Eleven Hundred Springs

Years ago, when he was leading Lone Star Trio, Matt Hillyer was the cutest guy this side of Rhett Miller, a rocker in hick's clothing who deftly integrated rockabilly cool into his potent mixture of hard-core honky-tonk and contemporary Americana. After the demise of Lone Star Trio, Hillyer formed Eleven Hundred Springs, and for nearly a decade, this quintet has quietly produced some of the best country music in Texas.

With Eleven Hundred Springs, Hillyer wisely chose to dispose of his youthful rock leanings and rely most heavily on such classic influences as Buck Owens, Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver. In the past, especially in the studio, these influences have often overshadowed the band's inherent talent, making songs that came across a bit too close to tributes instead of unique articulations of inspiration.

Country Jam solves that problem post-haste. Perhaps it was the choice of producer (Lloyd Maines) or a record label that knows a thing or two about legitimate country (local singer Darryl Lee Rush also records for Palo Duro), but these new songs perfectly balance originality and a reverence for rural music. Check out the echoes of the late, great Doug Sahm that are integrated flawlessly into "Texas Afternoon" and "I'll Be Here for You." This is two-stepping fare of rare intellect and subtlety, a great record of real music.


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