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Finding BBQ’s Holy Grail At Austin’s Franklin Barbecue

10 Mar

I had heard the steady rumble about Franklin BBQ. But they were located a long way from my home base in coastal Alabama. Stories appeared with some frequency in regional and national food publications. Many with accompanying images that made my mouth water. Brisket, ribs, sausage, chopped beef … I just had to get there. And soon!

My opportunity finally presented itself when I was recently invited to attend a 3-day conference in Austin. I checked the city map and confirmed that Franklin BBQ would be within walking distance of the conference center. A rather long hike — but walkable none the less. I would not have a rental car on this trip, so my legs would have to get me there.

The conference wrapped just before noon on a Thursday and I made a bee line for Franklin BBQ. One of the hotel bellhops attempted to discourage me. He said the food was said to be great, but that they would likely be sold out of food by the time I hoofed it all the way over there. He even added that several of his friends had tried to eat there in the past and each of them had arrived too late. So, as I learned, this is not just a meal. It’s a meal and a race against the clock — all rolled into one. The sign out front (see above image) confirmed this. They were open from “11 a.m. til sold out.”

One of Franklin’s many awards hanging inside the dining room.

An employee met me as I joined the back of the line of folks waiting patiently to order. She asked how many were in my group and would I be placing any large orders today. I told her I was traveling and dining solo. She then inquired as to what I was planning to order. My heart was set on their famous sandwich known as the “Tipsy Texan.” Good, she said. Your wait is gonna be about 40 minutes. Forty minutes — plenty of time to take in all the smokey ambiance. I will say this … the place smelled AMAZING!

The interior at Franklin BBQ is funky and relaxed. No frills to speak of — unless you count the classic country tunes streaming out of their sound system. Loved that. I also dug the old advertising like the faded Coke sign you see above. Mike and Frankie from American Pickers would have been pumped. As the line continued to creep along, my stomach began to talk to me. Thankfully, the kind dude behind the counter appeared with a few samples to further whet our collective appetite. I wasn’t really thinking about ordering the smoked turkey. But the sample was sooo doggone moist and peppery that it almost had me wavering. Almost.

Pick up a souvenir t-shirt. Personalize it with sauce, grease, etc.

The furnishings are mix-match — do love the retro formica table.

The low overhead theme is also reflected in the menu boards.

Desserts sound great, but I had to wonder who ever gets that far.

It all started as a small food trailer. That only took them so far.

The main menu board. Yes, I was inching closer to my lunch.

SPEED SHOP doesn’t exactly apply to the service time at Franklin.

My wait was finally over — and this (above) was my reward. The soon to be legendary Tipsy Texan. Nope … the recipe does not involve any alcohol whatsoever. The “tipsy” part refers to the lofty sandwich’s architectural soundness. Or lack thereof. It does lean a good bit, but how could it not?  

Fresh baked Mrs. Baird’s bun (it’s a Texas thing), lean charred chopped beef, sliced locally made sausage topped with slaw and sauce. I was gonna wash it all down with a Topo Chico mineral water. There was no way I was going to get my mouth around the sandwich as is — not without somehow unhinging my jaw. Plan B was to give the leaning tower of deliciousness a good shove and then go at it with a fork and a smile.

It may look like a crime scene, but it would be a crime not to try it.

I have included this picture (above) for a reason. Sure, the image is not going to win any awards. But it does show you the little medallions of sausage used in the construction of the Tipsy Texan. The casing was smokey and posessed a nice snap. You can also see the pepper and other spices which gave the sausage a nice kick. The attention to detail and obvious passion that goes into all food preparation here is truly inspiring. To say that I was impressed would be doing a great disservice to the master craftsmen/craftswomen who toil here.

My meal at Franklin BBQ was nothing short of a transformative experience. I will never judge a BBQ joint the same way again. I was thrilled to have found the Holy Grail of BBQ, yet would it be all downhill from here? That sobering thought only lingered a moment. And ended with the thought of my next visit to this culinary mecca. In 2010, Bon Appetit hailed Franklin BBQ as the “Best in America.” And you know what? I can’t really argue with that.

Now THIS is a sobering thought. Don’t make me look! PLEASE!!!

