Austin singer/songwriter Michael Fracasso—who finishes a four-night East Coast concert swing tonight in D.C.—performed at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall on Monday night along with guitarist Charlie Sexton and keyboardist Michael Ramos. Promoting new CD Big Top, Fracasso is benefiting greatly from the accompaniment of his two Austin buddies, and it is the mark of endorsement from Sexton and Ramos that makes these efforts most notable.
The hardworking Sexton had a scant two weeks to spare before going back on the road with Bob Dylan, and he chose to help bring attention to Big Top, which was actually recorded by Fracasso and Sexton back in 1999 but had never seen the light of day, until now. Fracasso has long been considered one of Austin’s premier songwriters, and his camaraderie with Sexton and Ramos was rekindled after a heartfelt memorial to late bassist George Reiff, who also played on the album. Amazed and inspired by these nearly forgotten songs that he’d heard at an informal song-pull at Patty Griffin’s home, Ramos brought the vintage recordings to the attention of Lucky Hound Records, which wisely chose to release the forgotten album in its entirety.
Fracasso is a shrewd song stylist who melds pure-pop sensibilities with infectious Americana, and his clear vocal tenor is well framed by Sexton’s accompaniment. Their recent live performances have picked up where the album left off two decades ago. Opening the Rockwood set with Michael Johnson’s rollicking “Crazy Little Cricket,” the trio searched for the proper balance of their intimate instrumentation. The talented Ramos alternated between piano and accordion all night, while Sexton added the tastiest accompaniment on top of Fracasso’s propulsive rhythm guitar. Fracasso’s classic songwriting was well showcased with performances of standout album tracks like “Mother Nature’s Traveling Show,” “A Deal’s A Deal,” “Mean Ol’ Place” and “My Blue Heaven.”
Romantic ballad “Long After Hours” showcased Fracasso’s dramatic vocal croon, as did subtle political lament “Laughing Boy,” which was actually directed at President George W. Bush when it was written. While a portion of the audience was solely in attendance to see Sexton, nobody left the show unimpressed by Fracasso’s talent. Those who were more familiar with Fracasso’s long career and many recordings were duly rewarded with performances of fan favorites like the overtly dramatic “Wise Blood,” the infectious ‘Gypsy Moth” and the totally hypnotic “Saint Monday.” The band also revived “Hospital,” a tough, clear-eyed tune off of another Sexton-produced Fracasso album, 1998’s World In A Drop Of Water.
The trio’s performance at the Rockwood did suffer from a lack of rehearsal time, but the obvious love and respect between these three musicians overcame the glitches. Supporting each other and surrendering all in service of the songs, the band brought these tunes back to life for a new, appreciative audience. With a few more gigs under their belt, they should be completely in sync for their homecoming this Sunday in Austin.