Reviews

Same as the old blues
Live at the Grand Emporium
Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets
featuring Sam Myers
Black Top Records

Inevitably, to get it right for purists, modern bluesmen must make their music sound old, but somehow not dated; they must make it sound authentic, but somehow not derivative. To the modern bluesman who tours the bar-and-festival circuit and plays to a fanatical following that embraces the sound as lifestyle, it's never a question of innovation, only one of ability and execution. And so it is with Funderburgh, the Plano native who forever stands in the shadow of a dozen other Texas (and Chicago) bluesmenFreddie King, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, and so many othersand carries with him singer-harpist Sam Myers, whose bio (worked with Elmore James in the 1950s) legitimizes the proceedings far beyond the talent.

And, indeed, it's Myers who finally defines this bandon this record, and all the others on which he's appeared since joining in 1986. His casually powerful voice and Little Walter-influenced style of harmonica playing breathe rejuvenated life into a sound that's familiar to anyone who's ever driven near Greenville Avenue Bar and Grill; he slips into the standards ("Empty Arms," "Ways of Man," "Backstroke") with the comfort created by experience, elevating driftin'-drinkin'-lovin'-man cliches into the been-there-done-that verities. Considerations of good or bad fall away with this band, replaced instead by the evaluation of how well Funderburgh and company capture the past. And they do, especially live, like a genie in a bottle.

Bleak and bouncy
It Means Escape
Cowboy Mouth
Monkey Hill Records

For a band that plays it so tough (probably the best live band you've never seen), it's amazing how often they sound like a louder, smarter, more bitter version of a) the Knack, b) the Judys, or c) Cheap Trick. So it's not roots-rock, but power-pop songs about killin' a man and landin' in prison, drownin' in drink on St. Paddy's Day, and screwin' a woman who dresses like a man (but who's still a woman, which is either the singer's bizarre homoerotic fantasy, a joke, or just a lyrical cop-out). Indeed, Cowboy Mouth's world overflows with pathetic and desperate characters, mostly drunken ex-boyfriends and divorced husbands unwilling to accept the past ("I don't even think of you walking away") and unable to function in the present ("I remember and try to forget with a bottle of wine"). Underneath the catchy surface lies a bleak, depressing record.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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