Latin Roots Rocker& Troubadour Patricia Vonne
“I was not prepared for the force of this singer’s new LP -” Rattle My Cage:- which represents everything good about Austin Music”,” declares Austin American Statesman of her fifth release. Simply put, the San Antonio born and reared Texas musical artist who now resides in Austin has made her fondest dreams into an impressive reality with an ever-upward artistic trajectory over the course of her career, and never yet so much as on her latest recording.
Rattle My Cage finds singer, songwriter, bandleader and actress Vonne collaborating on songs with some of the most distinguished Texas musicians that have inspired and informed her music: the late Doyle Bramhall, Alejandro Escovedo, Rosie Flores and Johnny Reno alongside some of her other favorite musical talents. The result, raves her hometown San Antonio Express News, “is her best, edgiest and most focused album yet. The image is tougher; so is the music.”
The 10-song collection is suffused with Vonne’s bracing passion, deep heart, and the determination that led her to make music her life, start her own label, Bandolera Records, and become a popular live attraction in not just Texas but Europe, where she recently completed her 21st tour, capped by an appearance at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival. Rattle My Cage also distills the distinctive multicultural rocking borderland roots style she has developed into its most potent and tantalizing brew to date.
The title track, co-written with Reno (who played saxophone with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s original Double Trouble & Chris Isaak), opens the set with a shimmering blast of high-octane guitar rock sparked by the sexy muscularity of the customized classic hot rods that gather annually in Austin at the Lonestar Rod & Kustom Round Up. Similarly, her collaboration with Escovedo, “Ravage Your Heart,” is a powerhouse mid-tempo rocker in which “a lover’s kiss makes an angel sigh,” and “Tequileros” is an intoxicating Tex-Mex rave-up penned with Alex Ruiz of Austin’s flamenco rockers Del Castillo, whose bandmate Rick Del Castillo laces the number with whip-snapping electric guitar.
Vonne shows the range of flavors and styles that inform her music on the mesmeric Latin-tinged romantic plea of “Que Maravilla,” the classicist cafe piano/singer crooning of “Bitter Need” (co-written with Peter Kingsbery from the pop band Cock Robin), the snappy Iberian dance of “Dulce Refugio” (written about the ravages of insomnia with San Antonio rocker Michael Martin of The Infidels), and the meld of hot gypsy jazz on “Paris Trance.” One of her proudest moments on the disc is the bristling blues-tinged lament, “Dark Mile,” written with Texas legend Doyle Bramhall, known for penning such hits with Stevie Ray Vaughan as “The House Is Rockin’” and “Change It.” Vonne dips back into the 1950s on the rollicking number she wrote with her pal Rosie Flores, “This Cat’s in the Doghouse” (which Flores also recorded on her last album). And then she closes the set by showing her impressive stuff on electric and acoustic guitars on the vividly Southwestern instrumental number, “Mexicali de Chispa,” composed with her brother, famed filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.
Vonne is backed on most tracks by her Band: longtime collaborator Robert La Roche (formerly of Virgin Records recording act The Sighs) on guitar, bassist Scott Garber (whose many credits include Giant Sand, Ronnie Lane, Escovedo, The Silos and more) and drummer Dony Wynn (who has worked with the likes of Robert Plant, Robert Palmer and Dr. John). Noted instrumental guests include such top Austin keyboard talents as Ian McLagan (of Small Faces/Faces fame), Bukka Allen and Michael Ramos plus Reno on saxophone and Joe Reyes (of Lara and Reyes) on nylon string guitar. The album is also her fourth outing helmed by producer/engineer and musician Carl Thiel, whose time growing up in Mexico City and vast musical vocabulary have made him an ideal studio foil for Vonne’s stylistically broad sound.
It’s only natural that Vonne has made her mark as a musical artist, as music and the arts pervaded her family home in San Antonio, where she grew up the fourth of 10 children. Her father of Mexican descent studied music in college and played drums; her mother of Spanish descent played guitar and sang Latin folk songs for her brood. Saturday afternoons they’d all attend matinees together to watch classic films and MGM musicals. The music her parents loved gave Vonne a rich grounding in classic styles and forms while the wide variety of rock’n'roll in her brothers’ record collections lit a spark that took flame when she saw her first concert ever by Reno and his band the Sax Maniacs.
Vonne moved to New York City in 1990 to pursue her artistic endeavors but most of all her desire to make music. After getting her grounding as a backing musician on bass and vocals with Mick & The Maelstroms, she began writing songs and put together her first group with LaRoche and two Texans, lead guitarist Kirk Brewster (of the legendary Dallas rock’n'roll band The Werewolves) and drummer Konrad Meisner (who had moved to New York after playing with Austin international sensations Cotton Mather).
Vonne and her band played the city’s premier music clubs and were courted by major and indie labels. But the decidedly Texan sound she created stoked a desire to return to the Lone Star State, where she knew her muse would blossom. After landing in Austin in 2001, Vonne released her self-titled debut disc and received a warm welcome home from the media. The Austin Chronicle hailed the album as “a bilingual tour de force [that] melds eclectic with electric and exudes an elegance seldom associated with rock,” while Texas Monthly noted how Vonne’s “confidant, tuff gal vocals, sharp musicianship and smart lyricism don’t just promise the total package, they deliver the goods from the get-go.” It was just the start of a consistent chorus of critical praise in the U.S. and abroad for every release that has followed.
She began forging a following in Texas playing clubs and festivals and opening shows for kindred souls like Joe Ely, Escovedo, Los Lobos, Raul Malo, Chris Isaak, Buddy Guy and others. Vonne was also invited to tour Europe for the first time as a special guest star with Tito & Tarantula, and her enchanting stage presence led to her now many visits to follow with her own group.
Vonne’s fervent and alluring performances have driven her international appeal. As Escovedo notes, “You can’t take your eyes off her when she’s onstage. The combination of the power of her performance and the romanticism of her songs creates a real mystique, a very heady concoction.” At the same time, she has honed her songwriting skills to a sweet cutting edge that won her a grand prize in the Latin category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and a second place Latin song win in the Billboard Songwriting Contest. She also follows the album with acting roles in two films directed by her brother, Machete Kills (release date Oct 2013) and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (coming in 2014), in which she reprises her role as Zorro Girl.
When her thoughts and songs ideas for Rattle My Cage began percolating while on tour in Europe, Vonne had the bold notion of paying homage to some of the musicians she admires by writing songs with them. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful on this album to embrace the music of the artists that have inspired me?’” And as a result, her influences are now her peers. “It’s like I’m with the big boys,” she says with a touch of awe about how far she has come as a musical artist.
Escovedo agrees that Vonne has grown to stand head and shoulders with some of Texas’s finest. “She’s such a passionate artist and person, and all that seeps through the grooves of her new record. I think it’s her best yet.”