The air outside rumbled, filled with varying sizes of hail. Inside, another storm seemed imminent. JJ Grey, Anders Osborne, Luther Dickinson, and Marc Broussard filled the Texas Union Ballroom Monday night and kept the assembled enthralled for more than two hours. Writers-in-the-round shows tend to bring out an artist’s muse.
While each member of the quartet might be more comfortable backed by an electric band, they took the show format as an opportunity to not only express a side they rarely reveal, but to form a band of their own, with Dickinson playing bass when not singing his own songs, Osborne adding concise guitar solos, and Grey breaking out his harmonica for some extra steam.
Some might not have recognized Broussard. The last time he performed in Austin, he appeared a clean-shaven, almost pretty boy soul crooner. The singing remains, so his voice still pays tribute to the styles of Steve Wonder and Donny Hathaway, but now he’s grown an untamed red beard that travels down his chest and had many checking to see if it was the same guy beneath it.
Dickinson, of North Mississippi Allstars fame, was the most animated. “I play bass out of nervous habit,” he confessed, while concentrating on songs from his wonderful new solo album, Rock & Roll Blues.
Grey introduced one of his better known tunes, the forthright “Slow Hot and Sweaty,” with a self-deprecating tale of playing the song for his parents and being saved from embarrassment by his grandmother. Sharing some of his tribulations, Osborne got down in the dirt with “Me and Lola,” a song about “two alcoholics.”
Broussard closed with a gospel-like, off-mic reading of Hathaway’s “For All We Know” that chilled a ready-to-party audience. It capped an evening of uninhibited camaraderie and very little showboating. Soul stirrings, country and blues for flavor, the Southern Soul Assembly rolled as joyful as these things get.
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