Best Week of the Year

Glancing at this week's sonic landscape, old and new

Lou Ann Barton tonight at Antone's
Lou Ann Barton tonight at Antone's

Make that the best two weeks, give or take a few days. The holidays are Austin's gift to itself. The bands are home from the road and taking a break from recording (or using being home as an excuse to get together) and we clubgoers reap the rewards.

Maybe this is just my deep and abiding love for the old ways, what the ex-boyfriend called my "rocking chair club," because I like to go see the same bands and musicians I've known since my 20s. That's especially true at the end of the year when so many bands of a certain age reunite or play low-profile gigs.

Sometimes, the great hometown gigs show up in unexpected places, like at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, where the Gourds delivered a lengthy set to a crowd that doted on every song. When Teddy & the Talltops recently reunited, you couldn't get a seat inside Ginny's, but the pool table substituted nicely and the pockets held my can of Schlitz safe. Teddy and company laid out a fine slice of late-1980s roots-rock with a shiny country twang and none of the Elvis schtick many people today know him for.

The Skunks didn't get to do their annual show because the nasty streak of bad luck dogging Jon Dee Graham wasn't over but the rest of the hometown shows were stellar. Honeyboy Edwards canceled his Antone's appearance with Pinetop Perkins, who kept the date. Dressed nattily in bright red – as if you ever see Pinetop dressed down – he tickled the electric ivories to the delight of the full house and played "Shave and a Haircut" four times to the delight of all.

But ah, Paul Ray & the Cobras! Here's an annual reunion anticipated by many of us old-schoolers but this year they delivered holiday cheer with unexpected power. Paul Ray, Alex Napier, and Rodney Craig don't gig as much these days but guitarist Denny Freeman has been on the road with Bob Dylan for a few years now. At the Continental show just before Christmas, he blistered the leads of longtime Cobra standards with Texas muscle and blood. Freeman was always the band's preeminent guitarist, even when Stevie Vaughan joined, but that night he blazed with confidence and style to burn. It was magnificent to watch.

Ditto for Eve & the Exiles, one of the best working bands out there. At their post-Christmas Continental show, they smoked it for 90 minutes, wrapping their young-guns-and-old-hands sound around Eve Monsees' original tunes like "Blow Your Mind" and revving up a Link Wray medley in between a solid set of pure-dee roots rock. I was so exhausted I couldn't stay for the Blame with Charlie Sexton and more Denny Freeman.

The holidays aren't over yet and that's why tonight's show at Antone's with Lou Ann Barton is my pick for the night. Here's another jewel in the local music crown who doesn't play enough for my tastes. Lou Ann Barton might just be the best female vocalist in Austin, as distinctive as she is sublime, and shot full of blues and soul. Just the thing to send 2008 away with a kiss.

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More Pinetop Perkins
RIP Pinetop Perkins (1913-2011)
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Iconic blues pianist passes away; memorial follows tonight (Tuesday)

Austin Powell, March 21, 2011

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Pinetop Perkins, the Gourds, Eve & the Exiles, Lou Ann Barton, Paul Ray & the Cobras

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