Back At The Ranch
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Back At The Ranch

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"Hearing roots music ‘Back at the Ranch’"

There’s something very cool about young people who play old music. There’s a respect or tradition there that, in many instances, is sorely lacking from the Generation X and younger crowd. There’s an acknowledgement of the fact that old-time country pickers Merle Travis and Chet Atkins or a jazz guitarist like Charlie Christian could play circles around the posers on MTV and the big-hat guys on CMT. One cool young man with Milano connections—Clover Carroll—will perform Friday with his band Back at the Ranch, the western/cowboy swing group that will take the stage with bluegrass/country specialists Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show, who are making a return appearance. Clover and company will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Milano Community Center. Shiflett logs thousands of miles a year to take his blend of bluegrass to audiences across the nation. Admission is $12 (kids under12 get in free) and it’ll be worth every penny. Clover is the 33-year-old son of Lee and Carolyn Carroll, former construction company owners who retired to Milano. Clover and wife Rachel are the backbone of Back at the Ranch and these “young-uns” have a serious respect for the music. They met while Clover was a Sam Houston State student, and both had a passion for roots music. That she picked up the bass so easily was “an added bonus,” he said. Clover said his love of cowboy music came from youth camps which exposed him to Texas artists such as Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett and Nancy Griffith. He said Rachel was raised singingin country churches near her hometown Madisonville. Clover and Rachel have had

to adjust to the newest member, seven-month-old Dixie Lee (who, judging by her vocal chords during a phone interview, is destined for the stage as well). He said Rachel played right up to the day before Dixie’s delivery, so she’s a trooper as well as a fine bass player and singer. Matt Menke, who The Austin Chronicle hails as an “ace fiddle player” rounds out the trio. “He’s a wonderful friend and great fiddler,” Carroll said. It’s their first show in Milano and guitar-philes should be sufficiently impressed. Clover says he’s now playing a 1940s Silvertone archtop and a National Resophonic. Now with 4 CDs, Back at the Ranch is working as hard as ever and getting the respect of fellow musicians and ritics alike. Carroll and company are putting together “Ranch Road Shows,” a mini-tour set for July that should hit Frost, Jewett and Giddings.
- Rockdale Reporter


"Back at the Ranch to perform at Blinn College Homecoming"

Back at the Ranch will provide the Friday night entertainment for this year’s Blinn College homecoming weekend.

The locally based Texas-music group will perform on Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. in the Dr. W.W. O’Donnell Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $15 and are available from the Blinn College Student Activities office or by calling 979-830-4180.

Prior to the concert, a wine and cheese reception will be held at 7 p.m. in the MRW Studio Theater in the O’Donnell Center, sponsored by Citizens State Bank.

The performance is sponsored by the Blinn College Ex-Students Association.

Back at the Ranch delivers a swinging blend of original and roots-based Texas music and features Clover Carroll on guitar and resophonic guitar, Rachel Carroll on upright bass and Matthew Menke playing fiddle. All three members of the band are from small towns in Texas and bear the influences of the state’s traditional music and have a repertoire of Western Swing and cowboy tunes.

Rachel Carroll has always been at home in front of an audience. Raised with no television in their country home, she and her siblings entertained one another by re-enacting Marty Robbins, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline tunes on the record player.

Clover Carroll’s earliest memories are of the dance floors and polka bands at his Czech family reunions. Even summer camp in the hill country was a musical experience, where he was encouraged to bring along his guitar and begin his Texas songwriting.

Menke, hailed as an “ace fiddle player” by the Austin Chronicle, has a history of music in his German roots. The antique fiddle he currently performs with was found beneath the floorboards of his great-grandfather’s barn.

Back at the Ranch, whose latest project, “Meanwhile,” was released in May 2004, has appeared with Michael Martin Murphy, Red Steagall, Don Edwards, Mel Tillis, Johnny Gimble, Asleep at the Wheel, Kelly Willis, Jim Ed Brown, Gary P. Nunn and Karl Shiflett & Big Country.

The group released “Texas Routes” in July 2001, a documentary-type recording which interweaves stories and songs.

- Weekly Review


"A Texas Dancehall Re-visited"

On a warm Saturday night, I found myself abducted by the urge to visit an old Texas dancehall that had recently been re-opened by a couple who had relocated to the rural South Central Texas countryside from the city. This happens often these days. And always, we urban refugees arrive with big dreams of enhancing the local culture. In the case of Swiss Alp Dancehall, the enhancement came by way of a resurrection.

I lie about the abduction. Actually, I remembered that a Western Swing band, that I just love, was performing at Swiss Alp. Otherwise, I could have beaten off the invisible pull towards a destination that would normally be a bad place to visit for the likes of me. So off I go to hear Back at the Ranch (backattheranch.biz) play in an old wood and metal barn-like structure that sits very near the edge of U.S. Highway 77, between La Grange and Schulenburg. This old building sits peacefully along the road, backed by beautiful rolling pastures and farmland. As I parked and walked to the door, I could smell the grass and summer air. Anyone who knows old dancehalls knows that air conditioning is an unnecessary luxury. These old buildings have big, square shuttered windows that swing up and open to let the breeze, the bugs and the smell of summer in. This natural coolness is enhanced by the only place in the universe where a can of beer still costs $1.50. In fact, when the bartender asked for my money, I just sort of stood there… stunned.

