Rock ‘n Roll Saves [Release Date: 2013]
‘Texas Cannonballs’ is both the name of a band and an album that rocks out with pounding, dirt in the tracks grooves. From the opening rumbustious ‘Fly Away’ to the laid back Stones style acoustic finale of Dreaming’, this is Texan bar room boogie at its best.
Texas Cannonballs comprises Hector Watt on guitar and vocals, Preston Hubbard on bass – who contrary to persistent rumours is still very much alive – Chris Ruest on guitar and vocal and Jim Starboard on drums, with Temple Ray providing both bv’s and harmony vocals. And while the first four tracks are incorrectly listed – tracks one and four and two and three are the wrong way round – if you manage to play the whole album in one sitting, you will be swept along by the essential flow of the band’s oeuvre.
Even when the album starts to wane a little at the half way point, they add an extra instrumental bite and bv’s to re-ignite songs such as ‘King of the Blues’, which initially kicks in with snappy intent but never quite catches fire.
Texas Cannonballs is your dream Austin band. They resemble the last four band men standing in a city steeped in musical history. The difference of course, is that they are essentially a new band with their own take on the Lone Star state’s musical history.
This is a roots rock band that has honed its craft over a thousand bar room gigs. Texas Cannonballs is the sort of outfit that originally gave Austin its reputation as an international hub of rock and blues, or at least before the developers moved in. The band inhabits the kind of niche that brought SRV, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Omar & The Howlers international success. They rock, groove, percolate and bubble under, as the front line players add layered tones over a glorious bottom end, provided by the redoubtable Preston Hubbard and Jim Starboard.
The band’s collective bio is equally filled with high profile and obscure names, but it’s music with an essential Texan feel at the heart of it. They veer from rhythm & blues and rock & roll to Tex Mex and country tinged Americana, while never straying too far from the rock solid grooves of the opening brace ‘Fly Away’ and ‘Hard Way’, and the riff driven rocking of ‘Me And The Devil’. The latter deals not so much with the devil in the small print, as the gritty guitar playing that turns occasional sludge into gold, and resets the band’s focus when the arrangements momentarily waver.
‘Texas Cannonballs’ is the kind of good time rocking album that the Fab -T Birds used to seduce you with, before they aimed at a commercial breakthrough. And that’s relevant, because Chris Ruest made his name with the Austin band the Solid Senders, who were frequently compared to the early T Birds at their best. And it’s that unwavering musical connection that anchors an album of old school, good time rocking that perhaps only Jimmy Vaughan still continues to explore. For while the guitar led rhythm and blues of ‘Texas Tumbleweed’ and ‘Me & The Devil’ are classic examples of the genre, it’s music that today is mainly an export commodity and keeps a band like this on the road.
‘Texas Tumbleweed’ is full of slide guitar slashes and rolls along much like its lyrical evocation: ‘Blow wind blow, yeah yer howling up a hell of a storm, you got us dancing in the desert, yeah the desert is my home’.
Not everything works that well, with Hector’s idiosyncratic version of Jerry McCain’s ‘I Want Somebody To Love Me’ sitting uneasily with the rock solid grooves of the first part of the album. However, Chris Ruests ‘One Slip’ steers the ship back on course with a languid but insistent slice of rockaboogie. Hector’s ‘King Of The Blues’ nails another groove, even if it’s the triumph of bluster over substance and only an uplifting solo re-energises the stop-time ‘I Was Wrong’.
The band are in their element on the big tremolo figure of ‘Nobody Cares About Me’ and let rip on another Jerry McCain rocker ‘Geronimo Rock’, which would surely have made Preston’s former band member Chris Curran smile. ‘King Of The Jungle’ goes back to what they do best, with some distorted riffs over a laid back groove that smoulders with intent, and they rock out one more time on the riff led ‘Me And The Devil’s before a lo-fi finish on Hector’s ‘Dreaming’.
‘Texas Cannonballs’ is an album predicated on the implicit belief that there’s still an audience out there for some real deal, quality Texan roots rocking such as this. They ain’t wrong, grab a copy and head for the dance floor. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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