Topcat Is Tops Again

REVIEW by Willard Manus
Topcat, the Dallas-based record company, continues to back the work of some of the exciting blues players living in that part of the country. A few of the label's artists, like Calvin Owens, are known nationally (Owens for two years in a row was named Outstanding Blues Musician by Living Blues Magazine); most, like Bob Kirkpatrick, have only achieved local (and/or European) fame.

To listen to Kirkpatrick on DRIVE ACROSS TEXAS, though, is to realize what a superb artist he is--and to wonder why his gifts haven't been more fully recognized. Not only does he possess a warm, rich, deep-chested voice (and play a bitchin' guitar), he writes songs imbued with wit, wisdom and heart.

Just about every song on the 16-track CD deals with love and its joys and sorrows, but Kirkpatrick makes each and every message sound fresh and urgent. He's helped by his gifted band, which includes Steve Coleridge (harp & other instruments), Jon Dyke (keyboards) and Peter Hague (drums). First recorded in England, DRIVE ACROSS TEXAS has been given new life by Topcat. Let's hope its US release will do the same for Kirkpatrick's career.

THE HOUSE IS BURNING is Topcat's showcase for the Houston-based Calvin Owens, who has been blowing trumpet in big and small bands for the past 50 years. Owens also sings, composes and produces, and he has poured all of these talents into the CD under review. Backed by a big band which plays with energy and drive, Owens leads the way on instrumental numbers, raucous Mardi Gras party tunes, impassioned pleas for brotherhood ("Message to Man"), blues ballads and even Christmas songs, making this one of the most enjoyable and impressive jazz records on sale today.

Owens' trumpet-playing is a thing of beauty: strong, clear and emphatic and he is backed by such veteran musicians as reed players Horace A. Young and Andra Haviland, guitarist Charles Davis, bassist Jophn Moon and keyboardist Rone Cole, to name but a few. THE HOUSE IS BURNING also features the captivating work of vocalists Trudy Lynn, Gloria Edwards and Leonard 'Low Down' Brown.

Topcat Records, (972) 484-4141 or visit