Little Joe Washington
Texas Fire Line
One of the easiest jobs in music has to be producer of a Little Joe Washington album. Make sure he shows up at the studio - itself no small feat, though not as difficult as it used to be - turn on the recording equipment and get out of the way. On his second album for Austin's Dialtone Records (following 2003's Houston Guitar Blues), the blues flows so effortlessly out of Washington's guitar it's hard to believe any of these 14 songs needed more than one take.
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Washington's feverish runs and penetrating leads - which fly by at a clip somebody half the 70-year-old's age would have a hard time matching - dominate Texas Fire Line, of course, but he doesn't hog the spotlight, either. Nick Connelly adds some stately piano to the gospel-inflected "Church House Blues" and greasy B-3 to Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon," and drummer Jason Moeller (Fabulous Thunderbirds) gives "She's In New Orleans" a nice second-line snap. And the horn section of Al Gomez Jr. on trumpet and sax man Kaz Kazanoff contributes a fat, swinging Memphis tone to every song.
Still, Texas Fire Line is Little Joe's show all the way. Both his guitar and vocals are as expressive as the blues get - the pain inherent in "Lonely Lonely Nights" is absolutely gut-wrenching, and please avoid sharp objects of any kind while listening to "Cry All Night Long." But Washington can also be playful, like on "I Love Country Girls"; a softie, like on Sam Cooke's "You Send Me"; or angry and confused, like on the simmering musical tropical storm "Ike," where he harangues the titular hurricane for almost literally blowing him to Austin.
There's not a weak cut on Texas Fire Line, and each one is a reminder of both his unique talent and natural charisma - and, unfortunately, that when he's gone, virtually an entire genre will go with him. An early, and strong, contender for local album of the year.
Little Joe Washington plays 10 p.m. tonight (and every Tuesday) at Boondocks, 1417 Westheimer, 713-522-8500 or www.myspace.com/boondocksbar.