Sunday, March 20, 2016

Things we like: James Hinkle, Decadent Dub Team, Sarah Ruth

1) At Fred's Texas Cafe the other day for the musical celebration of life for Jim Yanaway -- Fort Worth and Austin's own music promoter and raconteur extraordinaire, who passed last weekend -- I was reminded of the first time I ever set foot in the New Blue Bird Nite Club, in 1978, and saw the Juke Jumpers backing Robert Ealey. The head Jumper, Jim Colegrove, was onstage when I arrived, and leading the band from the other side of the stage was James Hinkle, who's sort of a Renaissance man himself: an accomplished visual artist as well as being a multi-faceted musician.

On this day, Hinkle was playing a gold top Les Paul he'd only had for a short while, but when he switched his pickup selector to the neck position to solo -- not a choice a lot of players would make -- he could make that plank honk like a horn, appropriate for the jazz-inflected lines he was spinning. It reminded me of the way you can hear B.B. King changing his pickup settings throughout Live at the Regal. The best electric guitarists use all the tools at their disposal to make their art expressive.

The last time I spoke with Hinkle at length, he and drummer Lucas White had just spent a few weeks in Europe, touring with a couple of Belgian musos -- guitarist Ed De Smul and bassist Stefan Boret -- and recording an album, First Crossing, under the rubric James Hinkle and the Transatlantics. In May, De Smul and Boret will return the favor, traveling to Texas for a run of shows in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, and Mansfield.

So far, their itinerary includes stands at Sons of Herrmann Hall in Dallas on May 5, the original Fred's Texas Cafe on Currie St on May 7, Fred's North off Western Center Blvd on May 11, Austin's Beer Post on May 12, legendary Austin blues venue Antone's on May 13 (with Hinkle's old podnah, harpman Ted Roddy, on board as special guest), Shakespeare Pub in Houston on May 14, and The Music Place in Mansfield on May 21. Other dates may be added; watch the Transatlantics' Facebook page for updates.

2) March 18 was my 11th wedding anniversary, but my wife and I had been celebrating all week, and she reckoned I should take the night off and head over to Oak Cliff for the sixth anniversary of The Kessler, the Metromess' finest listening room, which artistic director Jeff Liles and former technical director Paul Quigg would be marking with a reunion of their '80s collaboration Decadent Dub Team.

"Boys making noise in a monochromatic chop shop," is the way the always eloquent Liles describes their music. "Sonic butchers carving beats into sawdust." When I arrived, DJ EZ Eddie D was holding the stage, filling the air with a thunderous mix of hip-hop, deep funk, roots reggae, and rock, to back projected visual accompaniment that complimented the sounds he was spinning beautifully. (A disorienting high-speed drive through downtown Dallas was particularly effective.)

After timely pause, Decadent Dub Team took the stage, with Quigg and Liles stationed at equipment-laden tables on opposite sides of the stage. The noise they produced was magnificent, working on the fly to seamlessly blend beats, audio samples (including bits of Liles' Cottonmouth, Texas, spoken word project), and snippets of melody (with Quigg occasionally picking up a guitar). Earlier, I'd stopped to see a good old friend in the neighborhood, and our discussion had touched briefly on the realms of psychedelic experience. As I allowed myself to be engulfed by Decadent Dub Team's total sensory overload, I reflected on the way that sounds, words, and images can create chains of association and memory. It was a gas to see them working out in the house that they built. It also occurred to me how cool it would be to see Sub Oslo in that space.

After a short break, they returned with an old school hip-hop set, with rappers MC XL7, Doc Strange, and Tahiti joining in to flow verse on their single, "Don't Get It Twisted." XL7's the alter ego of Ty Macklin, who runs a recording studio in Fort Worth, and Tahiti's a friend who's performed in the groups PPT and AwkQuarius. Tahiti shared that he's been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and that the night's performance would probably be his last. We'll be keeping him in our thoughts.

3) Saturday was Gallery Night, an event I always forget in the same way as I forget the Japanese Gardens festival. A chance encounter with Matt Sacks, who runs the Grackle Gallery up the street from me, made me aware that Sarah Ruth and Danielle De France would be performing for the opening of WoCa Projects' "prox.y," a show curated by Lauren Cross that'll be on exhibit at the Grackle through April 9.

I've had a CD-R of Sarah Ruth's album Words On the Wind for a few months now, and I've been quite taken with its haunting sound and deeply personal subject matter, a remembrance of the west Texas farm where the artist grew up, replete with images of drought and desolation. In performance, her elegant presence complements her ethereal soprano and the minimal accompaniment she plays on piano or harmonium. There were sections where she read from a text, and intervals where her collaborator in the duo They Said the Wind Made Them Crazy, guitarist Gregg Prickett, provided contrasting vignettes on effects-laden lap steel. At one point she played a recorded track and rose to whisper to different audience members.

They Said the Wind Made Them Crazy recently approved masters for their double LP Far From the Silvery Light, due out on Tofu Carnage (with artwork by Ginger Berry) in late spring or early summer. We're hoping they'll follow up the release with more shows in Fort Worth. (Thinking that the Live Oak might be an appropriate venue.)

Also at the Grackle, I finally got to hear Danielle De France, a singer-guitarist who played a short set of mostly original material in the back room after Sarah Ruth had finished in the front. Her untrained voice has some of the same qualities as Sandy Denny's, and her simple guitar accompaniments worked well for the songs she had. A performer with great potential that I'm looking forward to hearing again.


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