Roger Wallace at Babe's, August 23

Live music reviews.

Roger Wallace

Babe's, August 23

It's probably the babyface. The boyish grin attached to a tall, skinny frame. The way he closes his eyes and summons his big, deep voice -- searching for its bottom in any word, phrase, or chorus. Maybe it's the way his backing band asks what key the song is in. G? E? Whatever it is, one thing's certain about Roger Wallace: He's just getting started. At the outset of his first set of the Monday evening at Babe's -- onetime spot/slot to many of Austin's finest country crooners -- the young, lanky local was as busy finding his voice as his band was finding their footing. Several songs in, on the slightly treacherous "Crazy Love," an original from Wallace's fine new debut, Hillbilly Heights, it all started coming together. Then he called for a George Jones song. "Is there an intro?" asked the bassist leaning across his stand-up. In fact, it was through the set's ample covers -- Jones, Faron Young, Kris Kristofferson -- that Wallace & Co. really began sounding like an easy Austin reference point: Dale Watson. The voice, range of material. And like Watson, Wallace proved adept at sneaking his own gems in and among the songs of the immortals -- such as his bouncing "Moonlight Never Shines on a Loner." Local C&W MVP, guitarist Jim Stringer, started laying down some wicked lead lines right about then, embroidering Wallace's rhythm playing, which was done on an acoustic guitar with an electric axe's neck. Roy Clark's "Working in a Coalmine" locked all working parts into gear, and suddenly the band was off, the drummer wanting an Elvis or Jim Reeves number next. "Stuck on You" got the nod, bursting forth from the quintet with a rockabilly boogie that brought dancers onto the floor in a hurry. "Wishful Drinking," another Wallace original, right up there with Charlie Robison's "Barlight" as an instant Austin classic, was even better. At the hour mark, visibly relieved, but still a tad nervous, Wallace called for the set closer, the final song on Hillbilly Heights, Jerry Reed's "I've Had Enough." Sweet. As for Roger Wallace, though, enough may be a long time coming.

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