Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets,
Which Way is Texas?
(Rounder/Bullseye, 2003)

Couldn't they have thought of a better name for this album? Even more so than Tennessee, Texas is the most wretched cliche of a state in all of American vernacular music. Seeing the dreaded T-word in the title might well be enough to discourage any further exploration on the part of the more jaded and irritable potential listener.

Who would be wrong. Which Way is Texas? simply informs us that Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets hang their hats in Dallas when they're not tearing down some lonesome highway, which is much of the time. And, too, there are some real Texas sounds here, from the Lone Star State's rich blues tradition -- not the folk tradition of Henry Thomas or Blind Lemon Jefferson or Sam "Lightning" Hopkins, but the plugged-in bar-band sounds of those who came later: Hopkins's younger cousin Albert Collins, Freddie King, Jimmy Reed. Postwar-Chicago strains are happily in evidence, too (most memorably on the Delta-via-the-Windy-City "Crutch and Cane," awash in Elmore James shuffle rhythms), and even (on the terrific "Hoodoo Party") the distinctive New Orleans sensibility of the late, always lamented R&B piano master Professor Longhair.

Guitarist Funderburgh has a hand in the writing of seven of the album's 13 cuts, most of them sung by the oldest band member and one African-American, blues-harmonica veteran Sam Myers. Myers's time-begraveled, sometimes Ray Charles-inflected vocals (e.g., "The Last Time") lend a welcome degree of gravitas -- and blues history -- to the proceedings.

This is a road-tested band finely tuned, ready, able and willing to prove that if you do it right, the old-school, no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes, no-extras electric blues is never out of fashion. These are the right hands, and these are the pros, and if you like 'em, they got 'em.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 22 May 2004

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