Don Walser and the Pure Texas Band – The Archive Series, Vols. 1 and 2
Who is the best country music vocalist working today? Well now theres a question to spur endless debate. But of course, its fairly predictable which names will immediately surface Johnny Cash, George Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Don Walser …. wait. Don who?
Unfortunately, there are still too many country fans who arent yet in the know about the wonderful talents of Mr. Walser, whos been playing Texas dancehalls since the late 1940s. But one listen to his music and youll pretty quickly figure out why fellow Austinite Mark Rubin, bassist for the Bad Livers, refers to him as Gods Own Yodeler. Or why Playboy called him the Pavarotti of the plains. Myself, I just go for the more simplistic description of Greatest Country Singer in the World.
Austins Watermelon Records has been trying to spread the gospel of Walser as well. The label got off to a fair start last year with Rolling Stone from Texas, which was produced by Asleep at the Wheels Ray Benson and featured session work by numerous current and former Wheelers (it was this album that drew the rave Playboy review). However, Watermelon and Walser endured no small amount of grumbling (including from this critic) for reducing his Pure Texas Band to almost bit parts. While the album might have sounded great to Walser first-timers, many preferred him with the excellent musicians who normally back him up every night and make his sound so distinctive.
Perhaps in response to this, or just to preserve some classic country music, Watermelon has now released The Archive Series. This pair of discs reissues and remixes, in their entirety, three cassette-only albums Walser made for the tiny Sight & Sound Southwest label a few years ago. Here, in all its glory, is Walsers crack band: twin fiddlers Howard Kalish and Jason Roberts, bassist Don Keeling, and, alternately, legendary steel players Jimmy Day and Bert Rivera.
These recordings show what has drawn Walser such a rabid cult following, ranging from Stetson-sporting rednecks to black-clad punks: Walser is a masterful singer, with a smooth, gliding-across-the-dance-floor voice that frequently rises into a pristine yodel that will raise the hair on the back of your neck and give you goosebumps. If youre one of us ornery types that insists country music was infinitely better decades ago, Walser will take you back there with tunes like Casting My Lasso, Bouquet of Roses, Chime Bells, Big Ball in Cowtown and on and on. As Walser says, We play Top 40 all the top songs from 40 years ago.
When hes not covering the likes of Ray Price, Bob Wills et al, Walser can be pretty formidable with a pen as well. Although he hasnt written much, his sparse output is of pretty high quality. The John Deere Tractor Song is especially powerful, raising the common dirt farmer to the status of folk hero in much the same way as Butch Hancocks Dry Land Farm.
While much of the alternative country featured in this magazine is unquestionably more in touch with the traditions of country music than anything coming out of Nashville today, fans may still yet yearn for something a little more genuine than the many punks-cum-Buck Owens-fans that heavily populate the scene. If thats the case, Don Walser and the Pure Texas Band are for you. Theyre playing country like it used to be played because he never quit playing it that way.