Orbiting SXSW

7 Local Bands To Watch

Out of the tens of thousands of words we'll generate on the music portion of South by Southwest – as begun last week with our retelling of the True Believers saga (see "One Big Guitar," Feb. 22) – these 3,000 remain my favorite. Every year we winnow the two dozen local acts appearing on the initial band lists from SXSW down to a lucky seven, acts already beloved by us but ones we haven't had a chance to expound on much. This grouping – out on the road, in the studio, floating around inner and outer space – appears well on its way to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of experience and expertise, but we're pleased enough to profile them well before that finish line. – Raoul Hernandez

Dana Falconberry

Tue., March 12, 10pm, Valhalla; Sat., March 16, 12mid, Brass House
Orbiting SXSW
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Escaping to a cabin on the Buffalo River in Arkansas has become an annual retreat for Dana Falconberry, who moved here in 2005.

"I can't really be in Austin for January or February because my allergies are so bad," laughs the local songstress by phone from a nearby friend's house. "But this year I really needed to write. We have maybe four songs ready for another record, but I've been needing to write more and finding it harder to do because we've been touring so much. So I've come out here and secluded myself."

The Arkansas terrain strikes familiar chords for the Michigan native, who attended Hendrix College, a small liberal arts school in Conway, just north of Little Rock. More familiar yet is the natural landscape, which has become as hallmark to her music as the exceptional harmonies she excavates alongside Gina Dvorak and Karla Manzur. Falconberry's songs flit with imagistic beauty and drama, burrowed in a world where rustic details unravel narratives with glimpses of greater truths.

"I think I'm writing less directly about what's happened to me, but a lot of it actually feels more personal," she offers. "I'm writing about deeper feelings and emotions, but I'm writing about it in a way that's maybe less direct and obvious."

Last year's acclaimed Leelanau encapsulates that turn. After a rocky experience releasing her debut full-length – 2008's Oh Skies of Grey prompted a re-recording of much of the album as Halletts two years later – Falconberry settled into a sextet that matches the gentle beauty of her songwriting, with fuller arrangements that shade and expand her approach to oblique revelation. Leelanau moves amid an unhurried charm, with lulling strings accenting the singer's enchantingly coy vocals to evoke an idyllic aura.

"Our stage setup had become so complicated with instruments that we needed to figure it out," she admits. "One thing we immediately fell in love with was the magic that happens between [Lindsey Verrill's] cello and [Christopher Cox's] electric bass. The band is just so good at knowing what the song needs. A lot of times we don't even talk about that. It's just an understanding and respect for the songs." – Doug Freeman

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