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Soul of the Desert

The South Austin Moonlighters

savingOver the fourth of July weekend we melted out into the heat to see a band. It takes a lot to get us out in the Texas summer, but a lifetime ago, Husband used to be in a band. He owned a Marshall amp that, one day last spring, he sold to a guy name Phil Hurley. Phil Hurley plays in a band called The South Austin Moonlighters.

We drove two hours south to a little town inside a town called Gruene, Texas (pronounced “green” for some reason). I was prepared to maybe like a song or two, but it turned out that The South Austin Moonlighters were really, REALLY good. The show was suitable for families; good music that wouldn’t insult anyone, but so good, it could turn a fly into a ballet dancer.

(Click picture below for a larger version).

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Every single one of the guys could sing. They all RULED on their respective instruments. Phil Hurley was not just competent on the guitar, he loved the thing. It was quite obvious from his playing that nothing makes him more at peace with the universe than making that guitar do his bidding. Chris Beall–what a voice. My favorite song of the night was his “Suburban Avenue” a kind of country rock song that is on their brand new album Ghost of a Small Town. Songs have to be more than just music; they have to tell a story because I love a good story. Chris Beall tells good stories. The great thing about the band was that every guy writes music AND lyrics. This meant there was a great variety of songs from soul, blues and rock to a mix of folk songs/country rock.

Lonnie Trevino Jr. played bass, and he sang the way Phil played his guitar. It was like he had twelve or thirteen voices ranging from a screaming falsetto down to a voice that reminded me of the preacher songs of the South. He looks like a normal guy until he starts singing. Then you’re wondering where all that fantastic sound comes from! Check out: “I’ll Be Coming Home” on the new album — a bit reminiscent of “The Band.” Or this one that totally showcased Lonnie’s powerful voice, the band’s ability to harmonize AND had some awesome guitar licks: “Jesus (Make Up My Dying Bed)” – A deep southern soul song that is absolutely Stunning.

One favorite they played isn’t on any of the albums, not even the new one. Oh, I pity you not being able to hear it right now. Phil Hurley’s “Something About a Girl from Texas” was being talked about outside during one of the breaks before we even heard it. Wow. Now this is another of those songs that is a terrific story with great heart and a guy singing it with enough passion that you know he’s dedicating it to a very special girl. You want to sing along AND dance because this might be a love song but it’s got the kick of a big Texas hairdo. His voice fit the song perfectly with that sincerity that is integral to folk songs and country music. On the new album, you can get an idea of his talent by listening to “You Love & Me” or “Movin’ On.” TERRIFIC STUFF. YOU GUYS ROCK.

The drummer, Phil Bass, tended towards what I call bayou music. Yes, I know that isn’t a category, but there’s this sort of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” feel, only with more drums and a kind of haunting fast melody that makes you want to look over your shoulder. Bayou music–because you don’t know what might be lurking there. Check out: “Hold On” on the new album Ghost from a Small Town. AWESOME.

The band did mostly their own music, but they threw in a tribute to the late Merle Haggard and a generous hat tip to some early Fleetwood Mac–the Peter Green bluesy stuff, rather than the later pop/rock’n’roll. Chris Beall did lead singing on a James Taylor tune called “Machine Gun Kelly,” and I must say, the band took a kind of an ordinary croon by Taylor and turned it into a rocking out gem. Now THAT’S an outlaw song!

There was at least one song where the two lead guitars did harmony parts. Not all bands bother with the extra work or have the talent to play harmonies, but it was just another example of excellence by The South Austin Moonlighters. Shoot, not all bands can even sing harmony, but these guys layered the music perfectly.

If you visit Texas and have a chance to see them live–GET THERE! If not, check out their albums. If I could only buy one album this year, Ghost from a Small Town is it.

Album Retailers:
Google Play
Amazon – The South Austin Moonlighters (Their latest is: Ghost of a Small Town.).
At CD Baby
Apple iTunes: Live At the Saxon Pub – The South Austin Moonlighters and Ghost of a Small Town

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Posted: July 12, 2016
Filed in Music
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5 Comments

  1. Both Phil H. and Chris are very good guitar players, and it’s neat when they trade off lead parts during the song. I didn’t know Phil played as much slide as he does — he’s very good at that as well, and it fits their style of music perfectly.

    Funny that, some years ago, I was listening to Monte Montgomery (a crazy good guitarist as well), and both Phil B. and Lonnie were a part of his band back then. Small world sometimes.

    The SAM are all great musicians, write great songs, and all of them can sing — blending harmonies adds so much to a song, it’s like adding more instruments. These guys do it very well.

    Check ’em out if you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

    Comment by Randy — July 12, 2016 @ 6:53 am

  2. I checked out the samples on Amazon. WOW! They are great!! Re bayou music — are you thinking of zydeco? Because that’s what the sample of “Hold On” reminded me of. I love that cajun/zydeco/blues style.

    BTW Gruene = green because ue in German is pronounced ee. I know someone who lives there. I’ll have to tell her about this group. Bet she and her husband would love them.

    Comment by Dee/LoveMyBooks — July 12, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

  3. If you visit their website, they have one entire song as a sample. Good stuff.

    They play all over Austin and I think they are playing in Gruene again in Sept. Really a great show.

    Hold On is definitely cajun, definitely blues. I don’t know what zydeco is, but these guys probably threw that in there too!

    Comment by Maria — July 12, 2016 @ 2:50 pm

  4. Zydeco’s a sort of combination of Cajun/Creole/Black/Blues, maybe some jazz sprinkled in and whatever. Sort of Delta blues. Hard to explain. It has a unique sound. I got hooked on it watching a TV series called “The Big Easy” (based on the movie). You can hear some of it on NCIS: New Orleans.

    Comment by Dee/LoveMyBooks — July 12, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

  5. Sounds like bayou music to me!! 🙂

    Comment by Maria — July 12, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

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