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October 2, 1996

Texas Top Hand

DonWalserDon Walser, Texas Top Hand (Watermelon Records 1996) - On his second studio album, retired National Guardsman Don Walser shows why he's a fan with country and alternative fans alike. With 12 tunes (including three originals), Walser has an earthy style that recalls years gone by.

Now in his 60s, Walser was born and raised in La Mesa, Texas, a small town in the Texas Panhandle. A Guardsman by day, Walser has been making music at night for years. He first found success with 1994's Rolling Stone From Texas, a release on Watermelon that sold over 30,000 copies (a huge success for an independent label).

Walser has been termed the "missing link between Buddy Holly and the Butthole Surfers," which may be a bit extreme, but which also displays his broad appeal.

Texas Top Hand was produced by Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel. Mixing his own material with songs that were made famous by the Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Wills, and Hank Williams, together with the standard, "Danny Boy," Walser brings country music back to the future with the voice that prompted the Houston Chronicle to crown him "the best cowboy singer in Texas."

Don WalserSays Walser, "I want to dedicate this CD especially to our young fans. Those who bring their mothers and fathers and their grandparents out to see myself and the Pure Texas Band. It is so satisfying to see how receptive these young folks are to our old-time country music. It may be new to them, but those dear ones they bring with them quite often shed a tear as they remember those old songs that were so much a part of their lives 20, 30, or 40 years ago. I would not trade those special moments for all the money in the world."

On Texas Top Hand, Walser records such chestnuts as "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," "Whose Heart Are You Breaking Now?" (in the original big band Bob Wills style), and "Divorce Me C.O.D." In addition, he includes such original numbers as "Texas Top Hand" and "You Walked By," about which Walser says, "When a cheating song by Conway Twitty ('Linda On My Mind') was on the country charts, I decided it would be good to write a song about a man who would not try and steal another man's wife. This song is the result of that decision."

Walser appeared last year at the Fox Theatre in Hanford as part of the Border Tour. His heartfelt style, as well as his top-notch yodeling skills, made him a crowd favorite. Don Walser is the genuine article, and Texas Top Hand will not disappoint country fans.

Junior BrownJunior Brown, Semi Crazy (Curb 1996) - It's almost impossible not to be charmed by Junior Brown. With a demeanor that's a throw-back to Ernie Tubb, a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and great guitar technique, the 42-year-old Brown is something of an Everyman. Semi Crazy, his fourth solo release, continues down his happy, singular trail - part country, part rock, a little surf, and a whole lot of Junior.

Brown grew up in Indiana and was exposed to a variety of 50's country and pop influences. By 1966 he was playing in clubs and, eventually relocated to Austin in the early 70's.

Brown's skill with both the steel and electric guitar led to many gigs as a sideman and session player. Brown admits that he wasn't always driven to a solo career. "I really didn't have the ambition to be a solo artist for a lot of years," says Junior. "I was just looking for a good place where you get employment playing, really. It took years of doing it to learn my many jobs (singing, playing, writing, and producing), and I try to keep learning all the time."

Junior BrownBacked by a terrific band consisting of his wife, Tanya Rae Brown, on rhythm guitar and harmony vocals, Steve Layne on bass and harmonies, and Tommy Lewis on drums, Brown has all the room he needs to show off his chops on the "Guit-Steel," a custom hybrid six-string electric guitar and pedal steel built especially for Brown.

Fresh off the success of his last album, Junior High (with its two hit singles, "Highway Patrol" and "My Wife Thinks You're Dead"), Brown seeks greater heights on Semi Crazy. The first single on Semi Crazy is "Venom Wearing Denim" (the title is self-explanatory), another country charmer with a sense of humor.

Brown confesses, "I'm trying to pull the wagons - several wagons - but I'm used to that. All that stuff is needed to back up what I hear in my head, and if you took away one of those elements, I don't think what I do would work."

And work it does. From the traditional, slow country number, "I Want To Hear It From You," to the up-tempo title number (a vocal duet with Red Simpson), which is a play on words about truck drivers, right through to the seven-minute "Surf Melody" that ends the album with splices of "Pipeline," "Walk Don't Run," and "Secret Agent Man", Junior Brown is as good as anyone in country rock today.

I didn't see Brown when he played in Hanford this summer. (And why does Hanford keep getting all the good shows? Is the Tower Theater dead?) But I did see Brown recently on Austin City Limits, and was mightily impressed. Brown's big hat isn't BS - it's because he's authentic, in the sense that he hasn't been pre-packaged or shaped by an image maker. For a fun ride, try Semi Crazy.

-- Randy Krbechek

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