August 16, 1995
Butch Hancock, Eats Away the Night (Sugar Hill Records 1995) - Small label Sugar Hill Records (based in Durham, North Carolina) has developed an important roster of roots and folk artists. The addition of Austin, Texas-based Butch Hancock only adds to their luster.
The 11 tracks on Eats Away the Night feature music rooted in the land that spawned Bob Wills, Buddy Holly, and Roy Orbison, while mixing in pop, folk, blues, and country elements. Hancock is a singular performer, and Eats Away the Night highlights his unique talents.
Though Eats Away the Night is his first studio record, Hancock has also released seven self-produced LPs and a 14-cassette series that documented a 140-song gig at Austin's Cactus Cafe in 1990.
The multi-talented Hancock is a true Renaissance man. In addition to penning hundreds of tunes, he also is an accomplished artist (his gallery in Austin is called "Lubbock-or-Leave-It"), runs marathons, travels extensively, and dabbles in work as a physicist.
Hancock can best be described as a Texas version of Bob Dylan; while his voice has a flat side to it, his singular songwriting and willingness to explore adult themes sets him apart.
Hancock's band features a host of seasoned sidemen, including producer/guitarist Gurf Morlix, bassist Dr. John Ciambotti, drummer Donald Lindley, Riley Osbourne on the Hammond B-3 organ, and guest appearances from Charlie Sexton on guitar.
Although Hancock has pinned his share of train songs (including "Moanin' of the Midnight Train" and "Boxcars," both of which appear on Eats Away the Night), his strongest cuts are folksy love songs with a wistful sense of lament.
Thus, the best songs on the album are the lovely "If You Were a Bluebird" (which was even better when performed live during his recent appearance in Hanford with Tish Hinojosa) and the enchanting, understated "Eileen."
"Eileen" is a captivating tear-jerker, as Hancock compares his relationship with the affairs of other couples and admits, "I sure wouldn't mind doing something like that with you."
Hancock is a talented and witty fellow, and deserves a wider audience. Fans of contemporary folk and roots music will flip over Eats Away the Night.
Susan Voelz, Summer Crashing (Pravda Records 1995) - Chicago-based Pravda Records scores a big hit with Summer Crashing. Based on the delicate talents of singer and fiddle player Susan Voelz, Summer Crashing is a languid, 46-minute sonic dream.
And I mean languid in the fullest sense of the word: Summer Crashing is very much an album made by a woman, with Voelz' husky sensuality present at every turn.
Not that the album is about love or sex. Rather, it's about a woman's appreciation of life and the briefness of being. Inspired by a spectacular car crash during a year-long tour with her band, Poi Dog Pondering (says Susan, "twice the life in half the time"), Summer Crashing mulls the question, "When we die, will we think this was anything?"
For a young woman, the gypsyish Voelz has roamed far and wide, ranging from her hometown of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, to Bloomington, Indiana (where she attended Indiana University) to Altadena, California (where she lived on Christmas Tree Lane) to New Orleans.
Susan eventually settled down in the music capital of Austin, Texas, where she performed with Arthur Brown (the self-proclaimed God of Hellfire) and Ronnie Lane (of the Faces) before joining Poi Dog Pondering.
The comparisons to Lisa Germano are plain (Germano is even listed in the credits). However, Germano is more interested in introspective reflection, while Voelz is more focused on an appreciation of the world around her.
With dreamy, breathy vocals mixed against an ambient and rich background, Summer Crashing works on many levels. However, Voelz won't be pigeonholed into a single style; "Happy" is a pop cut (as Voelz says, "Just for an hour, I'm going to be playing, plum, dangerously happy. Yup."), and "Mystic River Bridge" is firmly rooted in an orchestral sound.
Voelz says "Mystic River" is based on a true story: "Tangled up by his own duplicity, he decided to jump off the Mystic River Bridge. Did he know that was the name?" She continues, "No reverb, no extra thought, just like you wandered into a rehearsal of the swamp orchestra at the junior high. Bring whatever instrument you have to play."
Adds Voelz, "Summer Crashing began the night before the hurricane in Baton Rouge, Louisiana...Three days later, the power came back on, there was good strong coffee and red table wine. I met John Sanchez, who plays guitar like he is from another dimension, and his mission is to deliver sound. Diana [Bruschke] drove across the bridge, sat on the back of a chair, and listened for bass lines like one big hand under everything.
"Stewart Sullivan and Mike Stewart put up with and made right home-recorded hiss and pre-recorded reverb. Malcolm [Burn] showed my ears a new way to listen (at decibels so loud I lost my vision), Dana [Thompson] and Tawnya [LoRae] took the bus and, arms crossed, sang like demons and angels, and Cynthia sent me Michael's old strat to plunk out melodies after all these years. Some things are worth more than we know."
Susan Voelz is a rare find: A gentle and talented woman, who is not afraid to express herself. Summer Crashing is a unique find, and worth exploring.
-- Randy Krbechek
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