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SXSW 2018: Thursday at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion (Part 1) – 15th March 2018

 
By on Friday, 20th April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

On the Thursday of SXSW, I had the unique opportunity to attend the celebrated Luck Reunion, hosted at the Luck, Texas ranch of legendary country songwriter Willie Nelson. The Luck Reunion’s stated mission is “to cultivate the new while showing honor to influence”, among “musicians, artisans, and chefs, who like the outlaws and outliers before them, follow their dreams without compromise.” The event is staged at Nelson’s home and working ranch, which is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Austin, and which presents a very different atmosphere from the hectic SXSW schedule of conferences and showcases.

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Once arrived at the Luck Ranch, I didn’t have much time to get acquainted with the surroundings before the full day of music was set to begin. I took a quick peek into the tiny Luck Chapel to catch a couple of songs from Nashville songwriter Lilly Hiatt, whose quirky combination of folky Americana and grungy rock sounds can be heard on her recent third album ‘Trinity Lane’.

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Next, I headed outside to the Revival Stage, which was hosting a “song swap”, including a pair of songwriters I was keen to hear, Arizona native singer Courtney Marie Andrews and soulful Nashville songwriter Sam Lewis, who were joined onstage by fellow songwriters Caleb Caudle and Kevin Kinney (of Drivin’ N Cryin’). I’m not sure if the song swap was intended to be more interactive among the performers, but in practice, the four artists simply took turns singing their own songs, rather than actually swapping. That said, I was especially excited to hear songs from Andrews’ excellent recent album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’, and Lewis’ upcoming LP ‘Loversity’. All four singers made a strong impression of the quality of songwriting on display at Luck.

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Immediately following on the same stage, Buck Meek (also known to TGTF readers as part of Big Thief) played a set of his solo tunes, including one, ‘Sam Bridges’, that I vaguely recognized from a Big Thief show back in 2015. I was able to catch Meek after his set for a quick chat about that song as well as the new ones on his forthcoming self-titled solo LP. Stay tuned to TGTF for that interview, which will post in the coming days.

Sam Lewis internal

After chatting with Meek, I had an appointment for another interview, this one with the aforementioned Sam Lewis. Outside the Luck Chapel, he and I took seats on an old wooden swingset, which was both novel and remarkably sturdy. (Thanks to Sarah for the photo above.) Lewis was outgoing and easy to talk to, and we chatted extensively about his upcoming LP ‘Loversity’, which is due out on the 4th of May. Be sure to check back with us for the forthcoming full interview, where he expands on the album’s unusual title as a theme for the songs it contains.

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My next stop was at the Back to the Source Stage for Austin native songwriter David Ramirez. I’d spied Ramirez and his bandmates earlier, walking around the Luck Ranch and enjoying the beautiful day ahead of their set. The informal atmosphere seemed very much to Ramirez’ liking, and he played a gorgeous show for the occasion, finding a pitch-perfect blend of old songs and new ones alike. He and his band were in top form here, showcasing themselves collectively under the newly minted moniker David Ramirez and the Hard Luck.

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I had noticed in passing that the Luck Chapel had a constant queue outside it throughout the afternoon. With a capacity of only 50 people, the intimate stage was in high demand all day long, but never more so than for British singer/songwriter Jade Bird. Disappointed that I wasn’t able to get inside to see her performance, I went around to the side of the building and spectated through an open window. The collection of punters standing outside with me were as delighted with Bird’s performance as the lucky ones who’d gotten in, and she quickly gained a reputation as “one to watch” for the remainder of SXSW. I was fortunate to hear Jade Bird sing again the following morning; keep an eye on TGTF for my Friday recap.

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From there, it was a quick few steps back to the Revival Stage, where I saw a pair of rather unusual acts, Hop Along and Ezra Furman. Hop Along were unfamiliar to me, but I took an instant liking to lead singer Frances Quinlan’s voice. Their new album ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ is an odd but appealing collection of songs painted with a broad sonic palette, out now via Saddle Creek. I was slightly more familiar with Ezra Furman, and the Luck Reunion seemed at first glance an odd choice of venue for his brand of angsty rock. However, if the event’s focus was indeed on “outlaws” of songwriting, Furman was in the right place, despite the oddity of seeing him perform in typically-female attire against the backdrop of a functional stable and horse pen. His recent fourth solo album ‘Transangelic Exodus’ is a brilliant and bizarre display of lyrical storytelling, out now on Bella Union.

