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Thursday - March 14, 2013

Back over at The White Horse for a little afternoon fun today and a great set from Austin's own little 3-piece cowgirl outfit The Bluebird Specials. These ladies play some nice backwoods/mountain style honky-tonk/bluegrass in the most down-homiest of ways and do it real fine. Sweet vocal harmonies and solid, simple instrumentation is their method and well-written songs are their trade. The covers they pick range from Cher to traditional Americana tunes and their original songs are clever and pure, without the trappings and ridiculously overdone entendre of modern country music. Drawing much of their sound from the mountains of the Eastern side of the country, these gals are a cute little cross between pure Appalachia and Hee Haw. But don't let the cuteness fool you, their music is all heart. Truly a must-see for Austinites and visitors alike.

Over at the Blurt party I got to catch the tail end of Chris Rees' set. His songwriting is really impressive, with a wit and spirit that I really admire, and his heavily-strummed acoustic guitar playing makes no apologies. The songs simply come blasting forth from his mouth and hands, far too powerfully to be folk, although there is folks spirit at the heart of them; his music and voice contain the same strength as folks like Billy Bragg, but tend less towards the political side and more to the personal.

The Defibulators play a cool, bluesy roadhouse type of country music that is very easy to listen to with lots of walking bass lines and Memphis style guitars. As the set went on, the music got a bit more and more country, even having a fiddle-player sit in on most of the set, lending the songs a very mountain/bluegrass style sound, which was made more evident when one of the guys traded his guitar for a washboard. Once the band got warmed up they really started to cook, the guitars trading sweet, twangy lead lines with the fiddle and the songs taking a far more country bent. The energy from stage was great and the crowd was responding well. I'll definitely be looking to find this band's record and hope to see them again on down the road.

Trapper Schoepp And The Shades are one of the coolest acts happening in the Northern Midwest. The band pulls its music from a vast range of sounds, but relies the most heavily on roadhouse rock and Americana roots. The 4-piece band is led by 22-year-old Trapper Schoepp and one of the other members is his brother, and one of the best things about them is their use of 4-part harmony singing; obviously, these kids grew up singing together and even when it is only the two of them harmonizing it pays off in every way imaginable. Even when a song is fairly straight up rock and roll, the use of the harmony singing turns things around to having a bit more of a wonderful, country feel. This band is very tight, and when they get into what they're doing the energy and fun is almost tangible. The crowd was having a great time feeding off of the band's energy and when Trapper jumped out into the crowd to dance with a lady during a song, the energy notched upwards again. Then later in the set he would once more defy the traditional stage/crowd boundary by jumping up on one of the audience tables while playing guitar, promoting a much more interactive show and doing his best to involve the crowd. If I had to equate this band to something a reader might already be familiar with, I would say they remind me of an earlier Stephen Kellogg, like when he actually was playing country, and a touch of the cowpunk of bands like The Old 97's.

Over at the world famous Continental Club I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing a performance by resurrected Dallas old-schoolers The Relatives. This singing group was around back in the 1970s and then went underground and was recently unearthed and have recorded a new record that has just been released. This band is a soul music institution and draws from the same wellsprings as groups like The Temptations but also have a touch of funk underlying the sound. The group is made up of five guys that sing amazingly well together, unified in charm, skill, and charisma. I don't believe that I have ever experienced a show where the principals got the entire room full of folks from different places and different lives moving and dancing in unison. It was a religious and uplifting experience to hear these guys sing and perform, and one that I would highly recommend to everyone.

I finished the night out with a quick set by a songwriter I have admired over the years; a little Nebraskan called Josh Rouse. Rouse has always written great songs, but over the past few years I feel like his albums have gotten a little bit bland and AAA, lacking in the energy and power that his first years as a songwriter held. The band that he was playing with was fantastic and played the songs effortlessly, playing a bunch of newer songs, but sprinkling the set with versions of some of his older tunes as well. Josh Rouse will always write great songs, it just seems more and more that he plays them for older folks now instead of a more vibrant, youthful crowd. Not a bad place to be.

-David DeVoe


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