On any given evening, a concert by Austin based duo Christine Albert and Chris Gage might take you from the dusty backwoods of Texas to a bistro along the Seine, from a Louisiana jive joint to a high plains gospel sing. The pair moves easily and without a break from their own original music to Ray Charles, Gram Parsons, Edith Piaf, George Jones, Dan Hicks, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Daniel Lanois, and back again. "It is spontaneous, "Gage said. "I can start a certain song on the piano and she'll know the next two or three songs, or I can see where she's putting the capo on her guitar and I'll know what song she's thinking about."
Albert and Gage were each professional musicians when the met more than ten years ago."Christine had heard me play at gigs, and I had seen her name around. Her guitar player was leaving her band, it was the typical Austin cold call, can you do a gig? Who knew?" Chris Gage recalled, smiling. That one off gig evolved into a musical partnership, a marriage, a record company and a small recording studio, a way of life for the pair. It's been a busy time. "Creating an act together after years of being solo artists, and in Chris's case, working with a band, creating a life together, doing all the business, booking, publicity, starting a record label, building a studio ..." Albert said, looking back over the changes they've been through.
Not that either Christine Albert or Chris Gage was a newcomer to the music business when they met in that Austin studio. Albert, a solo artist who was touring regionally in the southwest, counted appearances on the famed television show Austin City Limits and a top charting Americana album among her credits, as well as a Nashville recording contract; Gage was a talented keyboard player, guitarist, singer and bandleader who'd been touring in bands since he was a teenager and was tiring of life on the road. The musical chemistry between them inspired each to become better at already flourishing musical practice.
There was another thing at the back of Albert's mind, too, one she's just recently been able to develop further. "I've been asked several times to go sing for someone at the end of their lives, to go and do a concert in their home, because they could no longer go out, "Albert said. "That was really powerful. I thought, there needs to be a program that links Austin musicians to the hospice community. So if someone is for instance a Jimmy LaFave fan, or their heart just opens when they hear Marcia Ball play the blues, or they love classical music, but they can no longer go out, there needs to be a way for the musicians to come to them, funding so the musician gets paid and there's not a cost to the family." She batted the idea around for some time. "My life was pretty full, did I want to take on something else? Then Chris was injured." Gage had a sudden back injury. "When it's a mom and pop business, and pop goes down, that's hard," Albert said."The community just came forward and helped us, financially, emotionally, and just in every way, helped with everything. When I saw that caring it just revived my interest in the idea again."
With a bit of seed money, a lot of energy, and some committed volunteers as well as a lot of her own time, Swan Songs has begun . Scottish singer Ed Miller, folk songwriter Eliza Gilkyson, and classical bassoonist Miles Maner are among those who've given concerts. Swan Songs does fundraising, handles scheduling, and helps with advice for both performer and family .
It's another way for Albert to share her music, and her love for the music community. "I was drawn to music from the time I was tiny," she said. "I think I wrote my first song when I was about four." While she was in high school, a trip to visit her brother set her firmly on a musical path. "My brother was a professional musician in Santa Fe, and there was a very creative, artistic community there. I went to visit for summer vacation between tenth and eleventh grade, and I just fell in love with it," she recalled. "I got to see musicians on stage playing their songs, going in clubs and playing their songs, and it just really spoke to me." She took a shot at more education. "I went to college for a year in Albuquerque," she said, "but what I really wanted to do was to play music professionally, so I started that when I was nineteen, in New Mexico."
Her husband, Chris Gage, is from South Dakota, and started out singing in the church choir, playing in garage bands, and tried college life at the University of Minnesota. He soon left and started the Red Willow Band, who played "what would now be called Americana. We didn't have a look, or a schtick, we just played music," he said. The group soon had to regular gigs from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to New York's Greenwich Village. Gage stayed with the group for eight years, and recently produced a reunion dvd for them"It's amazing," Albert said. "They'll have three thousand people come to each show for the Christmas tours." Through a Red Willow band mate Gage had the chance to audition for country star Roy Clark, and began his life on the road as a sideman.
As their separate musical paths unfolded, both moved to Austin. Song writing, recording, touring, running a record company, being parents, and being involved in projects like Swan Songs are all part of the way Christine Albert and Chris Gage see their life in music unfolding. Their set list on any given night willrange from Ray Charles to Kimmie Rhodes to Chrissie Hynde, to Erik Moll to Gram Parsons to Bob Dylan to Albert and Gage. It's fun, it's serious, it's meaningful music and it's real life. Albert and Gage style. "As the world gets more fractured and more dysfunctional and more violent, music and musicians arise, I think, drawn to balancing that, drawn to filling that gap," Christine Albert said. Perhaps to underscore that point, the husband and wife duo often close their concerts with the Bob Dylan song Forever Young.
Next Thursday, join Fred Bals for his column Music You Never Forget .
Kerry Dexter, Music Correspondent Kerry' s credits include VH1, CMT, the folk music magazine Dirty Linen, Strings, The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, and The MusicHound Guides.. She also writes about the arts and creative practice at Music Road .
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