Bernard Allison, Antone's, October 14
Antone's, October 14 In blues today, a famous last name and 35 cents buys you a local phone call. So Bernard Allison, son and pupil of late Chicago guitar legend Luther Allison, does it the old-fashioned way: sweat and talent. As Allison and his three-piece band took the stage shortly after 10pm Thursday, Antone's was emptier than a broken promise. Such a turnout was hardly his fault -- big-gun roadshows from Cheap Trick to Public Enemy have seen half-full venues -- though this was his first Austin stop in 15 years. Not that the 34-year-old guitarist let the sparse but enthusiastic crowd deter him, launching into a run of fiery R&B propelled by fretwork as sharp as his wardrobe of white cowboy boots, black double-breasted suit, and black, widebrim fedora sporting twin (real!) rattlesnake heads. As he consistently varied his tone, at one point deadening the strings to get a Shostakovich-like pizzicato effect, Allison's skills were expressive without any unnecessary flash. Heavy on material from his new album Times Are Changing, his set also highlighted the watertight band, which handled the numerous stop-times and dynamic shifts with the ease of an experienced mother changing a diaper. As he bounced back and forth between piano and B-3, Allison's keyboard player smoothly handled the minute but crucial stylistic differences; first Booker T. funk-jazz, then a desolate slow blues, some syncopated New Orleans juke, and a fat shot of Memphis soul (could've used horns, however). Paying homage to Stevie Ray Vaughan on a gritty, emotional "Leave My Little Baby Alone," Allison said Vaughan "took me as his lil' brother"; by song's end, he was looking very comfortable in The House That SRV Built. Then he strapped on a slide guitar and began caressing it to the swooping strains of "Good Time Woman." Two or three solos later, he took it to the people, stepping offstage and walking through the crowd, playing all the while, winding up converting passersby on the Fifth Street sidewalk. By the time he finished, standing on the bar wailing away as his band kept thumping out that heavy backbeat, the crowd was his. If word gets around, Allison shouldn't have to worry about folks showing up for his return gig. He may find strolling among them a much tighter squeeze, though.
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