Michael Martin Murphey, Brad Dunn & Ellis Country, The Duqaines, Wheeler Brothers, Jubal's Lawyer, and T Jarod Bonta
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Aug. 12, 2011
Michael Martin Murphey's five-plus decades need no niche, yet Tall Grass & Cool Water (Rural Rhythm) is campfire cowboy music. As a face on Austin's Mount Rushmore of progressive country, the now Colorado-based Murphey is a Western storyteller in the Marty Robbins fashion, calling for a "Trusty Lariat" and "Partner to the Wind." If hand-tooled sentiments such as "wake your old bronco and break for the plains" from "The Railroad Corral" don't stir the soul, your life may need a different tack. Brad Dunn & Ellis Country's no-frills country is taut throughout Ranch Cat. Dunn aims his Strait-arrow approach on surefire country rockers like "Red White and Blue" and the multigenerational murder ballad "Feed the Chickens" with aplomb. Name-dropping Willie and Robert Earl doesn't hurt, either. Two lead vocalists and a spirited strum-and-twang country rock make the Duqaines' eponymous CD a pleasure. Splashy cover art makes it handsome to look at, but the punch of "Hell-Bound Wagon" and Jimmie Dale Gilmore-esque vocals on two-steppers like "We're Through" makes them players of note. Lots of buzz for the Wheeler Brothers, a fivepiece including three brothers, paints promising Portraits. Reminiscent of Band of Heathens' ball-of-fire Americana and fueled by expansive musical backgrounds including Louisiana and Texas and the many genres between, their future classics include "Call Me in the Morning" and "Ghost in the Valley." Similarly, Gourds-like twists ("Sheets in the Doorway") make Ashley and the Wonderful Confidence, the five-song EP from Jubal's Lawyer, more concise than its unwieldy title. The jaunty horn and banjos of "Sandra" and lonesome accordion of "Hold" suggest the local sextet has more tricks stuffed deep in its calico pockets. T Jarrod Bonta's piano playing accompanies plenty of musicians, notably Cornell Hurd, so the sweeping country sound of White Lines runs the gamut from honky-tonk ("Tears Keep Falling") to Western swing ("You Drive Me Crazy") and hits all the truck stops in between. Yet if he's known for tickling tobacco-stained ivories, Bonta is less known for his fine country vocal style that hearkens to Sixties crooners like Tony Booth and Freddie Hart.