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Harmonica Half-Pint

Think of Brody Buster as the Macaulay Culkin of the blues. He's young and talented; he's an almost overnight sensation; he's aw-shucks cute; he's got an impressive work ethic and a mature outlook; and he has just as much fun as Culkin hamming it up with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. There is a difference, however, aside from the gap -- thousands versus millions -- in income. Instead of an overbearing father, this 11-year-old harmonica prodigy has his band to shield him from the harsh realities of the entertainment world. But let's hope the Bluesbusters (and Buster's parents) have the common sense not to run the little guy's career into the toilet, Papa Culkin style.

Buster's talent on the blues harp is even more surprising when you consider that he's self-taught. A Missouri native, Buster gave up the acoustic guitar for the harmonica when he was eight; he had grown fond of his mother's collection of old blues, country and R&B albums, and his mom, seeing that her son was fascinated by the music, dug up an old harmonica for him to fool around on. The fooling around soon turned serious, with Buster's chops progressing quickly. Eventually, B.B. King got wind of the boy wonder, who was already playing clubs around Kansas City, Missouri. Dubbing him "one of the greatest harmonica players of our time," King booked Buster at his King's Blues Club and its sports-bar sister establishment, Lucille's. As Buster's authoritative playing style and charming on-stage personality (he's a bit of a ham) earned him a regular slot at King's Los Angeles clubs, his parents smartly took their blues legend endorsement and ran with it -- to stages in Las Vegas, Memphis and elsewhere.

Before long, the Busters had purchased an apartment in Burbank, California, found their son a capable band in the Bluesbusters and started searching out opportunities outside the confines of a nightclub. Aside from his guest spot on Leno's show, bookings at assorted blues festivals nationwide and gigs with legends such as King, James Cotton and Sam Moore, Buster has opened a few dates for Jerry Seinfeld, performed in Seoul, South Korea, and showed up as a losing talent-show contestant on his favorite TV show, Full House. Of course, he played his harmonica.

Buster has also been cast in the upcoming film Tuba City Blues. Between road trips and casting calls, the kid still finds time to excel in school, and he can even sing a polished lick or two. Apparently, the only things threatening to slow this little wizard are exhaustion and overexposure. The former he remedies with afternoon naps. And the latter -- by Culkin standards, anyway -- is at least a few years away. -- Hobart Rowland

Brody Buster performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, January 27, at Billy Blues, 6025 Richmond Avenue. Tickets are $8. For info, call 266-9294.

Townes Van Zandt -- It was a year ago that Townes Van Zandt made his last Houston appearance. For me and a select few friends, it was something of a religious experience. We spent half the time slurring at the barkeep and the other half calling toward the stage for our favorite song, "Our Mother the Mountain." Five whiskeys into the evening, that came out sounding something like, "Ah momo da mama! Ah momo da mama!" No wonder Van Zandt never played it.

It was a nice turnabout though, us drunk and Van Zandt sober. For years uncounted, Townes Van Zandt played for a cult audience, self-medicating himself with booze and pills all the while. But with the 1995 release of No Deeper Blue, his audience began to catch up with his reputation, and Van Zandt himself, after a near-death bout with pneumonia, began to moderate his self-abuse. And the tunes from No Deeper Blue make it clear that Van Zandt's songwriting has only become more vital as the years have gone by. Van Zandt came up under the tutelage of Lightning Hopkins in the heady days of Houston's late-'60s folk scene, and if anyone today carries the torch of the great bluesmen, it's him. His music may partake of folk and rock, but the soul is pure blues. Van Zandt learned how to write the blues by living them, and it's pure luck that he's survived to perform them for a new generation. That luck is Van Zandt's reward. Attendance is yours. At McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 9 p.m. Friday, January 26. Tickets are $12. Trish Murphy opens. 528-5999. (Brad Tyer)

David Caceres -- David Caceres certainly has the genetics to justify his impressive command of the alto sax. His grandfather, Emilio Caceres, was a well-known jazz violinist who recorded for RCA and Decca; his granduncle, Ernie Caceres, played sax alongside Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and sundry other big band demigods. So how does Caceres capitalize on his inbred talent and his training from Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music? Surprisingly, by leaving the posh nightclub atmosphere along San Antonio's Riverwalk and moving to Houston. Fortunately, the move hasn't hurt his playing. He's made only the most necessary commercial compromises, avoiding the overstylized rut of many modern-day blowers. On his new CD, Innermost, Caceres tackles his own material and the work of others with equal parts assertiveness and technical grace. With a recording this strong, you can bet that the living, breathing version is even better. And he's a first-rate jazz crooner, too. At Ovations, 2536 Times Boulevard, 9 p.m. Friday, January 26. Tickets are $7. 522-9801. (

 
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