Episode recap: The Head and The Heart & Benjamin Booker

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits showcases two standout acts featured on this year’s namesake ACL Festival: The Head and the Heart and Benjamin Booker. Both acts are highlights on the touring circuit, drawing raves for soulful live performances.

Seattle folk-rock band The Head and the Heart make their second ACL appearance with a luminous performance featuring songs from their newest release Signs of Light. The indie favorites are one of live music’s biggest draws, with high-profile 2017 festival appearances including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Newport Folk in addition to Austin’s own ACL Festival. The sextet deliver an uplifting, singalong set filled with new musical touchstones including “All We Ever Knew” and “City of Angels.” A moving cover of “Hunger Strike” honoring late Seattle icon Chris Cornell is a set highlight, rich with three-part harmonies. The band bring the passionate set to a glorious close with the soaring “River and Roads” from their 2011 self-titled debut, a fan favorite.

Florida-raised, New Orleans-based guitarist and singer-songwriter Benjamin Booker delivers a raw, impassioned ACL debut packed with songs from his acclaimed 2017 album Witness and his 2014 self-titled breakout debut. Opening with his rocking radio hit “Violent Shiver,” the twenty-eight year old phenom draws on soul, blues and gospel, showcasing stirring soul-rockers “Carry,” “The Slow Drag Under” and “Believe” backed by a gospel choir. A powerful performance of his Civil Rights anthem “Witness” combines Booker’s husky, soulful voice with a profound message on racism in America. 

photo by Scott Newton

“The Head and the Heart and Benjamin Booker are prime examples of artists who just keep getting better,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “Rather than finding a groove and just staying with it, they are constantly searching for new ways to express their voices, and new sounds to go along with them. The end result can be surprising but always inspiring.”

Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Join us next week for an ACL Presents special, featuring the 2017 edition of the Americana Music Festival.

New taping and livestreams: Turnpike Troubadours and Dan Auerbach

photo by David McClister

Austin City Limits is thrilled to announce our final taping of Season 43 with Oklahoma country rockers Turnpike Troubadours. The breakout band will hit the ACL stage on December 5 for a debut taping that will also be streamed live around the world. Speaking of livestreams, we’re also stoked to say that we’ll be doing the same for Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach’s taping on November 27. Auerbach will also be joined during the set by a very special guest, Louisiana soul singer Robert Finley, the first signing to his Easy Eye Sound record label.  Both tapings will stream at 8pm CT/9 pm ET, Dan Auerbach here on November 27 and Turnpike Troubadours here on December 5, powered by Dell.  

Called “the greatest country music band in the world right now” by Saving Country Music, the Turnpike Troubadours make their ACL debut in support of their fourth album A Long Way From Your Heart. Produced by Grammy winner Ryan Hewitt (The Avett Brothers, Red Hot Chili Peppers), Heart is a rare triumph––an album that hooks immediately but then rewards listeners willing to dig deeper. “I love what we as a band have turned into and how we treat songs,” says lead singer and chief songwriter Evan Felker. “That’s something we’ve grown into––adding some sort of oddly theatrical element to the musicianship to help the story along, to sum up where or who the character is to give him a little bit of landscape. It’s not just an acoustic guitar and a guy telling you what somebody’s doing.” Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, birthplace of Woody Guthrie and Troubadours pal John Fullbright, Felker founded his band of virtuosic country-rock road dogs in 2005. Since then, the Troubadours have delivered punch after punch of smart rock & roll that sells out huge venues throughout the Midwest and South and packs legendary haunts like the Troubadour in Los Angeles. “Felker has evolved into a Red Dirt Springsteen, deftly blending autobiographical elements with complex, hardscrabble characters,” raves Garden & Gun. Narratives put to music are nothing new, but Felker and his bandmates have upped the ante, creating a web of unforgettable characters that show up on album after album in songs that are both catchy and musically complex: men and women with their backs against their wall, represented realistically but also imbued with dignity. “It feels like going home to see that those characters are still alive in a way that movies and literary writers have always done,” Felker says. “It feels good.”

