Atlanta August 5th -- 8th, 1998
by James Mann
Ya know, if I was a real-life, full time rock and roll journalist, I would have a more rounded, complete account of the Atlantis Music Conference. As it happens, out of the 150 or so bands showcased around Atlanta that week, I only saw a small portion. Of the dozens of conferences, while they looked enticing (boy, Sister Hazel explains their success story!), I didn't go to a one. Had to work my real job. So shoot me. Hopefully by next year's conference, my unauthorized account of Bill Clinton's saxophone stylings will have been published, and I will be able to devote more time to the event.
But of the stuff I saw, 99.9% of it was great. Starting off on Thursday night at 8:00, about 25 people showed up for Los Lonely Boys, a trio of brothers from Texas who sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughn sitting in with a poppy Los Lobos. The oldest (at 20!), the guitar playing lead singer, has that smoldering guitar gangster trip down pat, and led the band through about 5 or 6 original tunes from their self-released CD. This band has hooks, looks, and blues soul in a package as tight as you would expect coming from three musicians who have played every note of their lives together.
Later that night, I caught Lou Ford and the Ex-Husbands at a packed Star Bar. Lou Ford, a decidedly Jayhawk-ish four piece from North Carolina, played interesting, deep country pop with a great twin guitar sound. They produced atmosphere in droves, with a slightly twangy, slightly New York sort of sound. Next up were the Ex-Husbands, the greatest country trio since Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. Lead singer and guitarist Anders Thomsen has a powerful, compelling voice, and he writes classic songs to showcase it. "Tequila, Salt, and Lime" quieted the normally rowdy Star Bar crowd to a whisper, only to raise the roof with "I Have a Ball (Each Time I Fall Off of the Wagon)." Luckily for me, I was able to snag a copy of the group's debut CD on Tar Hut Records (P.O Box 441940, Somerville, MA 02144) after the show, and I've been driving friends crazy making them listen to it since. This is good stuff.
It was back to the Star Bar for starters on Saturday night, where I caught Paul Burch and his great collection of songs that sound like the Grand Old Opry from 40 years ago. Burch is a skinny little fella with a voice as big as a mountain. Lonesome Bob, who followed him up, is definitely not a little fella. At 6 feet and change, bald headed, and singing songs like "My Mother's Husband," you ain't gonna miss this man in a crowd. Performing alone with just a guitar, Bob was just a shade away from amazing. Formerly the drummer for Ben Vaughn, he has written songs that have been covered by the Mekons ("Point of No Return" from I Love Mekons) and the title cut of the Waco Brothers' Do You Think About Me EP. Performing material from his debut CD on
Checkered Past records, Things Fall Apart, Lonesome Bob had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He's a country singer who has listened to more Lou Reed than Hank Williams, and his music drives with a punk intensity. Don't miss him.
Then it was down the street to the Variety Playhouse, where I watched a lot of 20-somethings bounce around to Vigilantes of Love. After that it was up to the Point to catch the Rosenbergs, a pop combo from New York. These guys are it. Densely layered and driving, their music is infectious, mature, and smart. They have a strong British influence, with guitar effects coloring very American pop. The tape their manager handed off is one of the best sounding demos I've ever heard, majestic in places. The word is that these folks are about to get signed, and with their combination of great songs and good looks, they should do real well.
Finally, to cap it all off, it was back across the street to the Star Bar to catch Drive By Truckers. Damn, those boys are a hoot. Hailing from the wilds of Athens, Georgia, this is a band possessed. Profane, childish, and rocking like a runaway train, this is the perfect band to start a five-day bender with. When they ended the night with "The President's Penis is Missing," an a cappella ode to Bill's little friend, it was populist poetry at it's best.
So, there ya have it. The Atlantis conference in a nutshell. It was fun, well organized, and featured some great music. Next year, the drinks are on me.