Written by James Killen

bz6The winds of fate blew me to Kenny Pipes’ cozy house venue on the evening of March 19th to see a couple of Canadian musicians of whom I had never heard. Sometimes taking a chance on an unknown turns out to be a rewarding venture. This evening with Brock Zeman and Blair Hogan turned out to be rewarding indeed.

Brock Zeman is a gifted lyricist and a high energy performer with an interesting gravelly voice. At times his vocals brought to mind Greg Brown, Ryan Bingham, Dr. John and Malcolm Holcomb, but at the same time had a tone and syntax all his own. His particular lyrical talent lies in being able to craft poetry whose message is readily accessible and at the same time musically poetic. As my friend Ellen Klassen stated, every song is a story. At times those stories are witty, or tender, or nostalgic, or brash… and always hold your attention.

Blair Hogan brings the effects. He plays lead guitar, some keyboard accents, and some foot pedal percussion. He also brings in some back-up vocals on a number of the songs. His guitar work is sometimes reserved and poignant and other times bold and distorted. If Brock Zeman’s tunes were pumpkin pie, Blair Hogan’s work would be the whipped cream.

bz4The first set of the night was almost entirely made up of tunes from the latest album “Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil’s Back”, the title cut of which was the opening track for the evening. It’s a song that borders on spoken word and takes you with Brock on his journey chasing the muse and writing his lyrics. He carried on with “Walking in the Dark” and “I Don’t Think About You Anymore”. “10 Year Fight” chronicles a backstory to a painful breakup that he had with a girlfriend and how his relationship with her father seemed to be harder to drop than the one with her.

Blair pulled out his slide for “Drop Your Bucket” and added a few U2 style licks to “Some Things Stay”. Brock introduced “Subterranean Subconscious Blues” by apologizing for hijacking part of a Bob Dylan title and proceeded to lay out some frank, straight forward lyrics (“sometimes I can’t control my mind”) while Blair accented with six string fireworks. They wrapped up the first set with a rousing rendition of “Dead Man’s Shoes” which could easily make it to mainstream radio.

Brock and Blair spent the intermission sharing stories in the garage with the attendees and conversation turned out to be so garrulous that we all had to be called back in for the second set. It was made up of a number of older songs and newer unrecorded stuff. They kicked off with “Gone”, that had a country sound to it. They also served up “Triple Crown”, about a San Marcus bar that Brock and Blair  played a number of times over the years. “Dreamland Motel” told the story bz5of a very cheap motel in a style that reminded me of David Bromberg. Blair produced some spooky effects to back up Brock’s rough and tumble vocals on “A Killer in the Corn”. The pair closed the show with “Rain on the Roof parts I & II”.

The audience erupted in applause. Unfortunately it was a small eruption, not from a lack of enthusiasm but from the lack of hands. There were only eleven folks in attendance and two of them were involved in filming the performance. Certainly this was the first visit by these artists to Almost Austin, but generally there are a few more attendees, even for a first visit. I confess that I have been less of an attendee lately than in the past, but I still appreciate all of the efforts that Mr. Pipes has put in over the years. I appreciate the personal investment that he has expended and the time that he has spent getting connected to bring new talent to his Pasadena home. I shudder to think that Almost Austin might be on a slow slide to closure. I for one intend to make more of Kenny’s shows and I hope that many of you readers will get out to take in the intimate experience of an Almost Austin house concert.

Brock Zeman and Blair Hogan have promised to include Kenny’s house on their next swing through Texas and I encourage you catch these guys whenever you can.