Chef Bob Schneider Serves Up Another Tasty Record

If music were food, my favorite restaurant would be in Austin, Texas. And one of my very favorite chefs would be Bob Schneider. Bob is an incredible musician and songwriter, and he’s been consistently serving up some mighty tasty morsels for a while now. His latest offering, King Kong, is no exception.

Who’s Bob?
I’ve loved Bob since I discovered him through the work of bassist Bruce Hughes – they’ve been playing off and on together for years. Once I heard Bob, I was hooked. Everyone always asks me, “what kind of music does he play?” I’m never quite sure how to answer. Austin Rock? Acoustic Funk? Alternative Ass Stompin’? Texas Reggae? Tough question. He’s so prolific that his style is hard to categorize. I simply shrug and say “it’s just damn good is all.”
I’ve been lucky enough to see him play live quite a few times – in Tulsa, Dallas, Austin, Luckenbach, Gruene… I’ve gotten to see him with his full band, I’ve seen him solo, and I’ve seen him with Lonelyland at the Saxon Pub. Bob tours a lot – if you EVER have the chance to see him, do it. Just – do it. Whatever iteration you see, you won’t be sorry.

bob and bruce, tulsa, may 2014
bob and bruce, tulsa, may 2014

The New Record/s.
I follow Bob on the FaceBooks, and last fall I saw a post inviting me to invest in his next recording project, King Kong. By signing up on PledgeMusic, I could pre-order an autographed copy of the CD when it came out, and by doing so, provide Bob with money to help record the album. Sign me up, that’s something I can get behind. Win-win!
There are, as of this writing, still several autographed CDs available over at PledgeMusic, and you can download the full album there, too. He’s also released ten songs from the record as two EPs, available on Amazon. I’m not sure why he did this – maybe someday if I ever get to meet him or interview him, I’ll ask… but for the purposes of this article I’m referring to the full 15 song album. Since this is a large, filling meal, I’ve broken it down by course, highlighting a few songs from each one. So pull up a chair, tuck your napkin in under your chin, and grab your fork and knife.

bob schneider - king kong

Welcome to Chez Bob
The record starts off with “Han Solo,” a great appetizer, informing you that the music to follow is going to be one tasty meal. It’s a welcoming song, inviting you to sit down and join him at the table. It’s so quintessential Bob, with those clever words and that friendly melody. “I’m your Chewbacca, you’re my Han Solo…” He’s letting you know, it’s going to be just the two of you dining together tonight.

First Course: Keep it Light
The first course consists of “Stars Over Your House,” “Fools,” and “Dirty Feeling,” all of which have just the right amount of tangy seasoning. Apparently “Stars Over Your House” is getting some national radio play, and rightfully so. It’s very accessible and very, very catchy. And happy. That’s two optimistic songs in a row! Is Bob getting soft in his old age? Nope. He might be mellowing out a bit but he’s still got some bite.
“Fools” is one of my favorite songs on the record. At first it sounds as if he’s dishing out some criticism against his fellow humans – fools are everywhere you turn! Working on a trailer for a movie, opening convenience stores… “there on the ocean, drink in their hand, and a smile… on their shoulder, the weight of the world…” But at the very end of the song, he admits to being a fool, too. A surprise twist, and easy to miss if you don’t listen closely. Thank you Bob, for putting it all in the proper perspective and serving up some humble pie – in a happily snarky sort of way.

Bob Brings the Heat.
The second course of the meal gets a little spicier. Up till now we’ve heard some nice, vegetarian music. But “Ventilation” puts some meat on the table, and I’m all in. I might be biased here, but one of the very best things about this song is the bass. Yes I have a predisposition towards deliciously awesome bass, but even the most casual of King Kong diners will admit there’s some super tasty little bites in this song. Hoo! Spicy! On multiple occasions, I’ve cranked this one up in the car and hit repeat. The chorus is addictive, and also sets a steamy tone. I don’t usually care for spicy all that much, but when it comes to a meal like this one, I’ll take a double-helping please.
We then head into “Cheaper” – another delicious serving of hot and spicy lyrics and music. This is a slick song with the lyrics flowing so smoothly from start to end, punctuated by some expressive bass, catchy guitar, and a bit of oh-so-smooth percussion. Happiness is free, y’all. Or at least cheaper than we make it out to be.

