By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Resentments are not a band, yet they are exactly what a band should be: five guys playing together for the sake of the song, the music. A conglomeration of Austin talent that, until recently, only played most every Sunday night at The Saxon Pub in their hometown, the group sports a front-line of veteran guitarists Stephen Bruton, Jon Dee Graham, and Scrappy Jud Newcomb (all of whom write songs and sing), backed by drummer Mambo John Treanor and bassist Bruce Hughes. But don't call them an Austin supergroup, even though they are a super Austin group, representing the city's mythical ethos of playing music for the sheer sake of playing at its best. Enough of those have already come and gone.
If one were to design this band, it would certainly look good on paper. Consider the stats for a moment: playing with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to John Doe to Poi Dog Pondering. Having songs covered by such diverse artists as Willie Nelson and Patty Smyth. A former drummer and founding father who happens to be country star Hal Ketchum. Sets that can include everything from Big Star's "Thirteen" to Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business." Such guest stars as Ray Wylie Hubbard, former NRBQ guitarist turned hit Nashville songwriter Al Anderson, and LeRoi Brother Steve Doerr. And, this weekend in Dallas, former Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne bassist Mark Andes sitting in (subbing for an otherwise-engaged Hughes). Of course, if The Resentments came together with the express purpose of forming a band to take a swipe at grabbing the brass ring, it probably wouldn't work anywhere near as well, if at all.
Yet The Resentments succeed admirably at what a band should, theoretically, be all about. "Anything can get said on stage, and anything can get played on stage. And it's nice to have that," observes Graham, the former True Believer who now boasts two acclaimed solo CDs. "Everybody's ear-deep in doing their own thing, and trying to make that work, and trying to get ahead and all that, and it's nice to come here, where that's not really a concern. This is just where we come to play. It's not about the business, it's not about the CDs. It's where we come to play."
Gypsy Tea Room
And that they do. Not with flash, but with feel and interchange--once again, as a band should. Songs are traded and embellished, not like at a folk guitar pull, but rather in the fashion an ongoing group might. Rather than play arrangements, The Resentments arrange as they play, each of them trying to bring something to the table, which may be one reason why it all sounds like a band, as some of its members explain as they sit in the Saxon Pub's pool room after finishing a show.
"I like it because there's a lot of musical conversation going on," notes Treanor, who has played percussion and drums with James McMurtry, Kris Kristofferson, and Austin's long-running world-beat jazz band Beto y Los Fairlanes, among many others. "Everybody's listening to each other, and there's a lot of musical conversation going on, licks being traded back and forth, questions and answers...It's almost like a jazz gig, if you look at jazz as a process of musical conversation. It's real heavy like that. It just goes there collectively."
That was never part of the plan. Actually, nothing has ever been part of the plan; there isn't one. The last time The Resentments rehearsed, it was before their very first show some three years ago, and with a different lineup from the one the unit has mutated into now. "We're not against rehearsal," explains Hughes, who is a veteran of Poi Dog Pondering, Cracker, and The Ugly Americans, as well as the newest Resentment at a year running.
"It just hasn't happened yet," Treanor says.
"We just don't know if we're for it," chimes in Hughes.
Then Bruton adds a last word: "Rehearsal has its time and place in other bands. Just not this one." After all, they probably don't need to rehearse, for reasons Bruton makes obvious. "I'll bring in something new and try it, and usually by the second verse, everyone has it."
The post-show repartee reflects another essential element of The Resentments that goes beyond the music: the onstage bantering and wisecracking between songs, especially between the acerbic wits of Bruton and Graham, who trade quips as effectively as they trade licks. "It's really funny, because we're doing a live record, and we had to listen down to all the cuts and see what version is best," says Graham. "And I was shocked at all the talking there is. Man, it was like 45 minutes from switch on to switch off, and there was only like eight songs, maybe."
But just as the music isn't rehearsed, the running commentary--frequently on the state of affairs in Austin--isn't a routine. "It's not like something we go after," Bruton explains. "It's just a by-product of everybody not really taking it seriously. I think if we were all up there trying to be a big thing, it wouldn't work. Consequently, it does work. Because at the same time, the musicianship is there. And the songs are there. It's its own little perpetual-motion machine."