By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
When it comes to exports, Austin's current finest is an import called 8 1/2 Souvenirs--which is fronted by a French expatriate, Olivier Giraud, with such a fervid fetish for Django Reinhardt he makes Dallas' Cafe Noir look like dabblers. The Souvenirs are a swing band with savoir soul, out of place in a town that still looks to Don Walser as its Buddha of Bubba but not so far removed from the context that they don't recall Bob Wills when the light hits them just right.
Giraud also is a member of The Asylum Street Spankers with nine or so other members of Austin's music community (including Guy Forsyth, Christina Marrs, and High Noon bassist Kevin Smith). It's as if Austin's future lies in a distant past: Junior Brown packs out the Continental sounding like Ernest Tubb, the Bad Livers give CPR to bluegrass, and the Spankers fill in the gaps by running through a repertoire that includes Gershwin and Leadbelly and the gray areas in between.
The Spankers are such purists they could pass for novelty and probably do: They not only appropriate the music, bounding from ragtime ("Mama Don't Allow") to Tin Pan Alley jazz ("Summer Time") to country blues ("Walkin' Blues"), but they do so within the framework of each period itself by dressing up and giving into the Vaudeville shtick. Theirs is almost a waxwork recreation of a sound and a time, a period piece sprung to life on stage like a musical, complete with banter that could pass for dialogue; it's a laugh recounted with the straightest of faces, the sound of extremely talented musicians basking in each other's gifts until it becomes more fun than work. And Marrs has a 45 RPM voice at 33 1/3, which makes her sound that much more "authentic."
The Asylum Street Spankers perform May 10 at the Sons of Hermann Hall.