Walt Wilkins & The Mystiqueros,
Diamonds in the Sun
(Palo Duro, 2007)

Musically speaking, Diamonds in the Sun is rooted as much in Southern California as in Texas, Walt Wilkins & the Mystiqueros' actual residence. This sort of thing works off the sort of country-rock that the late Gram Parsons, bafflingly overrated in my heretical opinion, brought into the world in the latter 1960s, to flower after his death for a few years in the 1970s with bands like New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Pure Prairie League, the early Eagles and others.

Like a lot of styles from the period, country-rock is undergoing something of a resurgence. Probably it never went entirely out of fashion in Texas, which likes its old-fashioned guitar rock with some honkytonk flourishes in the form of drinkin' lyrics and steel guitars. No surprise, Wilkins' outfit proves to be more Burritos and Poco than Merle Haggard and George Jones. I can't say that I am a particular admirer of country-rock, which to my hearing ordinarily fails to do justice to either side of the equation. Still, Diamonds is a solid and listenable effort with a line-up of professionally crafted songs, crisply played -- the Mystiqueros (four in number, backing acoustic guitarist Wilkins) are as technically proficient as one could wish -- and effectively produced by Texas music legend (and Dixie Chick father) Lloyd Maines.

Here and there the songs, mostly (not entirely) co-writes by Wilkins or solo efforts by band members such as Bill Small and John M. Greenberg, flirt with mainstream-commercial country, perhaps none more so than the opener "Trains I've Missed" (Wilkins, Nicole Witt, Gilles Godard), which in a more polished, less interesting arrangement might be something you'd hear from a slick Nashville act like Brooks & Dunn. One of the best cuts, "Just Like Hank," written by Wilkins, Jon Randall and Jim McBride, evokes Hank Williams Jr. more than it does Papa Hank, but even so, it's pretty good. Along with the roots-blues closer, Wilkins and Mark Prentice's "Stand Up Seven," it's as gritty as these guys get.

Elsewhere, Greenberg's "Red River Blues" has the friendly aura of a good car-radio song. Quieter tunes such as Small's title tune and "Quiet Moon" (Wilkins, Liz Rose and Sam Baker) are set to romantic folk-pop melodies. I like it that the band has revived Robbie Robertson's neglected "The Shape I'm In" and fashions an arrangement which, while it rocks as hard as the original, doesn't mimic The Band's.

review by
Jerome Clark

6 October 2007

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