But I should back up a bit. As I entered this old legend of a building, I was greeted by an elderly couple, sitting behind a small table with a little cash box sitting on it. They took my $7 cover and gave me my entrance ticket. Memories of my youth flooded back to me as I stepped into the hall and looked around. I remembered that the door crew was always somebody’s grandparents, and I loved that Kevin and Donna Ustynik understood how important that element is to the true revival of a Texas dancehall. The smooth, original dance floor was dusted with corn starch. The bar was hosting a handful of local farmers and ranchers, and the stage was brightly lit. The boys from Back at the Ranch were quietly setting up. I stepped up to the stage to get my hugs from Clover and Matthew and ask for Rachel (BATR’s third member and kick-ass upright bass player). She came over to visit, but had to finish sound check, so I headed over to the bar for my buck fifty beer surprise. On my way, I was greeted by a couple of guys I went to high school with. Again, that comfortable buzz, that is my past, crept over me. I visited a bit, got my beer and took up residence on a bar stool. The rancher sitting beside me complained that the band from the night before was awful.

“Let me tell you how bad they were,” he said. “They were so bad that people only danced during their break!”

“That’s pretty bad,” I replied.

I assured him that Back at the Ranch would bring back old memories because they were the kind of Western Swing band that played Bob Wills the way the Texas Playboys would have played it.

This means that BATR don’t use over-powered amps, subwoofers, and effects. They are a stripped down three piece that consists of reso-phonic guitar, upright bass, fiddle/dobro, and the tightest three part harmonies in Texas. And when they began to play, I’m sure the ghosts of early Texas settlers rose up out of those church yards and took a spin on that dance floor.

However, to my disillusionment, I learned that even the farmer and rancher wants to hear those subwoofers. They wouldn’t dance! So here’s the point of all of this rambling from c. claxton. We have let our music heritage morph into a misrepresented figment of the past. That old dance hall should have been alive and jumpin’. Today’s consumer doesn’t get it. They probably never will. Nothing. I mean, nothing! Is better than two-stepping to western swing. Close second? That great 70’s country music that dominated every jukebox in every Southern beer joint around. But all that good stuff is a thing of the past. L.A. invaded Nashville and turned the “real deal” (as Nashville execs. described Back at the Ranch at an industry showcase) into something that “just won’t sell.”

You want to make a stand and do your part to hold onto the “real deal?” Stop by Swiss Alp Dance Hall (www.swissalptexas.com) if you ever find yourself on that stretch of U.S. 77. Go to a Back at the Ranch show, and make sure you invite your parents and grandparents. Joy is waiting in the present, and it does not have to ignore the past.
- Stave Magizine


"Thinking small"

NAVASOTA — Members of the trio Back At The Ranch aren’t running for political office. But they are on the campaign trail.

The local roots music group has spent the past few weeks trying to generate a word-of-mouth buzz about their pet project, a concert series they call Oh, Brother, Where’s the Music? In an effort to bring roots music to area small towns they have put up posters, been guests on radio shows and have told everyone in their hometowns of Navasota, Rockdale and everywhere in between about the show on Thursday at the Brosig Auditorium.

Last weekend, the group went a step further.

Inspired by the grassroots political campaigns of the 1930s, Back At the Ranch members Clover Carroll, Rachel Carroll and Matthew Menke hopped aboard the bed of an old Ford truck to spread their musical propaganda. The trio played and sang their unique blend of folk, bluegrass and Western swing music as their parade of one circled around Washington Street in downtown Navasota. The spectacle drew a few people out of shops and cafes and provoked a couple of friendly honks and waves, but mostly it was for the band’s own entertainment.

“We wanted to do this to bring attention to our concert but really it was just something fun to do,” said bass player Rachel Carroll. “That’s the neat thing about independent music — you can do whatever you want to do.”

Husband and wife duo Rachel and Clover Carroll, who incorporate comedy into their live performances, began performing roots-based folk music together five years ago, with Clover picking on acoustic guitar and Rachel on a monstrous stand-up bass. The two moved to Austin, as many musicians do, to try to crack the competitive music scene there. After two years in Austin, Clover was laid off from his day job. Gigging in Austin didn’t quite pay the rent, so the Carrolls moved back home to Milam County and released their first album, Texas Routes, in July 2001. The duo has performed at festivals around the country including the Old Settlers Music Festival in Dripping Springs, The Walnut Valley Festival in Kansas and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The Carrolls recently added ace fiddle player and Navasota resident Matthew Menke to the lineup and dubbed the trio Back At The Ranch.



