The Last Prophet of the Funky Texas Blues….
Now that’s a bold statement to make, and Willie J Laws Jr. definitely has a divine gumbo full of funky blues simmered and spiced just right with a mix of Country, R&B, Texas Boogie Blues, Tex-Mex, and straight up Blues. And every bite is served up with a whole lot of soul!
The first time I experienced his music was during a concert at 9 Wallis where he was playing with the Anthony Geraci & the Hypnotics. The stand out moment of pure fun for me that night for this bluesman was when Willie turned loose with “Snookie Jump”. A song that is every bit as fun as the name implies. Heavy on the funk, heavy on the boogie, and just right on the soul.
Later this year I had another chance to hear this Texas Bluesman stand front and center with his own band at Nelson’s Candies in Wilton NH.
Rounding out the band in New Hampshire were Osi Brathwaite on drums, Bruce Mattson on keys, and standing in on bass was Jerry Langley.
Osi Brathwaite, a Boston area drummer with the skills and instincts to hold down a funky Texas Blues beat that is unique in so many ways on it’s own that you have to be impressed with his ability to move fluidly from one style to the next and find that sweet spot each time.
Bruce Mattson, who has written numerous songs that have made their way to performance and recording, shows what it means to have talent and have fun all at the same time! A New England Conservatory alumni he has brought that education to bear in his writing and composition of original work that is so fun to hear and see performed.
Jerry Langley of the Langley Brothers, who stood in for the concert I attended, carried the bass line like a practiced and skilled counterbalance in the rhythm section. With the traditional serious expression of so many bass players, he still showed he was having fun throughout the evening.
During this show I was privileged to hear many of the new tracks from his latest album, Black Maria, performed live.
A fun romp full of humor and groove, you’ll find yourself dancing and listening to the contrasting lyrics that sound like anything but a happy time in a person’s life. But it’s how he brings out the beat while alternating spoken word and lyric that draws you in totally. Without even realizing it you’ll find yourself completely enthralled in the story and wanting to know how it turns out, like a great mystery solved with music!
With a tale of morality came the song “Deep Deep Well”. A lesson in how to carry yourself in life and what happens when you stray from the path of honesty and kindness. A mellow groove with deep soul at the root. Willie and the band show you that they can pull you into the story of each song in a seemingly effortless manner.
Taking on a flavor of Tex-Mex you get to enjoy the bands exploration into the southern border territory of smuggling. “The Smuggler” is served with a heavy hand of country that blends the two flavors in a way that you wouldn’t expect would feel so naturally suited to one another. Yet with skill and heart he carries the tune and the lyrics with a smile.
Moving on into the slinky funk was “Red Ant”, a soulful slow blues tune that explores the sexuality of the blues in the best tradition of double entendre and a healthy dose of mischievous fun. If you like slow blues, and love a blend of funk after dark, then you’ll truly appreciate the talent that has gone into the crafting and shaping this to fit comfortably in the hands of these fine musicians.
Willie has a style that blends so many that he has a sound all his own but that respects the individual sounds of the sources he drew upon. Personally I couldn’t see a single style as a least favorite, but my most favorite is the same as it is for many Texas style based artists, and that’s the boogie. He can lay down a blistering melody that is perfect for dancing or for standing stock still in awe of what you’re witnessing.
One of the things that I look for when I go out to live music is, “is the band having a good time?” You can almost always tell by the energy that comes from the music and the way they interact. Suddenly in that moment no matter who the artist is, in that honest musical moment you can tell those who play from a passion of the art and who connect with kindred spirits to have that experience in front of us all. That energy can truly cause a loop of passing to the audience and back to the band, once increasing the charge of the other with each quickening pass.
These gentlemen were truly having a good time. They played with soul and depth, weren’t above letting the good humor infect the moment by cutting up with each other between songs and sets. It’s one of those touches that makes it feel like you’re there visiting in a casual party via invite rather than having simply purchased a ticket to hear some top shelf music.
Willie J Laws is based locally in New England and regularly performs throughout the MA, NH, and RI. He also tours both nationally and internationally, recently having paired up with Roberto Morbioli in Italy and touring the region native to RobMo.
In the past he has opened for Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson, Etta James, BB King, Hall & Oats, and even Lynyrd Skynyrd!
There’s a reason that this artist has been playing and touring for more than two and a half decades. And you owe it to yourself to go experience why first hand!
You can also check out the new album Black Maria (released August 2018) here!
So you might ask, is he really the Last Prophet of the Funky Texas Blues… I’ll leave that for you to decide, but no matter what he’s certainly one of the best!
*This review was not solicited by the musicians or venue.