SXSW 2012

I think I heard the word “derivative” at SXSW more than any other time in my life. Nick Waterhouse was one of my favorite discoveries of the week and his sound (and look) owes much to the late 50’s/ early 60’s sounds of Buddy Holly, Otis Redding and Chuck Berry. He has only released a 4-song EP, but he was on everyone’s lips at SXSW.

As I walked through the crowd during his performance at Shangrila in Austin, I overheard a conversation where someone said something along the lines of “He’s a great guitarist and he can sing, but the sound is…(you guessed it) derivative.” I stopped for a second, about to comment, but then kept on moving. It was like the real world, in-person equivalent of blog commenting, except I couldn’t be completely anonymous and depending on what I might say next, I had a real risk of getting my ass beat.

Alabama Shakes were arguably the biggest buzz band of SXSW 2012. Like Waterhouse, they also have only released a 4-song EP. I’ve been sitting on an advanced copy of their debut, Boys and Girls, and Shirk finished up production on our session with the band, so I’ve become acclimated (and fallen in love).

Before heading to SXSW, I heard plenty of “what have they done to deserve this?” commentary from naysayers, so I was eager to catch a live set and see the crowd reaction. The band tore through a set that included much of the material on their upcoming album. The sound is full of blues, soul and powered by Brittany Howard’s insanely good vocals brimming with raw emotion. And maybe a tinge of anger.  99% of the crowd was cheering, dancing, screaming, high-fiving (maybe just us high-fiving). But somewhere in the crowd on my way to grab a round of cold ones, I heard it again. “These guys are great, but the sound is…”


Ladies and Gentlemen (to steal a phrase used generously by another of the accused “derivative” musicians, Justin Townes Earle), there are times, even at SXSW, when the music critic in us needs to subside. SXSW is an annual guy trip for us, so our intent in Austin may be different than others in the crowd, but I made it a point to enjoy the music at a more primitive level. Basically, does this shit make me feel good? I actually closed my eyes during their set to focus only on the sound. Yup. That shit felt good.

Derivative? Maybe. But I wasn’t alive to see Buddy Holly, Otis Redding or Chuck Berry. If new musicians have the technical skill and vocal abilities to draw comparisons to legends, count me in. For those paying attention, Waterhouse and Alabama Shakes have plenty of freshness and creativity to justify the accolades.

If you’re a naysayer, I’m not about to apologize for joining the buzz machine. I loved their session with us and their new album is an addiction for me. And if you’re concerned that there’s no gas left in their tank, they also performed a new track at SXSW that you won’t find on Boys & Girls. See it below and look out next week when we release our Shakes session in conjunction with their album release.


Cuff The Duke have just released their fifth album entitled Morning Comes. Like most quality Americana music these days, it comes from the most logical place – Canada. The band is from Oshawa, but now calls Toronto home and they play a southwestern US brand of alt-country music somewhat similar to Calexico. I first listened to the album months ago on a day-trip drive from Kansas City to Topeka. It was the perfect album for looking over the dashboard at open road and prairie land.

Morning Comes is the first of a two-part concept album. Lead singer Wayne Petti describes the album’s subject matter:

These albums are about dealing with loss of someone and the change that brings to one’s life. The confusion and loneliness that occurs at that point in someone’s life. Coming to grips with the reality of those things. By the end of this record we start to make peace with this and come to terms with it. All these songs are about that. They deal with a similar theme and emotion but still wondering in the back of our minds whether there will be a point to all of it. That’s what the second record will be about. Embracing what has happened and navigating down new roads. This album is the low and the next album will be the high.

Don’t let the gloomy description scare you off. I wasn’t listening to the words on my trip and the music had me humming along while tapping the steering wheel. I now feel a little guilty that the narrator of each song was probably suicidal, but it’s not my fault.  The lyrical melancholy masquerades behind warm, feel-good music. The first four songs bounce along with an upbeat tempo with “You Don’t Know What It’s Like” and “Count On Me” providing an incredible one-two punch worthy of several back to back listens before moving on through the rest of the album.

The acoustic ballad “So Many Times Before” serves as a quiet interlude before “Bound To Your Own Vices” adds some honky-tonk guitar flavor as it opens. It takes a more straightforward rock sound at the minute mark, much like their Canadian alt-country peers, Elliott BROOD. “You Won’t Look Back” is the album’s climax and seems to be the album’s turning point in coming to peace with the loss and confusion. It has a Mamas and Papas “California Dreamin” feel to it and features some incredible guitar solos.

Cuff The Duke haven’t announced any tour dates in the States, but you can catch them in Austin at SXSW on 3/16 @ Trinity Hall (3-6pm & 10pm). If you miss them there, it looks like you’ll need to head to the Great White North.

Cuff The Duke – Count On Me

Cuff The Duke – Standing On The Edge

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We’ve had some slight changes to the lineup since first posting the SXSW day party. We added 1.5 hours of free beer drinking at the start. We lost Hacienda and Margot and The Nuclear So and So’s but we just added Caveman, Cotton Jones and Death On Two Wheels. The event is free but you’ll need to RSVP here. And please do so. Events in past years have filled up quickly and we have thousands of RSVP’s right now.

The full day will look like this:

Inside Stage
12:10 – 12:40 Quiet Corral
12:55 – 1:25 Turf War
1:40 – 2:10 Bear Hands
2:25 – 2:55 Father John Misty
3:10 – 3:40 Caveman
3:55 – 4:25 WATERS
4:40 – 5:10 Death on Two Wheels

Tent Stage
12:30 – 1:00 The Electric Hearts
1:15 – 1:45 Cotton Jones
2:00 – 2:30 Little Hurricane
2:45 – 3:15 Twilight Sad
3:30 – 4:00 The Sheep Dogs
4:15 – 4:45 Three Blind Wolves
5:00 – 5:30 The Lumineers



If you’re headed to SXSW, let’s meet up! We’re throwing an incredible event with our old friend Tim Sweetwood of Sweetwood Presents and our new friends from Founders Entertainment. The party will be held on Thursday at noon at Beauty Bar (617 East 7th Street).

The event is free but you’ll need to RSVP here. And please do so. Events in past years have filled up quickly.

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Pickwick – Seattle soul group will see you at SxSW

January 26, 2012

Remember the Seinfield episode when Elaine was dating a guy who she thought was African-American and in turn, he thought she was Latino? Sometimes it is just so easy to make a snap conclusion. At the end of the day, they both figured out they were both white and headed off to The Gap. Well […]

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SXSW 2012 Band List

November 1, 2011

The SxSW 2012 band list was just released. I feel like an eighty year old right now. I recognize about four bands on this list. Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys (Austin TX) Against Me! (Gainesville FL) Agent Fresco (Reykjavík ICELAND) Ambition (Halifax CANADA) ANR (Miami FL) Antoine Reverb (Guadalajara MEXICO) Avalanche City (Auckland NEW […]

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