With warm sunny days turning into beautiful nights here in New Braunfels, the great sounds of music can be heard throughout our community every night of the week from multiple venues. There is so much of it these days it makes it hard to 'pin down' exactly what to write about, but I've done it! These are my picks just up the hill from the beautiful Guadalupe River at Gruene Hall through Memorial Day Weekend...
Micky & The Motorcars will take the stage tonight at Gruene Hall playing tunes from all of their releases including the latest release...'Long Time Comin'. For a handful of summers about 30 years ago, tourists who wandered into a large dancehall in Stanley, Idaho, witnessed a family tradition finding new life. Young and old sat shoulder-to-shoulder, taking a break from the town’s mountain hikes and river campgrounds to take in Muzzie Braun and the Boys––a local family band who’d made it to the Grand Ole Opry, effortlessly spouted cowboy poetry and Western swing at gatherings around the country, and featured Muzzie’s four young sons––precocious boys with rock-and-roll futures.
“There were kids running around, people dancing,” says Micky Braun, the youngest brother who first climbed on stage to join the family when he was about five years-old. “Gary and I’d get up and play a couple of songs, then we’d get off and the older brothers would stay up and play a couple more. It’s pretty funny, looking back on it.” He laughs a little, then adds, still smiling, “That’s how we got started playing.”
The Braun brothers never stopped. Big brothers Cody and Willy started Reckless Kelly, and Micky and Gary left Idaho for Austin and started Micky and the Motorcars, a road-dogging favorite whose nonstop tour for the last 17 years has defined not just the lives of the brothers, but also shaped Austin’s roots-rock resurgence that has played out over the last two decades. With their anticipated new album Long Time Comin’, the Motorcars cement their place as elder statesmen of that alt-country scene who have managed to master that ever-elusive blend of artistic familiarity and surprise.
“I hope people take the time to hear the album as a whole, and I hope they like it,” Gary says from his home in Austin. “I think this one is a little bit better.” He pauses and laughs as he drawls, “So I hope they like it a little more.”
For the Motorcars, the question is never really whether to tour but where to play next. Gary––who handles guitar, mandolin, harmonica, harmonies, and occasionally lead vocals––and Micky, lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist, are joined in the Motorcars by Joe Fladger on bass, Bobby Paugh on drums and percussion, and new bandmate Pablo Trujillo on guitar. The combination of familiar and fresh players has reinvigorated the Motorcars’ live show, which buzzes through a low-key rock-and-roll rapture built on grooves and the Brauns’ signature harmonies.
A mix of new and old also shaped the Long Time Comin’ recording process. Produced by Keith Gattis, the 11-song album relied in part on Gattis’ go-to Nashville studio players––a first for the Motorcars. “It still sounds like Micky and the Motorcars, but it was fun working with different guys who we’d never worked with before,” Micky says. “They’ve been Keith’s band for 15 years. He can say, ‘Give me a shuffle with a boom-chuck,’ and they know what he’s talking about.”
The band isn’t the only change on Long Time Comin’. Gary, who has always contributed a song or two to Motorcar records, wrote or co-wrote six of the album’s tracks and sings every tune he penned. “I don’t think I decided to really write more––I think I just got better at it and worked a little harder at it the past couple of years,” Gary says. “In the past, I just let Micky do it because he was good at it. It was easy for me not to do it.”
Micky loves the shift. “It’s almost a split album between the two of us on lead vocal––very different from our normal,” he says. “I think our fans will enjoy it. They always love the songs Gary sings live. They always want him to sing more.”
The album kicks off with the ambling “Road to You.” Written by Micky and Courtney Patton, the rollicking singalong is classic Motorcars and an ideal welcome mat for the collection. Sauntering “Rodeo Girl” swings and punches up the pace, before “Alone Again Tonight”––a Gary track written with Gattis––watches loneliness with empathetic ache.
Several tracks take note of the universal search for comfort––even when it’s not the stuff of fairytales or even particularly dignified. Over crunchy guitars, “Stranger Tonight” captures an evening’s quest for no-strings companionship. “It was an idea I had just watching people at bars––that lonely girl I saw time and time again but with a different set of glasses, over and over,” Gary says. “It seems like everybody can relate to that––out looking for something new that doesn’t have to be love.”
Sweet and sad, “Break My Heart,” another track penned by Gary with Jeff Crosby, looks back after the end of a relationship. “You’re not mad anymore but you’re thankful of the good times,” Gary says. “It’s also about finding yourself again. It’s a moving-on song.” Quiet and sparse, the Gary-penned “Run into You” details a longing to cross paths with an ex-lover who’s moved on with heartbreaking clarity.
