AUSTIN, Texas Rain that ran from a drizzle to a downpour, gusty winds, mud and near-triple-digit humidity all took a backseat to the music of Kelly Willis, Bob Schneider and Trish Murphy behind Stubbs’ Barbecue restaurant on Friday night.
Folk-rocker Murphy, country Americana songwriter Willis and Schneider, recently named Austin’s musician of the year, were on hand to support local alternative radio station KGSR in its annual T-party to benefit the local Goodwill.
Murphy quickly made the small but growing crowd forget the weather with a blistering set of rockers, including her trademark song "Relentless" and a duet with her brother (and fellow recording artist) Darrin Murphy on Darrin’s "Sermon on Mars."
Murphy, her blond hair tossed about by the wind, proved she could tear things up equally well on electric and acoustic guitars, and handle a slower song too, as her rough-edged soprano shifted into a bluesy mode for a new song, "Saint Christopher."
Willis was next up, opening with the title track of her recent indie award-winning disc What I Deserve (RealAudio excerpt of title track) and following up with a selection of songs from that project including Damon Bramblett’s "Heaven Bound."
"I like this song because it's just vague enough to be about whatever you want it to be about," Willis, an Austin resident, said. "Talk Like That" (RealAudio excerpt), Willis said, was inspired by her experience of growing up in Virginia, far from her Oklahoma birthplace.
She also played the wistful Paul Kelly-penned tune "Cradle of Love."
"Paul Kelly is the Bruce Springsteen of Australia," she said, "and he's one of my favorite songwriters. It was a dream of my life come true when, back in January, I was in Australia and got to sing this song onstage with him."
Willis, whose Okie-tinged alto finds a distinct place in the Pam Tillis-Patty Loveless style, even got the mud-soaked crowd into a waltzing mood with "Happy With That," aided by standout fiddling and harmony singing from Amy Farris.
Willis reached back into her mainstream country career for the blue "Up All Night Cryin' " and turned to a song by her husband, Bruce Robinson, "Not Forgotten You," for a soulful affirmation of love. Ending with a tune that had the growing crowd singing in the rain, Willis did a honky tonk cover of the Kendalls' country-chart maker, "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" (RealAudio excerpt).
Of the night's three performers, Willis is the best known outside Texas, though Murphy and Bob Schneider, the night's closing act, are both bidding high for wider recognition.
Schneider, longtime frontman for the Austin hard-rock band the Scabs, has taken an Americana twist with his writing of late, pairing storytelling lyrics with a driving rock beat in a quest to follow Springsteen's path.
His new release, Lonelyland, which focuses on this approach, is sold-out all over Austin. "Mother's Only Son" and "There's No Right or Wrong" were crowd-pleasers on this rainy night.