Bentley's Bandstand: Julie Christensen, Father John Misty, Shiva's HeadBand

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Julie Christensen

Julie Christensen, Weeds Like Us. There are certain singers who just won't behave. They skip around genres like free spirits, and even when the world begins to know them for one endeavor chances are change is on the way and they can be found somewhere else. Call it curiosity or even artistic ADD, but either way it's almost always for the good of the music when no cage is big enough for their voice. Julie Christensen is the poster girl for that crowd, and thank goodness for that. Check her resume: Divine Horsemen, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, Robben Ford, PiL, Van Dyke Parks, Lou Reed, not to mention a handful of solo albums. Not bad for someone from central Iowa. The journey continues on Weeds Like Us to stunning effect, and sounds like a big corner has been turned as the woman finds herself now in flight.

From Christensen's early Iowa roots she worked her way to Texas just in time to find the blues and roots scene there blooming at major tilt. Going back and forth into the jazz world too, she then moved to Los Angeles and soon landed in the country-punk band Divine Horsemen at the same time working on a never-released solo album produced by Todd Rundgren. Talk about two different worlds, but that's always been the singer's strength as she segued into being a background singer for Leonard Cohen. Lessons continued to be learned and Christensen's voice expanded into being a pure instrument of power and finesse.

Calling her style now Great Plains soul, Weeds Like Us is a survivor's tale of determination and beauty. The collection started as an album produced by Kenny Edwards, and after his death Christensen seized the moment with Jeff Turmes and began again. There is searing resolve in these songs, whether it's Jim Lauderdale's "Slow Motion Trouble" or her own "My Lucky Stars." Over 35 years into her professional career the singer sounds fully at home in the middle of the Americana movement, but at the same time remains very much her own person. Call her a permanent rebel, or maybe a singer on a march, but either way Julie Christensen continues to search for clues wherever the music takes her. What a ride.

Father John Misty, Fear Fun. Evangelical music has a long and proud tradition in America, and while it's usually connected with a spiritual home that doesn't mean there's not room to mess around with the edges. And that's exactly what Father John Misty does. Josh Tillman is the man behind Misty's curtain, and the former Fleet Foxes drummer feels like he is on a mission from above to bring a righteous sound to the masses and hopefully turn everyone on to the possibilities of a cosmic shower.

Call it drummer's fever, or maybe it's the thirsty desire to let the inner poet run free, but Tillman had a lifetime of inspiration stored up when he opened the floodgates with Father John Misty. He's made solo albums before, but none with the undeniable sweep of this one. The irresistible flow of the dozen originals comes complete with sunny vistas and the promise of an unspoken quest to dig deep into the inner sanctum. There is a gravity at work which not only draws repeated listenings but also soaring expectations. Patience and passion will be amply rewarded.

Laurel Canyon guru Jonathan Wilson co-produces Fear Fun, so right there an open field of imaginative instrumentation and expansive thought waves is a guarantee. The musicians aren't afraid to get funky when the song calls for it ("Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings") or ethereal when needed ("Nancy From Now On"), and everything in between. The rule book has been erased, and the way players come and go on the various songs shows each one is like a miniature painting full of different colors as the emotions change. There hasn't been another album with quite that 3-D promise in awhile, and Father John Misty has been saying their prayers well.

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Shiva's HeadBand, The Singles Collection. This is where the pudding gets pretty thick, and might best be filed in the "you had to be there" file. Flash back (literally) to 1966 when Austin original music was first feeling its oats. The 13th Floor Elevators were the headliners (again, literally) and Conqueroo the in-crowd favorites. That leaves the outside position of the Unholy Three to Shiva's HeadBand. Spencer Perskin was their flamboyant frontman, wailing away on electric violin and leading all God's children to the promised land of psychotropic drug-induced bliss. He had a wonderful partner in pianist Shawn Siegel, and a rhythm section second to none. They may have never gotten the absolute adulation of the previously mentioned pair of bands, but in many ways Shiva's was the true hometown hero. They stuck it out during the '60s and didn't split for the West Coast like the others, and had the defense attorney's fees to prove it: the police weren't too fond of long-haired hippies and remained quick on the draw to enforce the drug laws. Marijuana possession of even the most minute amounts was a felony offense with a sentence of five years to life in prison.

Shiva's HeadBand recordings started with a flourish on a single for Ignite Records in 1968 of "Kaleidescoptic" b/w "Song for Peace." The loping rhythms combined with idealistic visions continue to define what Austin felt like during those years: a graceful groove with hallucinatory shimmers of a world just beyond reach. The dreamers were definitely in control of the road map, and led the followers in yearning for the blissful counterstroke to kick in. It was rough sledding to stay afloat in a counterculture constantly under attack. As the '70s started to sink in, the group's three singles on Armadillo Records with titles like "Take Me to the Mountains," "Such a Joy," "Country Boy" and others managed to escape. But Cosmic Cowboy was coming to Austin and it was only a matter of time before Willie, Waylon and the boys would start running the show in central Texas and beyond.

This swirling picture disc is a limited edition of 1000 created by Bluethroat Records. It includes the four 45s by Shiva's HeadBand along with three live recordings from 1975, 1983, and 1992. Spencer Perskin is still front and center, finding ways to make his violin speak to the heavens and probably hopes someone up there is listening. His longevity speaks wonders for dedication and the ethos the band started with by holding up their light in the challenging world of uptight '60s Texas. They now call Austin the "Live Music Capital of the World," and if any band deserves to be credited for planting an important early seed it is Shiva's HeadBand. Explore here to find out why.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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