Ezra Furman

By this point, I needed a break before hitting the World Headquarters Stage for evening sets by Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Kurt Vile, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and of course, Willie Nelson and Family. Drinks at the Luck Reunion were complimentary and freely flowing at various locations throughout the day, but I took this time out to avail myself of the food choices provided by a selection of local vendors. There was no shortage of delicious options, and if you appreciate a deftly-designed culinary experience alongside your carefully-curated music, then the Luck Reunion would certainly be your cup of tea. Stay tuned to TGTF for my Thursday evening recap, which will include more from the Luck Reunion as well as two late night shows back in downtown Austin.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2018: best bets among American artists showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Wednesday, 28th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats by Brantley Gutierrez

As you might expect with an American music festival, SXSW is typically heavy on American showcasing artists, and SXSW 2018 won’t be any different. This year’s music festival lineup features a load of big names that you’ve probably heard before, along with a few new ones that, if they’re not familiar already, likely will become so very soon.

Our ongoing preview coverage of SXSW 2018 has already highlighted a few up-and-coming artists on the showcase schedule, including grunge rock band Bully and alt-country singer Courtney Marie Andrews. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is elusive Los Angeles alt-rock trio Lo Moon, who made mild waves with their SXSW appearance last year. I expect them to make a bigger splash this time around, on the strength of their just released self-titled LP, which includes new track ‘Wonderful Life’.

Among the major players heading to SXSW 2018 are a handful of TGTF alums who have broken through to mainstream success. We first covered songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff way back in 2011, but the course of his career dramatically changed in 2015, when he convened a new band called the Night Sweats and released their hit self-titled album. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently announced a brand new LP called ‘Tearing at the Seams’, which is due for release just before SXSW on the 9th of March and features lead track ‘You Worry Me’.

North Carolina alt-pop duo Sylvan Esso previewed songs from their 2017 album ‘What Now’ at a surprise SXSW 2016 show; their appearance this year could once again herald new music on the horizon. Austin native David Ramirez wasn’t in top form when I saw him at SXSW 2017, but he may be in better shape this year, playing songs from his beautiful recent album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, which he has toured extensively since its release. SXSW 2015 showcasing artist Natalie Prass has just announced a brand new album ‘The Future and The Past’ due out on the 1st of June; she will presumably highlight its soul-tinged single ‘Short Court Style’ on her showcases in Austin next month.

Among other past TGTF mentions on the SXSW 2018 list are Nashville singer/songwriter Liza Anne, who will release her new album ‘Fine But Dying’ on the 9th of March and Milwaukee quartet Field Report, whose new album ‘Summertime Songs’ is previewed in the stream of ‘Never Look Back’ just below. Fellow Nashville singer Tristen and Philadelphia duo Vita and the Woolf, both acts we’ve coincidentally covered in conjunction with Irish alt-rockers Bell X1, also made the showcase list for this year’s festival in Austin, along with New York’s Sunflower Bean, who showcased at SXSW 2016, and L.A. rock band Warbly Jets, who made an appearance at SXSW last year.

American artists new to TGTF include Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes fame, and Buck Meek of alt-rock band Big Thief, neither of whom we’ve seen in a solo capacity before. Satellite radio listeners here in the U.S. might already be familiar with Mt. Joy and NoMBe, who have both been featured on SiriusXM Alt-Nation, while public radio devotees will no doubt have heard Portland singer/songwriter Haley Heynderickx and New Orleans funk/soul group Tank and the Bangas on NPR.

For dedicated indie fans, a pair of duo acts, Denver’s Tennis and Baltimore’s Wye Oak have made the SXSW shout list, along with the always eccentric Okkervil River. In the heavily represented Americana category, sure winners include a trio of Nashville acts: singer/songwriter Nikki Lane, country rock trio Liz Cooper and the Stampede and veteran country/bluegrass collective Old Crow Medicine Show.

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2018 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook or official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

 

David Ramirez / January 2018 UK Tour

 
By on Thursday, 7th December 2017 at 8:00 am
 

American alt-country singer/songwriter David Ramirez has announced a nine-date UK tour for the early part of next year, to coincide with the UK release of his excellent fourth studio album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’. We at TGTF reviewed the album back in September when it was released in North America; if you missed it, you can read the review right back here. Don’t miss Ramirez’ stunning live video performance of album track ‘Eliza Jane’, playing just below the tour date listing.

Tickets for the following shows are available now. Ramirez will follow his UK live dates with shows in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. You can find a complete listing of his upcoming tour dates on his official Facebook. TGTF’s past coverage of David Ramirez, including several live reviews, is collected back here.

