By Houston Hall
I first saw the South Austin Moonlighters a few weeks ago at a Texas Red Dirt Roads Radio Show with Justin Frazell that was held at Billy Bobs Texas in Fort Worth. Right away, when they started off their first tune in the song swap, I knew there was something to look forward to for the future of this band and the future of the Texas Music/Americana scene. But that’s the beauty of what they bring to the table. Not only can they rise to the occasion, but they also bring R&B, Soul, Gospel, Southern Rock and Blues just to name a few genres, to their music repertoire.
For a band that started playing together as a Sunday jam band, South Austin Moonlighters are breaking barriers and revitalizing a tone in the Texas music scene not heard since the mid 1960s through to the mid to late 1970s.
The band is composed of all true lead instrumentalists and vocalists. All of which have a few chances to sing lead vocals in the new album Ghost of a Small Town, which was released July 12 of this year.
Ghost of a Small Town is made up of 13 different tracks that pull together all of the bands strengths into one tightly-orchestrated package of excellence. With help from Beall Street Productions’ Ryan Lipman in the mixing of the tracks and the master, done by Nick Landis of Tera Nova, you get the best audio quality possible.
I had a chance to speak to one of the band members and the producer of the album, Mr. Chris Beall. He said that the main reason for the title of the newly released project stemmed from an anecdote to his initial start in Austin.
“Ever since I’ve lived in Austin there’s been this idea of what people think that Austin used to be. And everybody harkens back to the glory days. You know, when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and all kinds of these different artists were coming across the stage and there was just this great roots music revival going on in Texas… As soon as I showed up to Austin, there was this underlying buzz of all that… But as I stayed here a while, I began to watch my town change too. And I began to realize that maybe I’m not the same as those people, but I can sure see where they’re coming from.”
I than asked him what he meant by that and Chris so firmly responded with “I can sure see the tradeoff that has made it become what it is. So I’ve watched the condos go up. I’ve watched small businesses fold up and not be able to pay the overhead that it takes to survive in a large city like Austin. And all of this stuff is happening in the space of this moniker, the live music capital of the world… So you get this ironic kind of sense that this live music capital of the world thing man, you know. I’m not real sure of how long we can keep doing that to prop it up. If it can’t stand on its own legs you know… and the musicians are having a hard enough time making enough to live in the city that claims that, then how is that going to work?”
And that’s where Ghosts of a Small Town came from. “The idea that
we’re not resentful about change… But we are wise enough to know what the cost really is. So really, that’s what we’re doing. We are hanging on to the way that we believe and the way we love. And, we are trying to convey that to everyone around us. So Ghost of a Small Town is kind of like us living in this thing that used to be something else. Or Ghost of a Small Town is a remnant of the way that it used to be.”
The band consists of Lonnie Trevino Jr. (bass), Phil Bass (drums), Phil Hurley (guitar) and Chris Beale (guitar), all of whom have a turn in singing lead vocals on the album. Most notably would be the 12th track on the album, “Jesus (Make Up My Dying Bed).” That song utilized Lonnie Trevino’s diverse vocal range to encapsulate the tone and degree of precision required to make that song percolate to the masses of music lovers everywhere.
It truly shows the diversity of the genres that this band can cover. In a soulful, R&B tone along with bluesy licks that you can’t go wrong with, the South Austin Moonlighters give you a glimpse of what they are made of.
Other notable journalists and music publications have dubbed them as a band that “covers a ton of stylistic ground… with gritty blues, nasty funk, R&B, pop, rock, and more cropping up along the way.” – Matt Blackett, Guitar Player Magazine Editor’s Fav’s from 2014.
Jeremy Burchard from Texas Music Magazine put it pretty clearly when he said, “Success for this Americana ensemble has about embracing a supper group ethos while shunning supper group egos.”
And Andrew Conroy of KUTX 98.9 FM said, “When four established musicians decide to join forces and play together just because it’s fun, you’re going to get something special. Such is the case for South Austin Moonlighters.”
During the interview I had with Chris about the new album, I asked him if he felt like they were chasing after a time machine that might have already passed. Or, would it be more along the lines of ‘you feeling blessed to still be doing this?’ His response was great when he said, with echoing laughter and a sense of humility, “I think both are true.”
But that’s the kicker to this whole story, really. Yeah, they might have gained more grey hairs than most chasing down their dreams over the years, but I believe that people don’t even see age anymore. What they hear is a beautiful ensemble and orchestration of guys who have known each other for a while. That the South Austin Moonlighters are creating a passion in the music scene that is a part of what I’d like to call another revolution in music, where there are no barriers or boundaries that can confine the music to one label. And that’s what music really should be. Undefinable, free to roam the eardrums and music collections
of the fans who want to be enchanted or taken away from reality for a short while.
You can find Ghost of a Small Town on iTunes and Amazon for
download sites or you can get a hard copy at Waterloo Records or Antone’s Record Shop in Austin. You can also visit CD Baby (link below) and get a digital download or order the hard copy of the album as well.