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Swing Kings

Let's face it: The time has come to take the whole "retro" concept and toss it in the trash. The music most folks call classical, after all, was the popular music of its day; it's only come to be considered timeless art because it is timeless. Now we should accept the revivals of certain 20th-century genres -- not lame memory-lane reunions, mind you, but serious students expressing new ideas within an established format -- as proof that honky-tonk, rockabilly and, in particular, the kind of swing played by 8 1/2 Souvenirs will live centuries longer than anyone currently shuffling this mortal coil.

Swing was powerful stuff in its day, and it's as moving and downright fun today as it was a half-century ago. 8 1/2 Souvenirs (yes, it's a Fellini reference) draw heavily on the traditions of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and Fellini score-meister Paolo Conte. In doing so, they've become favorites of those who can't think of anything more "alternative" (another term long overdue for a lob into the 13-gallon file) than sipping martinis while listening to the fast-stepping, vocally centered music that scandalized the airwaves during the days of crystal radios.

The group began when French-born guitarist/vocalist Olivier Giraud decided to make Austin his home. As proof that every clique in the world has a chapter in the Texas capital, he soon made friends who shared his enthusiasm for cabaret dance music. Guitarist Todd Wulfmeyer laid down his ax and switched to upright bass to be in the band, while classical pianist Glover Gill rolled up the sleeves on his shirt to show off the sleeves tattooed on his arms and began pounding out the kind of runs last heard in the days when there was still such a thing as a classy whorehouse. Adam Berlin is obviously a jazz drummer who wants to -- and does -- have fun. Most recently, singer Juliana Sheffield adapted her extensive education in opera to the mix after the Souvenirs's original female vocalist opted to do the family thing.

Sheffield's contributions inspired the band toward the studio, where they recorded an expanded version of a release they had originally done live at the Continental Club. I haven't heard the first Happy Feet CD, so I can't compare the live and studio versions, but a week of sharing the newer work with everyone from rocker friends to an acquaintance who remembers when swing was pop has convinced me that the group's appeal goes far beyond anything that could be achieved by a novelty act. If you have a never-mentioned great-uncle who abandoned home and family to run off with a cabaret singer, 8 1/2 Souvenirs should inspire you to raise the martini glass in a toast to the geezer's ghost.

-- Jim Sherman
8 1/2 Souvenirs perform at 9 p.m. Thursday, December 19, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $5. Merchants of Venus open. For info, call 869-COOL.

David Allan Coe -- News of David Allen Coe's Houston engagement arrived with a press kit offering nigh on zero information. So I called his handlers and told them I would like a little detail on Coe's current activities. "Houston Press," mused the voice on the line. "That's not one of those underground newspapers, is it? Well, because if it [is], well, we don't like to talk to them. They're always printing the old stuff that's not true anymore." I assume the spin doctor was referring to Coe's lauded outlaw history. Orphaned at nine, busted for car theft, imprisoned, paroled and arrested again for possession of an "obscene" comic book, Coe shared time in the pen with Screamin' Jay Hawkins and has claimed to have stabbed another inmate -- killing him -- and to have spent three months on Ohio's death row before that state abolished the death penalty. But never mind that; Coe is now, and has long been, a "family man" and a reliable entertainment commodity. He, of course, wrote "Take This Job and Shove It" (though Johnny Paycheck made a greater hit of the tune), "Would You Lay with Me (in a Field of Stone)" (which Tanya Tucker took to number one on the country charts) and "The Ride" (which Coe himself drove to number one in the mid-'80s). Whatever role he's currently playing, he also happens to have one of the classic country voices, which, to my ear, goes well with whiskey. But alas, Coe's just not a hell-raiser these days -- or so say his handlers. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, at 8 and 11 p.m. Saturday, December 21. Tickets are $17.50 to $32.50. Horseshoe opens. 869-TICS. (Brad Tyer)

Peter White -- When the teenage Peter White's electric guitar caught fire, it wasn't a Hendrix-style ignition. It was his brother playing with matches. "It started me on my acoustic period," says White -- a period that hasn't stopped. Cutting his teeth in tourist ballrooms, White has developed an international reputation as a reliable sideman. You might not know him, but you've probably heard his music: White played keyboards and guitar for Al Stewart on The Year of the Cat and Time Passages, and his work with Basia and others kept him busy through the '80s. White's success in stepping from sideman to center stage, though, has been hard won. The solo White, warm, eclectic and accessible, resides in a murky place somewhere between pop and jazz, usually emerging more on the pop side. Don't expect him to burn any guitars on-stage, though; he likes them too much. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, with Kirk Whalum at 8 and 11 p.m. Sunday, December 22. Tickets are $19.50 to $34.50. 869-TICS. (Brendan Doherty)

 
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