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Bama Brisket??? Thanks to Meat Boss, These Words Can Now Actually Co-Exist

16 Apr mb menu board

MB sign

Meat Boss has only been open for a few short months. But they have already created quite a stir in a town that prides itself in knowing a thing or two about good BBQ. The Brick Pit has a very large following. The Shed can make a similar claim. And Moe’s Original BBQ has recently opened a location in downtown Mobile. Then there’s Dick Russell’s — and Big Al’s — and Tilmo’s — and Ossie’s — and … well, I think you get my drift. So is there room for another pitmaster to stake his claim? If you’ve already had the good fortune of dining with the Meat Boss (aka Benny Chinnis), you know the answer to this pressing question is a resounding SIR,YES, SIR!!!

mb smoker

This is where the small batch BBQ magic happens at Meat Boss

mb wood

Yes, they use real wood! That alone sets them apart from many

mb ext

The quarters can be cramped, but the wait is certainly worth it

mb open sign

This sign at Meat Boss is only lighted three smokey days a week

mb verse

These are good, God-fearing folks. Witness the chalkboard above

mb testimonials

Testimonials are pouring in from Leroy, Alabama – and beyond!

mb menu board

Order lunch for one or carry out a feast and make some friends

mb bag

Now this is my kind of brown bagging!!!

mb q plate

OK, let’s talk a little bit about the chow. The one thing that really separates Meat Boss from the local competition is their brisket. Beef brisket — especially the chopped or pulled variety (see above) — can be hard to find outside of the Lone Star State of Texas. Meat Boss does it right. I have lived in Texas and have eaten my share of brisket (good and bad). This is the good stuff. Smokey, lean and satisfying. And a lot more affordable than a plane ticket to Austin or Dallas. Several sauce options are available. I selected the sweet and spicy version for this first visit. It was an inspired choice — and certainly made more sense than the vinegar-based options. All the sauces are made right here and the TLC was clearly evident in every drop.

mb jelly

Another sure sign of a quality BBQ joint are sides made with pride and joy. That is the case at Meat Boss. Case in point being their baked beans, their “sweet” bread, and the hand-crafted Jalapeno jelly. The beans are not just dumped out of a can. They are made with care and contain meaty strands of charred pork. The jelly is divine — a just right blend of sweet and heat. And don’t be afraid of my sweet bread description. I am not referring to the dreaded organ meat. I am talking bread here. Kind of a cross of Texas toast and King’s Hawaiian bread. Really good — more so if smeared with the aforementioned jelly.

All in all, Meat Boss is a welcome addition to the Mobile BBQ scene. Everyone has their niche and it appears that there is plenty of room for a new kid in town. But this is no kid. This dude is large and in charge. He is the Meat Boss and he is currently your best bet for Texas quality beef brisket this side of the Big Muddy.

Meat Boss – 5401 Cottage Hill Road, Suite D, Mobile, AL 36609

(251) 591-4842; www.meatboss.com

B.J. Thomas Gets 2-Disc Scepter Re-Issue Thanks to Real Gone Music

4 Jul

Texas native B. J . Thomas had a great set of pipes — that most of us can agree upon.  He had a tremendously rich voice and a powerful upper range. His career started as a country crooner, reached its zenith via the pop artistry of Bacharach and David, and then returned to country stardom with hits like “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” Yet I contend that his collaboration with producer Chips Moman, tunesmith Mark James, and his time spent in the American Recording Studio in Memphis yielded perhaps his most durable platters. All those singles were released on the Scepter label and all are thankfully included in this excellent new collection from Real Gone Music.

Elvis Presley struck vinyl gold at American — so did Neil Diamond. Chips Moman sure had the midas touch … that’s for certain. It helped having a guitar/sitar picker like Reggie Young, songwriters like Mark James and Spooner Oldham, and drummers like the mighty Gene Chrisman. After Thomas enjoyed some regional country success, the James’ composition “The Eyes of a New York Woman” really got the ball rolling for B.J. (charting #28 in 1968). That was soon followed by the classic “Hooked on a Feeling,” a James creation. “It’s Only Love” came next and crested at #45, although it deserved a much better fate. “Pass the Apple Eve” stalled out even further from the top of the charts and it seemed the run was just about over for Thomas.

