All ears

It's about time!

This could be premature, but there is a fair bit of rejoicing here this week in response to some titles that hit stores next Tuesday: Four DVDs and three CDs of performances in a series called Live From Austin TX, drawn from Austin City Limits. Could this be the beginning of a real archive of this incredibly long-lived TV show, home to so many great performances?

It may be something even better. The four single-artist DVDs in this first batch run between 65 and 84 minutes, meaning they're far longer than the half-hour edited performances seen by viewers when the shows originally aired. As those of us who have attended live tapings in the past can attest, the sets are often killer from start to finish. Even the delays are sometimes fun - like the inexplicable time when Merle Haggard, in the middle of a flawless show, hit some mental roadblock and couldn't remember the lyrics to "Mama Tried"; he started the song perhaps half a dozen times and went blank each time at the same spot.

The artists in these first releases - Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, Susan Tedeschi, and The Flatlanders - are obvious choices, appealing to the Americana audience the series knows is its core. That makes sense for New West (the label releasing the series), whose roster is full of this sort of act - like the Old 97's and John Hiatt, who if memory serves also have old ACL tapes sitting in the KLRU archives.

Fans of the series should be praying for these discs to sell like crazy, since the vaults are full of gold, both the easily marketable - Willie Nelson, Haggard, the now-timely Ray Charles - and less widely known shows, taped ages ago, by folks like Tom Waits and Lightnin' Hopkins. Keep it coming, New West! Don't be afraid of the dust on those old tapes...

In other very happy New West news, the label has reissued four early albums by Vic Chesnutt. These records - Little, West of Rome, Drunk, and Is The Actor Happy? - contain the best work the songwriter has done, enigmatic little gems that are happy to name-drop folks ranging from Lucinda Williams to Isadora Duncan but take place most often in the author's itchy psyche. Each comes with at least five (sometimes as many as a dozen) extra tunes, and is packaged in artist-approved digipaks. (I have to say, though, that I prefer the old artwork for Drunk.)

On an unrelated but timely note: The I Heart Huckabees soundtrack is out now, featuring the music of perhaps the most distinctive young composer for film, Jon Brion. The guy who made his name with P.T. Anderson movies has made music for two of this year's most inventive films, Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; more and more, his sounds are of huge importance to the movies they appear in. The record pairs his instrumental work with some vocal tunes that don't appear in the film, but it's an organic record that stands up well on its own. Hopefully sometime soon Brion will take just enough time away from the movies to deliver an album all his own.

By John DeFore

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