Off the Record
Big Sweet Life
Jon Dee Graham's walked through the shadows of death and was more than willing to display the scars that proved it Saturday night at the Saxon Pub. "Painkiller is a misnomer," he proclaimed, raising his shirt to reveal 45 stitches across his abdomen. "Painkillers do not kill the pain, but they do distract it." Five weeks after being involved in a near-fatal, single-car accident and against medical advice, the gruff-voiced nighthawk returned to the stage with newfound vigor, burrowing through local standards like "Big Sweet Life" and "Something Wonderful," along with a few new tunes written in the aftermath of the accident. Graham's wit proved as sharp as his axe-work throughout, the singer joking at one point about his $217,000 medical bills ("That's a science-fiction number to me"). He even accompanied fellow Skunk Jesse Sublett on lap steel for a handful of stark murder ballads and an acoustic offering from Chris Gates before his second set of the evening. "My surgeon is not real happy with me," Graham beamed, "but I'm having the time of my life."
The Will to Live
"My workout mix is usually a cross between CNN and MSNBC and then whatever pops up on my iPod Shuffle, anything from A Tribe Called Quest to Metallica," rapped Ben Harper just prior to Sunday's Nike+ Human Race, the worldwide 10K marathon that registered nearly 14,000 runners in Austin. Unable to make it to the finish line for Harper's evening-ending endurance feat with the Innocent Criminals, OTR inquired instead about the sessions for "A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray," his recent collaboration with Solomon Burke. "That was one of the musical highlights of my life," Harper attests. "Being in the same room with him and hearing him sing the words to a song I wrote – it hit me in way that nothing else ever has. I had to go outside and sit on the curb just to catch my breath." There's only one other artist Harper thinks is capable of producing a similar effect. "I'd really like to work with Van Morrison," he says. "I feel like something would happen there that would be worth having the whole world hear."
• Somewhere Doug Sahm is smiling. While no one seems to know exactly what it is or how it came to fruition, Sir Douglas Quintet's latest posthumous compilation, Scandinavian Years, is holding down the No. 2 spot on Norway's Top 40 Albums chart for the third consecutive week, outselling new releases by Coldplay and Slipknot.
• After nearly a three-year absence (see "Outlaw Onda," Feb. 17, 2006), Tejano music returned to the Austin airwaves this weekend on KTXZ's 1560AM. The station, which was acquired earlier this year by Encino Broadcasting, will also feature norteño and grupero music and broadcast simultaneously on 95.1FM in the coming weeks.
• For the latest installment in the Chronicle's video blog series Earache in My Eye, OTR went inside the Lions' den for High Times and Guitar Hero. Check it out at austinchronicle.com/earacheinmyeye.
Every eight years, the stars align in the form of a new LP from the Monkeywrench, the underground supergroup headed by the Big Boys' Tim Kerr with Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney. Actually, the third album, Gabriel's Horn ("Texas Platters," June 13), an amalgam of skuzzy psych-punk dirges and buckskin stallion blues, was long overdue. "Oh man, that record was mostly in the can since 2001," admits Arm. "We just assumed, or at least I did, that we should wait a bit to get a few more songs, and then we never got back together after that. Real life started taking hold." Kerr certainly hasn't had any trouble staying busy. The local punk icon recently recorded the Pine Hill Haints, whom he'll join on clawhammer banjo for a festival in Ireland next year, and he has an art show opening in Denver next month. "What surprised me was that they liked Poison 13," relays Kerr via e-mail, regarding his first encounter with Mudhoney through Houston's Sugar Shack in 1990. "I was surprised much later by the fact that Steve Turner ripped as a skater. I also realized that [Monkeywrench drummer] Tom Price makes great videos, and [guitarist] Martin [Bland] does really cool 20th century composer stuff." Just don't expect any new Monkeywrench material to land anytime soon. "It would be nice if we did do something," Arm says. "There's just a lot of fucked-up logistical, old-aged crap, you know?" Mudhoney slathers Emo's on Saturday. See Music Listings for more.
Don't Look Back in Anger
Parker & Lily's 2005 swan song, The Low Lows, is one of the most astonishingly brutal breakup albums in recent memory, intimately detailing the bitter end of the couple's 10-year relationship beneath a thin veil of reverb and distortion. "That record just about killed us," admits songwriter/vocalist Parker Noon, who relocated to Austin earlier this year. "That was the first time, though, that I found my musical footing. Since we'd broken up, I had no choice except to write and orchestrate those songs myself. I wanted to walk away from that experience with something to show for it." Adopting the name the Low Lows, Noon presses forward this week with the release of his second solo album, Shining Violence (Misra), an ashen collection of lo-fi reveries in the Southern Gothic tradition. "I was terrified at the prospect of moving on," admits Noon, "but I absorbed enough of Lily's musical knowledge over the course of our relationship that now I can do it on my own." Now a sevenpiece with a four-man brass section, the Lows Lows leave town next week for a monthlong national tour before dusting up the Beauty Bar on Oct. 3.