Just as hope was fading, Burt Bacharach entered the picture and B.J. Thomas’ 1969 recording of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” became a certified worldwide smash.  “Everybody’s Out of Town” (1970) is vintage Bacharach-David and one of my personal favorites. Then came “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” another top ten hit — this one from the pens of the legendary Mann-Weill songwriting team. “Send My Picture to Scranton, PA” (1970) and “Long Ago Tomorrow” (1971) are two more Bacharach contributions not to be overlooked. And I still cannot believe that Mark James’ song “The Mask” did not fare better (it didn’t even chart — madness!).

Sure, some of the B-sides were clunkers. Shoot, some of the A-sides were too. But listening to them is half the fun with collections such as this. You’re not just enjoying a little music. You are listening to a talented artist trying to find his way. Or an singer attempting to live up to the promise of his previous smash. Or a genius producer, top notch session players, and a young vocalist creating a sound that remains branded in our collective mind some 4 decades later.   

From his 1966 recording of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” through his 1972 double-sided hit single “That’s What Friends Are For”/”Happier Than the Morning Sun,” B.J. Thomas enjoyed a string of hits rivaled by few artists of that time. And the fact that he did this on an indie label, Scepter, makes the achievement even more impressive. Various compilations of Thomas’ Scepter sides have come and gone. But Real Gone’s 44-track anthology is the first to offer A- and B-sides of every one of the artists’ Scepter singles, including his 19 hits. Many of the B-sides never appeared on albums. DJ/journalist Michael Ragogna wrote the notes, which feature quotes from Thomas.

Finding BBQ’s Holy Grail At Austin’s Franklin Barbecue

10 Mar

I had heard the steady rumble about Franklin BBQ. But they were located a long way from my home base in coastal Alabama. Stories appeared with some frequency in regional and national food publications. Many with accompanying images that made my mouth water. Brisket, ribs, sausage, chopped beef … I just had to get there. And soon!

My opportunity finally presented itself when I was recently invited to attend a 3-day conference in Austin. I checked the city map and confirmed that Franklin BBQ would be within walking distance of the conference center. A rather long hike — but walkable none the less. I would not have a rental car on this trip, so my legs would have to get me there.

The conference wrapped just before noon on a Thursday and I made a bee line for Franklin BBQ. One of the hotel bellhops attempted to discourage me. He said the food was said to be great, but that they would likely be sold out of food by the time I hoofed it all the way over there. He even added that several of his friends had tried to eat there in the past and each of them had arrived too late. So, as I learned, this is not just a meal. It’s a meal and a race against the clock — all rolled into one. The sign out front (see above image) confirmed this. They were open from “11 a.m. til sold out.”

One of Franklin’s many awards hanging inside the dining room.

An employee met me as I joined the back of the line of folks waiting patiently to order. She asked how many were in my group and would I be placing any large orders today. I told her I was traveling and dining solo. She then inquired as to what I was planning to order. My heart was set on their famous sandwich known as the “Tipsy Texan.” Good, she said. Your wait is gonna be about 40 minutes. Forty minutes — plenty of time to take in all the smokey ambiance. I will say this … the place smelled AMAZING!

The interior at Franklin BBQ is funky and relaxed. No frills to speak of — unless you count the classic country tunes streaming out of their sound system. Loved that. I also dug the old advertising like the faded Coke sign you see above. Mike and Frankie from American Pickers would have been pumped. As the line continued to creep along, my stomach began to talk to me. Thankfully, the kind dude behind the counter appeared with a few samples to further whet our collective appetite. I wasn’t really thinking about ordering the smoked turkey. But the sample was sooo doggone moist and peppery that it almost had me wavering. Almost.

Pick up a souvenir t-shirt. Personalize it with sauce, grease, etc.

The furnishings are mix-match — do love the retro formica table.

The low overhead theme is also reflected in the menu boards.

Desserts sound great, but I had to wonder who ever gets that far.

It all started as a small food trailer. That only took them so far.

The main menu board. Yes, I was inching closer to my lunch.

SPEED SHOP doesn’t exactly apply to the service time at Franklin.

My wait was finally over — and this (above) was my reward. The soon to be legendary Tipsy Texan. Nope … the recipe does not involve any alcohol whatsoever. The “tipsy” part refers to the lofty sandwich’s architectural soundness. Or lack thereof. It does lean a good bit, but how could it not?  

Fresh baked Mrs. Baird’s bun (it’s a Texas thing), lean charred chopped beef, sliced locally made sausage topped with slaw and sauce. I was gonna wash it all down with a Topo Chico mineral water. There was no way I was going to get my mouth around the sandwich as is — not without somehow unhinging my jaw. Plan B was to give the leaning tower of deliciousness a good shove and then go at it with a fork and a smile.