Anchored by crying B-3 organ, “Hold This Town Together” explores the struggle to enjoy what once was easy after the loss of someone who’ll never come back. After years of trying, Micky wrote the song for Mark, a friend and the Motorcars’ first bassist, who passed away. “Hold This Town,” written by Micky and Jeff Crosby, muses over the hometown faces and places that never change. “There are the same people at the same bars, the same people working at the grocery stores,” Micky says, then adds with a laugh, “It’s kind of a depressing party song.” Another Jeff Crosby-Micky collaboration, “Thank My Mother’s God” pays beautiful tribute to moms and their devotion to their black sheep, running wild.
Two album standouts stand tall: “Lions of Kandahar,” written by Gary alone, and the title track, which Micky penned with master songwriter Bruce Robison. Over instrumentation that evokes the tense hum of Middle Eastern military activity, “Lions of Kandahar” follows a deployment from a first-person perspective. The result is jarring, compelling, and deeply human––a breathtaking piece of songwriting that took five years to complete. Winsome “Long Time Comin’” is an ode to the satisfaction of patience and perseverance rewarded in different forms––a stunning tapestry that also reflects the road to the album itself.
Guitars and songs at the ready, Micky and Gary hope most of all that their sprawling cross-continental fanbase connect with Long Time Comin’, a collection four years in the making. “If you can put your heart on your sleeve and say it, it’s the best medicine for people,” Micky says, reflecting on the album. “They can lock into it and enjoy the ride.” Tickets still available...I'll leave you with a little incentive right here...
A relative newcomer to our neck of the woods, Brent Cobb makes his way to Gruene Hall for an intimate acoustic set. In 2017, This heartfelt songwriter has some amazing stories, and some great songs to back 'em up. Brent Cobb was in Arizona touring with fellow country troubadour Jamey Johnson. After his opening set, the relatively unknown Cobb was hanging outside in the dirt parking lot with his wife, Layne. Underneath desert stars lit up like a chandelier, the two ran into a priest who crafted rosaries, telling them he “doesn’t know who they’re for until God lets me know.” He gave one to Cobb, who then hung it from his truck’s rear-view mirror.
Three years later, this past July, Cobb was in the same truck with his toddler son, Tuck, when they were T-boned on the driver’s side by a car that blew through an intersection near their home in South Georgia. Cobb broke his collarbone and tore a ligament in his back, but Tuck emerged unscathed. When Cobb went to fetch items from the truck, the rosary had broken, and the cross had landed just below Tuck’s car seat. “I mean, I don’t want to get too out there on you,” Cobb says in his molasses-thick drawl. “But the accident could have been a lot worse. I need to find Father Matthew and have him make me a new one.”
Cobb puts plenty of stock in the mystical and in the symbolism of life-changing events. This from a man who freely admits to eating a good amount of psychedelic mushrooms in the run-up to the release of his mesmerizing new album, Keep ’Em on They Toes. “I have had a couple of life-altering experiences after eating mushrooms,” he says. “That being said, I’ve had the same feelings praying to God when sober.”
A South Georgia native, Cobb recently moved back to the area with his family after spending years in Los Angeles and Nashville, where he cowrote hits for the likes of Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert. He released his major-label debut, Shine On Rainy Day, in 2016, showcasing a knack for melody and vivid lyricism that earned him a Grammy nomination and took him to the upper echelons of Nashville songwriters. That album and Cobb’s fantastic 2018 swamp funk follow-up, Providence Canyon—both produced by top Nashville producer Dave Cobb, his cousin—are filled with evocative snapshots of things he missed from country life: hunting, fishing, and meeting the old-timers at the gas station for a cup of coffee.
The new material gently but firmly stakes out more personal and topical terrain. But it’s never brash or confrontational. If anything, it sometimes lets the listener off easy. “Soap Box,” a shuffling piano duet with the Nashville singer Nikki Lane, asks people to “get along,” while the sparse, mournful “When You Go” digs deeper, with Cobb lamenting family members who pass the mashed potatoes around the table but take their differences to the grave.
The delicate title track is a message to his newborn son about walking to his own beat. And in the ironically titled, harmonica-fueled romp “Shut Up and Sing,” Cobb defiantly lays out his job as a songwriter. “Every album I do I have the mindset that if I died the day after it came out and it was the only thing my kids would ever have, who would I be to them?” he says. “The last two albums said, ‘This is where I came from’ and ‘This is what I care about.’ The new one is how Daddy feels about things.”
