Dallas. Forever the “road” city in my mind, it is the ugly stepsister of my adopted hometown, a place everyone in Austin loves to hate. I’m not here all the time, but I’ve been known to drop by semi-frequently, and I think even if I lived here for the rest of my life, it would still remain completely foreign to me. It’s the one place that Mapquest print-outs still ride on the passenger seat to EVERY destination, even if its just up the road. Hence the “road city” title; it represents the essence of every city I ever went to ‘on tour’. It still retains the fun/frustration of exploration (and, especially w/ Dallas, the looming threat of getting irreversibly lost) and the ineffable thrill of being in a new place every night that has all but disappeared from my travels.
Being on the cusp of recovering from a months-long creative block, and being back in Dallas, where everything is the same, yet completely different, I decided to try my hand at another review, this time without using “I.” All my Bob Dylan reviews were written for a very specific audience, which was nice, it meant I didn’t have to explain that Donnie Herron was the fiddle player every night, but it also makes the reviews a bit jarring for those “on the outside.” This one, I want someone w/ no previous knowledge to be able to pick up, read, and (hopefully) enjoy………
Sitting on the edge of downtown Dallas, a few blocks from where some of the most famous blues recordings were made, a few more blocks in another direction from Deep Elum, a locale any blues fan should know, 3 spectacled, grey haired men took the stage of a small club. To onlookers passing on the streets, it was perhaps not the most impressive sight. To those in the club, however, it was a performance seeped in the essence of the blues, and one not likely to be forgotten; if they were paying attention.
Throughout the night, Denny Freeman, augmented by Jim Milan on bass and Michael J Dohoney on drums and vocals treated those in attendance to what the familiar I-IV-V pattern can accomplish, if done right. Too often, the blues are dismissed for their three chord simplicity, and the penchant for everyone who can play a scale over them (often at blisteringly fast speeds and ear shattering volumes) proclaiming themselves ‘blues guitarists’. This neglects the simple reason the blues are the blues; the feeling. With many of the (more famous) greats dead and gone, perhaps the biggest factor of a pending blues extinction is the lack of any sort of emotion in most playing.
Thankfully, this does not apply in any way to Freeman. Across the spectrum, he plays a purely physical kind of blues, the kind that take hold of every muscle in your body and don’t let go until they are good and ready. Without realizing it, your arms tighten and your breath catches, your feet strain against the floor. Employing a deceptively simple combo of Bassman and Strat, the pure, rich tone and Freeman’s stylistic prowess unlock the magic that every I-IV-V progression has the potential of becoming. No matter what you’re coming from or where you are going, you cant help but notice an ineffable truth to Freeman’s playing as if he, like those select few before him, have somehow tapped into the collective unconscious, the shared experience of what it is to be human. In 3 sets each comprised partially of genre-spanning covers, and partially of Freeman’s own material, this essence never waned.
Often overlooked, the rhythm section in this band is a formidable asset. Never overbearing, never aurally invisible, and, more importantly, never out for the glory themselves, they are the textbook examples of the role drums and bass should play. Sometimes funky, sometimes with a more soulful vibe, there was never anything less then solid. Dohoney’s vocals perfectly mirrored the guitar work; they too were full of experience and a sort of melancholy joy, a reluctant acceptance of the world. Covers were the only songs needing vocals, but you would never know that by the performance. Combined with Milan’s ultra smooth fretless Fender jazz bass (Does your part time bassist at the local tavern play one of those? Didn’t think so), the result was a truly seamless delivery. Adding to the notion of the collective unconscious, it was at times difficult to believe that there were three separate brains creating this music. That each player has different bands and gigs he plays, and that they rarely, if ever, rehearse as a trio speaks volumes.
This is not ‘blooze’. You do not need to get liquored up on cheap LoneStar, and multiple servings of bourbon and scotch stand to detract from your appreciation (though, that is certainly not to suggest you need a Masters degree in music theory to enjoy the show either). If that is your kind of thing, you should probably show up early, pay your cover, and then promptly leave. You will not get it.
However, if you are the type who wants to see and hear true music before it becomes something that exists only in memory, you need to make every effort to see this band.
I wrote this at 4 am, the result of too much lingering caffeine and one of those fun N. Texas thunderstorms. I also closed it without saving the second half of the document (something I have never done in my entire life). Thanks, Dallas!