A Late-Night Songwriting Session Led to Local Singer-Guitarist Austin Walkin' Cane's New Album

A Late-Night Songwriting Session Led to Local Singer-Guitarist Austin Walkin' Cane's New Album
Jef Janis
Singer-guitarist Austin Walkin’ Cane Charanghat likes to say that he ended up in Ohio because of "room and board."

His father moved to the States from India in 1966 and saved up enough money to bring his wife to the country in 1967.

Charanghat was born three years later.

“My dad came to Dayton with my uncle,” says Charanghat one afternoon from the Nauti Mermaid, the Warehouse District bar and restaurant where he plays every Tuesday night. “He was looking for a scholarship in America. He came from a family of 13 kids. He was number 7. The American government would only exchange seven U.S. dollars for the Rupee. That was the maximum.  So between him and my uncle, they had 14 bucks.”

His father did get that scholarship. The University of Dayton offered him a full ride. The University of Miami also offered Charanghat’s dad a scholarship but without room and board. As a result, Charanghat came to call Northeast Ohio his home.

Charanghat’s father would eventually moved to Northeast Ohio, and Charanghat started playing guitar at 14. He and Chris Allen, another local singer-songwriter, had been friends since grade school. They began writing songs together when they were teenagers.

“Chris started playing guitar after I did,” says Charanghat. “He would come over or I’d go over to his house, and we’d start trading licks. I had a four-track machine. He would come over to record his songs, and I’d play guitar on them. The first song we wrote together of mine was ‘Radio Café.’ I couldn’t come up with the last line but he did and it’s probably the best line in the song.”

Charanghat released his first album in 1994 and has steadily put out new material and played locally, nationally and internationally since then.

His new album, Muso, represents his seventh effort. The title comes from a slang term for musician that he first heard in Australia.

"When I went to Australia for the first time, some guy was looking at me and said, ‘Hey you fucking Muso,’" says Charanghat. "I asked him, ‘What is that?’ He told me that it’s slang for musician. I thought it was kind of funny.”

The songs on Muso came together during a late-night writing session.

“[Allen and I] were winding down, and I was about to put the guitar down," says Charanghat. "I started one more little thing, and it started a huge string of songs. It was an amazing, strange night.”

He recorded the tunes with Don Dixon (R.E.M., Smithereens) at GAR Hall in Peninsula.

“I love that place,” he says of the experience. “It’s an old building. It’s a 250-year-old building and old Civil War veterans used to go there and hang out and have a beer and chill out. I like it. It’s kinda creaky. Stories float around that place. It has a crooked stage. You lean a little bit when you’re on it. I love it, and Karen who runs it is a wonderful person. She’s always been so supportive of music in general and of me.”

Dixon masterfully helped whip the tunes into shape.

“With a lot of the songs, I would record a quick demo on acoustic guitar and send the demos to everyone so they could make up their parts,” says Charanghat. “We’d all get together, and there’d be a dynamic, and things would change.”

One highlight, “20 Years Forgotten, 20 Years Gone,” comes off as a good grunge-y number with echoing vocals.

“That has a Clarksdale, MS thing going for it,” Charanghat says of the song. “Don [Dixon] worked his magic. That was a fun one because the Clarksdale bands were always a guitar player and a drummer. That’s pretty much what I think we did on that one.”

“Delilah” has that zydeco feel to it, something Charanghat says he’s cultivated ever since a trip to the Crescent City in the mid-’90s.

“I always have a bit of that New Orleans thing,” he says. “It’s not true New Orleans by any means, but it’s got some swamp to it.”

“Got Love If You Want It,” a Slim Harpo cover, swaggers like an old ZZ Top number.

“I was just into it,” says Charanghat. “It came out a little bit different than I expected, but it’s such a cool tune. Everyone has done that tune.”

“There Is No Blue” features Dixon contributing some particularly soulful backing vocal harmonies.

“That was one was a surprise in the studio,” says Charanghat. “Don [Dixon] came up with the little intro. We kick into the groove and play it. At the end, we were jamming, and I hit a couple of notes for a solo and thought we’d take it out, and the whole band lit up, and we kept going on for a while until it crashed. This record was really fun in that respect. We didn’t want to make a two-minute-and-50-second song to get on the radio. We just did what felt organic and right to us. The band was really on. Dave Morrison on harmonica is unbelievable.”

Charanghat’s raspy vocals in the album closer, “Nothing Left of the Night,” make the tune sound as if it could be a Tom Waits track. It brings the album to a compelling close.

“I never thought of that as a closer,” says Charanghat when asked about the track. “Don made the decision that that song should close the album. The way he set this list up made it so much better than if I had done it. He knows what to do, and he did it, and it was really cool. You can hear the cymbals ringing at the end, and it fades into this nothingness. It made everything right. If it wasn’t me, I would love this album, but I don’t wanna listen to me.”

Charanghat has another studio release ready to go too. He says that will likely arrive in the fall.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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