The Endless Sour: Melissa Bryan

Austin Town Hall, Side One Track One, and Kindform from the 210. And this week, we’ll be looking at some of the artists who’ll be playing on Saturday.

There will be several artists performing who we have already covered, like Knifight, Sour Notes, Burgess Meredith and the Midgetmen. But there will also be several new ones, including Melissa Bryan. I actually hadn’t heard of her before seeing her name on this bill, but that’s apparently because I am still remarkably out of touch with the Beerland crowd. Bryan is Austin underground to the extreme, but has made fans out of people like John Wesley Coleman (one of the leading punk figures in town) and Gerard Cosloy (the head of Matador Records, who has taken quite a shine to Austin). She also is on the board of directors for the Girls Rock Camp here in town. Bryan’s been a figure in this scene for almost two decades now, but only just released her first solo album, Return of the Woman, last year. It’s an assured, exciting album that refuses to be any one thing in particular.

Melissa Bryan - 'Chasing Shadows'

At times Bryan sounds like Lucinda Williams playing Liz Phair songs (the impression I get from opener “‘Til Night,” which includes the Girls Rock Camp singing and whooping along in the chorus). At other times, she sounds like she fits right in with the current Ty Segall-inspired crop of punk rockers that rely on melodies like the Ramones did, but without the obsession with speed. But Bryan won’t be easily classified. A song like “Days Past Long” is fundamentally a mid-tempo acoustic number, but has an arrangement swiped from late 60’s British psychedelia. And “Bring Back Pete Seeger” is based around a Texas swing/rockabilly rhythm.

Bryan’s voice – as with Williams’ – is quite distinctive, and will likely prove the major obstacle for most listeners to overcome. Hopefully they can, because the album is well worth the listen – especially for those who don’t think punk music is up their alley. Bryan shows that punk is a vital genre with a potentially wide appeal. Standout track “Chasing Shadows” embodies her approach. While referencing Jonathan Richman, Bryan denounces the need to re-create the music of our past idols and extols the virtues of new music. The rest of Return of the Woman stands as evidence that she’s onto something.

– Carter