Franklin Barbecue – 900 E. 11th Street, Austin, TX

(512) 653-1187; www.franklinbarbecue.com

Oh Brother, This Is One Mighty Fine CD, Y’all!

4 Feb

JON DEE GRAHAM, FREEDY JOHNSTON
AND
SUSAN COWSILL
ARE THE HOBART BROTHERS & LIL’ SIS HOBART

Itinerant singer-songwriters unite to record album,
At Least We Have Each Other, due for late February 28 release

The moment I first heard about this collaboration I knew we were in for a major treat. And I’m happy it does not disappoint. In fact, it would be safe to say that this will become known as one of the best Americana releases of 2012. Certainly the critics will love it. All three contributors are highly accomplished in their own right. And each brings something unique to this highly enjoyable party.

Jon Dee Graham is perhaps the least well-known of the group. But he boasts an impressive resume and a loyal Texas following – most notably in the Austin area. Graham has played in bands like The Skunks and the True Believers and sports one of the most well-worn singing voices this side of Tom Waits. Freedy Johnston is an talented singer-songwriter who has released about a dozen CDs thru the years. You may recall his 1994 hit single, Bad Reputation. Susan Cowsill grew up in the music business as a member of the real life Partridge Family, The Cowsills. Their hits included everything from the sublime The Rain, The Park and Other Things to the ridiculously fun Hair. Susan has much more recently made some beautiful music with The Continental Drifters.

The opening track is a cracking number intitled Baby, Didn’t I Love You. Cowsill takes the lead vocal on this one and really shines as she pleads, “How could you leave me here on the track?” This is the obvious “single” on the CD, but the rest of the collection is hardly filler, trust me. Jon Dee follows with a swampy take on Why I Don’t Hunt. It has a a “Wooly Bully” chug to it with Cowsill providing some vocal sweetness to Graham’s down & dirty delivery.  The next track, Sweet Senorita, begins with a Neko Case-like wistfulness. Freedy gives this Latin-tinged piece the meloncholy treatment and succeeds. Susan again jumps in on harmony vocals — she is the glue here.

The 4th number, I Never Knew There Would Be You, is certainly one of the disc’s standout tracks. It is likely the most pop-oriented song included here. Cowsill’s lead vocal soars — at times reminding me of the clear as a  bell tones of the late Mama Cass Elliott. Yes, Susan is a child of the 6os and that influence is clear. The twin-guitar break is really sweet — only wish there was more of it. Track 6, Almost Dinnertime,  features Jon Dee doing his best Tom Waits’ growl, which is followed up by the dreamy Johnston vocal, I am Sorry.  

My First Day On The Job is catchy and humorous, but get the earmuffs out for the kids — some salty language on this one. It’s all about toiling in the not always glamorous restaurant industry, which all 3 of the band members have experienced at one time or another. Soda Pop Tree is just what you’d expect — sweet and cool. The disc closes with Jon Dee Graham singing over the slow yet steady jangle of The Dishwasher, another ode to his former food service career.  

Not a bad track can be found here, friends. What a terrific collection of songs and performances. As I mentioned, don’t be surprised if this CD turns up on many Best of 2012 lists. Let’s just hope this is not the last we hear from this trio. It is rare that 3 such diverse talents come together in such a winning way. Maybe they aren’t really blood relatives, but when they throw on the recording switch, they sure do sound like it.  

AUSTIN, Texas — Jon Dee Graham , Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill, united as the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart , will release their long-threatened debut album, At Least We Have Each Other, on Freedom Records in CD, LP and digital download formats, with a street date of February 28, 2012. A limited tour is planned for spring.

The ten-song LP/CD/download release comprises seven songs from the most recent band recording sessions, plus three from the first, drumless, demo sessions. With every purchase of any format of At Least We Have Each Other comes a free download of the entire demo-session set.

The three singer-songwriters got together in an Austin backyard one afternoon in 2010 to write songs about their early days (yes, even Sue) working in restaurants. They took the family name Hobart, after the dishwasher found in nearly every commercial kitchen, and began to reminisce.

Over the next couple of months, they put together ten songs about cooks and waitresses and dishwashers, but also songs about Mexican-American truck-drivers, pleasant dreams had while living in your car, the collapse of the Texas cotton market, despair on a pay phone, unread letters and, of course, love.

