By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Lauren Agnelli--known to most for her association with neofolkie groundbreakers the Washington Squares--imparts a New Yorker's sense of forward momentum; one of her favorite words is "apace," and when she tells you that "when someone makes me feel good, I tell them about it" in her East Coast accent, you don't doubt it for a second.
A decade ago that someone was Brave Combo's Carl Finch, and as a result of her forthrightness, Agnelli and BC have just released, on Austin's Watermelon Records, the superb Kiss of Fire, an effort that sees each musician leading the other into some new territory. BC was playing at the University of Texas' Texas Tavern while Agnelli and the Squares held forth down the hall at the Cactus Cafe. "I heard this unearthly music wafting down the hallway," Agnelli recalls, "so I followed it, and it just knocked my socks off; I just danced and danced and danced...Afterwards I went up and introduced myself."
"You guys aren't so bad yourselves," Finch replied to Agnelli's compliments, and a friendship was born that has been sustained by letters, exchanges of tapes, and by each catching the other when in the same town. Brave Combo has opened up more than one cranium to the musical possibilities available out there in the world, and Agnelli was ripe.
"I was ready for something completely different musically," Agnelli--who projected a quirky but earnest folk voice with the Squares--remembers. "I was getting into all the really cool people like Edith Piaf and Kurt Weill, the ones that it takes you a while to discover, but once you do, you're hooked...One time I was walking down Broadway with Carl and I said, 'I've got these songs that don't really fit with the Washington Squares,' and he said, 'We're doing some stuff that's not quite Combo.'" Around 1990, the tape exchanges through the mail started to include unfinished songs.
"Lauren's such a great lyricist," Finch enthuses. "She's an incredibly literate phrase turner [she in fact works as a temp doing proofreading and editing] and she's got a good feel for the subtle aspects of relationships." For the next four years, Agnelli and Finch formed the dyad that produced the bulk of Kiss, although Agnelli also worked with Bubba Hernandez (unfortunately, Hernandez and Agnelli's song didn't make it onto the album) and often refers to her collaboration as being with "the Combo" or simply "the guys."
In 1994, the material was ready and the waiting game began. "We didn't want to just put the album out and then wait for somebody to pick it up," Finch explains. "It was a long process, and it was odd to work on something for so long while at the same time putting out an album a year [for Rounder Records]." Agnelli was working with Dave "Rave" Des Roches, first in the Dave Rave Conspiracy, which featured ex-Television drummer Billy Ficca, and then in Agnelli and Rave, the singing-songwriting duo that emerged from the DRC's dissolution.
Although Kiss was released as Alummettes in Japan in 1994, for stateside release the 1996 timing was perfect: Sultry, cabaret-flavored originals like the title track and "Burn Slow," together with standards like Lerner and Lowe's "I Could Have Danced All Night," are ideal for the current lounge revival, a trend whose adherents are developing expectations for more than smirking retrocool.
"We think of this more in cabaret terms, but Brave Combo has done sort of a lounge thing with various cuts throughout our career," Finch allows. "It's kinda sad--we've predicted the fad; now we're in the fad--but so much of that is this retro thing, like you're pretending you're in a different era...A lot of our struggles have been with that. In fact, when doing the cover art for [Kiss of Fire and Mood Swing Music, a collection of rarities and import-only tracks also just released], we requested that the art not be aligned so much with that [lounge movement]...We'd rather it just be music, and--oh, by the way--it's a bit different, more somber."
"Lauren Agnelli and Brave Combo have always been ahead of our times," Agnelli agrees, sounding eerily like Bob Dole for a second. "Maybe it's good that there was that delay."
Brave Combo and Lauren Agnelli play Wednesday, November 20, at Dan's Bar in Denton; and Thursday, November 21, at Club Dada.
When the whip comes down
Ricky Brooks is out of the Nixons. "I hate it, I hate it, I hate it," the bassist--who was fired--says unequivocally. "I'm just devastated."
Devastated, but not surprised. "I hadn't been happy for a while, and it was hard for me to contribute," Brooks says. "It was pretty frustrating for them; from their point of view they were getting rid of dead weight." Brooks had been increasingly dissatisfied with the band, but bears his old bandmates no ill will.
"They didn't sell out," he maintains. "It's just that when we started we were dangerous, and that's how I like it; but we found a less dangerous formula that worked, and we got further and further away from how we were at the start." Brooks won't be idle for long, though; he's already joined Oklahoma City's Owl, a band he managed during his stay with the Nixons.