Carolyn Wonderland Band with Bill Carter & the Blame feat. Denny Freeman
Bill Carter & the Blame
305 E 5th Street
Austin, TX, 78701
Doors 9:00 PM / Show 10:00 PM
Carolyn Wonderland Band
A musical force equipped with the soulful vocals of Janis and the guitar slinging skills of Stevie Ray, Carolyn Wonderland reaches into the depths of the Texas blues tradition with the wit of a poet. She hits the stage with unmatched presence, a true legend in her time.
"She'd grown up the child of a singer in a band and began playing her mother's vintage Martin guitar when other girls were dressing dolls. She'd gone from being the teenage toast of her hometown Houston to sleeping in her van in Austin amid heaps of critical acclaim for fine recordings Alcohol & Salvation, Bloodless Revolution, and most recently, Miss Understood.
Along with the guitar and the multitude of other instruments she learned to play – trumpet, accordion, piano, mandolin, lap steel – Wonderland's ability to whistle remains most unusual. Whistling is a uniquely vocal art seldom invoked in modern music, yet it's among the most spectacular talents the human voice possesses.
That vocal proficiency was well-established in the singer's midteens, landing her gigs at Fitzgerald's by age 15. She absorbed Houston influences like Little Screamin' Kenny and soaked up the Mad Hatter of Texas music, Doug Sahm. The Lone Star State was as credible and fertile a proving ground for blues in the 1980s as existed, especially in Austin with Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Angela Strehli, Omar & the Howlers, and Lou Ann Barton all in their prime. By the following decade, Austin's blues luster thinned, but Houston, always a bastion of soul and R&B, boasted the Imperial Monkeys with the effervescent Carolyn Wonderland as ruler of the jungle.
In the early 1990s Wonderland & the Imperial Monkeys were invited to the Guadalupe Street Antone's in Austin. There, they were treated like royalty with the singer as the queen of hearts in the club's post-Stevie Ray Vaughan stable, which included Toni Price, Johnny and Jay Moeller, Sue Foley, Mike and Corey Keller, and the Ugly Americans. It was a good bar for the Monkeys to hang, and Austin felt so comfortable that when the band called it quits a few years later, she set her sights on Austin at the start of the millennium.
Bill Carter & the Blame
Austin-based singer-songwriter Bill Carter’s list of bona fides is so long, it’s hard to decide which credits to note first. We could start with his first big songwriting score, “Why Get Up?,” heard on the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ breakout album, Tuff Enuff. There’s a breakfast cereal commercial that earned the about-to-be-evicted Carter and his co-writer wife, Ruth Ellsworth, a then-huge $25,000 payday. Then there’s “Crossfire,” the No. 1 hit they wrote with Chris Layton, Tommy Shannonand Reese Wynans — a.k.a. Double Trouble, the band who backed T-bird Jimmie Vaughan’s little brother, Stevie Ray. Or there’s “Anything Made of Paper,” penned for the West Memphis 3’s Damien Echols, which Carter recorded with pal Johnny Depp and performed on the Late Show With David Letterman. Featured in the West of Memphis documentary and on the accompanying soundtrack, it’s also an award-winning animated video.
Carter’s songs have been covered by scores of major artists, from John Mayall and Ruth Brown to Robert Palmer and Waylon Jennings; among his accolades is a BMI Million Air award for more than three million “Crossfire” spins. But Carter has also released several albums of his own, the latest of which, Innocent Victims and Evil Companions, bowsFebruary 26, 2016, on Forty Below Records.
On this one, the artist takes blues, soul, country and rock into realms both far-reaching and familiar, aided by several A-team Austin players. They include guitarists Charlie Sexton and Denny Freeman(Dylan’s current and former, respectively) and David Holt (Joe Ely, the Mavericks, Storyville); drummer Dony Wynn (Robert Palmer, Charlie Mars); keyboardist Mike Thompson (the Eagles, together and solo); fiddler Richard Bowden (Maines Brothers, Austin Lounge Lizards); the Tosca String Quartet(everyone from David Byrne to the Dixie Chicks); and brass/woodwind player/string arranger John Mills.