The Hobarts recruited Andrew DuPlantis, bassist from Jon Dee’s band the Fighting Cocks, and drummer Russ Broussard, husband and band-mate of Ms. Cowsill, and played SXSW 2011 to a tremendous response. The band then pursued a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of At Least We Have Each Other at Top Hat Studios in Austin.

The finished album provides a rare glimpse of what three unique and talented artists might come up with when they think no one else is listening. The songs were recorded live with one or two takes, and there is a resonant honesty and completeness to them.

About the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart:

Jon Dee Graham was named Austin Musician of the Year at SXSW in 2006. He was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame three times: as a solo artist in 2000, in 2008 as a member of the Skunks, and in 2009 as a member of the True Believers. Graham has released seven albums and was the subject of a DVD called Big Sweet Life: The Songs of Jon Dee Graham. In August 2008, Graham underwent emergency surgery after being injured in a one-car accident. His current album is aptly titled It’s Not As Bad As It Looks.

The New Yorker cited Freedy Johnston’s “finely wrought, melancholy character studies” as one of the calling cards of 2010’s critically acclaimed Rain on the City album, his twelfth. According to SPIN, “Johnston’s characters always make a deep impression.” He has been recording since 1990’s debut The Trouble Tree on Bar/None. In 1994 he hit with “Bad Reputation” from his Elektra album This Perfect World, and Rolling Stone named him “Songwriter of the Year.”

Susan Cowsill was born into show business as a member of the Cowsills, who hit with “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” and “Hair” in the late ’60s. In the ’90s, she joined forces with Peter Holsapple and Vicki Peterson to form the Continental Drifters, and migrated from Los Angeles to New Orleans. In 2005 she released her first solo album, Just Believe It, concurrent with losing her brother Barry and her house to Hurricane Katrina. Her current album Lighthouse, called “an earthy, often crunchy folk-pop gem” by Rolling Stone, reflects upon these experiences and features guest spots from Peterson, Jackson Browne, and former Cowsills session player Waddy Wachtel.

# # #

 

Hot Club of Cowtown Does Bob Wills Proud

10 Jan

Great new CD — first rate Western Swing from Austin, TX trio.

Check it out, y’all!

HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN

Since their first recording in 1998, Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown have grown to be the most globe-trotting, hardest-swinging Western swing trio on the planet. The first American band to tour Azerbaijan, they have opened stadiums for such artists as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and continue to bring their brand of Western swing to a wide range of festival audiences all over the world. But for guitarist Whit Smith, fiddler Elana James and bassist Jake Erwin, it has always been about staying true to their roots.

Remaining willfully out of the musical mainstream, Hot Club of Cowtown have created an international cult following for their sonic personification of joy and unique sound inspired by their namesakes: “Hot Club” from the hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli’s Hot Club of France, and “Cowtown” from the Western swing influence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Though Wills’ pre-WWII recordings have always been the fundamental inspiration for Hot Club of Cowtown’s repetoire and style, it has taken the band a dozen years to fully honor the King of Western Swing. A fortuitous tour in England in the spring of 2010 led them to London’s Specific Sound studio, where they spent two days recording a 14-song marathon of Bob Wills tunes. The result, What Makes Bob Holler, is a tribute to the American music icon, respecting Wills’ legendary music while putting Hot Club’s own signature on each song. “We have been meaning to make this album for a long time,” says James.

“This is music from the days when guys toured and sat on a bus with no air conditioning, no real food, for days. We heard a story of a fiddler the Wills band picked up in California and by the time they had driven to the Midwest, he was dead and nobody even knew his name. They pried his rigor mortis’d body off of the bus and left him under a lamppost somewhere in Kansas,” says James, “It was a different time. These guys were pretty hardcore.”

What Makes Bob Holler presents the most convincing evidence yet that Hot Club of Cowtown may be on to something. By digging even deeper into their roots and refusing to modernize, the band offers up one of their most exciting recordings to date. The disc is an imaginative pairing of obscure B-sides with some of Wills’ most popular work. Tunes like “Big Balls in Cowtown” and “Stay a Little Longer” are numbers that “people always love when we play them live,” says James, “so it was was a no-brainer to gather them into a record.” Others, like “Osage Stomp” and “The Devil Ain’t Lazy,” might not be as well known, but they are in the spirit of what originally attracted Smith and James to this music. “We’re playing what knocked us out about Western swing in the first place — the early fiery energy and jazzy improvisations,” says James.

