A celebrated Austin lounge group re-creates itself in Richmond


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By Brent Baldwin

The Recliners retrofit Cream, Billy Idol and Beastie Boys into lounge versions at nite clubs and venues throughout Richmond and the north eastern United States as well as the southwest and west coast.

The Richmond music scene could always use a little more good humor. All that math rock, jazz and metal is so damn serious.

Enter The Recliners, your new lounge band, playing cheesy (but technically adept), oddly soothing versions of popular modern songs be they rock, rap or disco in a swinging Vegas style full of bossa nova and cha-cha rhythms. Maybe youve heard L.A. comedy act Richard Cheese performing Nirvana with boozy, Dean Martin-like authority?

These guys were onto the shtick even earlier, in the mid-90s, when they filled weekly gigs at clubs like Egos and the Ritz in Austin, Texas as well as multiple West Coast tours from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Phoenix and Vegas.

The original Recliners won numerous awards from the Austin Chronicle and the South by Southwest Music Awards, including being voted “Best Lounge/Swing Band," Best Cover Act and Best Wedding Band.

Actress Sandra Bullock, who has a house in Austin, hired them for her 2000 movie, Miss Congeniality.

Founder and principal arranger Russell Young, who plays keyboards and trumpet for the group, grew up in Richmond, where he once played in the Monarchs, a rock quartet that relocated to Austin and wound up backing Ronnie Lane of Small Faces fame and Bobby Keys, sax-man for The Rolling Stones—-touring nationally as “Ronnie Lane and The Tremors with Bobby Keys." (You can find more info in “The History of Rock-n-Roll; Vol 12)

With his tinted shades and lounge jacket, Young looks the part of a late-show musical director. Sitting at a booth in the smoky confines of the Devils Triangle bar Caf Diem, where his locally constituted version of the Recliners plays every Friday night, Young gives the lowdown on why he left one of the best music scenes in the country to return to his hometown a year and a half ago.

I fell in love years and years ago and came back to be with her and now she hates my guts, Young says, displaying the cheerful optimism so prevalent in The Recliners' music.

But I love it here. one of the biggest differences between performing here and in Austin is more people go out and support local music in Austin.

Raoul Hernandez, music editor at the Austin Chronicle, that citys alternative weekly, remembers the Recliners as spearheading the swing and lounge scene of the late 90s in Austin. He recalls writing a feature about Thin Lizzy bassist Phil Lynott in which he recommended the Recliners cover of The Boys Are Back in Town.A very well-done lounge version almost like Hoagy Carmichael, Hernandez says. It really brought out what a great song that was, how it couldve been a 40s tune.

The Recliners irreverent live show is all about hearing your favorite pop songs in a new light. Since the beginning, Young has been writing down audience requests on bar napkins, which he keeps filed at home.Not every song lends itself to this, he says. We take a three-chord song and arrange it with 12 chords. when we first started, sometimes I had to record it and track every part myself, like on Princes When Doves Cry, to prove to the band we could do it.

Having formed the Recliners as a joke while working as chief studio engineer and producer in his downtown Austin recording studio, Midget Studios, (I always wanted to play on The Love Boat, Young says), he now treats the group as a mobile project, with versions in both Austin and Richmond. When he resettled here, he found several talented musicians via Craigslist.

The Richmond version of the Recliners has a new album coming out titled White Room (yes, after the Cream song). The groups other records have received commercial radio airplay throughout the country, Young says, with three songs currently in heavy rotation on Sirius Radio and Dish Network.

Tonight the band sounds like its played together for years, its first set featuring snazzy, cocktail versions of Blue Oyster Cults Dont Fear The Reaper and Billy Idols White Wedding, before a heartwarming version of Nirvanas Come as You Are featuring sultry crooning from their debonair lead singer. My eyes burn from the smoky haze, but the last thing I see appears to be a trio of Octomoms shimmying beneath a sputtering bubble machine while the band plays a nearly unrecognizable version of the Beastie Boys (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).

Not your usual Friday night bar tunes in Richmond."

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