Back in 1994, Austin-based Watermelon Records did Texas and the world a huge favor by introducing us to the greatest old-timey cowboy singer still warbling near century's end. Don Walser was an unlikely candidate to become the label's biggest star, but his debut, Rolling Stone from Texas, quickly won him thousands of fans of varying ages and musical orientations. Universally we were stunned by the vocal purity emanating from this portly, bespectacled, totally straitlaced and sixtysomething retiree from the Texas National Guard. And amazingly his music could take us to times and places that seemed to exist only in grainy Gene Autry flicks.
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The man rightfully dubbed "God's own yodeler" became a cult hit and surely for some casual listeners merely a passing novelty, so retro-corny he was cool. But there's no pretense, nothing gimmicky about this West Texas native who started years ago moonlighting in a band called the Panhandle Playboys. He and his music, both the classic covers and dead-on brilliant originals, are the real deal. His excellent follow-up CDs, Texas Top Hand (1996) and last year's Down at the Sky-Vue Drive-In, have established Walser as a noble, firmly rooted presence on the pop-diluted wasteland that is contemporary country music. Beyond genres, he's also an honest-to-goodness musical wonder to behold.
Anyone who appreciates authentic Texas swing in the tradition of Bob Wills, blue yodeling inspired by Jimmie Rodgers or the narrative-via-country-song sincerity of Hank Snow needs to hear Walser perform with his Pure Texas Band. Heck, anyone who understands the beauty of damn-near-perfect tenor clarity should check him out, too. Whether he's smoothly crooning the Sons of the Pioneers' "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" or doing the honky-tonk shuffle while reminding us that "(The Party Don't Start) 'Til the Playboys Get Here," Walser delivers every nuance as true as a well-thrown lasso.
-- Roger Wood
Don Walser performs Friday, June 11, at The Brewery, 6224 Richmond at 9:30 p.m. Cover charge is $10. Call (713)953-0101.