CD review: The Austin Steamers
A few months ago, my lady and I dropped by one of our favorite local eateries, Waterloo Ice House, for some dinner. This place hosts live music regularly, but without calling them ahead of time, one never knows for sure who’s going to be playing on a particular night. We were pleasantly surprised when the band began to play – sometimes bluegrass, sometimes more of an old-time or string band style. As they continued, our attention was drawn more and more to them – the musicianship was excellent, and the mix of material was great, and it was all rolled up with a gentle sense of humor and the obvious fact that the band was having a blast.
It was The Austin Steamers – we had never heard of them before that night. Speaking with Sean Tracey during their break, I discovered that they had been doing a monthly gig there for some time – we just never happened to be there when they were playing. Sean told me this was their last night at Waterloo for a while – they were about to head for Alaska for an extended stay. After enjoying their sound so much, we were wishing we had discovered them much sooner.
The music on this, their only CD release, is a wonderful program of original material and carefully chosen songs by other writers they admire. ‘Old black crow’ and ‘Path of least resistance’, both Sean Tracey originals, are standouts, as are Joe Sundell’s ‘Dollar bill’ and Daniel Zeh’s ‘Hangdog’. Tracey’s ‘The only thing wrong’ is laced with self-deprecating humor without being trite or maudlin even for a moment. Among the covers, I’m especially fond of ‘Last letter home’, an Amazing Rhythm Aces song I’ve loved for years. Their version of ‘Freight train blues’ brings new life to an old standard. All four member sing, alternating lead and harmony vocals from song to song. Sean Tracey seemed to be the spokesman, at least on this night, but everyone shone on every tune, all having contributions to add, both instrumentally and vocally.
The Steamers are back in Austin, returned from Alaska – we’re really looking forward to going to hear them play again. Check out their website for more info, including upcoming performances.
The Austin Steamers:
Sean Tracey – vocals, guitar, harmonica
Ben Hodges – vocals, mandolin
Joe Sundell – vocals, banjo
Daniel Zeh – vocals, bass