Austin Music Review: Russel Taine Jr.

by Brianna Caleri

When Aaron Winston was asked to play at The Mohawk in 2017, he scrambled to get a group together. Within a week, Russel Taine Jr. went from a solo project to a band. Three years after that, the dreamy alt-rock band is leaning more into its country identity with four Austin-centric singles about summer in the city. The two released so far, “Sister Sister” and “Blue Jean Baby” offer Austinites some much-needed reassurance via serious nostalgia.

RusselTaineJr1(photos by Brianna Carleri, Russel Taine Jr. and band, 2019)

Winston started writing songs as a teenager, eventually adopting the pen name his grandfather used in correspondence to the United States from Moscow during the Cold War. His decision was a little intellectual, and a lot because he liked how it sounded; two key elements of the band’s future efforts. Now it inspires a conversation starter in the perpetual fan question, “Who is Russel Taine Jr.?” And while it may just be a happy coincidence, naming the band for a semi-fictional member anchors the group to their southern rock forebears (remember Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Marshall Tucker Band?).

RusselTaineJr2“Sister Sister” wastes no time in introducing the mysterious ghostwriter, slipping the band name into the lyrics as a way, Winston says, of reminding new audiences who they’re watching at local venues. In context as the first of four related singles, it has the unintended effect of staking a claim to a new, more purposeful identity. The track explicitly mentions Austin and it’s “hot summer nights,” but, lest the lyrics get too on-the-nose, sprinkles in charmingly confusing images like a demure woman’s “Rorschach grin.” Little intellectual twists maintain the group’s usual air of delicate fantasy over the song’s retro southern skeleton. Lots of delay and effortless arpeggios wash a haze over soulful organ and what might have been a screaming guitar solo is set back into the distance of the mix.

Winston clarifies the titular “sister” isn’t any woman in particular, but represents “any number of relationships” over time. This one is about nostalgia; a feeling best reserved for weak memories about strong feelings. It’s about sharing the tiny moments that build our identities, and the vagueness that makes them relatable and reassuring. The story told is a bid for reconnection. Emotional intimacy in the simplicity of summer is something many of us are missing right now while keeping our distance.

“Blue Jean Baby,” released on July 1, provides a foil to “Sister Sister,” with a shoutable anthemic chorus any band would be tempted to use for a show closer. Despite a more energetic presence, it’s overall lighter fare. The leading lady of this crowd-pleaser skews more toward the femme fatale. Like her, the electric guitars are grittier, but a riff runs through the song to nail down the kind of mellow reverie that ties together the Russel Taine Jr. catalog. This one in particular is packed with southern tropes: blue jeans, a tight sundress, standing on docks, and even dueling guitars. Against the muddy bass is jangly rhythm guitar that brings flashes of Tom Petty’s California to Texas.

Of the two tracks, “Blue Jean Baby” offers a simpler message, about dancing all night. It’s the one to sway along with while grilling for two and looking forward to the return of cookouts for twenty. Following the reassuring “Sister Sister,” it seems to seems to say we don’t always have to take ourselves so seriously. Summer hits are the ultimate form escapism, but in this case, the escape is in our own backyards. It’s not so bad to be stuck here, after all.

Jenny Lewis with Watson Twins Concert Review

Jenny Lewis and Watson Twins – ACL’s Moody Theatre

by Dan Radin

Since her emergence as a child TV star, Jenny Lewis has enjoyed a steady and studded career in entertainment. Her fans have followed her from Corn Pops commercials to Growing Pains to Rilo Kiley to The Postal Service, and now into a solo career that both reminisces on and builds on her past successes.

DannyMatson_JennyLewisWatsonTwins020The Vegas-born singer struck a pose early and often during her Saturday night set at Moody Theater. A silvery, glittery Lewis glided across a pink and blue patterned stage that could have dressed an ancient Aztec gender-reveal party. She carried the swagger of a calm career entertainer who had nothing to prove to her audience, confidently guiding her light pink mic cord with her free hand when she wasn’t holding an instrument.

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Lewis’s experience was more evident by her musical maturity. Her seasoned mic technique made every word audible and red lipstick visible at all times. The sound was primarily carried by the steady drum set and Lewis’ relaxed voice. Her piano ballads felt just as solid as her upbeat foot tappers, thanks to a tight rhythm section and spot-on male/female backing vocals. Soft synths and strings added an extra Lana Del Rey vibe to acoustic songs that felt fairly representative of her new album, “On the Line.”