But it’s his resonant tenor and just-right production — and songwriting and performing chops, including his six- and 12-string acoustic guitar, harmonica and percussion work — that drive this release from the first track, “Black Lion,” to the 14th, “No More Runnin’.” Musically and lyrically, Carter references a rich past while rooting himself firmly in the present.
“Recipe for Disaster,” in which he questions how the hope-filled ’60s contorted into today’s mad world, sounds like a lost Warren Zevon track (and namechecks John Lennon). Carter crafts sinfully delicious retro pop licks in “Feel Town”; “Fisherman’s Daughter,” which he describes as a love song, delivers a wonderfully loose back-porch blues/honky-tonk vibe; and “Sooner or Later” flat-out rocks. “Lost in a Day” and “Livin’ in It” suggest the Traveling Wilburys constructing a new Wall of Sound. And yes, that’s Sexton playing electric sitar on “Missing Guru,” about the still-fugitive swami convicted of sexually abusing minors in his Austin-area ashram.
And one might be forgiven for wondering whether “Black Lion,” which Carter characterizes as “drug-induced paranormal paranoia isolation,” bears a relationship to “Bug House in Pasadena” — his dismal, yet humorous account of “life in the cackle factory.”
The far sunnier “Solar Powered Radio,” complete with Vox and Fender Rhodes tickles, could become the theme song for the Austin-area station that inspired it.
“Watch what you say around me; I’ll put it in a song,” Carter likes to joke. Apparently, he isn’t kidding — despite his reputation for hanging around with characters like Depp and the Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, who, with Carter and Sal Jenco, formed the single-lettered quartet P in the ’90s. (Carter also can be heard playing bass on the Surfers’ 1996 classic Electriclarryland.)
Though Carter just about holds native-son status in Austin, his roots actually trace back to Kentucky, where his father, Cash Carter, was born. Cash was the son of William Henry Carter (Bill’s namesake). William Henry’s first cousin was A.P. Carter, scion of country royals the Carter Family. Bill’s bluegrass-loving father, a Navy petty officer, raised his sons in Washington state.
Like so many kids of his generation, Carter picked up a guitar after hearing Dylan, and joined a band after hearing the Beatles. He made is way to Austin in 1976, and met Ruth not long after. They’ve been partners and collaborators ever since. (She shares backing vocals with Kimmie Rhodeson “Fisherman’s Daughter.”)
Innocent Victims and Evil Companions is Carter’s ninth self-produced album, and his first for Forty Below Records. But Carter’s songs, with and without Ellsworth (i.e., “Richest Man,” “Willie the Wimp”) can be heard on many other artists’ albums. In 2000, “Crossfire” earned them an Austin Music Award for “Song of the Decade.” In 2012, Austin PBS affiliateKLRU-TV presented an “Arts in Context” segment about Carter and his band, the Blame, that featured performances with Freeman, Wynn, Holt,Will Sexton and Cindy Cashdollar, among others, and interviews with notable names including Depp and Billy F. Gibbons. It earned producer-director Pat Kondelis an Emmy. Kondelis and Brandon Ray co-directed the animated video for “Anything Made of Paper,” which has won several awards as well.
As for producing his own work, Carter says his rein-holding, in this case, was driven by practicality as well as creativity. “I had all this stuff in my head on every song, which was a lot of information,” he explains. “I recorded all the songs with just drums and acoustic guitar at first, so I had to know exactly where the breaks or solos or string sections were going to fall. I didn’t have the luxury of spending 10,000 hours in the studio. I would hate to have someone just doing something I could have done myself.”
That dedication is just one hallmark of a true musician — the kind others turn to for inspiration and material. Of course, like any songwriter, Carter is flattered when others cover his songs. But there’s something special about hearing them straight from their source, and he can’t wait to unleash this latest batch. Because there’s already more where they came from.