Dueling accordions at a picnic table

Posted: March 19, 2011

Since Tuesday, Dan DeLuca has been filing his blog "In the Mix" from Austin, Texas, where he's attending the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference. Excerpts:

Tuesday, March 15: I didn't feel I had really arrived until I sat myself down at a picnic table outside the Austin Convention Center with my schedule in hand and heard a pair of dueling accordions tooting away on the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go." Turns out it was a pair of squeezebox squeezers named Joey DeVilla and Jon Grossman, who had only met moments before. Grossman plays in the band Uncle Lucius, and he just moved here from Kentucky four months ago. "Once you're here, you don't want to leave," he said. DeVilla is a self-described "developer evangelist" for Microsoft . . . who uses his accordion as a social-networking icebreaker. It's working. After "Should I Stay," they stuck around, and Grossman sang Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home."

Wednesday, March 16: My first out-of-the-blue discovery of SXSW was last night at the Continental Club. . . . I had never heard of the opener: Classie Ballou & the Family Band. Ballou is a Waco, Texas-based sizable gentleman. . . . [H]is daughter CeChaun [has] a warm, caramel-colored soul voice ("She sings almost as good as Beyoncé," according to her father) on second guitar, and his 11-year-old grandson Cam'ron on rubboard. (Later Cam'ron switched to drums, and after the show I asked him who his favorite drummer was. "Tony Royster Jr." Ever heard of ?uestlove? "?uestlove? No.")

Classie Ballou, it turns out, is a Louisiana-born guitarist who has played with Big Joe Turner and Boozoo Chavis, and had a couple of regional hits of his own - "Hey Pardner" and "Classie's Whip," each of which work a pretty irresistible, super-old-school R&B groove . . . delivered with the stinging precision of surf rock. The man's an entertainer. . . . He's got a little doo-wop and a dash of zydeco in his repertoire, and geographical proximity can be blamed for the Dallas Cowboys references he drops into Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."

Thursday, March 17: Natty retro-R&B showman Raphael Saadiq . . . is a fabulous entertainer, with great energy and impeccable fashion sense, and he's a pretty darn good singer and guitar player, too. The former Tony! Toni! Tone! front man's new album is called Stone Rollin'. . . . Ersatz is too strong a word, but when it comes to his songs, Saadiq suffers from an overly precise passion for re-creating something great from long ago. His music is like a fastidious facsimile of his forebears'. Now there's some alliteration for you. Still, a really, really fun live act.

Preceding Saadiq on stage were the Smith Westerns . . . Before the Smith Westerns, there was James Blake. . . . Blake's tagged to be one of the breakout stars of 2011, for good reason. The 22-year-old Brit comes out of the booming bass microgenre known as dubstep, but along with innate production skills and a feel for glitchy beats, Blake is also a songwriter of substance who knows that less is often more when it comes to song composition. . . . Not a lot of stage presence, but at this point, he doesn't need it.

Dan DeLuca at South by Southwest

Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca is at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. See his dispatches, including photographs and videos, at his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/philly/ blogs/inthemix.

Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com. Follow his adventures at South by Southwest on his blog "In the Mix," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inthemix.

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