The brave Andrew Anderson is one of my favorite Austin musical nomads, a guy who writes, records, and tours his music obsessively. It's not so much that Anderson expects to get anything out of it (although he richly deserves wider hearing), it's just that he's compelled to do so. There are a lot of fakers who claim their lives are driven by music in these parts, but most often it's something external, the hopes of fame, money, or getting laid. Anderson sings and plays like there's something inside of him that will eat him up if he doesn't let it out. He needs music, and we need more like him.
Even the man's style speaks to his determination. Anderson plays country, not neo-folk, not "Americana," not No Depression, the sort of which hasn't been remotely commercially acceptable since the 70's. The Sweatbox Sessions, a cleanly-recorded but raggedly performed collection of solo recordings, may help to win over status-conscious hipsters. His full-length As Long As This Thing's Flyin' was and is terrific, but the full band sound was pitched awkwardly to market in a place as ruinously genre-conscious as Austin. Anderson doesn't just graft twangy songs on to a rock rhythm section. As a result the record might have been stuck in no-man's land, too authentic to make sense for people just discovering Uncle Tupelo but way too original, unpolished, and confrontational for the line-dancing crowd.
Stripped down to naught but his acoustic and his urgent, weather-beaten voice, Sweatbox Sessions finds Anderson moving in all directions at once -- "Hemingway" is the most romantic thing he's written, "Barrel of a Gun" a speedy, tough family history, and the new mandolin arrangement of "Necessary Casualties" is so in-your-face it's kind of punk rock. "Consequence" and "Indifference" don't sound as substantial, as if he hasn't quite had the chance to work them to a shine through numerous live performances yet. And the cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" might have been best left as a live surprise; here on record it sounds a tiny bit like pandering.
What's best about Sweatbox Sessions is the emphasis it puts on Anderson's vocals, which are far less rehearsed and smoothed-out here as they appeared on on the full-length. His twang is authentic, but so is his sense of humor, his anguish, and his conviction. Lock him away from his instruments, and he'd sing while pounding on the walls. No matter what your preference in style is, there's only a handful of musicians here or anywhere whose music comes entirely from inside, with little consideration paid to how it will be received and what rewards it will win them. Andrew Anderson plays at Emo's tomorrow night, Thursday the 11th, with Kalu James, another true believer, albeit one with an entirely different aesthetic. The cover is only two dollars!