Friday 12th January 2018 – London Old St. Pancras Church
Saturday 13th January 2018 – Brighton Open Studios
Sunday 14th January 2018 – Sheffield Greystones
Monday 15th January 2018 – Bristol Louisiana
Tuesday 16th January 2018 – Nottingham Bodega
Wednesday 17th January 2018 – Leicester Duffy’s
Thursday 18th January 2018 – Manchester Castle
Friday 19th January 2018 – Glasgow Broadcast
Sunday 21st January 2018 – Newcastle Cluny 2

 

Album Review: David Ramirez – We’re Not Going Anywhere

 
By on Friday, 22nd September 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

David Ramirez WNGA album coverWhen I first listened to Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter David Ramirez, I found myself inexplicably torn. The song was ‘Harder to Lie’, from his 2015 album ‘Fables’, and I recoiled from its unflinching lyrical honesty and Ramirez’ brutally emotional delivery, even as I was drawn to the poignant vocal harmonies and wailing slide guitar. Upon collecting myself, my immediate thought was, “I’m not sure if I want to hear that again, or if I never, ever want to hear that again.”

My curiosity overcame my hesitation and I did some further listening to David Ramirez. His back catalogue comprises three full length LPs and a handful of EPs, all self-released and self-produced, and all with a perversely haphazard feel to them. Ramirez’ new fourth album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, sounds sharply focused in comparison. The songwriting is tighter and more concise, and the instrumentation is both more expansive and more deliberate, perhaps owing to production by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Lake Street Dive). But Ramirez hasn’t strayed from his country-blues style, nor has he abandoned the raw emotionality that has become his trademark.

Perhaps the best example of Ramirez’ unique sentimentality on the new album is early single ‘Time’. Its lyrical and musical effects play off of each other brilliantly, conveying a paradoxically clear sense of the dazed apathy caused by time passing without measure or purpose. By contrast, ‘Watching from a Distance’ is the album’s most straightforward single, with a strong vocal chorus and verse lyrics that are simple in tone but pregnant with existential angst: “just ‘cos we can’t speak / doesn’t mean you’re not on my mind / like a ghost / like the moon / like a God / like the truth”.

Several of the songs on ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’ make reference to the current American political and social atmosphere. Opening track ‘Twins’ alludes to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, its title referring to New York City’s fallen Twin Towers. Lyrically, the song is almost an astonishingly simple reflection on how the country has changed in the intervening 16 years, with paired couplet questions “where were you when we lost the twins? / where were you when fear settled in?” framing the wistful echo of the chorus “there she goes . . . goodbye America, America, America . . .”

Later on the album, ‘Stone Age’ invokes ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, and Ramirez’ voice seethes with anger in the lines “I’m having trouble seeing colors in the dawn’s early light / no more red, no more blue, all I’m seeing is white”. Amazingly, the recorded version of this track captures the full impact of Ramirez’ live performance of the song in Phoenix last November, when the shock of the 2016 American presidential election was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Ramirez’ country roots are most evident in ‘Good Heart’, where he adopts the character of a jaded barfly hardened against love, and ‘People Call Who They Wanna Talk To’, which emphasises his Texas drawl and the twang of the steel guitar. ‘Telephone Lovers’, in turn, explores the challenge of maintaining intimacy in a long-distance romance. The desperate refrain “you’re too far away” also harkened back to last November, when the song took that lyric as its working title.

The album closes with a pair of touching and more personal tracks. ‘Eliza Jane’ was inspired by Ramirez’ own great-grandmother, whose story was passed down to him by his mother, and whose narrative weaves inextricably into his own. Closing track ‘I’m Not Going Anywhere’ reflects the pair of women pictured in the album artwork, a mother-and-daughter pair of breast cancer survivors celebrating life on their own terms. Ramirez’ singing voice is at its level best here, both in terms of expressivity and technique, in his delivery of the lines “when you shake hands with grace and pass through the pearly gates / well then, find you the nearest neon sign / then, mama, you’ll see I was right / I’m not going anywhere”.

David Ramirez’s earlier music is somewhat unapproachable, his stubborn defiance proving to be both a fiery inspiration and a bit of an obstacle. But he seems to have softened slightly with ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, despite its recalcitrant title. He describes the songs as being about “fear, and how instead of benefitting us, it sends us spiraling out of control.” My strongest impression is that the new album sees Ramirez overcoming his own artistic fear, and finding clarity in the process.

8.5/10

David Ramirez’ fourth studio album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’ is available now via Sweetworld / Thirty Tigers. TGTF’s full previous coverage of David Ramirez is right back here.

