Feat Warmers

Happy Birthday Sabo

New Times by Rush Tattered

All bands like to claim their sound is totally unique, but few actually achieve true originality. The New Orleans-based rock trio Royal Fingerbowl--who warm up for Little Feat Thursday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m., at Le Moyne Manor--comes pretty damn close, however, even while wearing its influences proudly on its collective sleeve. The band's debut CD Happy Birthday, Sabo! (TVT Records) boasts a baker's dozen dark tracks ranging from the straight swing of "A Fistful of Love" to the sad waltz of "Ozona, TX" to the bold blues of "My Money."

Fingerbowl owes its off-kilter artistry to charismatic guitarist and songwriter Alex McMurray, although the Royal rhythm boys--bassist Andrew Wolf and drummer Kevin O'Day--contribute at every turn as well. They embellish McMurray's twisted vision with quirky stop times and unexpected tempos, as in the polka-esque "Munchentown."

Critics across the country have enthusiastically embraced the trio, and the disc appears on many a year-end Top 10 lists. "McMurray's booze-addled baritone, careening romantic streak and healthy appreciation of the sleazier side of life recall Tom Waits at his most dissolute and jazzy," wrote the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "but McMurray's no clone. Instead of rudimentary blues-drenched piano, he plays raw but swinging superb electric guitar. And his songwriting is as colorful, evocative and arresting as anything heard in 1997."

Several guest musicians spice up the album, but McMurray claims Royal Fingerbowl easily fills those spaces when the band plays live, minus the sidemen. "It's simple," he says, "we just turn up the amps louder."

Each of McMurray's songs read like short stories by Charles Bukowski or William Burroughs, with kidnappers, carnies and cokeheads as characters. The guitarist downplays the Tom Waits connection, but admits that, "The bars down here play Tom Waits up the fuckin' asshole. This place, the Dragon's Den, the first place we ever played out, the manager down there played Rain Dogs every night. I got kinda sick of it, actually, but it probably did have an effect on my songwriting, but so did Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan and Frank Zappa and Gershwin for that matter, so whatever." McMurray also admires the work of New Orleans electric guitar legend Snooks Eaglin, a veteran of Professor Longhair's bands.