James Burton

Live Shots

James Burton (l) and Casper Rawls
James Burton (l) and Casper Rawls (Photo by John Anderson)

James Burton

Travis County Expo Center, April 10

Bluebonnets bloomed along the highway to the Travis County Expo Center, but inside, the ninth annual Lonestar Rod & Kustom Round Up sprang and sprawled hot rods of every size, decade, and color. James Burton's eternal six-string twang detailed the ride. From Arlo Guthrie to Waylon Jennings, the 70-year-old Louisiana guitarist has functioned as the engine block on a half-century of Americana heard round the cosmos. As he and his local Wrecking Crew – guitarist Casper Rawls leading the LeRoi Brothers with Earl Poole Ball on the 88s – blew through some 90 minutes worth of Cash, Orbison, Presley, etc., chances were those selections were revisits of Burton's remarkable handiwork and not just covers. On a small covered stage 10 feet from one clump of Expo Center air conditioning compressors, its pointed tent top flying Texas flags on all four corners, Burton, sporting Ray-Bans, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ball cap (class of 2001), and a black Telecaster licked with painted flames, portioned out "Polk Salad Annie" to begin, and by Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man" next, on which Burton played originally, his sunset tone was as clear and flawless as the April afternoon. The three solos he took on it were as economical and integrated as they were steel-wool smooth. Burton's easy-action caress coaxes sounds of earth ("Great Balls of Fire") and see ("Hello Mary Lou"). His liquid solo to Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and the weather vane riff atop Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q" met a trio of Elvis pelvis rips, "Little Sister," "Mystery Train" with Earl Poole Ball's rippling solo and Burton's stuttering siren pick-off, and "Burning Love," on their way to closer "Oh, Pretty Woman." Talk about a roll in the bluebonnets. Or is that a rumble in the backseat?

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