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The gentler songs on the new album influenced the speed of the show, which slowed the pace a bit drastically at points. Lewis opened on the piano with soft-pop “Heads Gonna Roll” and “Wasted Youth” before bringing out “The Big Guns.” Lewis visibly delivered more effort on lyric-heavy “Hollywood Lawn,” which the audience clearly didn’t know but met her strong performance with high approval.

“We’re gonna play a new version of a song for you. Get out your vapes” Lewis joked during an opening reggae beat-turned “Voyager.” Wild clapping after the song carried into the intro of the following “Do Si Do.” Overheard by a fan: “She just did a reggae version of Voyager. That was f*cking awesome.”

Dozens of beach ball-sized pink and blue balloons dropped from the ceiling into the audience towards the end of the set. One of the night’s best moments came during Lewis’s long last note of Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched,” as an arm-extended Lewis punched away a stray pink balloon with an amused downward grin.

In her encore, Lewis picked up the receiver of a ringing neon-lit rotary telephone on stage. On the line were Lewis’ friends and opening act, the Watson Twins. Lewis invited them back on stage to back her for a full-band “Rise Up with Fists!!” and “See Fernando.” After, another stage phone call came courtesy of Austin native (and Spoon frontman) Britt Daniel, who then appeared next to Lewis. All musicians gathered tightly around a single condenser mic to accompany Lewis on acoustic guitar, as they harmonized with a closing “Acid Tongue.”

Lewis didn’t seem like she was promoting a new album as much as she was continuing a conversation with people she’s known for years. The concert had some of her showbiz glitz, but in reality, Lewis was just on the line catching up with old friends.

SET LIST

867-5309/Jenny – Tommy Tutone (recording)

Heads Gonna Roll

Wasted Youth

The Big Guns – Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins

Silver Lining – Rilo Kiley

Head Underwater

Happy – Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins

The Voyager

Do Si Do

She’s Not Me

Hollywood Lawn

Red Bull & Hennessy

Just One of the Guys

On the Line

Little White Dove

Born Secular – Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins

With Arms Outstretched – Rilo Kiley

Encore:

Party Clown

Rise Up With Fists!!

See Fernando

Acid Tongue

Austin Reggae Festival 2018 Review: Up in Smoke

by Kevin Horton

The 2018 Austin Reggae Festival was a celebration of diversity, tolerance and giving back to the community. Once again, Auditorium Shores served as the perfect outdoor venue to enjoy great food, arts, and live music. Love and respect were common themes found throughout the three-day event. The festival organizers demonstrated these values effectively by donating a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank. In fact, over the last decade the festival has generated over $1,000,000 to help fight back against hunger. This strong focus on community paired with great weather helped to foster a mellow environment for attendees to relax and fully appreciate reggae music and culture.

Sister Nancy, Kabaka Pyramid & the Bebble Rockers, Nattali Rize, Collie Buddz, and many others delivered exceptional performances. One of the most influential reggae groups of our time, Black Uhuru headlined on Saturday night. Led by their founder Derrick “Duckie” Simpson, they brought a contagious positive energy to the stage that spilled over into the crowd. As the festival was drawing to an end on Sunday night, headliners The Wailers took the stage. Steered by the famed bassist Aston “Familyman” Barrett, this legendary band recorded and toured with Bob Marley from 1973-1980. The Wailers captivated the audience with their creative, timeless, and distinctive music. As the crowd sang along to every word, a common thread was woven amongst strangers and friends alike. Check out our full photo gallery on Austin 101

Vendor stalls and local food trucks lined the outskirts of the crowd amongst the trees, creating an intriguing marketplace to explore. The vendors offered a wide variety of keepsakes, authentic Jamaican garments and countless Bob Marley tshirts & memorabilia. The lineup featured world-renowned artists and blossoming musicians, each with their own respective approach to reggae. Locals Hail Marley (a 5 peice tribute band) was a highlight as well as local reggae DJ- DJRJ.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the festival, and it is safe to say that they have successfully found “What unity in the community sounds like.” More info on the fest Austin Reggae Fest