News Column

With "Live at the Cactus Cafe," Phoebe Hunt keeps moving

August 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 07--"To spread that message of love" is how Phoebe Hunt describes her approach to traveling the country, playing music. Hunt, speaking by phone from a hotel in Billings, Mont., was talking about how a trip to a school in India (with Austin-based humanitarian group the Amala Foundation) helped her to realize just how lucky she was -- not just in having secure housing, but to be able to choose how she would spend her life. "That inspired me to follow my dream," she said.

That message of good will shines through in Hunt's recent release, "Live at the Cactus Cafe." The album, which features Hunt on fiddle and guitar, guitarist Reed Turner, Connor Forsyth (piano), Pat Harris (bass), Dave Sierra (drums) and Ellie Carol (vocals), goes a long way toward capturing the feel of a good show in a good listening room. Hunt's voice is big and warm on songs such as "Walk Away" and "Flee Fly Flow Flum."

The album, a sort of followup to Hunt's 2012 self-titled EP, was inspired after a show at Main Street Crossing, a music venue in Tomball. "We had such a great show, I just left there thinking, 'Why don't we just record a live album'," Hunt said. "We had such good chemistry at that show, it made me want to see if we could do that on tape."

Hunt learned the violin at the age of 6, when her mother signed her up for lessons at the Austin Montessori school. She said that the teaching style, in which she practiced alongside her classmates for just a few minutes each day, made a big difference in her musical development. In her teens, she performed on Thursdays at the Waterloo Ice House with the Hudsons, an Austin folk trio. Then, as a junior at the University of Texas, Hunt traveled to San Diego to attend the Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp.

"That dramatically changed the way I perceived music, the way the violin can be incorporated into music," Hunt said. While there, she studied with a variety of teachers (including famous fiddle player Johnny Gimble) and learned about the use of the fiddle across cultures and genres -- bluegrass, Irish, Indian, Canadian.

After college, Hunt spent time as a member of the Belleville Outfit, which experienced some national success before disbanding in 2011 (various members of that band are still playing music in Austin and beyond). Since then, Hunt has spent time in Nashville, working with cellist Ben Sollee; she recorded in Los Angeles with Matt Rollings, who has been a member of Lyle Lovett's Large Band and worked with many others; she's also played in guitarist/vocalist Turner's band. "There's enough time for all of it if you just stay present with what you're doing at the moment. I find that it all folds into itself," Hunt said about her seemingly nonstop schedule.

"Live at the Cactus Cafe" finds Hunt in the middle of that busy life, a recording made in March on very little sleep. The band had played the night before in Tomball and drove back to Austin at 2 a.m. "We had a rehearsal at noon, went straight to sound check and then played the show," Hunt said. "We were delirious, not well rested, and we had played the night before; maybe all those things coming together made it a special show."

There are more albums to come in the near future. Hunt just finished recording with former bandmate Connor Forsyth; she's also been writing with Turner, who recently won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival's Troubadour award. Until those projects are released, she's not planning on slowing down. In coming weeks she's taking part in a youth summit in Wimberley with the Amala Foundation before going back on the road for a set of shows booked through October. If that's not enough, she also recently moved to New York, though she says that because of her schedule, she lives "everywhere."

Phoebe Hunt plays at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Blvd.

Feathers

"If All Now Here"

(Nyx)

Anastasia Dimou, the frontwoman and creative force for Austin-based Feathers, has released a big, strong debut album of electronic dance music (but not EDM) that avoids the trap of being boring. What Dimou and her band offer instead is a nice dose of atmosphere, falling somewhere between sunset in a Michael Mann film (or maybe Talking Heads' "Remain In Light") and a car speeding through the desert in the middle of the night. Dimou, with her dream-like vocals, can do epic, on tracks such as the chugging opener "Land of the Innocent" and the thumping "Fire in the Night," on which she repeats, as if in a trance, "fire come fill me never/leave me again." A more focused sound prevails on "Dark Matter," which clanks along with angular, industrial elements, and the creeping (and creepy) percussion of "Night Seances." Finally, "Welcome Possession" ends things, ghostly, with desperate voices in the distance, speeding off into the sunset, or the club. With "If All Now Here," Dimou and company offer further evidence that Austin's growing electronic music world deserves more attention.

Feathers plays Sept. 11 at Red 7.

Royal Forest

"Spillway"

(King Electric Record Company)

Austin's Royal Forest have a list of recording locations that reads like an Indiana Jones script: a World War II submarine; a lightning storm in the sand dunes of the Monahans; an in-flight single-prop plane. Their band bio also describes them as casting "a surreal shadow on Americana" with experimental production techniques. It's a pretty big setup, implying a sound as out-there as their West Texas recording site. "Spillway" doesn't go there, but that's not a bad thing. "John Denver," the song the four-member band recorded while flying, feels like it's coming out of a small space, with a wobbly effect kicking in midway and a prop-like noise towards the end. At no point, however, does it scream "we're in a plane!" Elsewhere on "Spillway," the band offers their take on a post- "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" world with the vast, sad tracks "Black Hills" and "Broken Bow." "Almost Done" conjures Pink Floyd weirdness as it pits choppy carnival fuzz against floating vocals, and the quiet title track winds up with a pleasant squall. The brighter (at least sound-wise) "On The Sun" begins with a pulsing pop and wraps with sludgy haze; closer "Man-made Lakes" similarly contrasts an upbeat sound against gloomy, surreal lyrics. It's experimental, but not overdone.

Royal Forest plays the Scoot Inn on Sept 21.

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