Outside of last year's wonderful Doug Sahm tribute album by the Bottle Rockets, Sir Doug seems to have become little more than an afterthought among practitioners of so-called Texas music. Enter producer Gurf Morlix and the McKay Brothers, Noel and Hollin, a pair of South Texas country boys who cover much of the same wide, rootsy arc Sahm plowed for 35 years. The McKay Brothers' music -- with its dusty folktales, old-time honky-tonk shuffles and raucous, authentic border tunes -- shows all the gusto and homegrown authenticity of San Antonio's favorite music son.
While the brothers don't dip into the blues the way Sahm did, they evoke the roots music giant with the wide variety of their material. Morlix has augmented the brothers' guitar/bass duo with his pedal steel, Joel Guzman's accordion and Ian McLagan's B3 organ. From the hopeful opener, "When I Reach the Colorado," which portrays early settlers marking their passage across Texas by the rivers they crossed, to the wistful "Dirty Old Town," the album avoids the usual humdrum musical and lyrical clichés. The McKays demonstrate a purely Texan understanding of danceable honky-tonk with the catchy "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" ("and honey put your mouth on mine"), and when they tip their hats to the Mexican heritage of South Texas with two Spanish-language tracks, they sound as authentic as any band working the bars and restaurants from either side of the Rio Grande.
The past couple of years haven't seen many stunners come down the Texas music pike. There have been precious few albums that mix it up and avoid the flavor-of-the-day, good-time-frat-rat formula -- and stand up after repeated listening. I was expecting McKay Brothers to be another bland, generic, Luckenbach-to-Shiner Bock menu, but nothing could be further from the truth. Like Hayes Carll, Max Stalling and only a few others, these barely known brothers from Bandera have brought us another encouraging sign that there's something left to be done with Texas music that actually matters. The spirit of Sahm lives after all.
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