Listening and watching and such (March 23, 2003)

[In response to the moderator’s asking me to recommend ‘something to watch which captures the musical essence of non-major label and live music in the US’ while admitting that Texas scares her]

Oh, just keep your head up and your belt buckle shined and you’ll be fine…the place scares me sometimes too, but March is such a fine, sunny month here and all. I assume [the moderator] was asking me to recommend a movie that delves into the world of indie/live music, but (even on this wartime Oscar night) I can’t for the life of me think of a candidate of recent vintage (say, within the past decade). Is there a documentary I’ve missed? It might be easier to just go to a concert if you can get away (check your local alternative weekly’s listings, or the bulletin board at the natural-food co-op…and do go left of the dial…).

Wartime hasn’t driven me to play protest songs; lately I’ve been listening to a lot by an old standby, Barbara Manning, who has (as a recent review in the London Times put it) “spent the past decade and a half stranded between the singer-songwriter garret and the garage-rock gutter.” In particular, a CD reissue of her first band, ’28th Day: the complete recordings” (Innerstate Records), has been in near-constant rotation on my car stereo. Manning’s a perfect example of a quirky, unappreciated solid-gold talent who’s been a `starving artist’ for 20 years now. (I actually prefer a term I invented, `Music for the Real World,’ over the now-meaningless `alternative’ label.)

As for SXSW in Austin, I didn’t really `do’ it this year, but I did get to a few gems in the rough: Liz Phair (in a daytime performance on the outdoor porch of a Starbucks, of all places), who seems to be developing quite the rock-star ego; the delightful Mary Lee’s Corvette; the wonderful Rosie Flores (an alt-country rocker who used to be in a late `70s new wave group called the Screamin’ Sirens); and perhaps best of all, Chip Taylor, legendary `60s songwriter (and brother of Jon Voight) who wrote `Angel of the Morning’ and `Wild Thing,’ and treated us to the latter, in a duet with young country fiddler Carrie Rodriguez (whom Taylor met two years ago playing at Cheapo Records in Austin during SXSW). Hard to top something like that, so I called it a night. Taylor even produced the comeback CD of the extraordinarily marvelous singer Evie Sands (who recorded the original version of “Angel of the Morning,” only to see her record company go bankrupt within a week of its release), which makes him a hero in my book.

Some indie labels I like: Matador, Innerstate, Groove Disques (home of Nixon’s Head), Diesel Only, Signature Sounds, YepRoc (home of more great artists and bands than you can shake a stick at, but I might mention Nick Lowe, Billy Bragg, Dave Alvin, the Fleshtones, Caitlin Cary, Chris Stamey and Robyn Hitchcock for starters). Very incomplete list.
“I’m the editor of my life story, but I can’t choose the headlines.” — Barbara Manning

[I used to be a copy editor…I can relate.]

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