Early on a Sunday morning. A young father kisses his children, still in their beds, holds his wife for a long moment, then climbs into his truck and drives into the dawn. He won’t be back till Friday night.

Josh Grider and Kelley Mickwee paint the picture of a family struggling to get by. Men trying to find work, any work, anywhere. Women holding down two or three jobs. Kids asking questions that have no answers.




Jimmie V, Kim Wilson and the T-Birds bringing the soul to supper! Happy Saturday, ya’ll.




The love of a mother, the love for a mother. Beautiful.




Shinyribs says go get you some milk and mash potatoes!




Sisters Allison and Shelby breathe new life into this Dylan classic. A little different edge sung in the feminine voice, particularly in these days of renewed focus on gender inequality.




Bob the Man with a little magical realism.




Kevin Higgins visits the busy intersection of first love and hard reality. The magic is gone, but the memories stick around forever.

 




Gene Clark helped facilitate the inevitable union between American folk and American country. Known primarily for his work with the Byrds, including Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Bernie Leadon, and Dillard & Clark, he also produced a significant body of solo work. Over the years he wrote or co-wrote such songs as “Eight Miles High”, “She Don’t Care About Time”, “Set You Free This Time”, “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”, “The World Turns All Around Her”, “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, “She Darked the Sun”, “Polly”, “Tried So Hard”, “Here Tonight”, “You Showed Me”, “With Tomorrow”, “Because of You”, “Where My Love Lies Asleep”, “For a Spanish Guitar”, “Silver Raven”, “Some Misunderstanding” and “Lady of the North”.

He can be praised, or cursed, for paving the way for the commercial juggernaut they called The Eagles.

Clark died in 1991, due in part to a life of excess, but you can still hear his influence in many of the finest songwriters of our day.




The squeezebox has a special place in Texas musical history. A mainstay of polka, conjunto and zydeco, the “button accordion”, as it is more properly called, has done much to define and unite the diverse peoples that built the post-Columbian version of the Lone Star State.

Ponty Bone grew up in San Antonio, also home to the famed accordionist Flaco Jimenez, and started squeezing at a young age. He played with Joe Ely in Lubbock for a number of years before assembling Ponty Bone & the Squeezetones in the eighties. Since then he’s played with pretty much everybody on the Texas scene, including Ely, Terry Allen, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Robert Earl KeenBruce Robison, Terri Hendrix, Omar & the Howlers, Tommy Hancock, Jesse Taylor, John X. Reed, Angela Strehli, The Texana Dames and even Timbuk 3. Bone has also appeared with luminaries like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Clash, Linda Ronstadt and Ronnie Lane. Like they say, a sober accordion player is hard to find.

In 2001, Ponty and the band released Fantasize, a primer on the music and mischief that can be loosed by a squeezebox in the hands of a talented Texan.

 

 

 







 

 

 




The great Stephen Bruton teaches us to say goodbye.




Few songwriters have achieved Eliza Gilkyson’s poetic soup of inventiveness, gravitas and sheer emotion. Her songs are a flowing literature of joy, regret and feminine wisdom, infused with stubborn morality and deep conscience.

The entertainment industry was always a part of Glikyson’s life, and music was always in her blood. The daughter of singer and songwriter Terry Gilkyson, perhaps best known for his sixties work with Disney, and sister of Tony Gilkyson, who played guitar for Lone Justice and X, Eliza grew up in the hustle and bustle of Hollywood.

Tragedy struck when her mother was killed in an automobile accident. Still in her teens, Eliza sought refuge from the pain in the rural southwest. Trading cosmopolitan for communal, worlds away from all she had known in urban California, she began to hone her life’s vision in the wilds of New Mexico.

Michael had the privilege of visiting with Eliza recently…




Guitars sizzle in Austin every night. Here are some of our favorites.

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A young Steve Earle reminds us of the angst of the Vietnam Era.







Heartworn Highways, James Szalapski’s gritty and lovely documentary about the country songwriting scene of the seventies, features mostly Texas musicians in Austin and Nashville. Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, and of course Townes Van Zandt, are portrayed as rugged (and often addled) cowboy poets giving birth to the “outlaw” scene. This take features Van Zandt and the legendary Uncle Seymour Washington at his home in the Clarksville neighborhood of Austin.

