From Bruce Springsteen to Bob Dylan, many of rock’s best-known artists wouldn’t have achieved such legendary status had it not been for the musicians backing them up. The relationship between the Texas Gentlemen and Paul Cauthen (who is also a gentleman from Texas), embraces the spirit of the larger than life performer and his insanely talented backing band. Except, when both acts came through Portland on Friday, November 3 for a show at the Doug Fir Lounge, they each had something to promote. For the Texas Gentlemen, it was their first foray on their own with the release of their debut album TX Jelly, a contender for best album of the year. Cauthen is still promoting his 2016 solo debut My Gospel, which was easily one of the best albums to come out that year and marked his emergence as a powerful solo artist following the dissolving of his folk Americana band Sons of Fathers.
If comparisons to The Band weren’t obvious within moments of the Texas Gentlemen kicking off their set, they would be validated by the end with spot-on covers of “Ophelia” and “The Shape I’m In”. In actuality, the band’s sound is a groovy amalgamation of pretty much every great 70’s rock act, flavored with plenty of Texas boogie and twang. While the Gentlemen’s propensity for covers didn’t go unnoticed – taking on the likes of The Meters and even teasing Link Wray’s monstrous “Rumble” riff in the beginning of their own original “Shakin’ All Over” –songs off TX Jelly that sealed the deal and won approval from a crowd who most certainly came to hear some country music. The way they seemed to channel both the hippies and rednecks with songs like the funky “Habbie Doobie” and the slow and twangy “Dream Along” – the latter of which bore an almost uncanny vocal resemblance to Willie Nelson – brought to mind the counterculture-meets outlaw vibe of places like Austin, Texas in the 70’s. Even though the Gentlemen wear their influences on their sleeve, they have carved out a sound that is completely their own. After all, how many bands can manage to channel the likes of Steely Dan, the Grateful Dead, and Willie Nelson into one song while later on busting out prog rock guitar work and keeping the crowd dancing the whole damn time? By the end of their set it was safe to say the Texas Gentlemen had made a fan out of everyone in the room.
With his cowboy hat, suspenders, and tall stature, Paul Cauthen is a towering figuring who matches his size with a voice that is larger than life. From the opening licks of “Still Drivin’”, Cauthen put his deep tenor on full display with an outlaw country backbone. The crowd responded by hanging on every note and lyric, savoring the rowdy new song “My Cadillac” – a hit if there ever was one – and blissfully singing along to his rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues” complete with teases of “On The Road Again” and Don Rich-style picking courtesy of the Texas Gentlemen. Indeed, the singer’s Elvis-esque vocals were heightened by the sheer musical power of the Gentlemen, who were completely tuned in to everything he did. The soaring “I’ll Be The One” was downright euphoric, while “Little Son” was a true Western cowboy tune with a touch of gospel. The band truly shined with their swaggering funk meets outlaw country sound on Cauthen’s rebel anthem “Let’s Ride”.
In Portland on Friday each act displayed a level of talent and originality fit for giant stages. But the strongest impression came from that rare symbiosis that happens when a charismatic performer like Paul Cauthen is totally locked in with his band. The Gentlemen brought a brotherly spirit to the stage and Cauthen was more than happen to oblige the camaraderie, making for one hell of a good time for the musicians and their audience. Together they spun soul, country, gospel, boogie woogie and funk into a larger than life sound. Both acts may go their separate ways as they each become more successful, but in Portland it felt like a privilege to watch these Texans whip up so much musical magic together.
All photos by Greg Homolka.