#TXVoices: “Harp! Who Goes There?”

by Haven Lindsey on June 15, 2020 in Entertainment, Music,
steve crawford spider mackenzie web use 72dpi valerie fremin photography 3047 saloon bar e1591904840561

Spider Mackenzie’s harmonica emotes the feelings that emerge from the lyrics and music of
Steve Crawford. Together, the Scottish pair has introduced a version of Americana music that raises the bar for everyone.

Question: What happens when two guys from Scotland travel to Texas to make music? Answer: Celticana – which is both the name of Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie’s second album, and the sound inspired by the Celtic music they grew up with and the Americana music that makes you think they’re from Austin or Lubbock or somewhere decidedly American. While at times their music sounds decidedly Texas, their accents give them away.

Once bullied by a kid who had a harmonica, rather than take the boxing lessons he was offered to deal with the bully, Spider Mackenzie was more interested in the unique mouth harp the bigger kid played. He taught himself to play and frequently plays multiple harps in each song to produce a certain sound or note. Photo Valerie Fremin

Steve’s talent for writing lyrics that make you think and playing guitar that makes you want to move combine to make way for Spider – a polite, unassuming guy… Until you put a harmonica in his hand. At that point he’ll take a song, and make you feel it. In your bones.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously said, “Music is the universal language of mankind,” and a recent Harvard study suggests he may have been right. The study found that people around the world could identify lullabies, dancing songs, love songs, and healing songs – regardless of language or culture – after hearing a 14-second clip.

If the slogan ‘Come and Take It’ symbolizes the defiance of Texas, then ‘Come and Make It’ could symbolize the welcoming environment that musicians experience when making music in Austin. Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie have been well-received by the talented musicians and recording artists in the Capitol City, as well as Nashville. Photo Valerie Fremin

Steve and Spider’s Celticana music was not part of the Harvard study but it helps to explain why their music feels like home, regardless of where home is. For a time, Steve retreated to the island of Cyprus to compose and perhaps find, as one song is titled, ‘Some Peace to My Worried Mind’. But take a listen to ‘Whisky and the Stars’ or ‘Socks No Shoes’ and it’s easy to assume the music came from years spent in Texas honky-tonks or even the Appalachian Mountains – music so down-home, it’s hard to stay seated.

As individual musicians, they’re quite accomplished. Steve’s songwriting has been featured on many albums and he is a well-established folk artist – including a respected 2019 German Record Critics’ Award nomination for best folk album, with fiddler player Sabrina Palm. Spider is known as one of the best harmonica players in the U.K. as the go-to session player for many well-known artists and is being quickly discovered in the U.S.

“Ya’ll” may not quite roll of the tongues of Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie, but they’ve got some Texas in them. With their Celtic-inspired Americana folk music, Celticana may become its own music genre.
Photo Hubby Mentner

Perhaps it’s not uncommon for two musicians to come to Austin and record an album at Moon House Studio. It is notable that renowned musician/producer Chris Gage recognized their talent and not only encouraged their music but also accompanied them on a variety of instruments, including the organ, mandolin and mandola. It is quite special, however, that the two Scottish musicians (Steve now lives in Germany), who despite having known one another for 15 years and not playing together all that often, convened in Austin, Texas, and produced an album that speaks every language and seamlessly transcends cultures. Regardless of the continent (or island) in which it originated, the music from Celticana is attracting attention.

When asked, “Where does your music come from?”, the gregarious and witty pair become quiet – searching for the answer. As they struggle to describe what is clearly a natural, organic talent for making music and writing lyrics it occurs to this writer their music may be inspired and influenced by musicians on both sides of the pond, but it doesn’t actually come from anywhere. It’s already there. The music is embedded in Steve and Spider and they are graciously welcoming it to surface.

Cover photo Valerie Fremin

Haven Lindsey resides in Austin, Texas. She is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience writing on topics including healthcare, addiction, public policy, education, travel, food and human interest stories.