In the clubs: Dana Falconberry
On new CD recorded in Hallettsville, folk musician tries to capture purity of live performance
In a toasty living room in an old house next to a dilapidated motel in the middle of the 2,500-strong town of Hallettsville, Dana Falconberry and three of her friends gathered around their microphones one day in June and recorded for 11 hours.
They tore through 30 songs, recording most of the wispy, buoyant folk songstress' catalog. Outside, in the still summer air, the cicadas chirped so loudly you can sometimes hear them on the recording, deep in the mix.
'It was beautiful and spooky driving down these country roads in the middle of the night. You can see all the stars,' Falconberry says . 'So it was kind of like this magical trip to get there. And we pull up and there's this inn that's totally crazy and looked like the Bates motel. It was creepy, but it was perfect.'
The sleepy burg of Hallettsville — just down the road from Shiner and about 110 miles southeast of Austin — provided the perfect backdrop for the recording of Falconberry's 'Halletts,' her spare, stripped-down second full-length album, for which she plays a CD release show tonight at the Mohawk.
Falconberry chose the unusual locale — the home belongs to the grandmother of friend and engineer Stephen Orsak — with an eye toward making a record that better captured the purity of her live performance. 2008's 'Oh Skies of Gray,' the debut from the ethereal Austin-based musician, was an enchanting exercise in alluring folk that — with its lush production from Roy Taylor, a touring sound engineer for Patty Griffin and others who'd recorded such Austin acts as Glass Eye, Stick People and Craig Ross — sounded nothing like her live performances.
For 'Halletts,' Falconberry went back to basics, recording with a small band that included harmonizing vocalists Gina Dvorak and Lauren McMurray and bass from Andrew Bergmann. Six of its eight songs appeared on 'Oh Skies of Gray,' in remarkably different form — what sounded enrapturing but involving on the debut sounds simple and clean on 'Halletts.'
'There was a while when I was playing electric guitar at my shows to try to emulate the album, and it never felt true. It never felt like what I wanted to be doing,' Falconberry says. 'Now what I'm doing feels so true. This is the way the songs were written, this is the way they developed over time as I went on tour and slept in vans, and this is how they're supposed to be.'
Granddaughter of a noted big band player and niece to Detroit blues legend 'The Reverend' Marc Falconberry, Falconberry, 30, grew up surrounded by music but was more captivated by dance. After picking up a guitar for the first time during a whale-watching trip — the young Falconberry briefly flirted with marine biology — she embraced music as her chief artistic muse while pursuing a self-designed degree in music business at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. There, she found the mountains of the South as influential as any class in musical theory — an influence that lingers, as Falconberry's songs often traffic in the imagery of the natural world.
'I can't separate nature and songwriting. Tying things to nature has always made sense to me,' Falconberry says. 'You can look at something in nature and find any answer you're looking for. You can be asking some life question and go for a walk and watch a river and it can show you how things are supposed to go, and I sound like a total hippie right now, but I think that's true.'
She uprooted to Austin in 2005, where she did time on the 'brutal' open mike scene. She rose alongside fellow local musician Red Hunter as part of Peter and the Wolf and forged her own quaint, thoughtful brand of acoustic singer-songwriter folk. She joined up with Taylor shortly after and made 'Oh Skies of Gray,' an attempt at rebranding Falconberry as an adult album alternative radio star.
Falconberry is understandably coy about her falling out with Taylor, no longer her manager — it was 'not on good terms,' she says — but has emerged from that experience more certain of her direction. Though newly responsible for every aspect of her career — from booking to recording all the way down to printing her album covers — she conducts herself with the confidence of an artist who has found her place in the world.
'I have the final say these days. I didn't have the final say in things before now, which led me to feeling ambivalent about the end products,' Falconberry says. 'And I don't feel ambivalent now. I feel totally at peace and totally happy with the music I'm doing.'