photo by Alyssa Gafkjen

Dan Auerbach has performed on ACL twice before with his band The Black Keys, and this will be his first time performing solo on the program where he will be backed by some of Nashville’s finest musicians—Bobby Wood, Gene “Bubba” Chrisman, Pat McLaughlin, Dave Roe, Russ Pahl, Ray Jacildo, Ashley Wilcoxson, Leisa Hans, Nick Bockrath from Cage the Elephant—as well as featuring legendary bluesman Robert Finley.  The eight-time Grammy winning superstar will perform songs from his acclaimed new solo release Waiting On A Song.  NPR calls the album “a batch of sparkling pop songs that’s sweet, breezy, and primed for summer.” The album is Auerbach’s follow-up to 2009’s Keep It Hid and is his love letter to Nashville. As such, he recruited some of Na­shville’s most respected players to write and record his latest. “Living in Nashville has definitely changed the way I think about music and the way that I record it,” he says about working with his heroes. “I didn’t have all of these resources before. I am working with some of the greatest musicians that ever lived.” The always-understated musician is happy to have his own version of the Wrecking Crew at his Easy Eye Studio in south Nashville. “Sometimes I feel I created my own Field of Dreams. I built the studio to accommodate live musicians playing, and then all of a sudden the best musicians in Nashville show up, and it’s happening. This is the sound I was looking for, and now there really is an Easy Eye sound. It’s a factory—but in the way that Motown or Stax or American Studios was a factory. Anything can happen, any day.” He pauses a long minute, as if to let it all sink in. “Even with the success I’ve had, it’s only just now that I’m finally finding myself,” Auerbach says. “I called the album Waiting On A Song because I’ve been waiting my whole life to be able to do this. And now I have. And none of us ever want it to stop.”

Want to be part of our audience? We will post information on how to get free passes about a week before each taping. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of postings. Or you can join us online for Dan Auerbach here on November 27 and Turnpike Troubadours here on December 5 for these full-set livestreams. The broadcast versions will air on PBS early next year as part of our Season 43.

 

Episode recap: Miranda Lambert

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits presents a Season 43 highlight, a brand new hour with one of country music’s most celebrated entertainers, Miranda Lambert. The multi-platinum, award-winning singer-songwriter is at the top of her game in a 13-song tour de force.

For her third appearance on Austin City Limits, Lambert delivers a magnetic performance and proves why she’s the reigning queen of country, leading the pack with 5 nominations for this year’s 51st CMA Awards (on November 8) and being named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music for a record-breaking 8th year in a row. The native Texan performs songs from her sixth album, The Weight of These Wings, sharing many of the personal stories behind the songs in a sparkling set. Lambert and her 8-piece band open with a fire-starter, “Kerosene,” the title track to her 2005 breakout debut. The country star’s relaxed persona charms and disarms the Austin crowd: “So that’s what we’re gonna do here tonight, as a big family…we’re just gonna be us, and own it…all the good, and all the bad. Are y’all in?” The crowd’s definitely in as she shines on new songs ““Vice,” and “We Should Be Friends,” road-tested fan-favorites, and a show-stopping cover of Little Feat’s classic “Willin’” that she makes her own.

A solo acoustic rendition of her new marvel “Tin Man” (nominated for two 2017 CMA Awards, including Song of the Year) is a set highlight, showcasing the vulnerable, open-hearted lyrics and grit that are her trademark; Lambert explains that she wants to perform the number alone because “That’s where it starts—with a song and a guitar and a girl and some emotions.” The stunner demonstrates her vast emotional range with the blistering set-closer “Gunpowder and Lead,” turning her hell-bent on revenge fantasy’s razor sharp lyrics into magic.

“Miranda is one of Country music’s brightest stars,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, “but she’s a quintessential Texas singer-songwriter at heart. True to her roots, she writes powerful songs that leave no stone unturned.”

photo by Scott Newton

Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Join us next week for a brand new episode, featuring the return of indie rockers The Head and The Heart and the debut of rocking soul man Benjamin Booker.