 

Single Review: David Ramirez – Time

 
By on Friday, 18th August 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Stefanie Vinsel

American folk rocker David Ramirez has just released a stunning new single, the third from his forthcoming LP ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’. The new song, called ‘Time’, is set to feature as the opening track on the album and follows previous singles ‘Watching from a Distance’ and ‘Twins’. (You can watch the promo video for the politically-charged ‘Twins’, which juxtaposes lyrics about contemporary America with black-and-white film footage from around WWII, right here).

‘Time’ starts off, straightforwardly enough, as a piano ballad with stark, country-tinged realism in the opening lines, “who wants to grab a drink tonight? / I know it’s only Tuesday and you gotta work tomorrow”. But the prevailing synth ostinato quickly indicates a change of palette from Ramirez’s typical alt-country instrumental arrangements, with the expected wailing guitars taking a momentary back seat. This very clever instrumentation allows the sparkle of the keyboard sounds to illustrate Ramirez’s dizzying bridge section lyrics: “round and round, I’m getting busy / one more round please, let’s keep this fuzzy / I hear a tick-tock, can you tell me is he trying to mock / it’s all been a bit blurry for some time now.”

Despite the apparent shift in musical direction, Ramirez hasn’t lost sight of what worked well on his previous album ‘Fables’, specifically, the combination of his sharply poignant lyrics and the raw emotion his vocal delivery. This song’s simple, echoing chorus “I got nothing but time” works beautifully in Ramirez’ drawling baritone, conveying a deeper sense of hidden desperation with every repeat. Like so many of Ramirez’ previous songs, ‘Time’ is an emotionally-challenging listen, but it’s absolutely worth the lingering heartache it evokes.

9/10

David Ramirez’ fourth studio album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’ is due for release on the 8th of September via Thirty Tigers / Sweetworld. You can read TGTF’s past live coverage of David Ramirez, including a review from SXSW 2017 back in March, by clicking here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC0TTi-GVeI[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: A Friday night mix of British, American and Canadian acts – 17th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 19th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

It felt somewhat strange that I spent St. Patrick’s Day at SXSW 2017 on mostly non-Irish acts. Friday afternoon at SXSW has typically been reserved for the Full Irish Breakfast, but that had happened on Thursday this year. The only hint of Ireland I heard on this St. Patrick’s day was early on Friday, when I stopped briefly at Latitude 30 for the Output Belfast day show. My Friday evening was instead full to the brim with British and American acts, save one Canadian artist who made a strong impression near the end.

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I started the evening with an early show at Stubb’s BBQ. Reading quartet Sundara Karma were first on Friday night’s bill, (as we had discussed in my interview with them on Tuesday) and they played before just as the sun was beginning to set over Austin. The crowd at Stubb’s trickled in slowly, with punters lingering over dinner and beer. But once the band started playing, all attention was on the stage.

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Sundara Karma frontman Oscar Pollock didn’t spend a lot of time on pleasantries, instead allowing the band’s sharp lyrics and edgy guitar melodies to do most of the talking. But make no mistake, this band cultivates an almost psychedelic visual impression onstage as well, with long hair and flashy gestures to match their dynamic alt-rock sound. They certainly weren’t daunted by the large outdoor stage at Stubb’s, and their impact was successfully established. I overheard several punters enthusiastically sharing the name Sundara Karma as I made my way to the exit after their set. Stay tuned for more on Sundara Karma in my recap of Saturday night at SXSW, posting soon.

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My next stop was west of Congress, at another venue I’d never visited before, the Tap Room at the Market. The Market is a bustling, trendy Austin night spot, with the smaller Tap Room nestled below. On this night, the Tap Room was hosting the Grammy Museum Homegrown showcase, which featured a curation of artists from the Los Angeles area. I arrived on the scene just in time to hear one of the singers I’d featured in my preview of L.A. artists at SXSW.

BeLL

Alt-pop singer BeLL was already onstage, and I was immediately taken aback by the power in her vocal sound. I was excited to hear her quirky but catchy single ‘Bang Bang (Remember My Name)’, which had caught my attention in writing the aforementioned preview. It debuted back in November and has already been featured in a television trailer on ABC Family here in the States; you can catch a listen below before it blows up on radio waves everywhere.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/ljNVT3b5Y0A[/youtube]

Warbly Jets

Up next was a band who pride themselves on not fitting into the L.A. music scene, alt-rock quartet Warbly Jets. Their sound is certainly more in the supersonic jet-propelled vein than the sunny pop and laid-back folk you might typically expect to hear from Southern California. Onstage, they were both smoothly self-assured and and a tiny bit cocky, convincing their audience that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Their debut single ‘Alive’ was a highlight of the evening.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/hDVHvirhpKk[/youtube]

