State of Love and Trust
Belief in the 2011-12 Austin Music Awards
"Faith, to me, is believing in something in lieu of evidence," Quiet Company front man Taylor Muse told the Chronicle last month. "I think 'trust' is a better word. We're five guys who believe in each other. We worked hard all the years of our youth practicing our instruments so that we're good. I get onstage and I trust those guys to perform well, and they trust me to write good songs.
"Probably the closest thing I have to faith is an admiration for humanistic ideals and the scientific method."
Consider faith a by-product of trust. Once we put our trust in something or someone, our faith grows in that subject's constancy – or inconstancy, as the case may be. Mostly, the words are synonymous when applied to music in that both stem from mankind's collective dependence on vocal and instrumental supplication. Our species cries to its gods grand and small, loud or lonely. We rally for and against the Man, a Woman, the four winds.
When my mind didn't know how to get there,
I trusted my heart, and I swear my soul came to welcome me home.
So wrote and sings Ruthie Foster on January's Let It Burn, which takes a cue from the Blind Boys of Alabama by employing the enduring gospel institution as its backbone. Like Quiet Company's breakthrough, 2011's We Are All Where We Belong, the beloved roots & blues singer's new album professes its beliefs not through religion but rather through the religion of music itself. It's all there, from damnation to red-emption and as set forth by the elders – June Carter ("Ring of Fire") through Stax Records ("You Don't Miss Your Water") – with new lights (Adele) alongside perennial ones (the Band). Spoken or unspoken, the god of Let It Burn is Foster's inherent faith/trust in music itself.
Carolyn Wonderland's soul & blues-encrusted Peace Meal last year paid big dues to its bigger forbears – Elmore James, Janis Joplin, Robert Hunter – starting with its musicians and producers, including Larry Campbell, Asleep at the Wheel boss Ray Benson, and country/pop/tech pioneer Michael Nesmith. Witnessing the Monkees' still long and tall Texan marry Wonderland and A. Whitney Brown this time last year atop Doug Sahm Hill – just down the street from where both the Armadillo World Headquarters and the City Coliseum used to stand – has kept Nesmith tunes scrolling on my celestial jukebox, "Different Drum," "Listen to the Band."
"My most diverse album," nodded Alejandro Escovedo backstage at the Continental Club in February. This from the forever swaggering classic-rock punk with LPs produced by John Cale and Chris Stamey. Describing his upcoming second disc on Concord Records and the third in a row produced by Tony Visconti (Bolan, Bowie, Lizzy), Escovedo's eyes flashed with excitement and challenge. As with QC's Taylor Muse, rebirth was calling to him, rock & roll's great promise: reinvention by the song, album, and tour.
Last March, for Escovedo's annual South by Southwest closing set at his home base speakeasy, the great Garland Jeffreys performed at the Continental. Two streetwise song minstrels from opposite coasts going for broke as they always had. Lifers – all in – their unblinking artistry manifested itself through full disclosure rock & soul. "Always a Friend" sang Escovedo with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in Houston in 2008, on the occasion of the local's first Visconti victory, Real Animal. Same thing: Music as society's connective tissue and the ever-faithful companion of individuals everywhere, see?
"The biggest gift of my career has been to work with and meet those artists I idolized growing up, whether it's Randy Newman or the Beach Boys," enthused our town's latest re-émigré, Chris-topher Cross, to Austin Music Awards executor Margaret Moser a week before the Chronicle's Ruthie Foster cover.
"I realize, 'Oh, I'm Christopher Cross, and I'm famous, too' on some level because people know who I am, but then there's Brian Wilson or Joni Mitchell or Randy Newman, and that's a whole other thing."