 




If you grew up in small town Texas, or loved your grandmother, or ever chased the DDT truck down the street, you need to hear this one. McMurtry at his finest.




 




  A lotta love, a little lust. Joe Ely slow dances his truck stop girl into highway heaven.




It is no secret that West Texas produces musicians of uncommon creativity and grit, likely the result of too much flat land and steady wind. Insightful artists with on-stage mojo…indelible characters with plenty of that old Texas don’t-give-a-damn, contemptuous of white lies, cow pies and pigeonholes. Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely and David Halley, to name a few. Butch Hancock, Amanda Shires, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Jo Carol Pierce and Tommy Hancock, to name a few more.

Then there’s Terry Allen, perhaps the most madcap of them all. A true renaissance man of letters, visual and recorded art, carrying more intellect, talent and taste than was meant to fit in the saddlebags of one dusty cowboy.

A son of Lubbock, self-exiled like so many luminaries of the high plains, Allen has lived in Santa Fe with his wife, Jo Harvey Allen, for decades, where they raised their musician son, Bukka Allen, who has since relocated to the green fields of Austin. Terry and Jo frequently dip down into Texas like a Comanche raiding party to spread their artistic seed, pillage a little and chew the fat with old friends.

Terry is a noted painter, songwriter, performer and playwright, while Jo is a similarly respected actress, writer and painter. His music could be described as the love child of Friedrich Nietzsche and William Burroughs singing in a nasally West Texas lilt. A cowboy with serious mental horsepower and artistic vision, he has produced ten albums of original and critically acclaimed work. Of particular note are 1975’s Juarez, 1979’s Lubbock (On Everything), and 1996’s Human Remains.

Three things to know about Terry Allen: (1) his father “Sled” played catcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1910, (2) another son, Bale Creek Allen, is a noted visual artist living in Austin, and (3) his visual art hangs in places like the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

If you love Terry Allen, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out James McMurtry, Vince Bell and Kevin Higgins.




The late Jesse Winchester performed his signature ballad at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, circa 2010. We miss Jesse. We even miss Mississippi a little bit.




Ted Hawkins lived a hard life, but his journey was a gift to us all. Born black and poor in Mississippi, he did time in reform school and prison before trying his hand at music after hearing the work of Sam Cooke. The talent was obviously there all along.

While Hawkins traveled the rocky road of a hard-core bluesman, his music is rooted more in folk than traditional blues. The delivery is spare, unadorned rhythm guitar utilizing innovative open tunings. You can hear the strains of the Delta in his corncob voice, dripping with soulful joy and steeped in hard lessons learned. He was the musical poster boy of the “outsider” artist, big and raw-boned and completely oblivious to the etiquette and expectations of those around him.

He made his name as a busker on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, California, and his recorded output is sparse. A few dedicated admirers worked hard to corral Ted in the studio, attempting to navigate his addictions and tendency to disappear for extended periods of time. By his death in 1995, he had produced several albums of original work and magical takes on the songs of others. Like so many other great American artists, Hawkins found more respect and appreciation on the other side of the Atlantic. His dedicated European following was primarily the result of the admiration and efforts of British disc jockey Andy Kershaw.

2015 saw the release of a tribute album, Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins, an Austin salute to the work of this great artist. Produced by our own Kevin Russell, Jenni Finlay and Brian T. Atkinson, the disc features Hawkins’ originals interpreted by Austin Songwriter favorites Shinyribs, Mary Gauthier, James McMurtry, Jon Dee Graham, Gurf Morlix, Danny Barnes, Ramsay Midwood and Randy Weeks.

Three things to know about Ted Hawkins: (1) he claimed that damaged fingers preventing him from bending notes in the blues tradition, (2) a documentary of his life and art, Ted Hawkins: Amazing Grace, was released in 1996, and (3) he died at about the time of the release of what would be his most famous album, The Next Hundred Years.

If you love Ted Hawkins, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Blaze Foley, Jesse Winchester and John Hiatt.




