Texas Eastside Kings
by JOSEP PEDRO
Texas Eastside Kings features a fine constellation of blues and jazz musicians from different generations, that offer an accomplished, heartfelt sound collage of East Austin’s cultural legacy. The collective character of the record is double; on one hand, the music is played out as some sort of jam session where musicians come in and out naturally, with no interruptions, producing a compact yet flexible sound that illustrates their sharing of a common language and understanding. On the other hand, the record is a valuable and necessary homage to East Austin’s postwar era; these musicians come to represent not only the history of the living but also one about the players that have left us along the way.
As observed in the liner notes, “this community was the heart of the most thriving time of Blues and R&B in Texas, hosting some of the hottest live shows in the state. Touring musicians such as T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Amos Milburn, Guitar Slim and Lightnin’ Hopkins would frequent the area because of its hoppin’ clubs and the great local talent they could use as support.” If Bourbon (New Orleans), Beale (Memphis) and Maxwell (Chicago) Streets are places to remember in other important music cities, East 11th Street-with clubs like Charlie’s Playhouse, The Historic Victory Grill, I.L. Club-must definitely be part on any serious look at Austin music history.
Texas Eastside Kings offers a body of old school blues with catchy grooves that combines up-beat numbers with crawling, blues-to-the-bone feeling. The music is spiced up with a modern touch nurtured by funky rhythms, soul and jazz (“Mrs. Dee,” “Hoochie Mamma,” “Kuyk’s Back”), and stretched down by “Fraulein,” a country piano-bar, travelling-love tune, and the emotional ballad “You Hurt Me,” both featuring the late great Clarence Pierce-who passed away last July-on vocals. As usual, all of it is perfectly packed by the “Dialtone sound,” Eddie Stout’s label’s identity sign, which offers true and faithful Texas blues and roots music with fantastic and enriching instrumentation.
Throughout the record, every musician has time and space to show their best. Apart from Pierce, who is on guitar on all tracks, house-musician Nick Connolly proves, again, how much piano is capable to bring in to blues ensembles. One of the Texas Eastside Kings’ main attractions though, is the recognition of changing vocalists. All five of them (Willie Sampson, George Underwood, Clarence Pierce, James Kuykendall, Donald “Duck” Jennings) shine at the spotlight, adding their own personal touch. Perhaps, some more Donald “Duck” is missed as “Stranded,” a Junior Parker tune where Jennings shows an impeccable delivery, becomes one of the record’s highlights.
With up and downs that basically depend on taste, Texas Eastside Kings is a fantastic record that aims to move listeners and bring them in gradually with exquisite music, while presenting a group of local-sometimes wrongly taken for granted-musicians. Overall, with a precise production, a joyful live feeling and a powerful concept behind it, the record effectively blends music, history and identity expression, showcasing and spreading the legacy and relevance of the musicians that significantly performed in Austin before the Texas capital reached national and international exposure.
Personnel: Clarence Pierce: guitar, vocals (3, 5); Donald “Duck” Jennings: vocal (9), trumpet (5, 7); George Underwood: guitar, vocals (2, 4, 6, 12); Ephraim Owens: trumpet (5, 7), lead trumpet (5); Charles Shaw: drums (5, 7); Motoyasu Utsunomiya: guitar (1, 8, 10, 13); Willie Sampson: drums (1-6, 8-11, 13), vocals (1, 10); James Kuykendall: bass and vocals (8, 11, 13); Nick Connolly: piano (2-4, 6, 9-12); Mickey Bennett: organ (5, 7).
This review was originally published at All About Jazz