Escovedo’s Sunday night show at the Continental is the traditional unofficial closing of SXSW and this year he served up a special treat. With co-conspirator Chuck Prophet on guitar, Alejandro and company performed the entirety of Real Animal, his forthcoming release. Lyrically it finds Escovedo in a reflective mood but musically ready to rock.
Nakia & His Southern Cousins
This was my top discovery of the week. It all starts with the voice, a rich and soulful baritone that recalls the best of the Stax vocalists. Throw in some groove courtesy of the Southern Cousins and a topping of harmony from the Fresh Up Girls and you’ll be in rhythm-n-blues heaven.
Audio Download: Playing the Cards
Audio Download: One More Try (George Michael cover)
Bragg has firmly established his reputation as one of music’s most intelligent troubadours, equally inspired by Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer. During a solo afternoon outing Bragg peppered the crowd with his opinions on American politics, the demise of the music industry and the Clash’s influence. Oh yeah, he also played a satisfying collection of originals, including highlights from his forthcoming release, and a few choice covers.
Brooklyn-based Langhorne Slim blends folk, bluegrass and punk into a musical concoction that we’ll call punk-grass. Slim, backed by a stand-up bassist and drummer, got my day started with a burst of energy at the Bowery Poetry Club party.
Boston soul sensation Reed was in fine form for his official SXSW showcase. Highlighting tracks from his forthcoming debut, he and the mighty True Loves blew through a tremendous set of classic Stax rhythm and blues.
Audio Download: The Satisfier
Britain’s Ed Harcourt has a quiet intensity that belies his immaculate pop songs. His writing style is clearly rooted in the standards of the 1950’s and 1960’s but with a sharp contemporary edge. He also may be among the clumsiest musicians of the week. I saw him dump his keyboard on the floor at one gig and spill his beer at another. (“Oh shite,” he exclaimed when an audience member pointed out “Hey, you spilt your beer man!”).
My pick for the hottest show in town was Chuck Prophet at the Ale House. Playing to a near capacity crowd in a basement with limited air circulation, Prophet and company turned the room into a rock and roll sweat box.
Audio Download: The Freckle Song
Little Jackie, the best band that I didn’t see
SXSW set times typically run like clock-work. Alas this year there was a bit of fraying at the edges which dashed my hopes of catching a handful of bands during the course of the week. Little Jackie was one such casualty. It was a pity as the duo’s blend of classic Motown R&B with contemporary hip-hop and pop flourishes is intoxicating. I’m eagerly awaiting their debut release later this year and, if all goes well, a proper tour.
Audio Download: The World Should Revolve Around Me
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.