Kevin’s ode to the perils of young love. Barbara Maltese helps out.




I guess we’ve all had our “Rosalie”. Or wish we did.




The Mean Eyed Cat Bar, named after the Johnny Cash song, is one cool bar…located close to downtown Austin and blessed with towering Texas Live Oak trees. Reportedly over 300 years old, this bar is a true Austin establishment. The interior rooms celebrate the life and times of the late, great Johnny Cash, while the bar serves up a great selection of Texas craft beers and innovative cocktails to keep things interesting. A stop worth making when you are prowling the streets of downtown Austin. Be sure to like them on Facebook.

1621 W. 5th Street, Austin 78703
512-920-6645

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Butch Hancock‘s beautiful meditation on love in the borderlands. True passion complicated by cultural distance, a common story in the annals of Texas history. John Fullbright lends an able hand.

 




Lyle Lovett with a tribute to the great Blaze Foley. John Hiatt grins along.




Nanci Griffith was born to musical parents in Seguin, Texas, and was playing clubs down the road in Austin by the age of fourteen. She continued to write and perform while in college at the University of Texas, and became an important member of the seventies Texas songwriting scene, releasing three fine albums of mostly original material before moving to Nashville in 1986 to pursue her songwriting dreams.

Griffith has dabbled in numerous genres over the years, including country, folk, pop and torch. She calls her work “folkabilly”, but her best songs are sketches of the joy, loss and reflection that punctuate the tough paths of ordinary people. In other words, Griffith is yet another great Texas songwriter trading in real country music.

Others have mined her songs for their quality and the promise of commercial success, but you must hear these songs in her voice, lilting and childlike and completely original, evoking past lives lived simply and well.

Griffith has released some twenty albums in her career, winning a Grammy in 1994 for Other Voices, Other Rooms, a cover album of songs written by special songwriters. She has toured and recorded with the likes of John Prine, Iris DeMent, Tom Russell, Emmylou Harris, Phil Everly, Mary Black, Don McLean, Willie Nelson, Adam Duritz, Bernie Leadon, The Chieftains and others.

Three things to know about Nanci Griffith, (1) she was once married to the great Eric Taylor, and flew to Vietnam and Cambodia to honor his service during the Vietnam War, (2) as a young woman she worked as a kindergarten teacher, and (3) she performed at the Grand Ole Opry in 2003.

If you love Nanci Griffith, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Amanda Shires, Michael Fracasso and Shawn Colvin.




Every January, high in the snowy mountains of northern New Mexico, Austin songster Drew Kennedy holds a gathering of poets and dreamers called Red River Songwriters’ Festival. In year’s past I’ve witnessed standout performances from the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Max Gomez and Walt Wilkins. This year the line-up includes Jim Lauderdale, Steve Poltz, Walt Wilkins, Susan Gibson, Kelley Mickwee and others, as well as Mr. Kennedy. This year, the mighty Jack Ingram will also be there.

The folks that travel to this intimate event are of common minds and hearts, and the players feel the love. This year’s festival takes place in Red River, New Mexico on January 24-26.




“Sass” is a revered quality in Texas, a blend of joy, spunk and casual fearlessness. If you’ve got it, you’ll have friends aplenty in the Lone Star State.

Leeann Atherton is sass on wheels. Born and raised in South Carolina, she took a turn in Nashville before becoming the resident Queen of the South Austin scene. Compared to everyone from Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris, Leeann is a cultural treasure and a damn fine citizen. Check her out every Friday night at Maria’s Taco Xpress, or sneak in to her annual Full Moon Barn Dance.




Lane Gosnay opened the doors to The Bugle Boy in 2005, promising a small town listening room dedicated to the songwriters of Texas and elsewhere. She had repurposed an old military barrack into an intimate, theater style hall which creates a lovely and respectful space for the artists and their followers. Located in LaGrange, Texas, a lovely burg about midway between Austin and Houston.

Check out their calendar and head out to the green countryside for some fine music in a special place.

 




In the way back, Freddie King took Europe by storm, Introduced with a dose of Groover’s Paradise by the legendary Jim Franklin. “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”, indeed.




Miles performs “You Can’t Break My Heart” for Austin Songwriter.

