By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
There's no denying the Austin vs. Dallas rivalry. Yeah, it's juvenile (and a bit one-sided, truth be told), but it's with a certain caution for the capital city's hipper-than-thou affectations that we approached South Austin Jug Band and its eponymous debut. The fact that there's not one jug to be found on this record confirmed our apprehension, but our prejudices were largely disproved by the troupe's ability to overcome folk familiarity with lighthearted enthusiasm and a sincere nod to its classic roots.
With talk of two-dollar bills and billowing black train smoke, the introductory traditional, "A Long Journey Home," sets the rag-shuffle mood with Matt Slusher's mandolin floating over the nimble backwoods-ready fiddle of Dennis Ludiker, creating a familiar brew of punchy Western swing and bluegrass. South Austin Jug Band plays in the back yards of Bob Wills and Earl Scruggs, but the genre-splicing of subsequent generations is present as well, old barn-door bop mixed with the jaunty melodies of yesterday's radio-friendly rock. "Turn Around," for instance, could easily be a prime Marc Bolan boogie (elsewhere, vocalist/guitarist James Hyland quaintly muses, "I've got the wood, if you've got the stove") had he not plugged in and abbreviated to T. Rex. A cover of Hendrix's "Little Wing" sails breezily on the inherent musical differences.
It's not all grin-inducing pickin', however. "Hill Country Nights" loses steam with blasé balladry and Hyland's twang veering too close to Steve Earle's brand of Americana. There's too much mullet fetishism (two titles bear the word--aren't we done with mullets yet?), and Lloyd Maines' production is noticeably slick with consideration of the nitty-gritty intentions. Still, South Austin Jug Bandsucceeds based on accomplished musicianship and nostalgic catchiness. Pretty good. Well, for an Austin band. (South Austin Jug Band performs at Dan's Silverleaf on February 21.)
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