Crazy Heart

The 2009-10 Austin Music Awards go big top

The Cheery Kind: Stephen Bruton (center) and Jeff Bridges, whose left hand is taking this photo, on the set of <i>Crazy Heart</i>
The Cheery Kind: Stephen Bruton (center) and Jeff Bridges, whose left hand is taking this photo, on the set of Crazy Heart (Photo by Jeff Bridges/Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Jeff Bridges' outlaw five-and-dimer in Crazy Heart, Bad Blake, carries more than a little Stephen Bruton in his Sparkletts bottle. Correction: in his guitar case, though the filmmakers reportedly inserted the plastic road dog relief portable into Crazy Heart's first scene after their late music supervisor spilled the beans. Correction: spilled the Yangtze River.

"That was all Bruton," Crazy Heart book author Thomas Cobb told the Los Angeles Times in December. "He said, 'Oh, you've gotta have a Sparkletts bottle.'"

"He spent the last 10 or 20 years of his life driving around in a Suburban," confirmed Bruton's project sponsor and collaborator on the film's original score in the same piece, the guitarist's Fort Worth childhood conspirator T Bone Burnett. "He drove around the country with his guitars and amps and clothes in the back."

Austin's six-string silver fox, who died of cancer last May – a grievous local exit poll that included in 2009 country holler Rusty Wier and jazz avant-gardist Tina Marsh – managed to keep his tighty-whiteys out of Crazy Heart, unlike 1984's Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson celluloid hero Songwriter, in which Bruton famously debuts in his snug skivvies. The Saxon Pub pillar could have written Crazy Heart, the 1987 source novel of which traded on honky-tonk baritone Hank Thompson, given his life of true Texas roots – in his own tight-fitting local trio, in all-star Austin songwriting swap the Resentments, and in decades of mercenary Suburban licks. That was all Stephen Bruton.

Geoff Muldaur's Texas Sheiks – locals Cindy Cashdollar, Bruce Hughes, and Floyd Domino, plus Cajun Suzy Thompson – counted the South Austinite among their country-blues marauders on last fall's eponymous Bruton distraction, which came down to the wire with T Bone Burnett's own investment. Muldaur, first wave folk nonconformist (screen "Sheik to Sheik," Feb. 19), pitched the Sheiks' tent in the 78704 to integrate his ailing brother-in-ancient-muse into the project, even importing his onetime bandleader in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Not so fine print on 1960s Fillmore phone poll psychedelia everywhere, Kweskin returns to the scene of Bruton's jug nostalgia to tribute the fallen Sheik with chic mojo.

Channeling bluegrass with the conviction of the Carter Family and unbound promise of a young Alison Krauss, Sarah Jarosz mines a vein of musical Americana Muldaur staked his spirit on. A college freshman for another couple of months, the Wimberley-grown Grammy nominee for her 2009 Sugar Hill Records debut, Song Up In Her Head, coaxes preternatural mountain soul from her arsenal, which includes clawhammer banjo, mandolin, piano, and a compositional insight that's downright murderous even without her cover of the Decemberists' "Shankill Butchers." Jarosz spearheads a live music youth movement sweeping Central Texas like another generation's baby boom. Nurtured by a culture with a real-life soundtrack that meets at the crossroads of German, Mexican, and Southwestern fiddles, she lacks only acoustic jug in her stirring still waters hootenanny (inhale "Sarah's Muse," Jan. 15).

Sahara Smith could share a dorm room with Jarosz were she also enrolled at New England Conservatory. Instead, the equally young and roots-prescient Smith has been at the T Bone camp in Los Angeles, preparing a parallel song up in her head space. Will Sexton guesting Smith then ensures an unbroken circle; it's Will and Charlie Sexton who constitute the heart of Austin's homegrown music spawn. Babysat by chairs and tables at the Armadillo Beer Garden as children, the Sextons bridge classic local rock to contemporary folk, Charlie rocking the globe once again with Bob Dylan, and brother Will here on the homestead inadvertently rallying the locals by requiring some of the bottomless musical equity he's accrued over decades in the scene when his own health failed last year.