If only that were true.




Everything’s gonna be alright!

 




Back to the bayou with the great Lucinda Williams.




The sensitive boy from Canada with some sage and impossibly gorgeous advice.

 

 




Van the Man says search your heart for the lion.




Take a trip to the mountaintop and turn your world from silver to blue.




Joe does a lovely solo of buddy Butch Hancock‘s classic take on lonely old West Texas.




This photo or Guy and Susanna Clark means something more to folks of a certain vintage. It’s the semi-hippie attire, for sure, and the old school VW, but something more. It’s the look in their eyes. The look of confident dreamers in love, looking out to a limitless horizon.

Yours truly is of that vintage, and remembers that feeling. It was the early seventies, the tail end of the sixties awakening. We had it all figured out. We had identified all the mistakes of the past, greed and war and hate and fear, and we were building a world of love that would soar into the ages like a dove above a field of wildflowers. We intended to march forward in peace, heal the wounds of history and live as one.

It all seemed so simple. You can see it in their eyes. It wasn’t that simple.







Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello with their take on “Wild Horses” by Jagger and Richards.

Dusty and distant. Love in the rear view mirror.




“Journeyman” usually refers to a seasoned and reliable guitarist or drummer, but what does it mean for a songwriter? In the case of Walt Wilkins, it means an everyman master who has portrayed, with passion and wisdom, all of the high hills and deep creases of our lives. A native of San Antonio and an Austinite for years, Wilkins is one of those artists who can only be fully understood through a grasp of his entire body of work, which is substantial. He emerges as a man of wisdom, a beacon for the rest of us, maybe even a healer.

Working quietly in the “next big thing” hustle of the Austin music scene, Wilkins has steadily gathered converts and friends, even a few disciples. His pieces resonate over time, simple in the beginning but becoming profound observations of universal truths.

Michael had the opportunity to visit with Walt in the condo recently…




The late Jesse Winchester with some beautiful wisdom.




Another musical luminary from the Lubbock area, Butch Hancock is best known for his on and off collaboration with Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore known as The Flatlanders, but he has been gracing us with fines songs and storied solo performances for more than four decades now. Raised on a dry-land cotton farm in the big empty, he lived in Austin for a number of years before moving to Terlingua, Texas, a Big Bend “ghost town” perched above the Rio Grande and home to an ex-patriate community of artists and other rugged individualists.

Like Ely and Gilmore, as well as folks like Terry Allen and Jo Carol Pierce, Hancock is a wandering intellectual with little respect for appearances, social norms or cultural institutions. He looks out at the world and calls it like he sees it, and he sees it pretty clearly. Good or bad. False or true.

He sings in a dusty, far-away voice that is grounded in experience and a little regret, but all in all you get the sense that he has things pretty well figured out. He has a habit of penning absolute classics that find the grace in life’s moments of beauty, discovery and contradiction. Songs like “Boxcars”, “She Never Spoke Spanish to Me”, “West Texas Waltz” and “If I Were a Bluebird”. Existentialism and romanticism, loss and gain…songs that speak to the possibilities up ahead, just beyond the horizon.

Three things to know about Butch Hancock: (1) he is a charter member of the “Lubbock Mafia”, a cadre of talented musicians from the Hub City, many of which ended up in Austin, (2) he is as talented a photographer as he is a musician, (3) he is known for this quote about his hometown: “Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things. One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, dirty thing on the face of the earth and you should save it for someone you love.”

If you love Butch Hancock, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Joe Ely, Amanda Shires and Vince Bell.




Mary Chapin Carpenter is a songwriter of uncommon depth and sensitivity who came of age in the seventies as a folksinger in the clubs of Washington, D.C. She began enjoying significant commercial success in the eighties, when Columbia Records began promoting her as a “country” artist, but never allowed her work to be processed, categorized or compromised, and has always spoken directly from a kind mind and a full heart.

