Soulhat – Live at the Black Cat Lounge
In this live album’s liner notes, Rob Patterson remarks that a locale – a scene, or in this case a club – can have a large impact on the music created within it. The Black Cat Lounge, a “ramshackle, no frills dive music bar” that lived on Austin’s famed Sixth Street, made its impact both in a lack of pretension and in the owner’s demand that artists fill an entire evening, often up to four hours, with music. The result, as heard in these 1991 live tracks, is a friendly and open vibe to the songs, sets and performances. It’s not languor, but comfort and confidence. Artists didn’t rush on, play a concise forty-five minutes and rush off. They edged into their songs with instrumental introductions that set a lyric’s mood, and they made room for vocal and musical jams that gave dancers time to spin around the floor.
Fans of Soulhat will particularly relish hearing these early live performances, recorded only a year into the band’s history, a year during which they’d been gigging regularly at the Black Cat. Their mix of rock, blues, country, funk, soul and jazz was well formed by this point, and with hours of time to fill, they allowed themselves to “get lost in the music,” stretching a few of these songs past the seven- and eight-minute marks. But with an intimate club audience that needed to be entertained (as opposed to an arena audience that could feel more abstract from the stage), the jams never lose their way; you can hear the musicians conversing with their instruments, but they keep touch with the audience. The close-in dynamic of a club makes these live tracks a good listen at home.
Eleven of these recordings were previously issued on a limited-edition cassette, but it quickly became hard to find. Recorded on a two-track and mixed to what sounds like mono, the sound is crisp and balances the band and their enthusiastic audience. The group proves itself comfortable with country- and funk-inflected rock, funk- and jazz-inflected soul, folk-inflected pop, and more. That’s a lot of inflection, which may have been the root of the group’s inability to sustain a presence on radio or the charts (their biggest single, “Bonecrusher,” peaked at #25). With the Black Cat having burned down in 2002, these live tracks now stand as a striking artifact of the club’s atmosphere and its impact on the artists who played and developed there.