Eagle photo/ Stuart Villanueva

Back At The Ranch's Clover Carroll (front), Rachel Carroll (back left) and Matthew Menke prepared for their show-on-the-road last Saturday in downtown Navasota to promote their performance this Saturday at Brosig Auditorium. The trio is planning additional performances in Conroe, Madisonville, Cameron, Buffalo and Hempstead in pursuit of small-town audiences.

With a new member and a new name, the Carrolls have a new project. As they wrap up production on a new album, the group is keeping busy with the Oh, Brother, Where’s the Music? concert series. The name is a play on the 2001 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which featured a celebrated soundtrack that marked the beginning of a bluegrass/roots revival in popular music.

Menke said the band hopes to expand the series, taking it to small towns throughout the area.

“We are trying to take roots music to small towns,” he said. “There are a lot of people in small towns that don’t know where they can get this type of music or they do know but they just don’t want to drive to Austin or Houston for it.”

Menke said shows are being planned in Navasota, Conroe, Madisonville, Cameron, Buffalo and Hempstead. Depending on its success, larger acts will join the lineup.

“In small towns there really is a very limited amount of entertainment,” Menke said. “This is not just music it’s comedy and theater and little bit of everything. I think small town people are starving for that kind of entertainment.”

• Oh, Brother, Where’s the Music featuring Back At The Ranch, 7 p.m., Thursday, Brosig Auditorium in Navasota. Tickets cost $10 at the door or are available in advance at Tom’s Feed.

- Spotlight Magazine


"Texas Barbecue Soundtrack"

Once we knew when and where the big Texas barbecue fandango was to take place, the next issue was to figure out just how much music we could deliver as a soundtrack to all that good Texas eating. We wanted live music at as many events as possible and some definitive Austin sounds for our guests to take home, in hopes that the tunes would evoke memories of the weekend's gustatory delights for years to come. Dawn Orsak of Texas Folklife Resources hooked us up with Mel Davis and the Blues Specialists for our Friday night opening reception. Texas blues and Texas barbecue in East Austin's legendary Victory Grill sounded like a perfect fit. The folks at TFR also provided CDs of a radio series they'd produced called Texas Country Routes and Texas Monthly music writer John Morthland located some rare cassettes of local blues-piano legend Grey Ghost as gifts for our guests. Rhino Records Special Projects Director (and longtime devotee of Texas barbecue) James Austin chipped in a treasured cache of out-of-print Rhino CDs for special prizes: an absolutely appropriate collection of 16 tunes titled I Love Bar-B-Q and one of their stellar Texas music compilations loaded with Western swing and honky-tonk classics. For the Saturday night Southern hospitality soiree in the Threadgill's beer garden, we lined up South Austintatious honky-tonkers the Cornell Hurd Band, on the theory that their particular blend of Western swing and outrageous hilarity would provide a note of levity folks needed after a hard day's eatin' on the barbecue trail.

Serendipity delivered the centerpiece for the weekend soundtrack. Host committee member and Chronicle Food writer MM Pack was listening to KUT's Folkways in her car one Saturday morning and chanced to hear "The Barbecue Song." The tune referred to some of the same historic Central Texas joints included on our tour and Pack realized we had to have it. After checking Folkways' online play list (www.kut.org), she was ultimately able to track down the musicians via their own Web site. Within a matter of days, we had arranged for Clover and Rachel Carroll to make an appearance. The acoustic country roots group hails from the hamlet of Milano and "The Barbecue Song" is a cut from their independent 2001 release, Texas Routes, a collection of roots-based folk music. (Order it at www.cloverandrachel.com.) Clover Carroll plays guitar and provides vocals, his wife Rachel sings lead in addition to playing the acoustic bass, and ace fiddler Matthew Menke rounds out the band. After breakfast on Saturday morning, they'll treat our guests to a short set ending with a rousing rendition of "The Barbecue Song" to whet our appetites for the day ahead.
- Austin Chronicle


Discography

Texas Routes-2000
Meanwhile-2004
Ranch Road Show Vol 1-2006
Merry Christmas Yall-2006

Photos

Bio

Clover and Rachel are both from small towns in Texas and bear the influences of the tradition of music the state is steeped in. Rachel has always been at home in front of an audience. Raised with no television in their country home, she and her siblings entertained one another by re-enacting Marty Robbins, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline tunes on the record player. Her self-possession and confidence on stage reflect that love of performance. Clover’s earliest memories are of the dance floors and polka bands at his Czech family reunions. Even summer camp in the hill country was a musical experience, where he was encouraged to bring along his guitar and fell in love with Texas songwriting. Clover’s unique fingerstyle guitar playing is the culmination of the influences of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Matthew Menke, hailed “Ace Fiddle Player” by the Austin Chronicle, has a history of music in his German roots. The antique fiddle he currently performs with was found beneath the floorboards of his great-grandfather’s barn, “…along with a pearl-handled pistol,” he adds. Matthew wields his fiddle in a style unmistakably flavored by Johnny Gimble, Tiny Moore and Kenny Baker.