It may look like a crime scene, but it would be a crime not to try it.

I have included this picture (above) for a reason. Sure, the image is not going to win any awards. But it does show you the little medallions of sausage used in the construction of the Tipsy Texan. The casing was smokey and posessed a nice snap. You can also see the pepper and other spices which gave the sausage a nice kick. The attention to detail and obvious passion that goes into all food preparation here is truly inspiring. To say that I was impressed would be doing a great disservice to the master craftsmen/craftswomen who toil here.

My meal at Franklin BBQ was nothing short of a transformative experience. I will never judge a BBQ joint the same way again. I was thrilled to have found the Holy Grail of BBQ, yet would it be all downhill from here? That sobering thought only lingered a moment. And ended with the thought of my next visit to this culinary mecca. In 2010, Bon Appetit hailed Franklin BBQ as the “Best in America.” And you know what? I can’t really argue with that.

Now THIS is a sobering thought. Don’t make me look! PLEASE!!!

Franklin Barbecue – 900 E. 11th Street, Austin, TX

(512) 653-1187; www.franklinbarbecue.com

Oh Brother, This Is One Mighty Fine CD, Y’all!

4 Feb

JON DEE GRAHAM, FREEDY JOHNSTON
AND
SUSAN COWSILL
ARE THE HOBART BROTHERS & LIL’ SIS HOBART

Itinerant singer-songwriters unite to record album,
At Least We Have Each Other, due for late February 28 release

The moment I first heard about this collaboration I knew we were in for a major treat. And I’m happy it does not disappoint. In fact, it would be safe to say that this will become known as one of the best Americana releases of 2012. Certainly the critics will love it. All three contributors are highly accomplished in their own right. And each brings something unique to this highly enjoyable party.

Jon Dee Graham is perhaps the least well-known of the group. But he boasts an impressive resume and a loyal Texas following – most notably in the Austin area. Graham has played in bands like The Skunks and the True Believers and sports one of the most well-worn singing voices this side of Tom Waits. Freedy Johnston is an talented singer-songwriter who has released about a dozen CDs thru the years. You may recall his 1994 hit single, Bad Reputation. Susan Cowsill grew up in the music business as a member of the real life Partridge Family, The Cowsills. Their hits included everything from the sublime The Rain, The Park and Other Things to the ridiculously fun Hair. Susan has much more recently made some beautiful music with The Continental Drifters.

The opening track is a cracking number intitled Baby, Didn’t I Love You. Cowsill takes the lead vocal on this one and really shines as she pleads, “How could you leave me here on the track?” This is the obvious “single” on the CD, but the rest of the collection is hardly filler, trust me. Jon Dee follows with a swampy take on Why I Don’t Hunt. It has a a “Wooly Bully” chug to it with Cowsill providing some vocal sweetness to Graham’s down & dirty delivery.  The next track, Sweet Senorita, begins with a Neko Case-like wistfulness. Freedy gives this Latin-tinged piece the meloncholy treatment and succeeds. Susan again jumps in on harmony vocals — she is the glue here.

The 4th number, I Never Knew There Would Be You, is certainly one of the disc’s standout tracks. It is likely the most pop-oriented song included here. Cowsill’s lead vocal soars — at times reminding me of the clear as a  bell tones of the late Mama Cass Elliott. Yes, Susan is a child of the 6os and that influence is clear. The twin-guitar break is really sweet — only wish there was more of it. Track 6, Almost Dinnertime,  features Jon Dee doing his best Tom Waits’ growl, which is followed up by the dreamy Johnston vocal, I am Sorry.  

My First Day On The Job is catchy and humorous, but get the earmuffs out for the kids — some salty language on this one. It’s all about toiling in the not always glamorous restaurant industry, which all 3 of the band members have experienced at one time or another. Soda Pop Tree is just what you’d expect — sweet and cool. The disc closes with Jon Dee Graham singing over the slow yet steady jangle of The Dishwasher, another ode to his former food service career.  

Not a bad track can be found here, friends. What a terrific collection of songs and performances. As I mentioned, don’t be surprised if this CD turns up on many Best of 2012 lists. Let’s just hope this is not the last we hear from this trio. It is rare that 3 such diverse talents come together in such a winning way. Maybe they aren’t really blood relatives, but when they throw on the recording switch, they sure do sound like it.  