Watching Cross go full gale on "Ride Like the Wind" at the One World Theatre several years ago wasn't any less thrilling than witnessing Wilson get psychedelic on "Good Vibrations" live or the Moody Theater holding its breath for Newman's Austin City Limits taping last year. Cross comes with at least five Grammys and an Academy Award's worth of true believer's faith, having led local cover bands by night in the Seventies, while crafting a Warner Bros. blockbuster by day that essentially birthed its own "adult" radio format even as few here in Cowtown believed in anything other than hard blues. Team him with the sweeping orchestral uplift of 2010 and 2011 AMA closers Mother Falcon, enlist Austin Symphony Orchestra maestro Peter Bay to conduct, then stand back for a new millennial, cross-generational upgrade. Sailing!
Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns surfed a similar anti-Austin-establishment vanguard contemporary to Cross, stamping the dawn of the MTV era with a wholly Lone Star sidewinder raunch five parts Tex-Mex, three parts dreadlocks, a dash of New Wave (Nuevo Wavo), and one mezcal worm. Carrasco wasn't simply rubbing elbows with the Beach Boy, Ms. Blue, or one of the Hollywood Newmans either.
"I loaned him a Walkman, because he had never heard Off the Wall on one before; he spent like three days listening to it," recalled Carrasco to our man Austin Powell about recording in an L.A. studio next to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. "When he did the session [for us], his dad came in and freaked out because he caught him in a different studio with us. He had incredible mic techniques for certain words and phrasings. He was really a perfectionist.
"It was neat to brush up against that level of greatness."
That moment came for Nineties indie-rock revolutionaries Sixteen Deluxe – Carrie Clark, Chris "Frenchie" Smith, Jeff Copas, and Steven Hall – when the beloved locals signed to Warner Bros. for 1998 skyrocket Emits Showers of Sparks. Wrote the proto @ChroniclyRaoul:
"The album comes in waves – guitar mostly, Flaming Lips, Wedding Present. When [the band crashes] into 'Mexico Train,' an ominously rumbling trip to the border for more drugs ('empty as a chair, so sad, makes you sound stupid – just give it up'), suddenly the whole vessel is tipping up towards the bottom again, and you're plunging straight into 'Captain Kirk' and 'Mixed Up.' Again. Like the first time you were sucked in the hot orgasmic rush of 'Warmjets' from Sixteen Deluxe's Trance Syndicate debut, Backfeed Magnetbabe."
That's Trance Syndicate Records, onetime weird and pissed-off enterprise of Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey. The late label's two degrees of separation from all that is Austin punk and post-punk past and present cycles through AMA regular Roky Erickson, the Dicks and Big Boys, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Ed Hall, Sixteen Deluxe, ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Black Angels, and on and on. Will the circle ever go unbroken in Austin, even in a year when the annual polling of locals in the Chronicle unveils a sea change in music trends that parallel a recent face-lift in the club landscape?
To Quiet Company's Tayor Muse, even the scientific method involves belief in the unknown.
"It resembles faith in the sense that hope is involved," offered the singer in QC's turn as cover subject. "You're investing a lot in something you don't know for sure. A lot of good bands could use that argument and still not be successful.
"Just because the music industry has changed, it doesn't mean that success is less attainable. We just have to change our idea of what success is. I don't need a beach house in Maui. I just need to pay the rent on this one."
Have faith, brother. Trust the music.
The 2011-12 Austin Music Awards will be handed out Wednesday, March 14, at a Uranium Savages-friendly start time of 7:09pm, at Austin Music Hall. Be there.
Not So Deep Background
Quiet Company "Preaching to the Choir," Feb. 17
Ruthie Foster "Full Circle," Jan. 27
Christopher Cross "The Reluctant Celebrity," Jan. 20
2011-12 Austin Music Awards
Austin Music Hall, Wednesday, March 14
7:09pm: Quiet Company
7:45pm: Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns with Jon Dee Graham, Shawn Sahm, Mariachi Relampago, Ben Marines, Shorty Ortiz
8:25pm: Sixteen Deluxe
9pm: Ruthie Foster & Carolyn Wonderland
9:40pm: Christopher Cross with Mother Falcon and Peter Bay
10:20pm: Alejandro Escovedo and guests