Stephen Bruton – Poor David’s Pub (Dallas, TX)
Stephen Bruton has played with, written songs for, or produced albums for Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Elvis Costello, Delbert McClinton, Alejandro Escovedo and others. He strolled into Poor David’s Pub in Dallas just before 10pm on this night with keyboard player Nick Connolly, glanced at the 30 or so people in his congregation, and proceeded to preach to the converted.
A minute or so into a quick soundcheck, Bruton and Connolly shifted into “Nothing But The Truth”, the title song from Bruton’s 1998 disc, and the show was on: two or three albums worth of existential, experiential blues-based songs in a voice ranging between Mose Allison and Keith Richards, some tasty guitar pickin’ and keyboard peckin’, and enough cliches turned upside-down and inside-out to fill the covers of a Stephen King novel.
Bruton made the wordplay work: “Youth is given, and age gets earned…You can howl at the moon, but you can’t bite it…You could drown beneath the water of the bridges you burn…You got trouble, or it’s got you…I’ve been obnoxious, unconscious, I been all kinds of things that are hard to spell…Only time will tell if it was time well spent…Some people claim they are born again, while the rest of us get repossessed.”
Bruton was teaching guitar in his hometown of Fort Worth when he was 13, and grew up listening to everything from Howlin’ Wolf to Liberace to Yascha Heifitz to George Jones before shining with the stars. He wouldn’t trade any Saturday night for a month of Sundays, and he calls music a form of magic. “You can hear a series of chords go by and, without any words, you can be deeply affected,” he said. “It can make you cry or feel happy — some form of relief that’s nonverbal. And that, to me, is magic. It’s not linear; it’s not logical; it’s magic. One guy can play a guitar and it doesn’t affect you at all, and somebody like B.B. King can hit one note, and you say, ‘Yes, thank you.'”
Bruton, wearing a black shirt, often leaned over his guitar as if in prayer, feeling the music. Connolly’s organ and piano (sometimes simultaneously) added to the feeling that Poor David’s Pub was some kind of cathedral for the night — an odd notion aided by a rapt woman whispering into a convenient ear, “Doesn’t that remind you of the Beatitudes?” (The Beatitudes, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, are “any of the declarations of blessedness made by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.”)
Well, no, but, with the right attitude, it was oddly something better.