Sherry Austin

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Good Times
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Cayuga Vault

Good Times Santa Cruz
Written by Dylan Travis

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Sherry Austin rocks one of the most all-American motifs possible; she sings songs about cars. Her first album is called Drive-By Romance. Her second is called Drive On Back. Her song, “How’s the Mustang Running?” even appeared on NPR’s dreaded Car Talk, also known as The Thirty Minutes Preceding “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” Her music has an equally apple-pie sort of sound to it, driving Austin’s voice (a relaxed, authentic alto) down the well-worn roads of honky-tonk country right up to the singer-songwriter state line.

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May 16, 2003
Love, life and automobiles fuel Sherry Austin's music

Sentinel staff writer

  Singer/songwriter Sherry Austin describes her recent emergence as a performer as a creeping evolution: "Out of my bedroom, into the living room and then out into the world."

   If you’re looking for a nice illustration of that butterfly-coming-out-of-her-cocoon phenomenon, look no further than Austin’s new song "I Wouldn’t Lie To You," a song she debuted live on KPIG’s Sunday morning program "Please Stand By" and has been in rotation on the station ever since.

   The song had a similar transformation, beginning as a personal song and then blossoming into a pointed political anthem.

   "It started out as a broken-relationship song, and it just wasn’t working," she said at home in the hills north of Soquel.

   But then, an epiphany.

   Reworked just a bit, the song underwent a dramatic but natural transition. It went from being a wounded lover’s song to a reproach from citizen to president, specifically a slap at what she see as the Bush administration’s manipulation and deception.

   "I had one woman who stood up, crossed her arms and turned her back to me, muttering under her breath," said Austin of the experience of playing the song live. "I love this country, and that’s what makes me so sad and so angry. I think democracy should be based on truth and honesty, and I don’t see that with the people in charge."

   "I Wouldn’t Lie to You" is, however, a departure for a singer more comfortable on the terrain of her personal life. Austin performs tonight at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz in the wake of the release of her first CD, "Drive-by Romance," which does not, by the way, include her political anthem ("Lie" was written too recently to make it on the album, which was re- leased earlier this year).

   The album oscillates between wistful, genuinely moving taking-stock songs and more gritty, upbeat fun songs, most of those having to do with cars. "Baby Blue Bonneville," "How’s the Mustang Running?" and a cover version of Gillian Welch’s "455 Rocket" are all songs that touch on the romance of cars and the open road.

   "I’m not sure how that happened," said the San Francisco native who grew up on the Peninsula and moved to Santa Cruz just a few years ago. "I grew up in the ‘60s, and then, when you didn’t have anything else to do, you cruised El Camino Real."

   She once got a ticket for drag racing in her beloved Mustang. At a stoplight, she spotted a guy in a "grungy, gray, grandma’s car." She challenged him to a drag race through Palo Alto in the wee hours of the night. He beat her soundly.

   "Turns out his car was a 455 Rocket, which is why that song is kind of endearing to me."

   "How’s the Mustang Running?" is a nostalgic trip back to her teen years and the subversive influence her pal Kathy had on her, built around a snappy, open-air country tempo. "Bonneville" is similarly concerned with cars and youth, but takes a longer view: Who would have thought I’d wind up here/you never know where your road is going to veer. Austin began writing songs and performing only three years ago. She had been a singer in her early 20s while living in Hawaii, but moved on to other things and didn’t pick up her guitar for 25 years. A painful divorce and her daughter’s growing up occasioned a change of heart. She turned back to the guitar, literally in her bedroom, as to lessen the embarrassment for her teenage daughter. (Her daughter Malia, a UCSC graduate, is 24 and now living in San Diego.)

   Moving to Santa Cruz allowed her to meet a whole new set of people, people who have shaped her music and enhanced her life. Austin, who also works as a horticulturalist, fell in with the music lovers at KPIG and began listening to the music of Canadian singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith, a staple at KPIG, and one of her most fervent musical heroes.

   She has one song each from Eaglesmith, Robert Earl Keen and Slaid Cleaves on "Drive-by Romance."

   The new album’s artwork features two of the icons closest to Austin’s heart, a bright red Mustang convertible and her 14-year-old poodle Tinker (one picture features Tinker wearing a collar that reads "Fred Head" in a reference to Eaglesmith).

   Tinker, however, never lived to see the CD release. One morning she was taken away by coyotes who were trying to get to a persimmon tree in her yard. Tinker’s death, a fire that destroyed a barn on her property, the lingering effects of the divorce put some emotional pressure in her life, but she’s been able to use it in her music.

   "Since then, everything’s been great," she said. "It’s like this sign that I needed to go through that stuff to see what I was made of. I learned to let go and that you have more strength than you realize."

Contact Wallace Baine

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Sherry Austin
Cayuga Vault, 1100 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz

  Apparently, tickets to Sherry Austin's show Friday come with a complimentary copy of her new CD, Drive By Romance. Which I consider to be damn generous, since I am currently diggin' it. It's got new versions of some of the songs she roughed out on her demo CD, including her own gorgeous "Sapphire Sky" and great covers of Robert Earl Keen's "Love's A Word I Never Throw Around" and Fred Eaglesmith's "105." Fredheads especially should note that this woman is the leader of your tribe, and in fact has been invited to perform at Charlie Hunter's Fred Eaglesmith Weekend in Vermont next month. Wait a minute, the guy who wrote "When, exactly, did we become white trash?" gets his own weekend? What the hell is this country coming to? (Steve Palopoli)

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