Review: The Derailers – Live! From Texas (Varese Sarabande, 2010)
When the Austin-based Derailers broke out with 1996’s Jackpot, their Bakersfield twang reawakened the ears of many honky-tonk fans. The band’s main inspiration, Buck Owens, was still holding down a weekend gig at his Crystal Palace, but it was the Derailers who took their Fender guitars on the road and stirred up dance floors coast to coast. The band wrote killer original material, picked some mean guitar and sang with the conviction of Owens, Merle Haggard and Wynn Stewart. As the band evolved they took on other characteristics of Owens and his Buckaroos, tipping their hat to pop music with a twangy take on Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” a driving cover of the Crystals’ “Then She Kissed Me,” and guitars that recalled both the Beach Boys and the British Invasion.
In 2003, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Tony Villanueva left shortly after the release of Genuine (their second and last album for Sony’s Lucky Dog imprint), and the band’s co-founder, Brian Hofeldt, stepped forward to sing all of the lead vocals and write the band’s new material. The Derailers returned to the indie world and pressed on with new albums in 2006 and 2008, a Buck Owens covers record in 2007, and most importantly, years of roadwork in the honky-tonks of Texas. As good as the band’s albums have been, their live shows have always been their raison d’être. These fifteen tracks were recorded in 2009 and 2010 at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton, TX and the legendary Gruene Hall, and provide a good feel for an evening spent in the company of a great country dance band.
The song list sticks mostly to Hofeldt’s originals, adding covers of Marty Robbins’ “Knee Deep in the Blues,” Buck Owens’ “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass,” and Wynn Stewart’s “Come On.” Villanueva’s vocals are still missed, but Hofeldt’s grown into a truly compelling (and at times, very Owens-eque) leader and lead singer. The band has the practiced swing of a road-cured honky-tonk band, and Hofeldt doesn’t just channel Roy Orbison on “I See My Baby,” he reincarnates the loneliness that first inspired the composition. The songs easily combine country, pop and soul, and while this set is no substitute for hearing the Derailers in person, it’ll bring back great memories of your two-steps around the dance floor.