AUSTIN, Texas — Jon Dee Graham , Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill, united as the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart , will release their long-threatened debut album, At Least We Have Each Other, on Freedom Records in CD, LP and digital download formats, with a street date of February 28, 2012. A limited tour is planned for spring.

The ten-song LP/CD/download release comprises seven songs from the most recent band recording sessions, plus three from the first, drumless, demo sessions. With every purchase of any format of At Least We Have Each Other comes a free download of the entire demo-session set.

The three singer-songwriters got together in an Austin backyard one afternoon in 2010 to write songs about their early days (yes, even Sue) working in restaurants. They took the family name Hobart, after the dishwasher found in nearly every commercial kitchen, and began to reminisce.

Over the next couple of months, they put together ten songs about cooks and waitresses and dishwashers, but also songs about Mexican-American truck-drivers, pleasant dreams had while living in your car, the collapse of the Texas cotton market, despair on a pay phone, unread letters and, of course, love.

The Hobarts recruited Andrew DuPlantis, bassist from Jon Dee’s band the Fighting Cocks, and drummer Russ Broussard, husband and band-mate of Ms. Cowsill, and played SXSW 2011 to a tremendous response. The band then pursued a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of At Least We Have Each Other at Top Hat Studios in Austin.

The finished album provides a rare glimpse of what three unique and talented artists might come up with when they think no one else is listening. The songs were recorded live with one or two takes, and there is a resonant honesty and completeness to them.

About the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart:

Jon Dee Graham was named Austin Musician of the Year at SXSW in 2006. He was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame three times: as a solo artist in 2000, in 2008 as a member of the Skunks, and in 2009 as a member of the True Believers. Graham has released seven albums and was the subject of a DVD called Big Sweet Life: The Songs of Jon Dee Graham. In August 2008, Graham underwent emergency surgery after being injured in a one-car accident. His current album is aptly titled It’s Not As Bad As It Looks.

The New Yorker cited Freedy Johnston’s “finely wrought, melancholy character studies” as one of the calling cards of 2010’s critically acclaimed Rain on the City album, his twelfth. According to SPIN, “Johnston’s characters always make a deep impression.” He has been recording since 1990’s debut The Trouble Tree on Bar/None. In 1994 he hit with “Bad Reputation” from his Elektra album This Perfect World, and Rolling Stone named him “Songwriter of the Year.”

Susan Cowsill was born into show business as a member of the Cowsills, who hit with “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” and “Hair” in the late ’60s. In the ’90s, she joined forces with Peter Holsapple and Vicki Peterson to form the Continental Drifters, and migrated from Los Angeles to New Orleans. In 2005 she released her first solo album, Just Believe It, concurrent with losing her brother Barry and her house to Hurricane Katrina. Her current album Lighthouse, called “an earthy, often crunchy folk-pop gem” by Rolling Stone, reflects upon these experiences and features guest spots from Peterson, Jackson Browne, and former Cowsills session player Waddy Wachtel.

# # #

 

Return Visit to Joe T. Garcia’s Falls Just Short of My Rather Lofty Expectations

3 May

I briefly lived in the historic cowtown of Fort Worth, Texas back in the 1990’s and Joe T. Garcia’s (founded in 1935) was our “go-to” place for Tex-Mex cuisine. I’m sure there were (and still are) other places that are more “authentico.” But Joe T’s was always clean, safe, fun, brimming with South of the Border atmosphere, and consistently tasty! 

This statue is part of the Old Mexico atmosphere I was referring to.

Joe T’s is beginning to show its age a little bit. But it remains a lovely spot to dine with family and friends. The food is good (if not great), their staff (primarily Hispanic) is ever-smiling, and the outdoor landscaping is well-conceived and pleasing to the eye. Fort Worth is pretty much a concrete jungle, so Joe T’s lush courtyard is something of an oasis in a world of asphalt and smog.

All meals start with a basket of tortilla chips and Joe T’s freshly made salsa. The salsa rojo delivers some heat, but it is certainly not “knock your socks off” hot. The trick here is to not fill up before your meal arrives. Mr. Garcia’s entrees are quite generous, so you’ll want to save room.

The red salsa at Joe T. Garcia’s is fairly light and not too chunky. I consider myself a bit of a salsa snob and this version passed my strict test. It served double duty as I also splashed some on my rice, refried beans (I believe lard is used in the preparation), and inside my rolled up fajitas.

