David Okamoto: Lou Ann Barton
Austin’s club scene and the South by Southwest festival has helped make the city a focal point of music and social media. But commentator David Okamoto remembers an album from a Fort Worth singer that proved to be a sign of things to come.
February’s 30th anniversary of Old Enough, Lou Ann Barton’s major-label debut, wasn’t commemorated with a lavish box set - but it still represents a milestone in Texas music history.
For anyone who lived here in 1982, Old Enough was a long-deserved coming-out party for the 28-year-old Fort Worth native - Barton had been bowling over Lone Star audiences singing with W.C. Clark’s Triple Threat Revue and Double Trouble, two Austin bands that also served as launching pads for a young Stevie Ray Vaughan. But for me, as a college student living in Florida, Old Enough was a soulful wake-up call, a gateway into the post-Armadillo World Headquarters scene that would soon elevate Austin’s profile and eventually help convince me to move to Texas.
Barton signed to Asylum Records and was paired with producers Glenn Frey of the Eagles and soul music legend Jerry Wexler. Wexler’s connection with the Austin scene reached back to the early ‘70s, when produced classic albums for Doug Sahm and Willie Nelson. He had the good sense to record Barton near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, using many of the same musicians from his legendary sessions with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.
Muscle Shoals also served as the Southern hub where Texas blues, New Orleans R&B and Memphis soul intersected, and the setting encouraged Barton to keep her blues-mama hollers in check. Her smoky voice glides effortlessly from a purr to a roar above the tasteful licks and slinky grooves, her roadhouse drawl erupting into a growl that accents the right words at the right moments as she celebrates such influences as Wanda Jackson, Irma Thomas, and Houston’s Lavelle White, whose 1959 hit “Stop These Teardrops” gets resurrected with faith and fire.
In between a swaggering version of Frankie Miller’s title track and a finger-snapping romp through Larry Birdsong’s 1958 hit “Every Night in the Week” is what seemed like the coolest possible cover at the time: Marshall Crenshaw’s “Brand New Lover,” which would not be released on the Detroit critic’s darling’s own debut album until two months later. Crenshaw was thrilled about the exposure but in an interview that year, he told me he was crushed that Barton had gotten the lyrics wrong. Instead of “I’m feeling dazed and dissipated,“ she sings “Spent days anticipating” - a clunky substitute, but like a true interpreter, she sells it with gusto.
Barton’s later recordings, including 1989’s Read My Lips and her recent collaborations with Jimmie Vaughan’s Tilt a Whirl band, are more revered among blues purists. But 30 years after its release, Old Enough still evokes the simmering anticipation before Stevie Ray became a Texas legend, before the New Sincerity movement made Austin acts like True Believers and The Reivers fixtures on college radio, and before a hometown festival called South by Southwest became an international phenomenon. Back then, listening to it from halfway across the country, it sounded like a siren song - today, it sounds like home.
David Okamoto is a content production manager at Yahoo! in Dallas. His music reviews have previously appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, ICE magazine and the Dallas Morning News.