What Makes Bob Holler may have taken two days to record, but the band has played these songs on tour for years. The album reflects the same spirited live vibe and offers the band a terrific platform to show off their ace musicianship and flaunt these inspirations: Smith’s hot electric guitar played through a vintage 1936 Gibson amplifier, James’ sometimes gorgeous, sometimes frenetic fiddle, and Erwin’s jaw-dropping slap bass, all mixed with three-part harmony vocals.

Smith (Cape Cod, MA) and James (Prairie Village, KS), originally met through an ad in the classified music section of The Village Voice in 1994, and played together in New York City before relocating to San Diego in 1997, where they spent a year playing for tips and building up their repertoire. By 1998, they had relocated to Austin, Texas and in 2000 added Jake Erwin (originally from Tulsa, OK) on bass, finalizing the Hot Club’s lineup.

Like any scrappy modern band, Hot Club dwells between the daily grind of touring and the euphoria of its live shows. Years of crisscrossing the USA in a silver Ford van through a landscape where local traditions are becoming more and more diluted, and modern life more electronic, have galvanized this Texas trio who are more devoted than ever to keeping their music sincere, free of irony, and focused on a simpler time.

What Makes Bob Holler arrives on the heels of 2009’s more eclectic Wishful Thinking, an Americana radio Top 100 album lauded by the Austin Chronicle’s Jim Caliguiri as “the Cowtowners at their peak,” and David Eldridge, in the Washington Times, as “one of the year’s most unexpected listening pleasures.”

While What Makes Bob Holler focuses exclusively on Bob Wills music, Hot Club of Cowtown’s live show will remain an engaging mix of what the band does best — whatever moves it at the moment, setlists be damned. “We have faith in the system that is the band. This energy that we plug into and it takes us away,” says James. Smith describes their shows as “like a rock ’n’ roll show . . . people pick up on the energy and the sincerity.”

“What the trio has is a rare thing,” says Smith, “There’s a chemistry that’s unmistakable.”

As Bob Wills might say, “Aaaaaaaaaah Haaaaaaaaaaah!”

www.hotclubofcowtown.com

Austin’s Stone River Boys are Making Some Noise

24 Apr

Fans of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Paul Thorn, Junior Brown, and Chuck Prophet will dig this tasty Texas stew of blues, honky tonk, and country funk. Take a few minutes to view the videos provided here and you’ll get the general idea. It is a s#%t kicking, boot scooting party y’all — and you’re invited!

When Dave Gonzalez put together a band to support the release of the Hacienda Brothers’ final recording, it was a tough job. Dave’s musical partner and co-founder Chris Gaffney had recently passed and Dave wanted to get out there one last time to pay tribute to his close friend. When Dave turned to Mike Barfield to fill out a band made up of Austin s finest pickers, the Stone River Boys’ seed had been sown.

Love On The Dial , the debut release from the Stone River Boys, firmly establishes this band as is powerhouse in the roots music world. Dave and Mike are ably assisted by a cadre of talented musicians including Dave Biller, Scott Esbeck (Los Straitjackets), Hank Maninger (Hacienda Brothers) , Kevin Smith (Dwight Yoakam, High Noon), Fuzzy Blazek, Justin Jones and Damien Llanes.

Produced by Dave Gonzalez, it’s some of the funkiest country and countryest funk to come up the river in a good while! In addition to his work in the Hacienda Brothers, Dave Gonzalez was the driving force behind the San Diego-based Paladins for over 20 years. He s toured all over the US and Europe and is as roadworthy a player as you ll find. Mike Barfield previously led the Houston-based Hollisters and released two solo albums that earned him the title The Tyrant of Texas Funk. Love On The Dial achieves a cohesive mix of hard country and Texas funk which includes ten original compositions along with four choice covers. From the opening riff of Steve Bruton’s Bluebonnet Blue to the final notes of Boomerang, this is one hard hitting debut. And don’t miss out on the latest dance craze, it’s called the Struggle!

www.stoneriverboys.com

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