These days, the genuinely exceptional, low-key Texas country-folk album is a rare animal indeed, despite all the young Texas mongrels and old road dogs trying their hands at the art. And it is an art, one that Jerry Jeff Walker all but perfected back when he could still sing and write songs. If you miss that Hill Country doper-and-roper vibe, Rearview Mirror, by the other (and first) Robert Earl, is more than just a reflection of music past.
Imagine a languid canoe trip down the upper reaches of the Colorado, and you get the atmosphere of this mellow yet seductive affair. Bobby Earl Smith followed those waters from San Angelo, where he was raised, down to Austin. Three decades ago, his Austin band, Freda and the Firedogs (with Marcia Ball), helped shape what later turned into "the great progressive country scare." Now a successful criminal defense lawyer, Smith writes songs as persuasive as a winning summation.
He's no country-folk Caruso vocally, but he's just as charming as the other Robert Earl. All told, Smith can get you three beers and a joint into the ozone without ingesting anything fattening or illicit. The godfather of Austin country record producers, former KPFT DJ Joe Gracey, and a host of old pals (Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Flaco Jimenez, Johnny Gimble, Floyd Domino, Kimmie Rhodes, Casper Rawls, John X. Reed) plus Smith's and Gracey's sons drop in to help.
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At a time when young Texas "artists" holler out the Lone Star buzz words like shit-faced cheerleaders on a bad speed jag, Smith only has to whisper in your ear about beer, bluebonnets and the Hill Country to evoke the real charms of this state and its musical tradition.