OPS

I was already peripherally aware of next band on the docket, Ocean Park Standoff, because my kids know their current single ‘Good News’. It’s an infectiously upbeat track, perfect for radio play or maybe even for a summer 2017 Spotify playlist. As it turns out, the song is also pretty representative of what Ocean Park Standoff does in live performance. The band were smiling and relaxed throughout their set, and their good vibes were expansive enough for a much larger room. Keep an eye out for this trio to make their mark during their upcoming American tour dates with Third Eye Blind.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/TX9ODx2_Vqk[/youtube]

Following my stop at the Grammy Museum showcase, I had intended to try to catch Ryan Adams at Austin City Limits, even nabbing a SXXPress pass for that show earlier in the day. But while I was at Stubb’s, I got the news that Adams had cancelled his performance due to illness. I was mildly disappointed, but I did have a backup plan to catch another American singer/songwriter, David Ramirez at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop.

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People in Austin were out in full force to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and 6th Street was jam-packed. Adding to the crush and confusion was the fact that many of the music venues had multiple queues outside to deal with the different priority entries: Platinum and Music Badges, Interactive and Film Badges, Music Wristbands, and paying customers. Obviously this was only an issue for the high-demand shows, but it’s something SXSW organisers will need to focus on for next year, as many of the venues simply didn’t have the space or staff available to cope with up to 4 different queues for each show. Maggie Mae’s was one of the most difficult venues to get into, not only because is it located in the heart of 6th Street, but because it has two stages and only one entrance.

David Ramirez band

Austin native Ramirez had a full band in attendance for his show at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop. In my previous experience, this has been a nice addition to his sound. He’s a starkly effective performer alone, but the depth and vibrance of his country-rock sound really come out with the addition of backing vocals, keyboards and drums. Unfortunately for Ramirez, his Friday night set was plagued by technical problems. After a lengthy and apparently unsuccessful soundcheck, Ramirez and his band played a truncated set, leaving out several favourite songs that appeared on his written setlist. He did, however, play a couple of newer songs that got the local crowd’s attention, including the London-referencing track ‘Too Far Away’.

I finished the evening (and started the next morning) at St. David’s Episcopal Church, where the Communion Music showcase was being held. I’d been to the church’s Bethell Hall already on this trip to Austin, but I hadn’t yet visited the Sanctuary, and by midnight on Friday night, it was already becoming full in advance of a performance by Rag’n’Bone Man scheduled for 1 AM.

This was the one occasion during the SXSW week when the availability of SXXPress passes worked to my advantage. Earlier in the week, I had either failed to get passes in time, or I simply hadn’t needed the ones I did get. But I’d managed to get one for St. David’s on this night, and the staff at the church were remarkably adept at handling their queues, probably because the venue has been open to non-credential holders in past years. I intentionally arrived early to the Communion showcase, knowing by their reputation that the earlier performers on the bill would be worth seeing, even if I wasn’t already familiar.

"Charlotte

I wasn’t disappointed in that regard with French-Canadian pop singer Charlotte Cardin. Her silky, delicate vocals and soulful pop song arrangements were easy on the ears without being too saccharine, perhaps thanks to their ever-so-subtle jazz inflections. Her debut EP ‘Big Boy’ was released last July on Cult Nation Records and features songs in both English and French, including standout track ‘Like It Doesn’t Hurt’. She also won over a few fans with this cool, almost aloof-sounding version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/OOzetKrKrrA[/youtube]

Very few punters left after Cardin’s performance, and despite the dreaded 1 AM time slot, there was a bit of hustle-and-bustle in St. David’s Sanctuary surrounding the arrival of Rag’n’Bone Man. Mary had reported to me the very long queue outside the British Music Embassy for his performance there earlier in the evening, and the audience here were fairly buzzing with anticipation.

"RBM

In a bit of a surprise, Rag’n’Bone Man (aka Rory Graham) started his setlist with the song most of us already knew, ‘Human’. This was an acoustic version, less immediately bombastic than the one we’ve heard on American radio, but it was singularly and tastefully appropriate for performance on the St. David’s stage. Graham was equally gentle and mild-tempered in his onstage banter, though he did pick up the dynamic in his songs as the set went on. We were treated to current American radio single ‘Skin’ as well as a stunningly beautiful song I hadn’t heard before called ‘Grace’, which you can take a listen to just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/SCnsEy0tpbw[/youtube]

The authenticity of Rag’n’Bone Man’s performance, along with the high-quality of his songwriting and musicianship, exemplifies what I’ve come to expect from the Communion showcase over my years at SXSW. Though I wasn’t able to see the whole show on this Friday night, I was glad to at least catch the end of it, discovering a promising new artist and witnessing a rapidly-rising up-and-comer in the process.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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