Cobb cowrote those two songs with his wife, who, before their son was born, worked as a pharmacist. Occasionally, when the couple can pawn off Tuck and his six-year-old sister, Lyla, onto their grandparents, they’ll relax on the porch trading lyrics. Family is paramount to Cobb, something that resonates even more deeply after the truck accident. He’s taken to waking up early with the kids, grabbing coffee, and walking down to a nearby lake, where his daughter has become obsessed with fishing. “She’s got the fever,” he says proudly. Afterward, they sometimes take long strolls in the woods. “I never wanted to leave Georgia in the first place, and I was gone for twelve years. All the things I had been missing I can now experience every day.” Brent will take the stage at 9pm Saturday May 15th.
Next up, two artists that can each carry a headlining show on their own, team up for one night at Gruene Hall on May 22nd. Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, who just happen to be married will take the stage together and performing sings from each of their solo careers as well as their latest release, Beautiful Lie. Bruce Robison has been making music professionally for decades. He still discusses his craft with so much enthusiasm he sounds almost like a kid raving about superheroes. That infectious energy is evident in every note of his new album, Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, as well as his new project, The Next Waltz, a blossoming community of artists, fans and friends gathering both virtually and at his recording studio in Lockhart, just outside of Austin.
In both cases, the point is to celebrate country music’s rich traditions while giving creativity free rein to go where it might, as long as it’s somewhere worth traveling. It’s also about celebrating Robison’s “love of the craft of song.”
“Writing is where it all starts for me,” he explains. “Whether it’s my writing, or songs I want to do with somebody else. I love the mechanics of it; how simple it can be.”
Keeping it simple — and organic — was the guiding principle behind the latest album, a collection of Robison originals, co-writes and covers that capture country’s most beloved stylistic elements: good-time, lighthearted romps (“Rock and Roll Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man”; “Paid My Dues”) and wistful, sometimes bittersweet ballads (“Long Time Coming”; “Still Doin’ Time”). But even the Who’s “Squeezebox” — which Robison calls “a great country song by some English dudes” — shows up, in a lively version dressed with cajun fiddle by Warren Hood and acoustic guitar and harmonies by Robison’s wife, Kelly Willis.
Hood is one of a hand-picked crew of regulars tapped for Next Waltz recording sessions with Jerry Jeff Walker, Randy Rogers, Jack Ingram, Rodney Crowell, Willis, Hayes Carll, Turnpike Troubadours, Sunny Sweeney, Reckless Kelly and others. They’ve re-imagined favorites, reinvigorated covers and even crafted new works, which Robison shares with audiences on the Next Waltz website and other platforms. Meanwhile, he’s cultivating a house band he hopes might one day be as revered as Stax Records’ Booker T. & the M.G.’s or Muscle Shoals’ Swampers. The Back Porch Band does it old-school, all analog, cutting songs together in one paneled room where “happy accidents and all kinds of things that just feel real,” including sound bleed, are allowed to occur.
“It really brings the players and their own voices, their own styles, into the music,” says Robison. “That’s the kind of vibe I’m trying to get back to.”
Their familiarity breeds an undeniable cohesiveness; a relaxed rapport that comes through not only in the music, but in the casual between-track chatter and laughter that further conveys the convivial atmosphere Robison envisioned for The Next Waltz.
“The music just ends up showing the way,” Robison says. “I always thought that the music coming together in the studio, and just the way a studio works, was the most fascinating part of recording. I want to let people see how cool this process is, and how much it has to do with country music, and how the kind of music that we make is tied to those traditions.”
Next Waltz sessions are documented on video, along with interviews in which Robison, speaking artist-to-artist, often draws out stories journalists don’t. The content is designed to let fans peek behind the curtain to witness the creative process, not only providing unique insights, but tightening their connection to the proverbial unbroken circle of country music.
The Country Cover Challenge, another Next Waltz facet in which fans help an artist select a cover tune to record, led to the final Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band track, the George Jones hit, “Still Doing Time.”
From the sparse arrangement of Robison’s weary voice over Marty Muse’s steel, Brian Beken’s fiddle and bass, Chip Dolan’s keyboards and Conrad Choucroun’s drums, it builds in intensity; as Dolan adds honky-tonk piano tickles, Robison’s voice climbs higher, till he drills the down- and-out drama deep into listeners’ souls.
Robison recruited his pal Jack Ingram for “Paid My Dues,” by Jason Eady and Micky Braun (of Micky & the Motorcars). They turn it into a hilarious honky-tonker in the vein of Jerry Jeff Walker, one of Robison’s (super) heroes.
“When we got Jack in there, it really was just a party,” But it’s balanced by more thoughtful tunes such as the Braun-Robison co-write “Long Time Coming,” a gentle ballad filled with the kind of poetic imagery he attributes to another major influence, Guy Clark.
That influence actually extends far beyond songwriting; Robison’s ultimate dream for The Next Waltz is to follow in the late Guy and Susanna Clark’s footsteps by providing a safe, welcoming place for artists, a haven where musicians can socialize, inspire one another artistically and find a creative, emotional and spiritual nourishment.
