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Roots & Boots: Junior Brown releases EP of up-to-date lyrics over signature retro sound

Michael Corcoran
Junior Brown releases EP of up-to-date lyrics over signature retro sound.

Country singer/ guitarist Junior Brown has a good reason for recording “Volume Ten,” his new six-song EP. “The kind of music I like, with that sort of ‘60s optimism, is not out there so we have to manufacture it ourselves,” said the “guit-steel” master, who plays the Continental Club at 7:30 p.m. most every Sunday.

But while Brown’s music remains rooted in the classic country sound of Ernest Tubb and Red Simpson, the lyrical sentiments are current on such tunes as “Hang Up and Drive” and “Apathy Waltz,” with its accent on “app.” That latter song was inspired by Junior and Tanya Rae’s grandchildren, who they’re helping raise in Tulsa. “It’s all about keeping them off the screens,” said Brown, who’s never even sent an email. LOL.

Now that Brown’s long association with Curb Records, which released such acclaimed albums as “Guit With It” (1993) and “Semi-Crazy” (1996) has ended, Junior said he’s relieved that he no longer has to compete with what’s coming out of Nashville. “It seems that most of the songs these days are about partying out in the woods in your pickup and drinking beer and taking your tops off,” Brown said. “I don’t want any part of that. I gave up trying to write for other people awhile ago.”

Even as he sings “I’m the Phantom of the Opry,” an ode to the nascent years of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, don’t hang the retro tag on Brown. He’s one of the greatest guitarists ever to hail from this Guitar Town and plays almost all original material until the guitar medley of iconic surf instrumentals and “Secret Agent Man” that’s been blowing away crowds since the late ‘80s.

“I don’t get these guys that come out like they’re doing something fresh and then say, ‘And here’s another one by Hank Williams,’” he said. “All my songs are about my own experiences or how I feel about things today.”

One of the EP’s most autobiographical tunes is the Western swing number “I’m Headed Back To Austin Tonight.” Brown and his guitarist wife Tanya Rae sometimes make the 12-hour drive from Tulsa just to play the Continental Club every Sunday.

“I can’t keep those people waiting to hear me sing and play my songs/ They’re the reason I keep going and they keep me going strong,” Brown sings over fiddles and steel guitar.

“Austin is a special place,” he said. “The people have always listened with an open mind.” His music keeps a disappearing part of Austin’s musical legacy alive.

Band to watch: Dirty River Boys

El Paso’s Dirty River Boys headlined the HAAM-o-Ween benefit Oct. 27 at Antone’s, packing the house with their bluegrassy string band music and four-part harmonies. With constant instrument-swapping and a slap-bass providing the beat, comparisons to Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers are unavoidable, but one can hear a lot of Texas twang in the band’s debut full-length LP “Science of Flight.” Coming from a Western storytelling tradition, it’s no surprise the songs of Nino Cooper and Marco Gutierrez fit in so well with the so-called Red Dirt Texas/Oklahoma country scene.

Currently on tour with Reckless Kelly, DRB were slated to play the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on Halloween, the quartet’s biggest booking to date, but the show was canceled because of flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Don’t worry, Boys, there will be other times. The band’s next show in the area is Saturday at the Texas Music Theater in San Marcos.

Celebrating Calvin

The great singer-songwriter Calvin Russell, whose hobo hat became a European icon in the 1990s, was snatched from his friends, fans and family by cancer in April of last year. He died in Garfield, where he lived his last years with his beautiful wife, Cynthia, and several dogs. On Sunday, many of Calvin’s good friends will take the stage at the Waterhole across Hwy 71 from the Garfield water tower.

It’s an all-day affair, with these acts performing Russell songs as well as their own: J.T. Van Zandt, Van Wilks, L.Z. Love, Mandy Mercier, Matt Hubbard, Speedy Sparks, the Keepers, Kim Deschamps, Leland Waddell and many more. Come celebrate a life well lived for all the love and joy it brought.

Random thought: From Nov. 1 Country Music Awards, where the big winners were married couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton: If “Boogie Nights” was about current country music instead of ’70s porn, the four video kids Floyd Gondolli brings to the party would be Little Big Town.

R&B Concert Calendar: Carper Family at the White Horse on Friday; Curtis Grimes at Cheatham Street Warehouse on Saturday; Uncle Lucious, Wheeler Brothers at Texas Music Theater on Saturday; Jo Dee Messina at One World Theater on Monday; Whiskey Shivers at Antone’s on Tuesday; Rodney Crowell at Antone’s on Wednesday; Willie Nelson at ACL Live on Nov. 15; Charlie Robison at Antone’s on Nov. 17.

Roots & Boots is a monthly roundup of country, roots and Americana music in Austin.