UNCUT

ALphabet Soup

NIGEL WILLIAMSON REPORTS FROM THE SOUTH BY SOUTH WEST MUSIC FESTIVAL IN AUSTIN, TEXAS

Quite probably the best music festival in the world, the line up for this year’s South By South West in Austin, Texas reads more like an Uncut playlist than ever. But how to round up over 800 acts playing in more than 40 venues over four days? With only a little cheating, we offer you the SxSW Austin Alphabet . . .

A
is for Ryan Adams, who fronted a kick-ass band called THE PINK HEARTS, and from the first jagged guitar chords of the rampart Exile On Main Street-style opener, exuded the swaggering spirit of rock‘n’roll. The Ramones would have been proud of the 90-second speed-thrash "I Don’t Want To Work" and, at the close, Adams threw his guitar down and left the stage with a dramatic flounce, every inch the strutting star. Half the audience loved it and half were bemused, expecting the searing country poetics that made Heartbreaker one of the albums of last year. Even Adams’ record company, Lost Highway, seemed unclear whether the sound was indicative of what we can expect from his new solo LP due later this summer . . .

L
is for Lost Highway, the most exciting new label to come out of Nashville in years and which made its bow in Austin. With a roster that includes Ryan Adams, Kim Richey, Lucinda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton, they look, sound and act like an indie. In fact, the label is part of Mercury (Nashville) and is headed by Luke Lewis, the man who also brought us Shania Twain . . .

M
is for Tift Merritt, Lost Highway’s freshest young signing, whose impressive set suggested she is shaping up to be the new Lucinda Williams . . .

W
is for Lucinda Williams, the queen of Lost Highway’s roster to Ryan Adams’ king. With a four-guitar line-up, which included Neal Casal, she showcased material from her brilliant new LP, Essence, produced by Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton. Smouldering with the same sort of Southern sexuality Shelby Lynne exudes, the new songs unfolded with a delicious slow country burn . . .