Chris Scruggs spent 21/2 years helping front the alt-country group BR549. Now the 23-year-old grandson of legendary bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs and the son of country singer and producer Gail Davies is on his own. If Tuesday's performance at Jammin' Java is any indication, his ascension is assured.
Backed by Welsh-born bassist Rob Price and Nashville-based drummer Matt Arnn, Scruggs plucked out of his electric guitar melodies and solos that were part Milton Brown western swing, part John Lennon pop and a little bit White Stripes edginess. The originals "How Does It Feel," "He Will Never Fill My Shoes" and "Love, Love, Love" fused vintage country with pre-1965 pop hooks, and unrestrained versions of BR549's "No Friend of Mine" and "Tangled in the Pines" gave indications that the band format had been holding back his natural energy.
With his thick-framed black glasses, narrow lapels and penchant for leaning down into the microphone, Scruggs generally suggested the reincarnation of Buddy Holly, but with more natural charisma. And Holly certainly never made playing guitar look so easy.
No doubt the next time Scruggs comes through town there will be a larger crowd than the small but enthusiastic gathering that saw him Tuesday.
Starting things off were local honky-tonkers Virginia and the Blue Dots, working out some new songs as a drummerless trio before heading to Austin to make another record. Singer Virginia Veatch, accompanied by Larry Lawrence on acoustic bass and Jeff Ash on electric guitar, was in fine form. Her vocals ranged from feline roar to soothing purr, and while the new originals were solid, the set highlight was a blistering cover of Lone Justice's "Ways to Be Wicked," with Veatch doing a convincing Maria McKee.
-- Buzz McClain