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Twang dynasty

The Derailers
Reverb Deluxe
Watermelon/Sire Records

This Austin band's name is one of the coolest in new Texas music. Yet as well as it works for them, it's something of a misnomer: The Derailers actually follow the C&W track as steadily and true as any of their peers, never really veering from the steel rails of tradition--a prime source of their strength. Yet they've still turned a nifty artistic trick by their respect for the verities of the old-line country road. Sure, they're riding the same rails as their obvious hero (and now mentor), Buck Owens. But where Buck was the tough steam engine, the Derailers are a sleek and modern electric train, and a high-speed one at that.

Their chosen route through the more scenic realms of classic '50s and '60s country runs a pretty straight line from Texas to California's Central Valley, with frontman Tony Villanueva playing Buck to git-pickin' sidekick Brian Hofeldt's Don Rich. But Reverb Deluxe makes some interesting new stops, such as the West Texas dance halls of "Dull Edge of the Blade" and "You Don't Have to Go." They also enter new territory with a couple of Memphis flip sides: "Pawnshop Wedding Rings," "No One to Talk to but the Blues," and "Come Back." On all three you can almost hear Elvis--skinny to medium-sized Elvis--singing in heaven.

Reverb Deluxe now finds the Derailers at running speed as they hit the majors via an alliance with the revived Sire Records, which is gobbling up the new, hip underground country scene. Their second effort with producer Dave Alvin, Reverb has just enough studio sheen and precision to be eminently listenable; new bassist Ethan Shaw fits into the group like the missing piece of a puzzle. The only real flaw to this rock-solid work of "contemporary vintage" country is the fact that they've revved up their pace since then (with new drummer Mark Horn, who doesn't appear on the album), which really only whets the appetite for what's next.

As these Derailers ride the true C&W road with nary a bump or rattle, they whiz past another, far less appealing misnomer--that dreaded "alternative country" tag. By eschewing the archness, irony, and too-cool-for-school poses that plague so many acts who fall into that messy camp, the Derailers are simply making country, period, the way it might (and should) have sounded if Nashville hadn't spent the last decade or so building a light-rail system to the suburbs. I know that wishing contemporary country were as real and powerful as this band is like hoping our nation might rebuild its railroads, but as Richard Thompson says, waltzing's for dreamers, and the Derailers make me want to dance and dream.

--Rob Patterson

 
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