The steak and chicken combo fajita lunch platter (above) at Joe T’s runs about $12. Take a look at the upper left hand corner of the photo. You can see the steam rising from the sizzling cast iron plate. It not only looks great, it SOUNDS great! I must confess my slices of steak and chunks of chicken were slightly overcooked. That resulted in more toughness than usual. And meat that is less moist tends to be less flavorful. That was the case here. The dish’s smokiness actually overpowered the meat’s natural flavor. Not exactly what I was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong. I was not unhappy, but it could have been better. Ain’t I a picky so and so???

Chunky guacamole is part of the show at Joe T’s — as is a delicious Pico de Gallo. The guac was OK, the pico better. I think the guacamole needed a pinch of salt and maybe another splash or two of lime juice and hot sauce. But that didn’t stop me from polishing off my portion. I was dining along, so I double dipped my chips to my corazon’s content.

The still-warm housemade flour tortilla’s (above) are wrapped in swaddling clothes at Joe T’s. I’m actually more of a corn tortilla guy, but these babies were very good. Flour tortillas tend to be a little more sturdy than the corn variety. That is one reason why they often appear whenever fajitas are served.  

I have such fond memories of Joe T. Garcia’s. It would have been very difficult for them to live up to the glowing image that was seared into my mind like a brand on a Stockyard steer’s hind quarters. Yet it was really fun to return to our old munching grounds. My meal was just fine, the service was exceptionally brisk, and I easily made it back to my downtown hotel for the start of the conference. Mission accomplished. Gracias, Senor Joe!

Joe T. Garcia’s – Ft. Worth, TX; 2201 North Commerce St.

(817) 626-4356; www.joets.com

Gulf Coast Foodways Organziation is Officially Unveiled

24 Mar

 

Gulf Coast Foodways is a new community of foodies on a mission to preserve and promote the rich culinary culture along the US Gulf Coast through education, events, documentaries, seminars and more. Gulf Coast Foodways will be a member driven organization and we’re currently looking for charter members and sponsors.

How exactly are we going to do all of this, you ask?  Through the development of thematic maps and tours, we can drive food tourism to our region. Through video documentation, we can capture and show off the unique culinary culture of our coast.  Cookbooks and published compilations of local food writings and treasured family recipes will draw attention to the traditional foodways of our area. 

We plan to hold periodic meetings for members to make connections and network. These events will include guest speakers on local topics and you can always count on a good meal or two along the way. Our annual symposium weekend is now in the initial planning stage.  Hotel and restaurant industry members will always benefit from the trails, meetings, and symposiums.

We’d like for you to play a key role in the creation of this tasty “gumbo.” 

 Your annual membership or sponsorship will:

 *Help finance research projects

*Promote food-related businesses along the Gulf Coast

*Document local traditions & businesses preserving them

*Promote and grow food tourism along the Gulf Coast

*Underwrite any necessary administrative costs

 In return, your benefits will include:

 *Bi-annual e-newsletter

*Profile feature on the Gulf Coast Foodways blog: www.gulfcoastfoodways.wordpress.com 

*10% off all Gulf Coast Foodways event registration

*Priority registration for events

*Discounts at participating restaurants/shops

 We urge you to join this worthy cause today.

Contact Eileen or Gary Saunders at gulfcoastfoodways@yahoo.com.

***Pass this note along to your friends and LIKE us on FACEBOOK.

Hot Club of Cowtown Does Bob Wills Proud

10 Jan

Great new CD — first rate Western Swing from Austin, TX trio.

Check it out, y’all!

HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN

Since their first recording in 1998, Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown have grown to be the most globe-trotting, hardest-swinging Western swing trio on the planet. The first American band to tour Azerbaijan, they have opened stadiums for such artists as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and continue to bring their brand of Western swing to a wide range of festival audiences all over the world. But for guitarist Whit Smith, fiddler Elana James and bassist Jake Erwin, it has always been about staying true to their roots.

Remaining willfully out of the musical mainstream, Hot Club of Cowtown have created an international cult following for their sonic personification of joy and unique sound inspired by their namesakes: “Hot Club” from the hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli’s Hot Club of France, and “Cowtown” from the Western swing influence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Though Wills’ pre-WWII recordings have always been the fundamental inspiration for Hot Club of Cowtown’s repetoire and style, it has taken the band a dozen years to fully honor the King of Western Swing. A fortuitous tour in England in the spring of 2010 led them to London’s Specific Sound studio, where they spent two days recording a 14-song marathon of Bob Wills tunes. The result, What Makes Bob Holler, is a tribute to the American music icon, respecting Wills’ legendary music while putting Hot Club’s own signature on each song. “We have been meaning to make this album for a long time,” says James.

