Off the Record

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Off the Record
Illustration by Nathan Jensen

Born in the Honey

Texas-born or -based artists chalked up 34 nominations for the 50th annual Grammy Awards, Feb. 10, 2008, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. All of the usual suspects (Beyoncé, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Lucinda Williams) are accounted for, while both Steve Earle and Patty Griffin received nods for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album. Doyle Bramhall's Is It News is up for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Local pianist and 2005 Lifetime Achievement recipient Pinetop Perkins (pictured) has two chances at winning Best Traditional Blues Album, Pinetop Perkins on the 88's – Live in Chicago, companion to documentary DVD Born in the Honey: The Pinetop Perkins Story, and Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas, recorded October 2004 with the late Henry James Townsend, Robert Lockwood Jr., and recent Cactus Cafe visitor David "Honeyboy" Edwards. "I never did like to play by myself much," laughed the 94-year-old legend from Antone's house piano Tuesday afternoon, in between stories of touring with Muddy Waters, playing on Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit hour, and his friend Clifford Antone. "I had to come up the hard way in the world, playing music, doing the best I could. I can't play bass on the piano like I used to. I used to make it roll like thunder. ... All I know is the blues." Experience the thunder at Antone's on Wednesday, Dec. 26, as Perkins joins Lou Ann Barton and Derek O'Brien. See Grammy.com for the complete list of nominations.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Off the Record
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

From Fleetwood Mac's Rumours to its indie rock equivalent, the Go-Betweens' 16 Lovers Lane (and anything by Rilo Kiley), inter-band affairs have made for some of the greatest albums of all time. Enter Erika Wennerstrom, right, singer, guitarist, and songwriter for Ohio garage-blues steamroller Heartless Bastards (not to be confused with James McMurtry's backing band), who has recently sought refuge in Austin following the demise of her 10-year relationship with bassist Mike Lamping. "I'm not used to sharing walls with a stranger," says Wennerstrom of her new living arrangement. "I'm writing a lot on acoustic guitar so that I don't drive the neighbors crazy." The poignant songstress is scheduled to begin working on the follow-up to last year's compelling sophomore outing, All This Time, in January with fellow Cincinnati transplant, producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Sound Team), though exactly who will be recording with her remains in question. "After the first record, a lot things changed in my life, and I had to learn to feel comfortable in my skin again," Wennerstrom relates. "I can't tell yet where this album is going to take me."

Dance of the Mirlitons

Invincible Czars
Invincible Czars (Photo by John Anderson)

Austin's Invincible Czars are no strangers to outlandish orchestrations. The eccentric sevenpiece ensemble has created original scores for the silent films Aelita: The Queen of Mars and Fritz Lang's Destiny and reworked both Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast and Mussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain as gospel and calypso tunes for one-off shows. "We have a tendency of taking music apart and fashioning it in our own image," says maestro Josh Robins. "You've heard all of this music but never the way we do it." Every Christmas, the Czars stage Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite, beginning with two sold-out shows at the original Church of the Friendly Ghost in 2004. Following another successful winter season last year, the group recorded its renditions, including four additional tunes from the ballet's original score. Resembling Frank Zappa's classical compositions rather than the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and bearing artwork from A Scanner Darkly illustrator Kennon James, the Czars' Suite is a globe- and genre-trotting modern holiday classic, transitioning seamlessly from heavy metal waltzes and spaghetti Western polkas ("Miniature Overture") to salsa ("Chocolate [Spanish Dance]") and disco funk ("Dance of the Mirlitons"). Most importantly, every moment of it rocks. "Next year we'll need a symphony," concludes trumpeter Rick Redman, "our own Czarchestra." The band cracks a few nuts on Saturday at Jovita's with two sets: an early (2pm), family-oriented dance-along and an electrified evening (8pm) with Graham Reynolds' Golden Arm Trio.

Lovesong of the Buzzard

Sam Beam
Sam Beam (Photo by Sandy Carson)

The uncharacteristically dense, Hill Country psych of Iron & Wine's latest, The Shepherd's Dog, beckons for the backwoods, for an environment that allows Sam Beam's hushed imagery to coalesce with disparate West African rhythms and dust-bowl blues. Tuesday night, at a sold-out La Zona Rosa, backed by a sixpiece band that included sister Sarah Beam on violin and harmonies, Beam created such an atmosphere through abstract and long-winded interludes that bridged new songs like "White Tooth Man" and "House by the Sea" with the bedroom folk of "Cinder and Smoke" and "Sunset Soon Forgotten." Beam took the opposite approach for the encore, a stark and stripped-down version of his Calexico collaboration "A History of Lovers."

Random Play

• The number of international applicants for the 2008 South by Southwest Music Conference swelled to nearly 2,300, up from last year's 1,880. In other SXSW news, Matt Sonzala, the hip-hop impresario responsible for the influential blog HoustonSoReal has been hired on full-time and plans on starting a new website, AustinSurreal.com. "It's a tragedy," relates Sonzala of UGK's Pimp C, who died last Tuesday, two days before the Kingz were honored with a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance for "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)." "He was one of our pioneers. His voice made the entire South what it is." Funeral services for Pimp C, born Chad Butler, took place this morning (Thursday) at the Robert A. "Bob" Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur.

• The sixth annual Indie Music Video Festival rolls into the Alamo Drafthouse for the theatre's Music Mondays series, featuring live accompaniment from Beta Valentine, whose sublimely animated "Curse of the Midnight Idol" is being screened along with the Octopus Project's "Music Is Happiness."

• The Terrible One bike shop/art space (1809 E. Sixth) goes extreme for a cause on Saturday with a high air competition and ramp jam with a soundtrack provided by Austin's most extreme instrumentalists: Transmography, Tia Carrera, and the Snake Trap. The benefit for rider Jimmy Levan begins at 1pm.

• The annual Armadillo Christmas Bizarre, Dec. 14-24, normally held at the Austin Music Hall, has moved to the Austin Convention Center. Scheduled musical guests include Ray Wylie Hubbard, Van Wilks, Ray Benson, Ruthie Foster, and Jimmy LaFave. www.armadillobazaar.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Heartless Bastards, Invincible Czars, Pinetop Perkins, Buttercup, Erika Wennerstrom, Iron & Wine

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