Melting the wax museum
Austin's never going to land an alternative-rock band anywhere except in the cut-out bins; Spoon (whose first four albums I owned when they were called the Pixies) and Sincola and Prescott Curlywolf are this year's Glass Eye and Zeitgeist and Wild Seeds, which isn't necessarily a bad thing unless they want to pay the rent next year. Fastball's OK if you like it short, sharp, and stupid, but they're signed to Hollywood Records, rock industry's death row. And unless I'm misreading my copy of the Austin Chronicle, Lubbock's Jimmie Dale Gilmore is still the biggest thing to come out of the Cap City since, well, Lubbock's Joe Ely, and the only thing distinguishing Ian Moore from Stevie Ray Vaughan is young Ian's ability to draw breath. Austin is apparently Spanish for "inertia."
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.
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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.