Sue Foley / Lou Ann Barton in concert

Waterside Art &Blues Festival

By Allen Howie

It started with one of those weirdly comical moments, the kind that must try an artist's patience. As Sue Foley took the stage to deliver a set of torrid blues, a woman in the crowd (who apparently started drinking long before we arrived) yelled woozily, "Play some Stevie Ray . . . if you've got any balls." Foley, who migrated to Austin from Canada, may not be anatomically correct to a few narrow-minded blues fanatics, but she's surely built for the blues, as she proved on one tune after another in a steamy seventy-minute set at the Water Tower.

Earlier in the evening, Foley had talked about her admiration for Billie Holiday, and her trio's very first number, the hard-edged shuffle "I Got My Eyes on You," demonstrated the singer's fondness for Lady Day with a loose, playful vocal. And while her singing throughout the set was soulful and satisfying, her stinging guitar work was even more impressive. In the space of a single number, she might move from the most delicate, ethereal picking to full-bore, razor-sharp runs to knobby Bo Diddley rhythm playing. Her set showcased a number of songs slated to appear on her forthcoming Antone's album, her second release for that label.

Her Antone's label-mate and native Texan Lou Ann Barton could hardly be called chatty. Her complete dialogue with the audience during her eighty-minute show consisted of just five words: "Thank you and good night." Instead, Barton let her music do the talking, prowling through a lean "Shake Your Hips," blasting her way across a blistering "Rocket in My Pocket" and riding the hard country beat of "We've Got a Good Thing Goin'." When she sang the flirtatious "Sexy Ways," she generated more heat standing perfectly still than Madonna does writhing her way through ten videos.

One of the highlights of the show was a lovely, lyrical "It's Raining," which she recorded for her first album, newly reissued on CD. Here, as throughout the show, her band provided perfectly sympathetic playing, as her sweet, soulful vocal made the song flow.

Barton's gift is to cut across musical boundaries so easily that you can't remember why they were there in the first place. She served up first-rate rock and roll as she tore into a steamy "Old Enough" and an equally frantic "Let's Have a Party," showed her bluesy side on songs like "You Can Have My Husband" and "Natural Born Lover," then found a bridge between the two in the elemental rock of "Mean, Mean Man."

All told, Barton performed nearly twenty songs, and if her lack of stage patter troubled the audience, it was well-hidden by their applause. Together, she and Foley proved that good music has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with hard work and talent. In their double bill at the Waterside Art & Blues Festival, there was plenty of each on display.