Eleven Hundred Springs, |
(Palo Duro, 2008)
Since its last album, Bandwagon (which I reviewed in this space on 18 November 2006), the Dallas-based Eleven Hundred Springs has shed three of its five members, leaving singer/electric-guitarist/songwriter Matt Hillyer and bassist Steve Berg to carry on with three replacements. The reliable, hard-working producer Lloyd Maines (who seems to have his hand in nearly every worthwhile indie country album released these days) is at the helm, itself a virtual seal of quality.
Maines is also among those filling out the sound (on acoustic guitar and banjo), along with Tim Alexander on keyboards and conjunto-accented accordion (misspelled "accordian" in the credits). Underrated country singer Heather Myles, who has released CDs on HighTone and Rounder but not recently, returns from silence to engage in some satisfying duet singing with Hillyer on his "I'll Be Here for You," sounding something like George Jones and Tammy Wynette in their prime.
Speaking of Jones, one of the two non-originals, "Don't Stop the Music," is an obscure gem from the pen of that immortal master. Hillyer delivers it with the properly earnest intensity. Jordan Hendrix's fiddle and Danny Crelin's pedal steel ensure that no one will doubt the action is playing out in a lowdown, blue-collar bar where emotions, sweet or bitter, tend toward the raw.
You don't have to scrutinize the photographic evidence to discern that Eleven Hundred Springs is an assembly of mostly young guys. Clearly, though, they've been around long enough, touring the Texas circuit that Chris Thomas's Palo Duro label so ably documents in its recordings, to know precisely what they're doing. They've absorbed influences from hard-core honkytonk, rockabilly, hillbilly boogie and even (though less pronounced now than heretofore) California country-rock. The band's mission is not to reinvent anything or to push any envelopes. It's simply to carry forward an honorable tradition of Southwestern Saturday-night good-time music.
Though there's no shortage of honkytonk preserved on record, at its core it's performance entertainment meant to be experienced live in the natural habitat of bar and dance hall. It doesn't always translate successfully to disc. I'll bet Eleven Hundred Springs knocks 'em out on stage. But the CD Country Jam also works on its own genially unpretentious terms, assisted in no small part by Hillyer's solid songwriting and Maines's assured studio presence.
12 July 2008
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