Crazy Heart

Were Will Sexton 20 years younger, he'd be in Mother Falcon. Though Spoon remains the most important indie band out of Austin since the Butthole Surfers, in Mother Falcon a new wave of multitasking song collectives vets its next nationally seminal pop gods: Okkervil River. The Pacific Northwest boasts Colin Meloy, but we have our own south-by-southwest-bred Will Sheff, whose ultraliterate folk ballads inform Mother Falcon's breathtaking chamber pop, as does the airy melodicism of Andrew Bird. Piloted by Nick Gregg's singing, cello, mandolin, and guitar, Mother Falcon – an expletive from a Bruce Willis movie broadcast on TV – flies up to 15 band members, including vocal foils Tamir Kalifa on accordion and pianist-guitarist Claire Puckett, plus the twin violins of Clara Brill and Yun Du. A Broken Social Scene in its musical/harmonic choral approach to soaring songcraft, Mother Falcon's rich mix of brass, woodwinds, and even lap xylophone(!) isn't yet a household sound here in the town that doubles as a citywide school of rock, but the group's showing in this year's Music Poll and on new EP Still Life promises to change that in one AMA set. You're seeing it here first, motherfalcon.

Before and after Okkervil River provided the net under Roky Erickson's big top (hello 2008 AMA mash-up Rokkervil), era-spanning garage shakers the Explosives revived the sleeping giant with their horror movie sympathy and New Wave spank. The local trio's new CD/DVD, Three Ring Circus, jumps through Nuggets-laced hoops as wielded by alumni of the Drag's long lost punk lodge, Raul's. Cam King's steel-string snap in lifelong lock with drummer Freddie Steady Krc this time backs Moby Grape's sensitive side, Peter Lewis, plus Creedence Clearwater Revival thump Stu Cook, now an Austinite. Degrees of separation: Cook produced the Explosives' Restless Natives in 1982 and also appeared on a Lewis solo disc in 1995. Add in Krc's SteadyBoy Records being set to release a brand-new Moby Grape LP featuring all the surviving original members plus Skip Spence's son, Omar, and this Barnum & Bailey AMA blowout will surely arc Melvillean.

High Saturday night adds to the spectacle of this year's annual music scene marker a paradigm shift in closing out SXSW's global gathering (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas, so who better to blow out the curfew like a roadhouse King Curtis than funk mavericks Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. Like the Apollo relocating to Nashville, the DIY R&B revue's debut last year, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!, went national courtesy of Lost Highway Records and a masterful production job by Spoon drummer and sonic Einstein Jim Eno. Ray Charles goes country it isn't, though reviews have been almost as ecstatic, but hardcore Trekkie BJL has obviously undertaken a mission, bringing horn-blown grit to the rodeo with Baptist abandon. Into his hands goes an AMA winners' jam that currently includes one of his local forebears in the Jets' Blues Boy Hubbard, plus Little Joe Hernandez's younger brother and belter Johnny Hernandez and guest presenter (and future local) Raul Malo. To ensure no survivors at SXSW 2010, Lewis, author of "Get Yo Shit," and his all-stars get in the final Fest yowl in their roles as carnival barkers. Step right up.

2009-10 Austin Music Awards

Saturday, March 20, 7:55pm, Austin Music Hall

8pm The Texas Sheiks, with Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Bruce Hughes, Cindy Cashdollar, and Johnny Nicholas

8:50pm Will Sexton, with Sahara Smith

9:30pm Sarah Jarosz

10:10pm The Explosives, with Peter Lewis and Stu Cook

10:50pm Mother Falcon

11:30pm All-Star Soul Jam, starring Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, with special guests Blues Boy Hubbard, Johnny Hernandez, Raul Malo, and more

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