Taping recap: LCD Soundsystem

photo by Scott Newton

The return of LCD Soundsystem to action after a five-year layoff is one of 2017’s biggest success stories. So we were thrilled to welcome James Murphy and his cohorts for the group’s debut Austin City Limits taping. The band lived up to every expectation and delivered a career-spanning set that rocked the packed house.

The octet took the stage casually before a lone synth pulse signalled the beginning of “Oh Baby,” the synth-popping opening track of the band’s latest album American Dream, their first career #1. Murphy thanked the audience for coming and expressed excitement for being on the show, noting that they’d never done anything like this before. Then it was on to “Call the Police,” the rocking first single from Dream. Assuring the fans that the show wouldn’t consist solely of new songs, Murphy reached back to This is Happening, formerly the group’s final LP, for the bouncy “I Can Change,” perfectly balancing romantic woe, disco rhythm and pop melody. The dance rhythms continued for the cheeky, percussion-heavy “Get Innocuous!”  and the groovily defiant  “You Wanted a Hit.” The propulsive powerhouse “Tribulations” followed, making the crowd a roiling mass of dance moves. Before anyone could catch breath, the synths led into “Someone Great,” a soaring pop tune that featured close harmonies between Murphy and keyboardist Nancy Whang.

In order to let band and audience have a moment, Murphy introduced the musicians. But the reprieve didn’t last long, as it was off into the noisy hipshaker “Change Yr Mind,” its relentless groove and anthemic vocals contrasted by six-string skronk. The guitar clangor continued, ornamenting the pulsing, playful, percussion-soaked “Yr City’s a Sucker.” The band’s penchant for mixing rock anthems with dance rhythms asserted itself in a big way for “Tonite,” which segued directly into the aggressively danceable pop song “Home.” The electropulse continued without pause as Murphy moved to a piano, Al Doyle started a chicken scratch on guitar and Nancy Whang took the mic for a driving cover of Chic’s immortal disco classic “I Want Your Love,” which made an already wildly dancing audience thrash even harder. After that breathless rush, the main set ended with “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” which started out mellow before ending in a power waltz that drove the crowd mad.  

A brief pause later, the band returned to the stage, Murphy explaining that he had to pee. Before anyone could divine whether or not he was kidding, Doyle banged out the big riff that kicks off “Emotional Haircut,” one of the combo’s wittiest tunes. The show ended with the pop anthem “All My Friends,” Murphy embracing the title by hopping offstage to shake hands with the front row. It was a perfect ending to a phenomenal show, one we can’t wait to show you when it airs early next year on your local PBS station as part of our season 43.

Taping recap: Shinyribs

photo by Scott Newton

Kevin Russell is no stranger to our stage. The leader of Shinyribs last hit Austin City Limits in 2007 while a member of Austin’s beloved Gourds. Since that group’s breakup, Russell has taken his vision of roots rock in a more soulful, danceable and theatrical direction with Shinyribs. Four albums and countless live performances later, he and the band finally came back home for an ACL taping that was a celebration of all things Shiny, livestreamed worldwide in all its glory.  Livestream viewer Brenda Walker raved of the riotous East Texas frontman, “Kevin really IS the Pavarotti of the Pineywoods” and Priscilla Promises chimed in “U in Austin bAaBeE.”

Introduced by hype man Trey Worth as “the Shakespeare of swamp pop” and “the shiniest man in show business,” patriarch Kevin Russell took the stage to brag about being “Country Cool,” allowing each member to show off his instrument during this slice of soul pop. The swamp to which Worth alluded earlier bubbled up in “Don’t Leave It a Lie,” a muddy groove accompanied by the Riblets, a trio of female dancers acting as Russell’s own Ikettes. Wielding a mean ukulele, Russell indulged in some call-and-response with ace backup vocalists Alice Spencer and Kelley Mickwee for the tropical soul of “I Got Your Medicine,” the title track to the band’s fourth and latest LP. The ‘ribs gleefully blended swamp rock, funk, c&w and yodeling for the epic “Song of Lime Juice & Despair,” complete with a Riblets ‘n’ Russell dance routine. The band then pulled out an inspired cover of David Bowie’s “Golden Years,” set to a double-timed rhythm (borrowed from the Drifters’ “On Broadway”) that allowed Russell to indulge in vocalese lifted from various R&B hits.