She is especially revered for her consideration of the changing lives of women, perhaps most famously for the brilliantly caustic “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” from 1992, and her name is spoken in the same breath as that of Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier and Shawn Colvin. Carpenter has focused on other social and political issues that are close to her heart, often speaking for those on the wrong end of social power structures. Consider “John Doe No. 24”, her stunning portrayal of a child born without sight or hearing in long-ago New Orleans. Abandoned to the orphanages and institutions of the south, no link to the outside but his memory of the scent of blooming crepe jasmine.

Mary’s work is literary and profound, often evoking the gothic south of William Faulkner or Willa Cather’s vast Midwest. She recalls the strength and majesty of young love, or the dusty regret of passion that wasn’t quite strong enough to last. Like so many of our favorite artists, we smile through tears at the memories she pulls to the surface.

Carpenter’s songs have been covered by the varied likes of Joan BaezTony RiceWynona JuddTrisha Yearwood, and has recorded with folks like Colvin, Radney FosterDolly Parton and the Indigo Girls. Over her career she has won five Grammy Awards and a host of other formal accolades in the course of releasing fourteen albums of mostly original work.

Three things to know about Mary Chapin Carpenter: (1) she is distantly related to the late, great songwriter Harry Chapin, (2) in 2014, she released an orchestral album and performed it live at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and (3) she has coped with periodic bouts of depression with what she calls “the learning curve of gratitude”.

If you love Mary Chahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azsSkWyxvu8pin Carpenter, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Ana Egge, Will T. Massey and Mary Gauthier.




A little Newbury to calm your morning.




David Ramirez and Summer Ames team up on his gorgeous tune about faith. He vows to carry on, to “breathe deep, love strong, and hold on forever”.




Oklahoma is sort of the Bermuda Triangle of the Great Plains. We know there’s some magical stuff going on within those dusty borders, but we’re a little scared to head on in and check it out.

The musical magic is referred to as the “Red Dirt” scene, and a rich vein of that fertile ground runs right to Travis County. Some of our favorite artists carried a little of that dirt with them, folks like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy LaFave, Kevin Welch, Travis Linville, even Michael Fracasso, and Austin music is certainly the better for it. In truth, the rambling red dirt of Oklahoma is a close geological cousin to the cotton fields and caliche flats of West Texas. It spawns poets of uncommon insight.

There’s a new kid out on there on the airwaves, name of John Fullbright, and he seems destined to take us a little further into the dust bowl frame of mind. Pause a little before you venture into the world of Fullbright, because he will grab hold of you with a steely grip. Every song will take you somewhere you’ve never been before, and in every song you will learn something more about yourself. Woody Guthrie would be quite proud.

A child of Okemah, like Guthrie, Fullbright cut his teeth with formidable Red Dirt artist Mike McClure. His breakthrough year came in 2012. A stunning performance at SXSW in March, the main stage at Kerrville Folk Festival in June and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July. In the middle of all that he released his debut album, From the Ground Up, to much acclaim, and the boy from Oklahoma was on his way.

He storms the stage with piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica, his voice weathered and high. His appearance is earnest and rosy-cheeked, somewhere between high school history teacher and a budding televangelist. He exhibits the wisdom of a thinking man twice his age, channeling a jailhouse full of old souls. He navigates the killing fields of love and bites down on the eternal social issues. His words will cause you to pause, maybe even change your own tune a little.

John Fullbright is a troubadour in the best sense, spreading an enriching gospel of finding what’s right in each of life’s precious moments, and railing against the rest like an angry archangel…a foe to hypocrisy and a friend to what’s right. Expect much more in the years to come.

Three things to know about John Fullbright: (1) Townes Van Zandt was an important and early influence, (2) his first significant public performance was at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah in 2005, and (3) in 2009, he released Live at the Blue Door, a great live album recorded by Travis Linville at the Oklahoma City club.

If you love John Fullbright, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Patty Griffin, Kevin Welch, and K Phillips.




Mr. Bingham with “The Weary Kind”, the song he wrote with T Bone Burnett for the film Crazy Heart. You can hear a little Stephen Bruton in there too.




Walt’s tribute to wooden walls full of memories and dimpled windows that still let in the sunshine.




The genius of Kevin Russell. See his Austin Songwriter profile here.




Eric Taylor performs his pensive “Dean Moriarty”, with wife Susan, in The Netherlands.