Each June a group of roots music enthusiasts from around the country, musicians, journalists, bizzers, fans, and many of them all of the above, gathers in St. Louis for three nights of loud music, strong drink, and boon fellowship. They call it Twangfest. An offshoot of Postcard2, an online forum dedicated to the discussion of “alternative” country in it’s various generic guises, everything from bluegrass to honky tonk to roots rock, Twangfest originated, so the legend goes, in some wiseguy’s proposal to bring a few alt-country bands together for a Garth Brooks benefit show, though exactly how Brooks was to benefit remains mysterious. From this humble, absurdist origin Twangfest has become, in four short years, the most talked about grassroots fest of its kind, featuring acts like Dale Watson, Damnations TX, The Lonesome River Band, and Fred Eaglesmith. It’s certainly the only one which sponsors a bowling tournament.
Each year the Twangfest braintrust (a.k.a. the Gang of Seven) puts together a compilation CD, Postcards From The Edge, to commemorate the event, spread the alt-country gospel, and, presumably, raise some operating capital. This year’s model, Edges 4, is just out, and like its predecessors the 17 tracks sample the range of sounds and styles finding refuge under the big Americana tent.
How big’s the tent? Well, there’s room enough for Mark Rubin (one half of the avant-grass Bad Livers) and friends to lay down some beatnik surf-twang along side the hillbilly jazz of St. Louis’ Rockhouse Ramblers, as well as a big beat shuffle from Fear & Whiskey and a lo-fi 1964 radio transcription of a Gene Autry tune from minor Texas legend Don Walser that sounds like it could just as well have been recorded in 1944. It’s big enough that those who feared, if not those who wished, that the accordion was a dead issue in country music can rest easy. It’s alive and well on the fringe: One Riot One Ranger and the Okeh Wranglers both work the maligned box into the mix of a straight country sound.
Nine of the acts on Edges 4 are working out of Austin or Nashville, and the cream of the set rises along that axis. Texan Ted Roddy, backed by Jim Stringer and the Austin Music Band, delivers churnin’ roadhouseabilly on “So Close, Yet So Far Away,” and one of the original Austin hippies, Bobby Earl Smith, resurfaces after a very long hiatus (nowadays he’s a practicing attorney) with a breath of fresh country rock air, “Rear View Mirror.” And three fellas working in the shadows of major label Nashville prove there’s more to the country capitol than is dreamt of by Music Row execs. “Some Kind Of Balance” by bohemian rustic Hayseed brings the string band sound into the 21st century (and may go down as the finest thing ever cut in a room of a Doubletree Hotel), Tim Carroll’s rattletrap rock ‘n’ roll, “A Man On The Run,” calls on the spirit of Hank Williams, and Lonesome Bob lives up to his name and his underground reputation on the closing track, the moody “Things Change.”
Like all such compilations Edges 4 has a little something for everyone, though no one is likely get to everything. But the hits have the misses two to one by my reckoning, a fair ratio for any sampler. For more information on Twangfest and Postcards From The Edge 4 visit www.twangfest.org.
Philadelphia quartet Naked Omaha, on the bill of this year’s Twangfest, recently self-released their first disc. Belt is bleary rustbelt roots rock, dirty guitars underwriting tales of faded blue-collar dreams, guys with “five alarm hangovers” looking out bloodshot windshields on their way work. Their sonic debts to Son Volt are a might obvious, but like their beleaguered narrators on “Diesel River” and “Upper Darby Acre,” they’re making good on the payments. Interested parties can contact the band at firstname.lastname@example.org.