The Texas Sapphires are a wonderful illustration of the differences between Nashville and Austin. Youngsters following their muses and dreams flock to both cities in search of kindred spirits. Myriad ensembles form, shift, disband. Inevitably, though, Nashville winds up making stars out of a neo-schmaltz pop outfit like Rascal Flatts while grinding down the likes of Joy Lynn White and Phil Lee. Meanwhile, Austin has managed to spawn and nurture the Texas Sapphires.
While their style is different, the Sapphires are reminiscent of another young band that came to Austin looking for something it hadn't found anywhere else: Asleep at the Wheel. In spite of its terrible title, the Sapphires' debut album, Valley So Steep, has a sprightly gumption and a Western spirit that transports listeners forward -- into the past. The fact that these youngsters can drop a stone-cold honky-tonker like "Driftin' In" (complete with vintage Don Helms cry-baby steel) while avoiding the swerve into shtick speaks volumes about their musical comprehension. Throughout the disc, the Sapphires manage to tip their youthful hats to the sacred ancient texts of prophets Wills, Williams and Parsons while capturing something new and exciting that manages to be both entirely theirs and completely pop. If honky-tonk has a future, hopefully it will sound a lot like "Driftin' In" or "Bring Out the Bible (We Ain't Got a Prayer)."