Are You Doing OK?
Here we take a little break. “Magic Wand,” “Into the Sun,” and the title track “King Kong” serve as palette cleansers – the first a somber piece, the second, a foot-stompin heap o’ positive that loosens you up for the rest of the record, and the third, a seemingly mellow song except for when you listen to the lyrics in which he admits someone has put his “heart in a thong, and that ain’t cool”…

You Can’t Stop Now!
The third course is pretty heavy, so hopefully you’ve saved some room for the serious stuff. “Black Mountain,” “Montgomery” and “The Unknown” are a little darker.
“Black Mountain” is not for the weak-stomached listener – you are gonna feel this one, it’s heavy (that Hammond organ!), but you will like it oh so much. Go slowly. “Montgomery” is haunting, dark, and the guitar is nothing short of magical. Then comes “The Unknown” – a reggae / rock tune, in which Bob admits he doesn’t like to dine alone…

Sweet and…
Now we get to dessert. Do you still have room? Of course you do! Here Bob serves up the perfect end to this perfect meal. “You Be Alright” is one of the sweetest songs ever – at first I feared for my blood sugar levels but it’s actually just perfect. “You May Want to Take Some Time” is a little more somber but at the end of the meal things are mellowing out… or so you think.  “Ready Let’s Roll” is the after dinner drink – instead of going for something sweet, we finish the whole thing off with a glass of smooth, expensive scotch.

Let’s Roll?
Then it’s over, the music stops. You sit for a minute hoping that Bob will now invite you out to see a cool band somewhere, or cruise Austin to people-watch. But when you look up, you realize Bob has gone – home to his family to paint works of art, write poetry, and plan his next tour. At least you can always press “play” again. Damn, that was good.

Bob on Amazon:

Bob on PledgeMusic
Go here to see special goodies that Bob is selling!


Extra bonus video! Here’s Bob and his Dad, doin’ Luckenbach Texas right:


Album Review: Trap Door by Bruce Hughes (Or, Baking the Perfect Record)

Last week, I had lunch with Austin Musician and Interesting Human, Bruce Hughes. I told him how much I enjoyed his last record, Trap Door. I told him how surprised I was by it, and that it had a lot going on underneath the surface. At the time, I thought that made sense, but I got myself in trouble with that last bit because he asked me what I meant by it…and I didn’t have a very good answer. So I’ve thought about it some more. And this is what I’ve come up with.
The idea of “less is more” has come up a lot lately. I first wrote about it back in December, in regards to baking a cheesecake.  The thought was that the fewer ingredients you use, the more important it is to get those ingredients just right because that’s all there is; you’re not covering things up with unnecessary flavors. The quality of the ingredients, the quantities, and the timing of combining them all together are crucial. As I wrote last year, “when a few ingredients are put together with care and love and precision, great things can happen.”
And that is also what I would say about Trap Door.

Trap Door is Bruce’s third solo record. Each one has its own distinct personality, and this one is the most pared-down, unassuming offering of the three. His first record, Bluebird, has some really great music on it, including “Stax,” “Anywhere But Memphis” and my favorite, “Ten.” There also seem to be some songs about a relationship gone bad. It’s as if he wrote some of the record to work a few things out for himself – and it must have worked, because the second album, Shorty, is much more – how can I put this – self-actualized. There are beautiful love songs (“English Rose”), sexy love songs (“Baby’s Bag”), absolutely weird-ass, ironic songs (“Otherside” makes me laugh, EVERY SINGLE time I hear it) and totally brilliant songs – the first time I really listened to “Happy to Help,” I knew I had to meet this person. There are lots of instruments and sounds and noises and layers on Shorty. It’s work, but the payoff is big.
So this third record… the first time I listened to it I thought, where is the BruceHughesFunk that I’m expecting? It sounded totally different than his other records, and I didn’t really know what to think. Maybe people living in Austin who can see Bruce perform regularly weren’t as surprised. But for someone who lives too far away to see him play and can only live vicariously through other people’s shakily-shot YouTube videos, it was a real surprise. I actually put it aside for a bit. Eventually I went back and listened to it again, this time with no expectations. And I was kind of blown away.
Trap Door is a fairly short record – 10 songs that zip by and leave you wanting more. So then you just have to go back and start from the beginning again. The album is very sparse – an acoustic guitar, maybe a smattering of electric guitar, a little percussion and a teeny tiny bit of keyboards… not a lot of ingredients. Add into the mix a clear, strong voice and the recipe seems promising…
Bruce is a master lyricist. Plus, he knows just what a girl wants to hear, and how she wants to hear it. The singing is so good, that it almost pisses me off in places. Goddamn that Bruce!
There are songs on the record that are straightforward and good and happy and sexy – such as the opener “Days Are Beautiful,” “Baby I Do,” “Fearless Love,” and “I Get High” (I have never found hair care so enticing as when someone sings to me that they want to wash, rinse and repeat me every day). There are also some snarky jabs – a line from “Cheaper” informs me that “many fragile flowers have met their demise on my living room floor.” Is that so! A few songs paint very detailed pictures – interestingly, from a woman’s perspective (“Tortilla Factory”).
There are two songs in particular that stand out to me. The first is “Girl Who Reads.” This is probably the simplest song on the record – one guitar and voice. Perfect accompaniment for such lovely lyrics. Bruce tends to write very self-actualized songs, emitting confidence, positive energy, and just the right amount of masculine umph. “Girl Who Reads” is a departure from this – allowing the listener to catch a glimpse of someone who might possibly be more vulnerable. A welcomed surprise. I just have one minor personal disappointment with the lyrics: in the song, Bruce laments the lack of a “girl who reads” in his life, proclaiming that “they’re all storytellers with vocabularies…” I understand this, in that there’s a lot of noise out there and everyone loves to listen to themselves talk. I get it, I do. But, well, there are SOME good storytellers out there… just saying…
The very last song, “Quiet,” was also a big surprise. It’s a story, again from a woman’s perspective. I wonder who it is about – a distant relative maybe? It’s the story of a woman who travels across the ocean by ship from “the old country” to meet her intended, sight unseen. It’s thoughtful, has a really haunting melody, and the vocals at the end of the song give me chills. And then the record is… over. More, more!