“This is music from the days when guys toured and sat on a bus with no air conditioning, no real food, for days. We heard a story of a fiddler the Wills band picked up in California and by the time they had driven to the Midwest, he was dead and nobody even knew his name. They pried his rigor mortis’d body off of the bus and left him under a lamppost somewhere in Kansas,” says James, “It was a different time. These guys were pretty hardcore.”

What Makes Bob Holler presents the most convincing evidence yet that Hot Club of Cowtown may be on to something. By digging even deeper into their roots and refusing to modernize, the band offers up one of their most exciting recordings to date. The disc is an imaginative pairing of obscure B-sides with some of Wills’ most popular work. Tunes like “Big Balls in Cowtown” and “Stay a Little Longer” are numbers that “people always love when we play them live,” says James, “so it was was a no-brainer to gather them into a record.” Others, like “Osage Stomp” and “The Devil Ain’t Lazy,” might not be as well known, but they are in the spirit of what originally attracted Smith and James to this music. “We’re playing what knocked us out about Western swing in the first place — the early fiery energy and jazzy improvisations,” says James.

What Makes Bob Holler may have taken two days to record, but the band has played these songs on tour for years. The album reflects the same spirited live vibe and offers the band a terrific platform to show off their ace musicianship and flaunt these inspirations: Smith’s hot electric guitar played through a vintage 1936 Gibson amplifier, James’ sometimes gorgeous, sometimes frenetic fiddle, and Erwin’s jaw-dropping slap bass, all mixed with three-part harmony vocals.

Smith (Cape Cod, MA) and James (Prairie Village, KS), originally met through an ad in the classified music section of The Village Voice in 1994, and played together in New York City before relocating to San Diego in 1997, where they spent a year playing for tips and building up their repertoire. By 1998, they had relocated to Austin, Texas and in 2000 added Jake Erwin (originally from Tulsa, OK) on bass, finalizing the Hot Club’s lineup.

Like any scrappy modern band, Hot Club dwells between the daily grind of touring and the euphoria of its live shows. Years of crisscrossing the USA in a silver Ford van through a landscape where local traditions are becoming more and more diluted, and modern life more electronic, have galvanized this Texas trio who are more devoted than ever to keeping their music sincere, free of irony, and focused on a simpler time.

What Makes Bob Holler arrives on the heels of 2009’s more eclectic Wishful Thinking, an Americana radio Top 100 album lauded by the Austin Chronicle’s Jim Caliguiri as “the Cowtowners at their peak,” and David Eldridge, in the Washington Times, as “one of the year’s most unexpected listening pleasures.”

While What Makes Bob Holler focuses exclusively on Bob Wills music, Hot Club of Cowtown’s live show will remain an engaging mix of what the band does best — whatever moves it at the moment, setlists be damned. “We have faith in the system that is the band. This energy that we plug into and it takes us away,” says James. Smith describes their shows as “like a rock ’n’ roll show . . . people pick up on the energy and the sincerity.”

“What the trio has is a rare thing,” says Smith, “There’s a chemistry that’s unmistakable.”

As Bob Wills might say, “Aaaaaaaaaah Haaaaaaaaaaah!”

www.hotclubofcowtown.com

STAX unveils “Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan in Session” CD/DVD Package

27 Oct

While there is no denying the immeasurable debt that modern blues and rock musicians owe to T-Bone Walker, the first bluesman to plug a guitar into an amplifier, and to B.B. King, who added sustained feedback and more to Walker’s innovations, Albert King was clearly the most influential blues guitar stylist from the mid-1960s on. Born April 25, 1923, Albert had begun his career as B.B. King disciple and, for a time, even claimed to be B.B.’s brother. (Both men were born in Indianola, Mississippi.)

