God forgive me for overlooking Granvil Poynter and headliner Tab Benoit — I had to see Catherine Denise.
Recently elected to the Blues Hall of Fame with a ceremony at Sam’s Burger Joint on April 3, Denise caught my attention with her CD, Treat Me Like a Lady. She can play like Stevie and sing like Etta, and we’re not just talking standards here — her own compositions are genuine blues gems.
But it’s a man’s man’s man’s world, baby, and we’re in San Antonio. So Denise has to play harder. And she does.
April 17 at the San Antonio Blues Society’s annual Fiesta Blues Heritage event, she just stood there, shyly announcing her own songs and letting her fingers do the talking. She mixed solid renditions of blues standards (Freddie King’s “Me and my guitar,” Jimmie Vaughan’s “Extra Jimmies,” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ for my Darling,” among others), but she could’ve done a full set of her own material and the show would not have suffered a bit. Treat Me Like a Lady (she’ll release a new one in November) is full of show-stoppers, and in her set she offered a few: the confessional, hopeful “One Of These Days,” the rocking “Every Little Kiss” (in which she showed why she doesn’t need a rhythm guitar — she can do it all), and the slow, heartbreaking “If You Leave Me” make you want to go out, find the guy who did her wrong, and stake him out over a mound of fire ants. She sounds like a younger Etta James circa Love’s Been Rough On Me, and the long silences she takes after the choruses chill you to the bones.
Keyboardist Scott Burns was her partner in crime for the solos, and drummer Jimmy Montemayor and bassist Ross Schlichting supported them efficiently throughout the set.
Denise’s performance had a plus: She had to follow an amazing set by South Carolina’s Sol Driven Train, the only non-blues act of the day, who set the room on fire with their Southern rock and Afro Caribbean fusion (along with a couple bluesier numbers), ending in an explosive percussion feast that mixed Cuba’s Los Muñequitos de Matanzas with Stomp! But Denise coolly did her thing and, three songs into her set, no one knew where South Carolina was.
Those who know Denise know she’s a superb guitarist, but don’t underrate her as a singer and songwriter. She’s the all-around real deal.