Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura
Austin, Texas

Glasgow, Scotland indie rock-pop sextet Camera Obscura, formed in 1996, played recently to a packed house at the fabled Antone’s promoting their latest studio album, the bittersweet largely ‘60s musical throwback My Maudlin Career. For the night, the ensemble was focused, steady and balanced in their repertoire with upbeat sides and slow, somber numbers. Violist/keyboardist Anna Rossi, who opened up for the group, was even invited to perform a song with them.

Front woman Tracyanne Campbell’s calming, mellow voice was indecipherable at times, but the danceable grooves seemed to make up for it. If one paid attention closely, they would find snippets of classic Motown era melodies, Phil Spector-ish flourishes, and early Beach Boys lightweight fun-in-the-sun touches throughout their performance, and this should be enough for those trying to follow Tracyanne’s thick Scottish accent (on record, her voice is much more clear and crisp). “How do we have fun?” Tracyanne asked the crowd. “By having more beer!” This makes up for it too.

Despite their confessional songs and insistent rhythms exuding a jovial ambiance, there seemed to be too many of those in attendance engaged in conversations. And that’s unfortunate because the mostly mid-tempo numbers, smart yet catchy lyricism, and the band’s interesting mix of musical tastes should have been given much more attention. The ‘60s-saturated single “French Navy,” the sweet melody of “The Sweetest Thing,” “Honey In the Sun,” and the beautiful “My Maudlin Career” were highlights, and if one didn’t have a clue as to what songs were performed, the album was conveniently available for purchase right on the spot. Camera Obscura’s live performances may not be as much praised as their recordings (they were championed by the late, influential and legendary John Peel), but they’re solid enough to stand on their own.

by Jeff Boyce

Rosie Flores & the Riveters and
James Hyland

Rosie Flores & the Riveters and James Hyland
The Continental Club
Houston, Texas

It was a hot and humid Friday night. But when Rosie and the Riveters took the stage at Houston's Continental Club, it got even hotter. Austin's Rosie Flores has been making music for more than two decades, she continues to bring something new to the country music scene with her eclectic and lively approach.

Rosie set the night on fire with her unparalleled guitar playing. On the verge of releasing her first album in 5 years, this Peabody award-winning songwriter gave the audience a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Rosie played a few new songs, including "Rosebud Blues," and covered classics, like Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm." Fans partnered up and danced to Rosie's last couple of songs, including the oldie but goodie, "Bring it On," which was energetic from beginning to end.

James Hyland then took over and set a different tone with his calm voice and soothing music. Known as a member of the South Austin Jug Band, James is a singer-songwriter who connects with his audience with poetic lyrics and acoustic instruments. With his guitar, a double bass, and lines like "love country sound" weaving throughout his songs, James' music seemed to conjure up images of a Texas Hill Country sunset.

Singing "You Come to Me," one of his well-known songs, just above a whisper, James intimately captured his audience. The show unfolded like a story -- each song a different chapter. For many in the crowd, listening to James' music was a relaxing way to end the night after watching Rosie's upbeat performance.

These two local musicians complemented each other quite well. They both know how to use their talents to put on a show that highlights what great live music in Texas is all about.

by Sophia Ancer

Ian McLagan

Ian McLagan
La Zona Rosa
Austin, Texas

A large, star-studded affair, it consisted of Ian McLagan & the Bump Band, Alejandro Escovedo, James McMurtry and Right or Happy, the latter which broke out with an interesting rendition of the Emotions’ disco evergreen “Best of My Love.” They all were on hand to show their support for the second annual Child Guidance Center’s Super Hero Show, helping to improve children’s mental health in the Austin area. The casual bar, which had a dining area, also housed an auction display to the left of the stage that featured books, tickets to a Rod Stewart show, a bicycle, and other collectable music items.

Amongst the top-notch performances augmenting the night’s good cause and camaraderie, Ian McLagan & the Bump Band’s Lone Star was the most luminous. McLagan, a member of the legendary Small Faces/Faces in the ‘60s and ‘70s, cranked out charging and keyboard-driven rock ‘n’ roll music. Added into the mix were a series of lighthearted comments, also courtesy of Ian.

The band introduced their set with the bluesy “I Will Follow,” which featured a blistering keyboard solo, before “I’m Hot, You’re Cool” took the floor. “And this is a tribute to Fats Domino,” Ian explained with their third number, the New Orleans-saturated “Loverman.” The steady, reggae-brushed “A Little Black Number” was another delight.

But the band played more than just the tracks off of their latest studio endeavor, “Never Say Never” (2008). They revisited the Faces’ enduring rocker “Cindy Incidentally,” again showcasing Ian’s raucous keyboard, and the sweetly slow “Glad and Sorry,” both found on 1973’s great “Ooh La La.” They also performed the mid-paced “You’re So Rude” (“Dedicated to all the rude girls in the house,” Ian declared) and the driving “Temperature,” both of which can be found on the band’s 2006 live album.

The audience also noticed when Ian inadvertently introduced his band members at least twice, while giving his thanks to them, a consideration many artists tend to fail to do onstage. Ian was quick to give his opinions: “We can’t see MP3s. Let’s bring back vinyl!” appeared to be another way of saying, “Support our records by purchasing them, not downloading them for free!”

by Jeff Boyce

Robert Cray Band

Robert Cray Band
Austin, Texas

It‘s expected that Robert Cray will turn in an intense, impassioned performance. Standing tall and confident, the sincerity of his facial expressions and intricate guitar work demonstrate that genuine blues course through his veins. If anything, his legacy as a blues behemoth, in both recorded form and live engagement, is secure. And at the landmark Antone’s, a club where blues luminaries such as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Jimmy Reed, and Pinetop Perkins have graced the stage, Robert Cray continues to carry that sacred blues baton.

Cray, a Grammy Award winner and seminal figure in the ‘80s pure blues revival, took the blues of Muddy Waters and Albert Collins and the soul-blues of Bobby “Blue” Bland and Z.Z. Hill and created his own brand. Many blues and blues rock artists, from John Lee Hooker to Eric Clapton, respectively, have expressed their respect to him as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time.

Opening with the frantic “Our Last Time,” a paralyzing force seemed to sway the audience as Robert Cray held them with a berserk and screeching guitar solo, which would soon be revisited on most of the songs that night. His support structure of Tony Braunagel (drums), Jim Pugh (keyboards), and Richard Cousins (bass guitar) was equally exhiliarating.

The classic “Phone Booth” was next. “I’m back in Austin,” Cray sang a few times. “There are no phone booths anymore. If you remember them, then you’re as old as me.” And after laughter enveloped the air, Cray did a little snippet of the song, substituting “phone booth” with “cell phone.”

The new song, “Love 2009,” destined for release on Cray’s upcoming This Time album, slowed the mood a little with its light blues feel, but the band eventually picked up the energy and heat of the room when they broke into another new song, the funny “Chicken in the Kitchen.”

Concertgoers who wanted to hear great blues got their money’s worth. The carefully selected songs and combustive music both combined to elevate the intensely personal blues idiom into an explosive night of dancing and merriment. Along with other younger keepers of the blues flame such as Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, and Joanna Connor, Robert Cray is living proof that the blues can still enrapture audiences.

by Jeff Boyce