various artists,
Texas Unplugged, Vol. 2
(Palo Duro, 2006)

Though the independent label Palo Duro champions Texas music, it's based in a suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I don't understand it either. No matter. Those of us who like our music with roots in deep soil are glad that wherever it is, it's there.

Mostly acoustic, Texas Unplugged, Vol. 2 samples the sorts of songs and artists Palo Duro has to offer. Proceedings open with a captivatingly Roy Orbison-flavored tune, the Derailers' "I'm Still Missing You." In the 11 cuts that follow, Unplugged rambles the range of approaches that (mostly) younger Texas hillbilly traditionalists ride, many sustaining careers -- rather incredibly -- without ever leaving the Southwest, or even their native state.

Besides straightforward country numbers, selections include Devin James's "Dog Days Blues" -- literally a blues piece, shaped by the old-time Lone Star sounds of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Henry Thomas, Lightnin' Hopkins and other downhome songsters -- and Two Tons of Steel's rockabillyin' rave-up "Car Seat." Not to mention a superb, jazz-accented slide-guitar/guitar instrumental, "Turtle Bayou Turnaround," by Cindy Cashdollar and Carolyn Wonderland (neither of whom, we may safely presume, arrived in the world with that name).

The one unadulterated honkytonker, "As Long as the Bottle's Full," comes, naturally, courtesy of Dale Watson, the barstool-classicist's barstool classicist, who never fails to serve it straight up. Less expectedly, veteran honkytonk master Johnny Bush -- best known outside Texas for his composition "Whiskey River," long a Willie Nelson concert theme -- shows up with the uncharacteristic "Rio Grande Runs Red," which could easily pass as an antique frontier folk ballad. With a chilling narrative and a brilliantly restrained reading, it's the cut you'll notice immediately on the occasion of your initial listening.

Musical droughts come and go, but whatever the climatic conditions elsewhere, the musical well of Texas never seems in danger of running dry. Texas Unplugged is a drink of cool, cool water.

by Jerome Clark
30 September 2006

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