Whether they’re trading tales at a barbecue or putting them on tape in the studio, it’s all about true interaction. Musicians record live together, not shunted off into iso booths, and there’s not a computer screen in sight — in fact, there are no screens at all, except on the video cameras that capture the action. There’s also little attempt to clean up imperfections; even the squeak of rewinding tape heard before the “Long Shore” count-in is part of the charm.
“The song that I cut with Jack Ingram, there’s not one overdub on it,” Robison marvels. “That sounds like a simple thing, but I’ve never done that in my entire career, where we don’t even go in and fix anything.”
“It’s all about performing the song and seeing where it takes us,” says Robison, “and having great players in a real collaborative atmosphere.”
Those players also include bassists Andrew Pressman, Dom Fisher and George Reiff; acoustic and slide guitarist Geoff Queen; fiddler/vocalist Kimber Ludicker; and keyboardist Trevor Nealon. Robison also plays acoustic guitar, as does Willis on two tracks, and Hood adds mandolin to “Sweet Dreams.”
That particular track is populated with characters Robison actually grew up with in Bandera, Texas, “this weirdo little place that had such an effect on me.”
It’s where Robison, his brother, Charlie, and their sister, Robin Ludwick, fell in love with Willie, Waylon, Hank and other country luminaries, and started writing their own tunes. Eventually, Bruce’s songs turned into hits for George Strait (“Desperately”), Tim McGraw (“Angry All the Time”) and the Dixie Chicks (“Travelin’ Soldier”). He also has recorded on his own and collaborated with Charlie and others as a songwriter, singer, guitarist, harmonica player and producer/engineer. After doing his last two albums with Willis — as well as recording their annual Christmas performance — they’re back to creating separately. But Robison found the perfect love song to record for this album (he says he’s incapable of writing one of his own): Damon Bramblett’s “The Years,” a sweet, slow waltz.
Robison wrote “Long Shore,” a soft, lovely lullaby he sings with Ludiker, after finally catching the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou. The album reflects other influences as well; Christie Hayes’ “Lake of Fire” reflects his love of the ‘70s West Coast sound embodied by Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt.
“I’m always collecting songs,” he says. “That’s what The Next Waltz is about, too; I’m just a fan of songs, and I love the way they come alive in the hands of the right artist.”
One visit to The Next Waltz will provide you with Jerry Jeff Walker revelations about writing “Mr. Bojangles,” an exclusive recording of Randy Rogers singing Merle Haggard’s "Misery and Gin," the Turnpike Troubadours performing "Come As You Are,” or Rodney Crowell telling Robison and Willis about how he came to own one of John Lennon's suits. He will bring this passion to the stage on May 22nd, Get your tickets now before they sell out.
And to round pout the month AND Memorial Day Weekend, the worlds most fun band 'in my humble opinion' SHINYRIBS! Shinyribs is the continuation of Kevin Russell’s musical journey that began in Beaumont, TX when, at 14, he found his father’s guitar under his bed, along with a sewing machine, a billy club and a box of comic books. Luckily he chose the guitar. Following his family’s oil boom and bust migratory path he landed in Shreveport, LA where he formed his first band. Picket Line Coyotes were a Husker Du meets Elvis Costello hybrid that lived and died between the “Arklatexabamassippi” borders much like their unfortunate animal namesake. That’s what took him to Austin where The Gourds were born from those Coyote ashes. That storied band of pumpkins came to an end after 18 years of good times and hard travelin’. From that point on Russell, has been riding high on the Shinyribs river of country-soul, swamp-funk and tickle. A Shinyribs show is an exaltation of spirit. It’s a hip shaking, belly laughing, soul-singing, song-slinging, down-home house party. All styles of American music are likely to be touched on, squeezed on, kissed on by this world-class band featuring Winfield Cheek on Keyboards, Keith Langford on Drums, Jeff Brown on Bass, the Tijuana Trainwreck Horns, and The Shiny Soul Sisters - Kelley Mickwee & Alice Spencer. Whether on his 6 string Uke or his Electric guitar or singing a cappella, Russell will entertain you like no one else. The freedom with which he moves, coupled with his incredible voice is an experience in and of itself. His original songs laced with magical-realism along with novel interpretations of popular songs old and new (George Jones, TLC, Leadbelly, T-Pain) are the true art that runs throughout. He’s Burl Ives meets Al Green; Hank, Jr. meets Teddy Pendergrass. Wendell Berry meets Chuck Berry. Always full of surprises and energy, this band is the perfect way to wind up the holiday weekend.
So wherever you find yourself in New Braunfels this month...be sure to make live music a part of the fun!
Until next time...CHEERS!