SXSW Wednesday: Hayes Carll, Alessi’s Ark, James Blake

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Hayes Carll
The Swan Dive, 3 p.m.
If ever there was a legitimate heir to Tom Waits’ broken china voice, it’d be the Texas singer-songwriter Hayes Carll. Carll took the stage at The Swan Dive on Wednesday afternoon, as the line for the Billy Reid & K-Swiss Shindig snaked around the corner. Carll and his band took the audience through uptempo numbers like “Trouble In Mind” and the Dylan beat-blues of his new album’s title track, “KMAG YOYO.” “I wrote this song with my mother. How cool is that?” Hayes said while introducing the plaintive “Chances Are,” a song that pushes Carll’s hardup voice in it’s most careful direction. For “Hard Out Here,” the freewheeling partner-swapping two-steppers in the front row reached their dancing climax, and Carll launched into a Todd Snider-esque monologue – a sort of backwards ode to Austin and South By Southwest. Carll’s exuberant set was an early highlight of the festival – and may stand out as best of the week.

Alessi’s Ark
The French Legation Museum, 4 p.m.
The 20-year-old West London singer Alessi Laurent-Marke turned the lawn of the French Legation into a vintage Newport Folk Festival scene on Wednesday afternoon. “This is nice. It’s like a picnic without the food,” she remarked to the crowd. Laurent-Marke, who goes under the moniker Alessi’s Ark, is largely a throwback to the tradition of female British folk singers like Sandy Denny and Anne Briggs, but takes up the singer-songwriter strain of the American Appalachian-inspired Gillian Welch and Jolie Holland. Her songs are sprightly and pastoral with touch of whimsy. “If you body is the sky, then your freckles are the constellations,” she sang, after offering the audience a choice of a song about dogs or constellations.

James Blake
Stubb’s, 9:30 p.m.
Is it possible James Blake is ushering in a new singer-songwriter era of electronica? Just as intelligent dance music gave techno and house club music a reworking decades ago, Blake, who already proved himself a master of the glitchy, R&B-chopped dubstep production, has taken an unexpected turn towards pure songwriting and seems to be giving a new voice to the dubstep movement. For his stunning cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” on Wednesday night at Stubb’s, it was the body-rattling bass fugues coming from Blake’s guitar player’s Roland SP-404SX sampler that reminded you the music still has its roots on the pounding dance floor. “Thank you so much,” Blake offered with a wry smile in his prim British accent after the roaring applause following “Limit.” On “The Wilhelm Scream,” Blake’s best original piece, the programmed bass and buzzsaw synth built up into a noise symphony until all sense of melody and structure had been annihilated – save for the song’s beating heart.

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