By the time Albert signed with Stax Records in 1966, however, he had developed a highly personal guitar style marked by economical, rhythmically propulsive single-note lines and a razor-sharp tone produced by picking with his left thumb while bending wildly with his right fingers on the strings of a right-handed Flying V guitar turned upside down and tuned to an open E minor chord. His ground-breaking, soul-imbued recordings for the Memphis record company from 1966 to 1973 defined the state of modern blues during that period and had a vast impact on guitar players on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only did Albert’s signature style alter the approaches of such already established blues guitarists as Otis Rush and Albert Collins, but it had a tremendous impact on younger players like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and particularly Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Stevie was born (October 3, 1954) and raised in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, the same part of town in which T-Bone had grown up decades earlier. Stevie idolized Albert. Even before he was in his teens, Stevie had been captivated by the Mississippi guitar masher’s torrid tone, incisive phrasing, even the rocket-like shape of Albert’s instrument. The boy had other musical heroes–most notably older brother Jimmie Vaughan, as well as Lonnie Mack and Jimi Hendrix–but it was Albert’s influence that would remain the most pervasive throughout Stevie’s career.

One of 13 children, Albert was raised by his mother in Forrest City, Arkansas. His first “guitar” consisted of a wire nailed to the wall of his house; he picked it with a bottle. Later, he bought an acoustic guitar for $1.25 and eventually graduated to an electric model purchased for $125 at a pawnshop in Little Rock. After practicing for a few years, he began sitting in around Osceola, Arkansas with a group called Yancey’s Band. “They learned me my chords and what key was what,” Albert recalled 1983. “I didn’t know but two or three songs.”

Driving a bulldozer during the day, Albert soon formed his own band, the In the Groove Boys. “I learned ‘em those three songs that I knew,” he explained with a chuckle, “and we’d play ‘em fast, slow, and medium, but we got over.”

After singing gospel with the Harmony Kings in South Bend, Indiana and playing drums for Jimmy Reed in Gary, Albert made his first record, “Bad Luck Blues,” for the Parrot label in Chicago in 1953. The title proved prophetic, however, and he returned to Osceola for a while, then settled in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he began recording for Bobbin in 1959. He scored his first national hit, “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” two years later on the Cincinnati-based King label.

Albert didn’t return to the charts until 1966, when his Stax recording of “Laundromat Blues” became one of that year’s biggest blues hits. The innovative melding of Albert’s dry, husky baritone voice and incendiary lead guitar with the Memphis firm’s crack rhythm and horn sections brought blues into the soul era. His seminal Stax singles, which also included “Crosscut Saw” and “Born Under a Bad Sign,” were initially bought primarily by African Americans. With the introduction of “underground” FM radio in 1967, Albert began attracting white listeners—who had been primed by Eric Clapton’s incorporation of Albert’s licks and even entire solos into his popular sides with Cream—in increasingly large numbers. His 1968 debut at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium solidified his crossover following. “People had been waiting to hear me play a long time before I even showed my face out there,” recalled Albert, who remained until his death one of the few blues artists to consistently attract substantial numbers of both black and white fans.

At the In Session taping, 60-year-old Albert ruled over the proceedings like a benevolent father, retaining control while allowing his 29-year-old guest loads of solo space in which to display his awesome command of the electric guitar. Stevie avoided flaunting his prowess, however, and instead delivered some of the most deliciously restrained playing of his career, laying back when his mentor dictated, turning up the heat only when Albert deemed it appropriate. The interplay between the two blues masters is uncannily empathetic, and Albert’s fans will find special pleasure in hearing him play rhythm parts at such length. At one point between tunes, Albert complained about problems with his guitar strings, then told Stevie, “I’m about ready to turn it over to you…. I’ve got to sit back and watch you.”

Albert was, in a sense, passing the torch to Stevie. The following month, in January 1984, Albert and his band traveled to Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California to record I’m in a Phone Booth, Baby. It would be his final album. He never did retire from the road, however, and continued touring until his death from a massive heart attack in Memphis on December 21, 1992. Albert was 69 and had enjoyed a full life in the blues.

Stevie wasn’t as fortunate. At the height of his career, on August 27, 1990, he was killed in a helicopter crash at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. He was 35.

In Session is the only known recording of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan performing together. Its long-overdue commercial release stands as a fitting tribute to the genius of two of the greatest musicians ever to have played the blues on electric guitar.

Albert King died December 21, 1992.

Texas-Made Talenti Gelato is a Winner

24 Apr

The highlight to my Friday this week was not the arrival of the weekend. It was the arrival of 11 (count ‘em, eleven!) pints of delicious gelato from our new found friends at Talenti of Dallas, Texas. Yes, y’all — the Lone Star State is now in the gelato bizness. And as you know, Texas never does anything on a small scale.

