South Austin Jug Band, with the Ringers

With its clean, earnest, New Age bluegrass sound, the South Austin Jug Band seems more suited to the Sugar Hill label than to Houston-based Blue Corn, which nevertheless has just released Dark and Weary World. The SAJB comes from that jam-grass niche populated by the likes of Sugar Hill acts Nickel Creek or Railroad Earth, but these Austin boys separate themselves from the jam-band pack with a determined back-home bluegrass lean to their performances -- which is to say they avoid the jazzy, noodling virtuosity that can make certain parts of sets by Eastern jam bands mind-numbingly non-entertaining. When SAJB attacks a traditional bluegrass number like "Raleigh and Spencer," it hits an infectious musical mark that can put a grin on the dourest critic's face, and ballads like "She Don't Care About Me" and "Weather on the Wood" are delivered with a straightforward, honest sincerity that absolutely sells the songs. Elsewhere, western swing workouts like "Lady Be Good" are delivered with a deft mastery of the idiom. This is one of those instantly likable bands, and these hard-travelers -- they recently toured behind Todd Snider -- come ready-made for both the listening room and the festival stage.

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