Royal Fingerbowl

With just one inexpensive demo tape, Royal Fingerbowl, a trio from New Orleans, attracted the attention of a New York record company. They've been hailed as one of the best bands to come out of New Orleans since the early-'90s emergence of Better Than Ezra. Composed of Alex McMurray on guitar and vocals, Kevin O'Day on drums, and Andy Wolf on bass and vocals, the band plays lilting, often waltz-tempo blues and jazz. McMurray's voice sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and Louis Armstrong, and he serves as the band's chief songwriter. A transplanted New Jerseyan, McMurray admits he takes much of his inspiration from the things he sees in New Orleans' nightlife, and so the lyrics on the band's debut for TVT Records, Happy Birthday Sabo!, (1997), have a strong sense of place. Like Waits' characters, the characters in McMurray's songs are often people on the periphery of mainstream society.

The band formed in April, 1995, but all three members have been playing in other bands around the Crescent City's Faubourg Marigny club scene for years. All three members moved to New Orleans for educational purposes -- McMurray from New Jersey, drummer O'Day from Lafayette, LA, and bassist Wolf from Michigan. Wolf had been in a salsa band called Mas Mamones; O'Day played with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, and McMurray spent time in various funk, soul, reggae, and rock bands around Bourbon Street.

The band began to attract ever-growing crowds at the Dragon's Den, a club on Frenchman Street, and the band's demo tape, recorded in an empty bar during the day, caught the ears of several record companies. Their demo was almost issued by one label as their first album. Although a typical Royal Fingerbowl set includes a lot of harder-edged rock stylings, jazz and blues are at the base of everything the band does. The blues and jazz progressions and forms underlying everything else are in abundance on their debut album. Three years after their critically acclaimed debut, the band released Greyhound Afternoons. ~ Richard Skelly

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