Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets – Blast Off (2006)

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NICK DERISO: The Rockets were an undeniably crisp, hard-working blues band in the early 1980s, respectable if a little nondescript.

Darrell Nulish handled vocals and harmonica, fronting a group led by the unusually named, and just as unusually talented, guitarist Anson Funderburgh.

The basis for “Blast Off,” a 1992 retrospective called “Thru The Years” on Black Top Records, actually devoted four tracks to these first two albums. This 2006 update only includes one, called “Come On.”

Listening to this professional, and somewhat obvious cut (the oldest on the new CD, it appeared on 1981’s “Talk To You By Hand”), you can’t argue with the technique. But the band dynamic shifted toward the old-school in the mid-1980s when harpist Sam Myers — a sideman with Elmore James in the 1950s — joined.

Funderburgh also smartly moved the recording sessions away from their DFW homebase, with many of the subsequent dates held across the state line in Metairie and New Orleans.

By focusing on Myers, this newer compilation goes even further than “Thru the Years” in underscoring that dramatic transformation. “Come On” is followed by 16 shotgun blasts of searing soul from Sweet Sam — all but two of which feature him on vocals.

The night my man Myers died, I wrote this tribute.

The Rockets, always a smart and swinging Texas blues outfit, became something entirely different once they added the time-tested respectability of Myers’ throaty growl.

That’s probably best heard on the original 1987 release “Sins,” which rightly garnered four tracks on the initial best-of, “Thru the Years.” Winner of four W.C. Handy Awards, “Sins” remains a tasty, nearly perfect blending of Dallas flash and Mississippi mud — and it’s from a time when the balance of Sam’s wailing harp and Anson’s sprite, spindly soloing was still exciting and new.

“Blast Off” starts by duplicating 11 of the cuts from “Thru the Years,” then follows Myers through to his untimely recent passing. Notable in this updated compilation are some late-period offerings, including the 1999 Funderburgh original “Change in My Pocket” and “Rambling Woman” from 2003’s “Which Way Is Texas?” on Rounder’s Bullseye imprint.

The best tracks remain the Myers-Funderburgh slow burns. Myers is transcendent on ageless sides like “I Done Quit Getting Sloppy Drunk” and “My Heart Cries Out for You” from this anthology.

Meanwhile, “A Man Needs His Loving,” a light blues swing, works as a terrific counterbalance here to the Rockets’ gritty take on Buddy Guy’s “$100 Bill.” “Oh-Oh,” by contrast, is almost rockabilly.

Pay special attention to the subtle work of longtime pianist Matt McCabe, who is often the purring engine that pushes these triumphs along. The opening track also includes Mike Judge (yes, that Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butt-head) on bass. He was a member of the Rockets from 1987-90.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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