The slick, clear packaging is very appealing to the eye, but the product contained inside is far more appealing to the taste buds. We started our gelato-fest with a taste of the Mediterranean Mint — sort of a Mint Chocolate Chip for the Riviera set, if you will.  This gelato has a very clean, fresh taste that is not overpowered by the smallish chocolate chunks. It is clear that Talenti is using fresh mint in this recipe — quite a difference from ice creams in a similar vein. You might even find yourself checking your dental work for greenery. It’s not there, but it will taste like it is.

The next flavors to hit our tongues were Carribean Coconut and Double Dark Chocolate. Once again, we were first taken by both product’s freshness. I can also add that all these gelatos are very light, a term not used very often when describing products in the ice cream family.  Next up was Dulce de Leche … and this one turned out to be my absolute favorite so far. It featured an incredibly rich, natural tasting caramel flavor not normally associated with mass produced ice creams and gelatos.

Exotic flavors like Black Cherry, Blood Orange, Roman Raspberry, Lisbon Lemon, Tahitian Vanilla, and Caramel Cookie Crunch are still lurking unopened in our deep freezer as I type this column. In fact … shhhhh, quiet … yes, they are calling my name. Gotta run … more on this later!

The company claims as its source of inspiration Bernando Buontalenti, a famed Florentine artist and architect with a penchant for fine food. “Talenti,” as his friends called him, delighted the court of the Duchess Catherine de Medici’s in the early 1500s with a frozen dessert he called “gelato.”

The current Talenti was the first gelato to appear in the famed holiday catalog of luxury retailer Neiman Marcus. It is notable for its attractive, clear plastic packaging and its use of its quality ingredients, including fresh fruit and nuts, imported flavorings, real blocks of Belgian chocolate, melted on the Talenti premises and freshly pasteurized milk that is free of the controversial growth hormones, rBGH and rBST. The company also avoids high fructose, levulose, and corn syrup, instead using extra-fine pure cane sugar. In addition, the company reports that all of its sorbettos contain three primary ingredients: water, pure cane sugar and fresh fruit.

 

Among the most popular of flavors in the Talenti line are: Tahitian Vanilla Bean, made with vanilla beans imported from Papua New Guinea; Belgium Milk Chocolate, made with Callebaut chocolate; Caribbean Coconut, using Coconuts shipped from the Philippines; Argentine Dulce de leche (“milk candy”), and Sicilian pistachio, which uses pistachios shipped from Sicily.

www.talentigelato.com

Austin’s Stone River Boys are Making Some Noise

24 Apr

Fans of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Paul Thorn, Junior Brown, and Chuck Prophet will dig this tasty Texas stew of blues, honky tonk, and country funk. Take a few minutes to view the videos provided here and you’ll get the general idea. It is a s#%t kicking, boot scooting party y’all — and you’re invited!

When Dave Gonzalez put together a band to support the release of the Hacienda Brothers’ final recording, it was a tough job. Dave’s musical partner and co-founder Chris Gaffney had recently passed and Dave wanted to get out there one last time to pay tribute to his close friend. When Dave turned to Mike Barfield to fill out a band made up of Austin s finest pickers, the Stone River Boys’ seed had been sown.

Love On The Dial , the debut release from the Stone River Boys, firmly establishes this band as is powerhouse in the roots music world. Dave and Mike are ably assisted by a cadre of talented musicians including Dave Biller, Scott Esbeck (Los Straitjackets), Hank Maninger (Hacienda Brothers) , Kevin Smith (Dwight Yoakam, High Noon), Fuzzy Blazek, Justin Jones and Damien Llanes.

Produced by Dave Gonzalez, it’s some of the funkiest country and countryest funk to come up the river in a good while! In addition to his work in the Hacienda Brothers, Dave Gonzalez was the driving force behind the San Diego-based Paladins for over 20 years. He s toured all over the US and Europe and is as roadworthy a player as you ll find. Mike Barfield previously led the Houston-based Hollisters and released two solo albums that earned him the title The Tyrant of Texas Funk. Love On The Dial achieves a cohesive mix of hard country and Texas funk which includes ten original compositions along with four choice covers. From the opening riff of Steve Bruton’s Bluebonnet Blue to the final notes of Boomerang, this is one hard hitting debut. And don’t miss out on the latest dance craze, it’s called the Struggle!

www.stoneriverboys.com

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