Photo by Todd V. Wolfson
Even if you don’t know the musician Ethan Azarian, you’ve probably seen his visual work around town. The artist has painted murals at restaurants, apartment complexes, schools, and more. They’re filled with vivid colors and a sense of humor–this one is a personal favorite of mine–and Azarian brings this same ramshackle charm to his music. In 2005, he started playing around town with Jeff Johnston–a fellow local musician who’s spent time in Li’l Cap’n Travis and Azarian’s Orange Mothers–and the duo finally have a debut album to their names. Azarian and Johnston retreated to Azarian’s home state of Vermont to record in an old farmhouse, and thus Farmhouse Recordings was born. Rounded out by Justin Sherburn (Okkervil River), Craig Ross (Storyville), and cellist Melissa Knight, the album is a meditative collection of stark folk songs. “Never Slow Down” hits hard towards the end of the record, carried forward by a droning keyboard and Azarian’s unique voice.
She’s been compared to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but Kat Edmonson is her own artist. For over a decade, the former Austinite has brought jazz to a new generation. She’s collaborated with Lyle Lovett and breathes new life into old standards, but she’s also an accomplished songwriter, self-described as “vintage pop.” With the release of her third album, The Big Picture, Edmonson returned to Austin earlier this year for a homecoming gig, and we were there to capture it. This week on the Austin Music Experience, Kat Edmonson in concert, live from the historic soundstage of Austin City Limits. Join us Sunday at 6pm on KUTX 98.9 and KUTX.org.
Photo by Joe Calderon
Magna Carda’s laid-back vibe masks a rapidly evolving Austin group. Megz Kelli and Dougie Do met at St. Edward’s, releasing a couple of bedroom-produced mixtapes. But there was “it” factor from the very beginning. Kelli’s rapid-fire, rhythmically-complex rhymes are perfectly suited for Do’s crate-digging jazz/soul sound. With references to Van Gogh, Chuck Close, and a challenge to Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” it’s obvious that Magna Carda aren’t content to stay just an Austin phenomenon.
In the live setting, they’re also pushing their own boundaries. Kelli and Do added a versatile band to their performances–as we saw at both MapJam and the X Games this year–and they helped kick off Weird City, Austin’s very first hip-hop festival. Now comes Like It Is, Magna Carda’s second release of the year, buoyed by “Game Like Jimmy.” It’s a characteristically low-key production, but Kelli still swaggers, proclaiming that she’s a leader not a follower. We couldn’t agree more.
Photo by Eddie O’Keefe
After years of starts and stops, Greta Morgan is finally realizing her musical vision. She started as a teenager in the Chicago-based band the Hush Sound, earning a record contract and a Billboard-cracking album before it all fell apart in 2008. Gold Motel followed next for a few years, but Morgan longed for a solo project. She reinvented herself again as Springtime Carnivore, writing and recording on her own. Her demos led to another label contract and studio time with Richard Swift, whose work with the Black Keys, the Shins, and Foxygen dovetails nicely with Morgan’s own aesthetic.
Springtime Carnivore puts Morgan’s pop songwriting in a house of mirrors. The melodies are simple and bright, but they’re built within a warped, pseudo-’60s framework. At times, Morgan sounds like a cross between Neko Case, Nancy Sinatra, and Debbie Harry. “Name On A Matchbook” bounces on Motown-inspired beat, but Morgan’s voice is hidden behind distortion–sweet and sour, all in one bite.
Twenty years ago, Nan Warshaw, Rob Miller, and Eric Babcock started Bloodshot Records to document the budding alternative country scene in their hometown of Chicago. Their first release–a compilation of local and national like-minded artists, from the Old 97′s to the Handsome Family–gave a home to roots bands that didn’t fit the “roots” mold. These groups spiked their Carter Family-isms with punk and rock, tipping their hats to the old while making something uniquely new. Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and Justin Townes Earle all called Bloodshot Records home at one point. Austinites like Alejandro Escovedo, Rosie Flores, and Scott H. Biram were also scooped up into the label’s orbit.
Two decades later, Bloodshot is celebrating their birthday with a bang. While No One Was Looking hints at the tongue-in-cheek attitude always taken by the label, who’s constantly swam upstream since its inception. But it’s worthy of celebration, partially due to the diverse set of artists they’ve touched over the years. Andrew Bird, Chuck Prophet, Ted Leo, Shakey Graves, Ben Kweller, Shinyribs, and Samuel Fogarino of Interpol all appear on the compilation, tackling a wide range of songs. And today, we’re turning the spotlight on Blitzen Trapper, fellow rootsy outsiders who cover Ryan Adams’ classic “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High).”