Russell took the mood from party-hearty to wistful by dedicating the slow-burn soul song “Who Built The Moon” to much beloved local bassist George Reiff, recently passed from cancer. The group then dropped in for a quick New Orleans visit, covering Allen Toussaint’s finger-popping R&B tune “A Certain Girl,” first recorded in 1961 by Ernie K-Doe and boasting cracking solos from Russell, keyboardist Winfield Cheek, saxist Mark Wilson and trumpeter Tiger Anaya. Doubling as a possible name for Shinyribs’ musical gumbo, “Tub Gut Stomp & Red-Eyed Soul” followed, reminiscent of key Russell influence Doug Sahm. Continuing his musical tour of Texas, Russell guided the band to the Lone Star/Louisiana border for the soulful “Take Me Lake Charles.”  After the frisky pop and roll of “Walt Disney,” Russell dug deep for “I Gave Up All I Had,” a powerful cover from the catalogue of the late soul man Ted Hawkins.

While Russell crawled back up from the floor, bassist Jeff Brown and drummer Keith Langford (a fellow ex-Gourd) started up a roiling groove that signalled the frisky funk of “Baby, What’s Wrong?” which also included a mock fight between Russell and the Riblets. Shinyribs concluded the main set with the jungle pop of “Poor People’s Store,” which generated the band’s traditional conga line on the floor – joined, of course, by Russell himself. The audience couldn’t let the night end just yet, though. The band came back for an encore, starting with a song “about my favorite root vegetable.” The ballad “Sweet Potato” doubled as an excuse to introduce the band, Russell noting each member’s root veggie preference rather than his or her hometown. Russell crawled to the edge of the stage and back in mock fatigue, before a Riblet draped a sparkling robe over his shoulders—what Russell called “a luminous cloak”—his very own technicolor dreamcoat with light-up lining in ever-changing colors. As the song drifted wistfully to an end, Russell picked up his guitar, cranked up the volume and grunged his way into the rock ‘n’ soul of “East TX Rust,” the robe making him look like a glam rock Jawa. “Let’s get it on now!” he demanded as he put his axe through its paces, and there wasn’t a soul in the crowd who would disagree. The song ended in a riot of guitar, horns and an audience going wild. It was a fantastic show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 43 on your local PBS station.

ACL Season 43 presents Norah Jones and Angel Olsen

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits showcases two of today’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters in a new installment. ACL veteran Norah Jones and indie breakout star Angel Olsen share the episode, with distinctive performances demonstrating the extraordinary range of the genre.

Norah Jones made her first appearance on Austin City Limits in 2002, just prior to the release of her landmark debut Come Away With Me, which propelled her to the world stage. Since then, Jones has sold 50 million albums worldwide and is a nine-time Grammy-winner. She returns for her fourth appearance on the series performing new songs from her sixth album Day Breaks, a kindred spirit to Come Away…and a return to her piano and jazz roots. Seated at her grand piano, the native Texan delivers a stately performance featuring new gems, including the stunning originals “Flipside” and “Carry On,” and gorgeous renditions of Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” and Horace Silver’s jazz standard “Peace.” Jones closes out the set on acoustic guitar surrounded by her bandmates as they gather around a single microphone for an inspired cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” reimagined as a folk classic.

