Kevin Higgins, Danny Santos, Michael Shane Borden, Chris Hawkes, Dickie Lee Erwin, and Steve Brooks
For the Sake of the Song
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., May 7, 2010
Kevin Higgins is best known as a member of the Dust Devils. His solo debut, Find Your Shine (Little Train), rolls by like a phantom, filled with West Texas landscapes and dusty poetry that combine for a listening experience similar to Jesse Winchester or Terry Allen. While he calls his band Los Bluegrass Vatos, Danny Santos' fourth album, Say You Love Me Too (Brambus), is a contemporary folk offering that blends all manner of Texas sounds. From the traditional Mexican influence of "El Coyote" to the low-key honky-tonk "This Memory of You," his vocals are honeyed and the songwriting sharp. Michael Shane Borden offers up a hearty dose of dirt-under-your-fingernails country rock with his third disc, Burden of Proof (Crushproof). Vocals that alternate between Johnny Cash-raw and George Strait-smooth allow Borden to spin through a lot of territory, with the big hooks of "Houston (We Have a Problem)" a standout. Better known as a producer/engineer who's worked with Sonic Youth and the Toadies, Chris Hawkes' second effort, Because I Feel That Way Too, has a sunshine vibe that's hard to shake. With ringing guitars and straightforward melodies, the Dallas native recalls a young Matthew Sweet minus the edgy pyrotechnics. Former Killbilly banjo player and Ronnie Lane sideman Dickie Lee Erwin is an Austin vet whose Swan (Highplains) comes across as a bit generic. With echoes of 1970s outlaw country and some fancy picking, Erwin manages a few tunes of deep spirituality. Steve Brooks, one of Slaid Cleaves' favorite songwriters and beloved at the Kerrville Folk Festival, hits with his first studio disc in 14 years, Chasing Grace (Frog). Brooks' reedy voice takes some getting used to, but his tunes of loss and longing ("The Dark Side of the Heart") remain ardent and effective.