Category — On Location/Austin
Katie Rose Pipkin. Quartz Crystal.
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Devin James Fry’s
by A. J. Stephens
It was Sunday October 20th, at the venue Holy Mountain in Austin, Texas. Up until that point, I knew very little about Devin James Fry. He is kind — I thought of him as the benevolent beekeeper (he cultivates his interest in bee herding with East Austin Honey Company). He gives time to persons with whom he speaks. He has a unique ability to convey and perceive energy, and does so with a sense of humor, reassuring levity, and reasoned perspective. When he told me about his residency at Holy Mountain — that he was a singer-songwriter musician —I realized that, if his actions in life were as sincere as they seemed to be to my friends and me, his music would follow suit.
Perhaps it was the desolate sort of energy many cities have on any given Sunday evening, especially during the change of seasons. Or, the apt setting for appreciating new music. Whatever the case, on October 20th I understood the type of impact music can have when it is absorbed without reference or preconception or anticipation, to truly alter one’s sense of being, even if only for an hour. With no sense of where or how Fry’s music would guide my evening’s pondering, the journey and escape were touching, inspiring, and something I felt anyone in his or her corner of the world could and would appreciate. Something certainly deserving of attention.
Several of the pieces Fry introduced in October were released Monday, December 16th, on his nine-track solo album titled Headwater Songs, through Tucson-based label People In A Position To Know (Golden Boots, Little Wings, Wooden Wand). Recorded in one take on Marantz 4-track cassettes after weeks of thorough preparation and rehearsing to get through the album without innumerable cuts (if any — and, in the end, a successful feat), the album at once embraces the musicians’ vulnerability and exposes our own. As I am often drawn to form-and-function, I was convinced I had experienced an integrated work of musical artistry; an opinion furthered when Devin explained that Katie Rose Pipkin’s smoky quartz artwork for the album cover alludes to the imperfections he recognizes may or may not reflect from Headwater’s various stages of development.
A “psychedelic country and clawhammer guitar reflection” on the fires and flooding that tore through the Arkansas River Headwaters region of Colorado during the summer of 2013, the album’s first track, “After The Royal Gorge Fire,” is a tribute to Fry’s family and childhood friend, Eric Andrew Smith — a firefighter assigned to defend the community — in his home town of Cañon City, Colorado. Other tracks I found particularly special are “New Moon” and “Blackflowers” — and taken as a whole, each track and the entire album’s exploration of soul and sound does not disappoint.
The formal press commentary for the release adds that Headwater is: “…stripped-down, intimate country ballads reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s Crazy: The Demo Sessions. Fry’s formidable clawhammer work is everywhere, along with Salesman [the six-person band for which Fry provides vocals and guitar] drummer Clayton Lillard’s masterful playing, moments of sparse harmony, and an expanse or two of trance-inducing reverb. ‘Bloodstone (I’m Not Afraid To Die)’ is a psychedelic lullabye equal parts comforting and defiant, title track “Headwaters (Song For Gatherer)” evokes a roadhouse along a burnt stretch of I-50 coming out of the Rocky Mountain foothills, and closer “Skate” seeks forgiveness in still-warm sandstone.”
The album’s release comes as unsurprising given Fry has collaborated as a member of the groups Salesman and Lord Buffalo for several years. However, the solo album brings attention to the 20 or so years of the dedication he has given to music since childhood. This is shared from the strings of his father’s 1949 Gibson LG Parlor-size guitar through a Twin Reverb Amp. The drumming accompaniment provided comes from Clayton Lillard; Garrett Hellman dials-in crafted tones on three of the tracks; and Daniel Jesse Pruitt harmonizes on two. Though Fry’s choice guitar may be known to have been used over time by vagabond travelers and children, the leadership it takes next to Fry’s poignant lyrics and easy voice show that a permanent presence on the music landscape will soon be carved out by the type of maturity-of-sound Fry delivers on this album.
Fry has provided the opening track for readers as a complimentary invitation to his work: “After The Royal Gorge Fire” is available here for download.
The other tracks and entire album can be downloaded at http://devinjamesfry.bandcamp.com/.
December 24, 2013 Comments Off on James Devin Fry/Music Review