Monday, April 2, 2012

Ben Kweller

Ah, springtime.
The birds are a-chirpin', the sky is clear and blue, the yard is overgrown and Town Lake is full of newbie kayakers.

This warm weather makes me want to listen to one of my favorite Austin artists, Ben Kweller.

Kweller is a baby-faced stud. He looks like he could be 15, but he's married and has kids and he knows how to put on an incredible show. He has the whole crowd dancing in one moment and then feeling the blues in the next.

One of my favorite things about Kweller is that he is an active part of the culture of Austin. Friends of mine have spotted him hanging out at Spider House and other local restaurants. He tweets petitions for his fans to sign to save Zilker Elementary. He plays shows for local causes, like the Austin Parks Foundation.

While he remains locally active, he has made a pretty big name for himself performing at ACL music festival multiple times and having been featured in a major campaign for Ray Ban:

He's good for any season, but especially springtime and summer. Penny On The Traintrack is the perfect soundtrack for a drive on a sunny day. Things I Like To Do is great background music for a cookout with friends. I could go on, but just trust me. If you are anything like me and you enjoy front-porch-sitting on a warm evening or going on a jog around Town Lake, Ben Kweller is the perfect, upbeat soundtrack for this spring.

Word on the street is that you can score 4 of his songs for free on Daytrotter. Plus, he just released a new album, Go Fly A Kite, in February. So go check it out. You can thank me later.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Joe Pug

A good friend of mine introduced me to Joe Pug during the fall of my freshman year of college.  I instantly fell in love with his music - not only for its acoustics, which are beautiful, but for the sincerity and insightfulness behind each song.

Just like every artist featured on this blog, Joe lives in Austin. I know this because he mentions it in his tweets sometimes. And because the same friend that introduced me to his music creepily e-mailed him and asked to go to lunch (to which Joe politely declined.) Anyway, his story is certainly an interesting one. According to his bio, the day before his senior year of college in North Carolina, he realized he was profoundly unhappy. That was all it took for him to pack up and boldly move off to Chicago. There, he worked as a carpenter by day and at nights he began playing guitar again for the first time since high school. A friend began sneaking him into late night slots at a recording studio, and it was there that his first EP, Nation of Heat, was born - which he gave away freely to anyone who was interested.

Pug still gives away free music, trusting that his fans will buy more. So far, he's been proven right.
Personally, any price couldn't do justice to how much his music means to me.

I have had the pleasure of seeing Joe Pug perform three times in Austin, each time equally as unique and special. My favorite memory took place in the Cactus Cafe. As he sang Hymn 101, Joe stepped away from the mic and stepped off the stage to sing the last couple of stanzas:

And I've come here to ignore your cries and heartaches;
I've come to closely listen to you sing.
I've come here to insist
That I leave here with a kiss
I've come to say exactly what I mean
And I mean so many things

And you've come to know me stubborn as a butcher,
And you've come to know me thankless as a guest,
But will you recognize my face
When God's awful grace
Strips me of my jacket and my vest
And reveals all the treasure in my chest

I don't think I'll ever forget his look of utter sincerity and passion as he sang those words. It brought a song I had always loved but heard a hundred times before new life.

Yes, when I hear Pug's music, I'm reminded of everything I love about folk music. Lucky for me, his second album The Great Despiser will be released next month - accompanied by a free in-store show at Waterloo Records. Check out some of his music below, and join me at the show on April 19th.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

David Ramirez

If you live in Austin and you weren't at South by Southwest last week, you're wrong.
Myself included.

I was out of town for the week visiting family, which was great, but I am sad to have missed out on so many great shows this year.

One artist that I was particularly bummed to have missed was David Ramirez.
Here's a video of last year's show:

Ramirez, like everyone else featured on this blog, lives in Austin and plays here quite a bit, but I've never actually been able to make it to one of his shows. A good word to describe his music is soulful, and from what I've seen from videos, I feel like he is best enjoyed live - as most "soulful" folk artists probably are. In fact, I know he likes to perform intimate shows inside people houses, and he does so pretty often. Watch his videos on YouTube and you'll see what I mean. You can follow him on Twitter to stay updated and potentially catch one of them.

According to his website, Ramirez has been writing and performing for over 10 years and grew up in Houston, but these days he calls Austin home - aside from being on the road, that is. It's here where he wrote and recorded his latest release, Strangetown EP. ("Strangetown," of course, is alluding to Austin.)

I'll never forget when I first heard a Ramirez song. I was 16, and my friends and I had travelled to a lake house for a long weekend in this big, dirty old van. The van was gross. Probably a van ride I'd rather just forget about altogether. But I remember that van ride well because of Ramirez. My friends and I were all crammed into the van; a bunch of worn-out, sun-burnt teenagers on an early Sunday morning headed home. Most of my friends were out cold. I sat toward the back, attempting to sleep, when I heard a song I had never heard before flooding through the crummy old speakers. I enjoyed the rest of that van ride thoroughly because of the music that accompanied it. Sometimes when I listen to Ramirez I feel a certain nostalgia for that weekend.

Anyway, at the time I had no idea who I was listening to, so I scribbled some of his lyrics down on a piece of paper and looked them up when I got home to see if I could find the artist behind them. I searched and searched and found nothing, probably because Ramirez was just getting started with music at the time. Years later (yes, years) I found the scrap of paper with the lyrics and knew exactly what they were from. I once again felt determined to find the artist. I Googled them and finally found Ramirez! What a joyous day it was.

Here is another favorite song by Ramirez:

And another:

I'll stop now, but you should check out Wandering Man (if you like Ryan Bingham, you will like this song.) And maybe check out Stick Around as well. Or maybe just go ahead and check out all of his music. That might be good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Penny & Sparrow

Here's what is great about Penny & Sparrow: everything.

No, seriously.

Not only is their music incredible, but they're pretty stand-up guys as well.

Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnkee have been playing music together since they became roommates in a little house in Hyde Park in 2006.

I have the privilege of serving with Andy, the lead singer of this indie-folk duo in a ministry called Young Life, and I can truthfully say that he is one of the most incredible people I know. He's a man who loves people, and he loves them well. He's a man with a gift for speaking truth and hope into the hearts of the people around him. He's a man with passion and soul. You can feel these things in his music. And you can understand a taste of who he is and what he's all about through his lyrics.

Listen to Penny & Sparrow's first single titled "Creature" below and you'll see what I mean.

Andy and Kyle stand firm in their belief that they were given their talents and love of music for a reason. "Our big hope is to hang out with God and write music that helps people do the same," says Andy. "We hope we get to provide the soundtrack for thousands of blind dates with Christ."

If you get the opportunity to see the duo live, don't miss out.

In fact, Penny and Sparrow are having a concert tomorrow night. Grab some friends and head over to Gateway Church at 7 p.m for a relaxing evening with some fantastic tunes. Tickets are $10 at the door, and 100% of the money raised from the show goes toward sending high school kids to Young Life camp this summer.

If you can't make it tomorrow, fear not. Penny & Sparrow will be performing during SXSW for free on March 11 and March 15. Follow them on twitter to stay updated, or visit their website.

Download Penny & Sparrow on iTunes, and stay tuned for their new EP Take Cover which is set to release this spring.