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WRIU Folk & Roots

CD Reviews for 04/08/05 (Cornell Hurd Band, Elizabeth McQueen,Matt the Electrician) by Dan Ferguson

Some recent and very worthy independent releases from down Austin, Texas way that fall under the radar, so to speak, are in the Compact Capsules spotlight this week. We begin with an old favorite, the Cornell Hurd Band, who if you're ever in Austin on a Thursday night, the band’s free show at Jovita's Cantina located at South First Street in the South Austin section of town is essential viewing.

Cornell Hurd Band
Fanmail: From the Lost Planet
Behemoth Records 1017

It hasn't even been a year since the last release from the Austin, Texas-based Cornell Hurd Band and they are back with a vengeance with the new recording Fanmail: From the Lost Planet. The band’s last outing was Cen-Tex Serenade and like past albums, it was another in a long line of “annual” extravaganzas. When reviewing Cen-Tex Serenade for these papers last May, I expounded on how the CHB album release cycle works explaining: "Hurd is about as regular as the daily constitutional when it comes to recordings shooting for a new one every year and typically timing release with the South-by-Southwest Music Conference held annually in March in Austin. The newly released Cen-Tex Serenade keeps the streak alive and once again finds Hurd and company dishing out a big gulp-styled collection of tunes chock full of verve, swagger, and drive." Well, when Mr. Hurd got hold of the review he took exception to all that talk of regularity when it comes to making record albums declaring that those days of the once a year, 20-plus track releases were over. In other words, why bust your hump every year to accumulate all this material when other honky tonk cats are getting away with putting out 10 or 12 song albums, and every couple of years at that. With the December release of Fanmail: From the Lost Planet, Hurd officially changes his tack. Numbering ONLY 14 tracks, Fanmail: From the Lost Planet is scaled down to about half the size of your standard CHB album. That brevity, however, from the view point of the average Cornell Hurd Band fan, will likely be quickly forgotten once the tunes start spilling out. Let's just say that if variety is the spice of life, the Cornell Hurd Band has it in spades on Fanmail: From the Lost Planet. A mighty ensemble led by the C&W raconteur Hurd, this latest recording is a feast of riches. It features upwards of 22 musicians and singers, 11 of which form the core group. Among the guests for this go-round are fireball vocalist Dee Lannon, country singer extraordinaire Justin Trevino, and tenor sax monster Del Puschert whose resume dates back as far as the 1950s and working with Elvis and who word has it is now a seasonal member of the band. Even with the impressive guest list, it is the core band that makes this machine run as efficiently as it does and give the overall sound its unmistakable panache. It all begins with the big guy, Hurd, and carries straight through to rubboard man Danny Roy Young. Getting back to the variety angle, find me a band with the balls to go in directions as diverse as Willie Dixon ("Violent Love" featuring Lannon singin' her heart out), 1950s R&B vocal group the Ray-O-Vacs (a cover of the classic "Party Time" which the band dedicates to late Dallas rockabilly Ronnie Dawson), legendary film composer Dimitri Tiomkin (the instrumental "Guns of Navarone, Texas" featuring guitarist Paul Skelton in the spotlight), Big Joe Turner ("Love Rollercoaster"), Lucky Millinder ("Ram-Bunk-Shush"), Cindy Walker ("I Always Went Through" which Ernest Tubb covered), and Irving Berlin. See what I mean about variety? The real kicker is that there's not a bad cover in the bunch. Add to that some fine Hurd originals and you have 38, action-packed minutes! (Behemoth Records, P.O. Box 683, Dripping Springs, TX 78620, or www.cornellhurdband.com)

Elizabeth McQueen
Happy Doing What We're Doing
Freedom/Gravitron Records

The term pub rock was born in Great Britain in the early 1970s. It's definition was pretty simple, rock and roll bands playing the pubs. It was a movement begun as an alternative for those tiring of the mega venues and mega-shows of the day, in search of a more back to the basics setting to listen to rock, namely the pubs and barrooms. Oft-timed cited as the precursor to punk, it was a movement that spawned the likes of Dr. Feelgood, Brinsley Schwarz (which included a young Nick Lowe), Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Ducks Deluxe, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Graham Parker & the Rumour, Elvis Costello, and to a lesser extent, Squeeze and Rockpile. Here's thinking that Austin-based singer and songwriter Elizabeth McQueen wasn't even an inkling in her parents' eyes when much of this was going down in Britain. It was a reissue of a CD by the band Rockpile, given as a gift to McQueen by an uncle, that left such an impression on her that she started digging deeper into the nooks and crannies of the pub rock movement. With the release of her second longplayer called Happy Doing What We're Doing, McQueen offers perhaps the ultimate tip of the cap presenting a dozen remakes of her favorites of the roots rockin' sub-genre to go with a single new tune that meshes fairly well with all the real McCoys. The album begins with a dandy cover of Ducks Deluxe's pub rock gem, the ultra-catchy "Love's Melody". From there it is into favorites from Rockpile ("When I Write the Box"), Squeeze ("Annie Get Your Gun"), the title track which Brinsley Schwarz worked its magic on, and Eddie & the Hot Rods ("All I Need Is Money"). Like pub rock itself, this latest from McQueen is not about taking the listener deep. It's a fun record that recalls a let loose and fly bar time in the annals of British rock and roll on which McQueen and a cast that includes both her band the Firebrands, Austin rockers the Conrads, and oodles of guests, acquits herself quite well. Most importantly, she and her comrades come off as is they are clearly happy doing what they’re doing. (For information on Elizabeth McQueen and Happy Doing What We're Doing, check out her web site at www.elizabethmcqueen.com or www.texasmusicroundup.com)

Matt the Electrician
Long Way Home

First off, Matt Sever is really an electrician. As the story goes, the Austin-based singer and songwriter preferred the Matt the Electrician handle to using his actual name for the simple fact he figured it had a catchiness to it that the straight-up birth name did not. On his fourth and latest release called Long Way Home, Matt the Electrician serves up ten agile and highly melodic tales most capable of striking a nerve or two. It could be as simple as a song about the basic necessity of life ("Water" which is chock full of clever word play), as home-hitting in a high school kind of way as "I'm Sorry Hemingway" about the dread of the book report, or as endearing as the father-son relationship ("Hammer On the Ladder"). When he passed through these parts last October, Sever enchanted a house full of revelers with his tale's of both life simple pleasures and pains in the butt. The little things in life fuel Sever's songwriting muse and he works them to plenty satisfying proportions on the self-released Long Way Home. Singing in a grainy voice with backing from some of Austin's most reliable sideman, the end result is one of those hidden gems of a record that you have to go the extra yard to seek out (or you can just find Sever's web site). To these ears, it’s a mission worth taking. Recommended. (For information on Matt the Electrician, check out his web site at www.matttheelectrician.com)


posted by Boudin Dan, 04/08/05

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