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Last Night: Collin Herring at The Cavern

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Collin Herring, Austin Collins April 5, 2008 The Cavern

Better than: pretending to be alt-country by drinking Lone Star while listening to The Drams or Old 97’s.

Fort Worth’s Collin Herring and Austin’s Austin Collins put on an Americana song writing clinic Saturday night at The Cavern in front of a surprisingly large, vocal and sufficiently inebriated crowd. Diverse isn’t the word to describe the collection of punks, jocks, retirees and alt-country holdovers that descended upon lower Greenville last night. The cross-cultural appeal is part of what makes the music of Herring and Collins so vital in the first place.

Collins is on the road supporting his recently released gem Roses are Black. Produced by Will Johnson, the album is not nearly as pessimistic as the title might suggest and is a godsend for those craving the golden alt-country days of Slobberbone and Uncle Tupelo. Looking like a (much) younger version of Steve Earle, Collins led his bedraggled quartet through a hefty dose of twang infused heartland rock. Songs such as “11 Months” and “Broken” brought out appreciative howls from an audience that actually shut up long enough to hear the music, a sad rarity these days.

Next up was Collin Herring, who performed with only his father Ben Roi as accompaniment. Herring, who is temporarily residing in Austin after a few stops in rehab, didn’t need a full band to get his message across. Performing songs from his new effort, Past Life Crashing, along with classics from 2005’s The Other Side of Kindness, Herring was personable and energetic throughout his performance. Already in the studio working on another new record, Herring spoke before the show about getting sober and how much more work he’s getting done since giving up the bottle. Judging by the textured verbosity of songs such as “Cellophane” and “Yard Cars,” Herring has given up drinking for the perusing the dictionary. But when Ben Roi’s pedal steel punctuated the lovely ballad “Beside,” Herring’s sound echoed across the club like secret truths in search of converts. -- Darryl Smyers

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: Why does it always seem odd to hear a performer talk about being sober in a bar with a couple of hundred drunks? And why do shows at The Cavern always start so damn late? I think all clubs on Greenville Avenue should follow the lead of the Granada and have all shows kick off by 9 p.m.

Random Moments: This pretty cute teacher from Garland ISD was moderately infatuated with Herring, commenting on his Buddy Holly lenses and the way he fit his jeans. There’s always a fairly large contingent of females at Herring’s shows and this particular fan had to leave before the set ended in order to catch a midnight showing of, what else, Midnight Cowboy. This gal took her alt-country seriously!

Artist Suggestion: Herring’s songs are layered and dense and often evoke a similar mood to that of Bob Mould, at least when Mould’s solo work was decent, a la Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain. And Austin Collins not only looked like Steve Earle, but as soon as I got in the car, I had to pop Copperhead Road into my CD player just for quick comparison. Collins is so good that Earle’s influence is not simple impersonation.

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