South Austin Moonlighters
From Here to Home
Austin and South Austin may not have the bustling roots-rock/Americana scene they had in late ‘90s and early 2000s but The South Austin Moonlighters are here to evoke those glory days and remind us that their music is still a vital part of what the Live Music Capital of World offers. Born in the many nights of South Austin’s famed Saxon Pub, this is a quartet that can get you dancing and thinking at the same time. Just for reference, South Austin is to Austin what East Nashville is to Nashville. The former two places represent the heart of the musical and artistic scenes. The band was founded In 2011, by singer/songwriter/pianist/bass player Lonnie Trevino Jr. (Fastball, Monte Montgomery)The original band members began performing at the venue as a “moonlighting” band as they were all in playing in different bands at the time. Soon afterward they became an established band, reaching a peak with their 2019 Anders Osborne produced Travel Light. For this follow-up, From Here to Home, they tapped another elite producer, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.
Besides Trevino Jr., the band is Chris Beall (lead vocals, guitars), Daniel James (drums, percussion, backing vocals), and Hunter St. Marie (various guitars). Guest musicians assist on select tracks with Daniel Creamer on keys heard often on organ. Trevino Jr. and Beall are the principal songwriters, sometimes writing separately, collaborating together or working with another co-writer outside the band. The album kicks off with Beale’s stomping “Nashville,” rife with spiraling lead guitar, and group harmonies on the emphatic chorus. The half-time groove of “Make a Livin’,” another Beall tune and single, co-written with his friend Rodney Black, poses provocative questions about the musician’s life providing for a family. Mere presence is often as important as income. Trevino Jr. penned the ebullient, celebratory full-throated sing-along “Long Time Coming.” Beale’s snappy, breezy co-write “Box of Memories” continues this infectious string of songs.
Trevino’s “Faded Into Gray” is the first ballad, and presumably his first lead vocal, distinctly different from Beall’s, it’s a bit jarring at first but like the other songs, has his bandmates joining in on the choruses. Beall sings Trevino Jr.’s upbeat, power chord laden “Hearts in Parallel” while the two main songwriters collaborate on the jaunty title track, one imbued by St. Marie’s slide guitar. One of the band’s hallmarks is their knack for singalong choruses as heard here – “Such a long way from here to home”. The crunchy “Then Away, Farewell,” rocks harder than the others with James’ insistent beats and the angry lead guitar solo but we’re back to the easy flowing vibe on “It’s Only Money (That Makes the World Go Round),” another feature for a St. Marie spiraling guitar solo. Trevino Jr.’s chugging “Deltaman” closes, as the band goes into their heavier rocking mode.
For all the strong attributes of Berlin’s production, there are times where these songs could use a little less instrumentation and multiple vocals. The band is at best in their roots rocking style, as heard in the first few tracks and on a few in the album’s second half. It’s their infectious hooks that set them apart.
- Jim Hynes
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