A unique voice in indie music, Angel Olsen shares songs from her widely-acclaimed release My Woman in a compelling, confident ACL debut. “I have a couple things I’d like to share with you tonight. A couple of feelings and a couple of songs,” says the dynamic singer-songwriter-guitarist. Her powerful vocals anchor her longing, demanding love songs as the Austin crowd sing along rapturously. Olsen’s five-piece band, sharp in matching powder blue suits, join in soaring harmonies to breathtaking effect. The indie stunner has the crowd in her pocket as she closes with a highlight, the reverb-shrouded poetic swoon of “Shut Up Kiss Me,” an anthem for the ages.

photo by Scott Newton

“Norah and Angel are very different singers, but they share that special ability to convey deep personal feelings in a way that connects with you,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “Norah continues to surprise with each new musical offering, and Angel is just amazing.”

Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Join us next week for a brand new episode, featuring the return of country star and our friend Miranda Lambert.

ACL Hall of Fame inducts Roy Orbison, Rosanne Cash and the Neville Brothers, with a special tribute to Fats Domino

photo by Gary Miller

Last night three American musical innovators were inducted into the fourth annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame: singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, New Orleans funk ‘n’ soul collective the

Neville Brothers and late rock & roll legend Roy Orbison. The evening featured one-of-a-kind music performances and tributes from Elvis Costello, Brandi Carlile, Neko Case, Ry Cooder, Dr. John, the Mavericks’ Raul Malo, Trombone Shorty, the Nevilles Band and host Chris Isaak.

Austin’s renegade brass ensemble the Minor Mishap Marching Band led the audience to their seats with a second line, setting the scene for a party. After opening remarks from KLRU-TV CEO Bill Stotesbery and ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, Chris Isaak took the stage to welcome the crowd and introduce the first tribute. “He was a baritone, tenor and angel,” said Isaak about the late, great Roy Orbison before inducting his hero. Orbison’s three sons Wesley, Roy, Jr. and Alex and granddaughter Emily and grandson Roy III accepted the award, noting that this ceremony, including Cashes, Nevilles and Orbisons, was a family affair. Then, of course, came the music: the Mavericks’ Raul Malo belted “Crying,” Brandi Carlile nailed “It’s Over” and Isaak crooned “Only the Lonely” as if it was written for him. Carlile returned, and she and Isaak harmonized divinely on “Dream Baby,” one of Orbison’s friskier tunes. There was only one way the Orbison tribute could end, as Malo joined Isaak and Carlile for a joyful “Oh, Pretty Woman.”

After Isaak introduced honoree Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello inducted his friend, noting the power and skill in her voice and words. Cash accepted her award with humility, explaining how ACL helped her feel part of a music community when she was starting out, making her ACL debut in 1983 at age 28.  Costello returned, along with Cash’s husband and creative collaborator, guitarist and producer John Leventhal, for the stirring affirmation “April 5th,” a song co-written by Cash, Leventhal, Costello and Kris Kristofferson. Spiritual descendant Neko Case took the stage next, for a transcendent version of the aching and defiant “What We Really Want is Love.” Cash herself re-entered with her friend (and guitarist extraordinaire) Ry Cooder for the sparse, strong “A Feather’s Not a Bird” – a song from Cash’s 2015 triple-Grammy-winning album The River & the Thread and proof that she’s as brilliant now as she’s always been. Costello and Case came back for “Seven Year Ache,” Costello alternating chorus vocals and Case and Cash sharing harmonies like they shared an episode back in 2003.

House bandleader & ACL Hall of Fame inductee Lloyd Maines introduced the ace house band including guitarist David Grissom, bassist Bill Whitbeck, drummer Tom Van Schaik and keyboardist/mandolinist Chris Gage. Then it was on to intermission, as Minor Mishap played, the audience danced and the ACL crew reset the stage for the grand finale.

The second half of the show brought the funk, with a celebration of New Orleans music. Given that the sad news of the passing of rock & roll pioneer Fats Domino broke earlier in the day, ACL elected to open with a video of the New Orleans icon singing “Blueberry Hill,” taken from his classic 1987 ACL episode. The first induction of the second half honored a non-performer – the 50th Anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. The milestone signing helped pave the way for PBS.  Johnson’s granddaughter Catherine Robb and Amy Barbee, chairperson of the LBJ Foundation, accepted the award.

