains why they played ‘Borderless Love’ and ‘Homeland Refugee’ – songs that reflect the current zeitgeist – to a rousing reception.

The rest of the set contained lots of the group’s favourites including Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s mournful ‘Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown’ and the upbeat tribute, ‘Dallas From A DC9,’ that had the trio swapping verses. Elsewhere they took it in turns to sing lead.

The encore was a splendid version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘White Freightliner Blues’ that gave rise to the conclusion that if Americana has heroes then Townes is among the best and that the Flatlanders are not far behind.

Roger McGuinn – Paramount Theater – Austin, TX – Saturday September 23, 2017

The signature sound of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string electric Rickenbacker is still enough to bring a surge of nostalgia. He opened his show with ‘My Back Pages’ and those memories came flooding back. This was basically what the show was all about. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you have a history such as McGuinn’s and can lay claim to having influenced a generation or two of guitarists.

McGuinn took us on a journey from his earliest days through to his most recent project which is an album of sea shanties. Interspersed with stories the show follows a roughly chronological order that is probably well know to fans but could be fascinating to others. Most of the stories would be familiar to die-hard Byrd-maniax but they it is always good to jog the memory.

One of the more interesting recent tales is how a Welsh fan corrected his pronunciation of the song, ‘The Bells of Rhymney,’ (which former Byrd Chris Hillman has also just recorded) by telling him he had been getting it wrong for 40 years. (It’s pronounced ‘Rhomney,’ by the way).

While he hasn’t released an album of new material for many years, McGuinn is archiving folk songs on his website and encourages people to seek them out and download them. Illustrating this, he performed the old Australian folk song, ‘Brisbane Ladies.’

But the magical moments came as expected when McGuinn picked up the guitar for ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,’ ‘5D’ ‘Mr Spaceman,’ ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ and the encore of ‘Mr Tambourine Man.’

McGuinn might have a familiar tale but it is one worth retelling many times.

Boz Scaggs – Moody Theater – Austin, TX – Sunday September 24, 2017

Seeing Boz Scaggs at the Moody Theater promised to be a treat and the show lived up to expectations. In recent years Scaggs has explored his roots by recording in Memphis for the album of the same name and in Nashville for the follow-up A Fool To Care.

While Scaggs gave the audience what they undoubtedly wanted to hear by playing his hit songs from the 1970s such as ‘Lowdown,’ ‘Lido Shuffle’ and ‘What Can I Say,’ it was ironic that these sounded much more dated than his interpretations from the past two albums.

‘I’m A Fool To Care,’ Willie DeVille’s ‘Cadillac Walk’ and ‘Rich Woman’ (an obscurity from Lil’ Millet and His Creoles) all sounded timeless, which is probably why he recorded them.

While Scaggs was in fine form with an excellent five-piece outfit, the killer blow came with the encore and a magnificent version of ‘Loan Me A Dime,’ the Fenton Robinson song that appeared on his second album, released in 1969 and featuring Duane Allman on guitar.

Scaggs seemed liberated to be playing the song and he was able to wring every bit of emotion out of it as he stretched it out as long as he had originally recorded it at over 12 minutes.

The final song was a salute to Chuck Berry with a lively rendition of ‘You Never Can Tell’ but nothing could possibly eclipse ‘Loan Me A Dime,’ which will live in the memory for a long time.

 

 

 

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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