Music » Music Features

Farris at the Forefront

Fiddle virtuoso crafts Americana-pop gem


So, Anyway: If ever a debut CD suggested that a back-up musician was done playing second fiddle, Amy Farris' is it.

A virtuoso violin and viola player, Ferris spent a decade fiddling and singing back up for some of Texas' best Americana acts before going to work on Anyway. She shared a van with Alejandro Escovedo's touring carnival, was the first single woman on country legend Ray Price's tour bus, and added her one-of-a-kind fills and harmonies to Kelly Willis' recent records, among others.

Throughout her six-year tenure with Willis, in fact, Farris (who plays The Evening Muse Friday) contemplated making her own record. But it took a series of events -- including a pivotal face-to-face with roots rock road warrior Dave Alvin (the Blasters, X) and a move from her beloved hometown, Austin -- to finally convince Farris to strike out on her own.

Fate virtually forced Farris' hand once Willis took time off to care for her newborn twins ("She wasn't going out on the road anytime soon," Farris laughed). Her meeting with Alvin -- at which he agreed to produce her debut -- sealed the deal.

"At the point that Dave said "yes,' I kind of turned into a tigress about this record," Farris said. "It became very clear to me that that was what I was supposed to do next, and to not let anything discourage me."

Farris had some difficult decisions to consider. She'd lived in Austin all her life, attended high school there, studied classical music (and English) at the University of Texas, and made a name for herself in the Southwest's musical capital. She'd even planned to make her record employing many of the Texas musicians she'd played with over the years. But when Alvin's schedule forced the cancellation of their first Austin sessions, Farris decided to pack up a 24-foot Ryder truck on Cinco de Mayo of 2003 and relocate to Los Angeles, Alvin's home turf.

"I had lived in Austin my whole life, and I adore Austin," Farris said. "But I'd never had the experience of living anywhere else, and it's kind of, you know, "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.' "

It was a prescient move that resonated throughout the recording. After the "initial terror" wore off from working with a hero of hers, Farris found in Alvin a musical soul mate, something she had intuitively understood after listening to Alvin in his seminal LA bands since adolescence. Farris was particularly fond of his solo career.

"His solo stuff gave me the feeling that he would "get me'," Farris said.

The simpatico nature of their relationship also runs like a pleasant current throughout Anyway. Though Alvin produced the record, played guitar on it, helped choose most of the session musicians and the engineer, and co-wrote three of the songs, you never get the feeling this is anyone's but Farris' record.

"I have to really credit Dave," Farris said. "He's an extremely creative producer, and he really pulled the best work out of me. He made me surprise myself."

During the writing process, Farris said she took songs she wasn't happy with to Alvin "for surgery." Melodies came from both, as did the lyrics on all three co-written songs. Between bouts of pinching herself, Farris said the experience was priceless.

"It was an incredible buzz and an amazing lesson in songwriting, too," she said. "He's a craftsman, one of the greatest writers in America today, and I was sitting there in a room co-writing with him and I couldn't even believe it. But he always respected my ideas."

Anyway transcends any one style, though its touchstone is the country rock Farris cut her teeth on. The title track is a shimmering slice of 60s girl-pop, the vocals stacked choir-like by engineer Mark Linett (whose endless resume includes the Beach Boys reissues). "Let Go" reverberates like a Roy Orbison tear-jerker, and "Pretty Dresses" is vintage Patsy Cline. An old standard and Ella Fitzgerald favorite, "Undecided," gets the Western Swing treatment, Farris' fiddle recalling the lightning runs of Stephane Grappelli, and X's "Poor Girl" is smartly re-tooled to capture the nostalgic meaning it holds for Farris.

The record's already getting rave reviews, but Farris is still getting used to the spotlight -- her humility is as refreshing as the record.

"There's a ton of good (players) here, and I kind of landed right in the middle of it," Farris said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store."

Amy Farris plays a duet show with Nashville's Rick Plant at the Evening Muse Friday. Les Dirt Clods' Randolph Lewis opens the early show at 8pm.

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