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Phases and Stages

Texas platters

Reviewed by Christopher Gray, September 3, 2004, Music

Country Mile

Though it's nearly eclipsed by Tim McGraw's shoot-me-now cancer ballad "Live Like You Were Dying," the most wretched song currently on country radio has to be Kenny Chesney's "I Go Back," all about how he gets weepy upon hearing "Only the Good Die Young." Billy freaking Joel, meet Jesus Harold Christ. Conversely, Austin's DB Harris and His Men of Action do pop-country right. Contagious Heartache (Nighttime Records) disguises its depressing subject matter in the sunny sounds of California, and be it Bakersfield bounce ("One More Time") or beach-blanket bingo ("Girls Gone Wild!"), Harris' vocals are as silken as Baja boy Chris Isaak. San Antone quintet Eleven Hundred Springs likewise looks west on new full-length BandWagon (Palo Duro), toward the stoned specters of the Flying Burrito Brothers. They may be "Long Haired Tattooed Hippie Freaks," chugging Thunderbird and channeling Gram Parsons, but fellow freak Doug Sahm is obviously smiling down on hometown tribute "Northside Blues." Beaumont-born Jesse Dayton is about as Texan as they come, and he'll tell you so himself on the swaggering "Tall Walkin' Texas Trash." Dayton's Country Soul Brother (Stag) reveals a man equally at home in the bayous of "All Because of You" as on the borderlands of "Moravia," but who always comes to rest in the honky-tonks of "Daily Ritual" and "One of Them Days." Locals WT Special get down to barroom brass tacks on rockabilly romp "Bottom of My Bottle," but the twangers' tuneful debut, From Stone (SouthBound Trail Music), is equally memorable for its earthy point of view and fetching male-female vocal interplay. Boasting more bad puns and badass fretwork, Junior Brown's Down Home Chrome (Telarc) won't win Mr. Guit-steel any feminist fans, especially not "Little Rivi-Airhead" and "Where Has All the Money Gone?" Dale Watson, the Supersuckers, and even Deadbolt play it straight on Cash compilation Dear Johnny ... (Hairball 8), but lead-footed freak-outs from Kings of Nuthin', 12 Step Rebels, and Los Creepers elevate the Man in Black to the same punk plateau as the Ramones. Cash's gospel efforts are predictably absent, so spirit-seekers need Willie Nelson's just-reissued 1976 LP, The Troublemaker (Columbia/Legacy). Steered by sister Bobbie's amen-corner piano, Willie and Family steep in that old-time religion ("Uncloudy Day," "Shall We Gather"), while four bonus live tracks from 1974 turn the Austin Opry House into a tent revival. This, my friends, is how to live like you were dying.

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