With last year's debut, Valley So Steep (Lowe Farm), the Texas Sapphires hit honky-tonk gold, polishing a classic Bakersfield sound with a contemporary edge and garnering Best New Band honors at the Austin Music Awards. Fueled by the paired vocals of Billy Brent Malkus and Rebecca Lucille Cannon, the quintet's ballads of losers and boozers reflect the punk backgrounds of both singers — Malkus emerging from Baltimore's hardcore scene and Cannon formerly fronting Austin pop-punks Sincola — while the steel- and dobro-braced tunes mine their deeper, more authentic, country roots. The group's follow-up, Roadhouse Gems (Stag), presents the Sapphires at their best in a live set recorded at famous San Antonio-area dance hall John T. Floore's Country Store. While the production is a consciously lo-fi, bootleg affair, the 19 tracks more than compensate, with Valley favorites like "Bring Out the Bible (We Ain't Got a Prayer)" and "Barstow Barstool" balanced with a slew of covers, from Buck Owens's "Under Your Spell Again" and Merle Haggard's "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" to Hazel Dickens's "You'll Get No More of Me." Best of all is the closing banjo throwdown of "How Those Mountain Girls Can Love." Gems offers some rough cuts, but the material is still priceless.
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