Isaak returned to the stage to introduce the first family of New Orleans music: the Neville Brothers. New Orleans sensation Trombone Shorty, a kindred musical hybridist, inducted the family with colorful stories about the Nevilles with whom he lived and toured as a child. While the brothers couldn’t be there, Aaron Neville’s son Ivan, Art’s son Ian and Charles’ son Khalif accepted on their behalf before taking their places behind their instruments (keyboards, guitar and more keys, respectively). Ivan introduced Dr. John and Elvis Costello, who came up to help with a rollicking take on “Ain’t That a Shame,” in tribute to its author Fats Domino.

Backed by Shorty, Ian, the Grooveline Horns, Ivan’s Dumpstaphunk bandmate Nick Daniels and longtime members of the Nevilles’ band Brian Stoltz, Tony Hall and Willie Green, Ivan asked the audience, “Are you ready to get funky?” Then it was into “Fire & Brimstone,” one of the Nevilles’ greatest tunes, sung by Hall. The group paid tribute to the Nevilles’ predecessor act the Wild Tchoupitoulas with that band’s call to arms “Meet De Boys on the Battlefront.” Things got even funkier for “Brother Jake,” a gem from the band’s late 80s’ sleeper Brother’s Keeper that really got the crowd going. Khalif then joined Ivan on keyboards for “Healing Chant,” a Grammy-winning instrumental from the band’s seminal Yellow Moon that featured Shorty on a lyrical trombone solo. That special breed of New Orleans funk burned brightly on “Fire On the Bayou,” one of the Nevilles’ signature tunes, earning a standing ovation. The Nevilles mini-set came to a close with the exultant dance party of “Shake Your Tambourine.”

But the music wasn’t over yet. Ivan brought Dr. John back to the stage for “Big Chief,” the Earl King-penned/Professor Longhair-popularized shout that has been in the repertoire of nearly every New Orleans and N.O.-inspired dance band for five decades. Elvis Costello rejoined Shorty, the Night Tripper and the Nevilles for a distinctly New Orleans groove through the traditional standard “Down By the Riverside,” which ran directly into its musical cousin “Amen.” That song brought Isaak, Carlile and Malo to the stage as well, and the audience was on their feet, ready to join in Ivan’s call-and-response. As the song reached its climax, confetti burst and the musicians rang in the Austin new year a couple of months early. The roof was raised, and the 2017 HOF celebration came to a close. Viewers everywhere will get to join this party when it airs as a special broadcast on New Year’s Eve on your local PBS station.

Fats Domino 1928-2017

photo by Scott Newton

We here at Austin City Limits were saddened to learn of the death of rock & roll pioneer Fats Domino on October 24 at the age of 89. The ivory-tickling New Orleans icon appeared in a hour-long, hits-packed 1987 episode of ACL.

Antoine “Fats” Domino was born in 1928 in the Big Easy to a French Creole family – Louisiana Creole French was his first language. He learned to play piano from his jazz musician brother-in-law, joining bandleader Billy Diamond’s group in 1947. (Diamond bestowed the nickname “Fats” on the young musician in tribute to Fats Waller.) Fats released “The Fat Man,” his first single, in 1949 – a million-selling song that pioneered rock & roll before the term even existed. Fats went on to score 37 top 40 singles, including such immortal classics as “Blue Monday,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I Hear You Knockin’,” “Walkin’ to New Orleans” and his version of the Gene Autry/Louis Armstrong standard “Blueberry Hill,” his bestselling and highest-charting song. As with many of the original rockers, his chart career waned after the British Invasion, but he continued to record and tour into the 1980s. By the end of that decade, he decided that he would no longer leave his hometown, claiming he couldn’t find any food he liked on the road – not even induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or an invitation to perform at the White House could change his mind. Like far too many others, he was forced to leave New Orleans after Katrina flooded his home, but he returned as soon as he could, remaining a fixture until Father Time did what Mother Nature could not.

Here is Fats doing “Blue Monday” on ACL in 1987.  

And “Blueberry Hill,” possibly his signature song in a catalog full of candidates, from the same show.