Bayou City

Shows of the Week: A 'Fam-o-Lee' Tradition From One of Texas's Best

House of Blues, December 26
How good a sport is Robert Earl Keen? When he realized that “Merry Christmas From the Family,” his 1994 tune about a motley clan that gets along well enough during the holidays so long as the margaritas and homemade eggnog keep flowing, was well on its way to becoming the kind of song that can define an artist’s career — at the expense of anything else he or she has written, even — Keen shrugged and started bringing his "Merry Christmas From the Fam-o-Lee" show to his core markets in the Southwest every December without fail. Besides, Keen’s past couple of years have already been especially productive. In February 2015 he released his first-ever full-length bluegrass effort, Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, featuring guest stars like Peter Rowan and old pal Lyle Lovett, and last month saw the launch of Live Dinner Reunion, the long-awaited sequel to the album that remains Keen’s best-selling record, 1996’s No. 2 Live Dinner.

McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, December 30
Perhaps the best-known musician to leave Austin in the current exodus from prohibitive property taxes and a more tech-oriented culture, Alejandro Escovedo recently explained his and recent bride Nancy’s relocation to Dallas in the Austin Chronicle, writing, “We needed to cleanse ourselves of the old, find something fresh and new…It was good for us to immerse ourselves in someplace we were not familiar with.” Bouncing back from the PTSD he incurred when Hurricane Odile interrupted his September 2014 honeymoon, Escovedo recorded his latest album, October's Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy), in Portland with an amazing band featuring former R.E.M. members Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, plus an all-star lineup of Pacific Northwest players including Kurt Bloch (The Fastbacks); John Moen (The Decemberists); Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney); and Steve Berlin (Los Lobos). Indebted as ever to ’70s glam and rough-hewn NYC punk, Escovedo’s 14th album adds a tenacious and inspiring installment to the 65-year-old’s reputation as one of Texas’s very best songwriters.

Humble Civic Center, December 30
The story of Edward Berry may never make it to the movies, but it deserves to be told anyway. Elder Berry, who died in May, was a pastor and longtime cab driver around Third Ward and Fifth Ward who always answered when called upon, whether that meant for a ride to the doctor’s office or counsel of a more spiritual nature. He was the kind of man, friends remember, who brought out the best in other people, and now his friends want to pay him back in kind. Under the direction of knockout Houston blues diva Diunna Greenleaf, Friday’s powerhouse lineup bears easy witness to Berry’s lasting legacy: Mud Morganfield, son and heir of the immortal Muddy Waters; Waters’s longtime guitarist, “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin; Arkansas-born soul shouter Lady Dynamite; Chicago harmonica whiz Bob Corritore; and Houston’s own Rich Del Grosso and Jonn Del Toro Richardson. Proceeds from “Papa’s LAST Big Top Production” go to several of Berry’s favorite Houston-area organizations, among them the Houston Blues Society, the Zydeco Association and the National Buffalo Soldiers Museum. Tickets are available at this link.

Fitzgerald’s, December 30
Kevin Russell will cure what ails you. The man now calling himself Shinyribs ascended from the remains of beloved swamp-boogie outfit The Gourds, reinventing himself as an artist whose stage clothes come from Soul Train Fashions in New Orleans, whose beard comes straight out of Santa’s workshop and whose sound positions him as an unlikely but entirely believable latter-day Gulf Coast shaman. The Texas country crowd has steadily been picking up on Shinyribs’s medicine-show soul thanks to albums like Gulf Coast Museum and Okra Candy, but any remaining agnostics need only wait until February, when Shinyribs’s next one, I Got Your Medicine, should convert them handily. Recorded at Houston’s SugarHill Studios and co-produced by Russell and ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers Svengali Jimbo Mathus, Medicine positions Shinyribs as the natural heir of Tony Joe White and Huey Piano Smith, peddling a peculiar brand of snake oil that tastes a lot like home cookin’.

F*** 2016
House of Blues (Bronze Peacock Room), December 31
For a lot of people, it’s probably fair to say that the best thing that can be said about 2016 is that it’s finally almost over. Houston’s Roologic Records is taking that idea and running with it all the way into 2017. Ducking the second night of Texas country warriors the Josh Abbott Band next door, Roologic’s brusquely named New Year’s Eve bash features four homegrown artists for whom the future looks especially bright: intergalactic funk-rockers Space Villains*; Genesis Blu, the whiplash-tongued MC crowned Best Rapper at this month’s HPMAs; Sobe Lash, the brassy pop/hip-hop singer who finds the common ground between Nirvana and Rihanna on her recent The Pretty Reckless EP; and punk firebrands Giant Kitty, whose breakthrough LP This Stupid Stuff approaches its first anniversary sounding smarter and funnier all the time. DJ Baby Roo, a.k.a. Roologic boss Ruben Jimenez, takes the party all the way to 2 a.m.

Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe (Galveston), January 1
The approaching New Year’s Day will mark 20 years since the passing of Townes Van Zandt, the plain-spoken poet whose tragic hard-luck tales ensured his position as one of the most philosophical and profound songwriters Texas has ever produced. Presided over by proprietor Wrecks Bell, an old friend and former bandmate, Galveston’s Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe has hosted a memorial wake in Van Zandt’s memory ever since. This year’s edition will be a little different, though, owing to the deaths of Van Zandt’s good friend Guy Clark and their cosmic Canadian counterpart, Leonard Cohen, earlier this year. As per the rules, anyone is welcome to sign up and sing on a first come-first served basis, so long as the song in question was written by Van Zandt, Clark or Cohen. In other words, a few hours at the Old Quarter Sunday should be akin to a guided tour of the ultimate Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray