From the Santonio  Express News   March 14, 2008   

It was the British Invasion all over again, but this time with a twang.

Three bands from England influenced by roots country music gave their interpretations of the uniquely American genre — Alabama 3, Hey Negrita and The Barker Band.

The Barker Band does some triple-threat vocals with Nella Johnson (from left) and twin brothers Jake and Sam Barker.
(Photo by John Goodspeed/Staff)

It was an unofficial SXSW outdoor concert on Wednesday afternoon at offbeat setting of whimsical art at Enchanted Forest, an artists' community on three acres at Oltorf and Lamar.

With the stage and the audience separated by a small creek and under a canopy of trees, The Barker Band kicked it off with a solid set of simple music made intricate by the musicianship and blend of vocals.

The seven-piece band, fronted by twin brothers Sam and Jake Barker with father Len on guitar and vocals, demonstrated their take on bluegrass, folk and country with a bit of rock.

Clean, clear vocals by Nella Johnson helped with variety.

Next up was Hey Negrita, a five-piece outfit with upright bass smartly dressed in brown suits that was making its second appearance at SXSW.

A tight, accomplished group, they took on life, death and love with a satisfying blend of country, blues and rock.

Hey Negrita's take on country, while like some music on the Texas Music scene in style, varied from it in texture and — oftentimes — depth.

Hey Negrita's Felix and harmonica player Neil Greener belt out a tune.
(Photo by John Goodspeed/Staff)

After the lively set, the lead singer and acoustic guitar player, who only goes by Felix, said his major influences were Johnny Cash and the Rolling Stones, hence the name of the band from a Stones song.

Asked to describe his music, Felix gave two quotes from newspaper stories.

"We've been called a perfect cross between the Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash," Felix said.

The other?

"If Clint Eastwood were a band, he'd be this one."

Blending techno, acid house and country, Alabama 3 has scored big across the Big Pond.

Their music has appeared in "The Sopranos" as the theme song and in the film "Gone in 60 Seconds."

They showed why at the concert.

With only a guitar, a harmonica and two voices, Alabama 3 captivated the audience with an intricate weave of harmonies, melodies and lyrics, which ranged from love and cheating to murder and social injustice.

Alabama 3 founder Larry Love's raspy, intense vocals were a perfect balance to the sweet yet fiery twang from Zoe Devlin.

Add in some flash roots guitar work from Mark Sams and harmonica from Nick Reynolds and you have some serious roots music taking hold.

Alabama 3 guitarist Mark Sams gets down while Zoe Devlin and Larry Love sing harmony.
(Photo by John Goodspeed/Staff)

After the set, Love said he was exposed to gospel at an early age because his father was a Mormon preacher.

While he was doing techno in the late 1980s, he decided to mix in some Hank Williams.

"It was either really brilliant or really stupid," Love said.

Critics and fans prefer the first.

And, in keeping with the outlaw nature of the band, Love revealed that Reynold's father was the mastermind of England's great train robbery.

"It's fascinating talking with his father," Love said. "He said he watched a lot of Westerns after World War II, and there were all these train robberies in the movies.

"Then he said he realized there never had been on in England, so why not?"

The struggles, roadblocks and successes of the three bands are featured in a documentary that premiered at SXSW called "We Dreamed America: A Twisted Tale of British Roots and American Music."

— John Goodspeed




 You can view a TV interview with Larry and Devlin Love filmed during SXSW here >
Choose 'SXSW Highlights' on the media player, and Alabama 3 in the drop down menu.