So when I said that the record had a lot going on underneath the surface, I guess what I meant was that at first I simply looked at the list of ingredients and thought, this is it? But upon further exploration, I could hear how everything comes together to make something so rich and layered and complex. Bruce Hughes has baked the perfect cheesecake with this record. The ingredients are few, but of very high quality, and used in just the right combination. Buy yourself a copy and enjoy the simplicity of a well-crafted record.
I can’t wait to hear what comes next. It may be a totally different recipe, but I know it’ll be tasty nonetheless.



music review – the donnas

I used to like punk. A lot. My favorite band was The Damned, I had a mohawk, and David Dove and I spent way too much time at Fender’s Grand Ballroom in Long Beach, CA watching bands like X, TSOL and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yep, I was the weirdest looking kid in my AP honors classes. Social Distortion, Agent Orange, and fIREHOSE played free lunch-time concerts at the Cal State campuses. Those were the days.
So, in these “later years” when I come across a band that has that same kind of energy, and that I can still tolerate, I get pretty happy about it. That’s what happened when I stumbled across “Spend The Night” by The Donnas a few years ago. It’s not really a punk record, but it’s pretty rough. It’s just right.

According to Wikipedia, The Donnas have been around since about 1993 and started out in Palo Alto, CA. They’re an all-girl band that are heavily influenced by bands like the Ramones, The Runaways, and AC/DC. “Spend the Night” was their fifth release under the name The Donnas, in 2002.
I like music with a lot of layers, subtexts, multiple meanings and a whole range of emotion – but there’s something to be said for music that’s so simple and straightforward you know exactly what you’re dealing with right from the start. That’s what this album is – it’s simple, has a clear message, and as a bonus, packs one heck of a punch.
Here are some of my favorite tracks – you can figure out the meaning of each and every one of them from the title alone, but I’ve added my own short interpretation:

It’s On the Rocks – I am awesome, and you are so totally not cool enough for me.

Take It Off – I’ve been drankin’ and yer lookin’ pretty good. Gimme.

Who Invited You – You are a total loser, please leave my bitchin’ party.

All Messed Up – (my favorite) – Aw damnit. I like you.

Too Bad About Your Girl – You’re girlfriend’s about to be really sorry because you’re going home with me. (Favorite line: “I gotta make you mine but we’re runnin out of time / she’s got you guarded like the Guggenheim / it’s all that I can take / let’s make a jailbreak / and we’ll be doin time in Anaheim”)

Not the One – You? Yeah, not so much.

Please Don’t Tease – Gimme.

Take Me to the Backseat – Just Gimme.

I play songs from this record a lot when I run, and also when I’m in a bad mood. Yes sure, I try to stay centered, always coming back around to the present moment and putting out good intentions… but every so often you’ve got to get a little uppity, blow off some steam and just say F**KIT. This is the perfect soundtrack for it. Girl Power! And everyone else sucks. These chicks can shred, and they’ll get right up in your face.
Good role models, don’t you think?