Robert Earl Keen, Let's Step Outside, Jim Halfpenny, Stephen Doster & Will Sexton, and Eric Hanke
For the Sake of the Song
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Aug. 11, 2006
Whether or not the world needs another live Robert Earl Keen album is open to debate, but Live at the Ryman (Koch) is a primo example of the versatility of his long-touring band. Recorded in 2004, it's also notable for featuring Danny Barnes on banjo. Houston's Compadre Records has made a name for itself with theme-based compilations of Texas artists. The latest, Let's Step Outside, features songs on hunting and fishing with Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, and James McMurtry, joined by Texas music stalwarts Pat Green, Cory Morrow, and Roger Creager. You'll only be attracted to this disc if you think you need another copy of Robert Earl Keen's "Five Pound Bass," Kevin Fowler's "Beer, Bait and Ammo," and the only previously unreleased track, Honeybrowne singing John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." An Austinite since 2002, Jim Halfpenny escaped L.A. after a successful career as composer of film music with more than 20 films to his credit. His band debut, First Things First (Strong Domino), is filled with sturdy roots rock and occasional treks to Dave Matthews' space-jazz thanks to sax work from John Mills. Vocally, Halfpenny recalls the reedy sound of Drivin N Cryin's Kevn Kinney, but unfortunately his music never approaches that Georgia group's boisterousness. Stephen Doster and Will Sexton, who've been gigging together around town for quite some time, have finally released a snapshot of their work together, Impossible Sun. As a duo, they bring out the best in each other Doster's songs his most pleasing ever, and Sexton's eccentricities kept to a minimum. The subtly shining title track, written by Doster, and Sexton's sly and soulful "Every Bit of It" stand out on an album that grows better with each listen. Eric Hanke's Autumn Blues (Ten Foot Texan) is an impressive debut that mixes country and folk in a way that confirms his status as a Native Texan. With a batch of songs almost too evocative to have come from a young songwriter's pen and dynamic production from Merel Bregante, Hanke crafts a sound that falls somewhere between Slaid Cleaves and Bruce Robison and one that's well worth checking out.