Manders and Deal have known each other since their days at Wilson Middle School in the Dallas suburb of Plano. Manders and Stalling met at the old Three Teardrops Tavern in Dallas in 1993 when Stalling - a South Texas native - was just beginning to write and play.
Stalling and Manders both recorded their co-written "Scars and Souvenirs," a song about one of Manders' uncles who endured life's hardships with a smile and a shot or two of brandy.
Manders' finds his songs in outlaw tales and out-of-the-way places like the inscription on the West Texas grave of an Irish infant, which led to "Anne Marie," a song about love and dreams.
On "Bass Run," Stalling reminisces about a child who slept by open windows hearing the distant sound of a Mexican bass guitar, but who grows up and trades wide open spaces for a job that pays well. On "Heat of the Wide Afternoon," a driver is "trapped between morning's optimism and night's fleeting dreams," a place "where reality looms in the heat of the wide afternoon"
Deal was in a three-piece rock band after high school, but took time off to raise a family and make a living.
In 1993, he met and played at a blues jam with bluesman Curly "Barefoot" Miller at the Froggy Bottoms club in Dallas. He played harmonica with Miller for a couple of years at blues clubs all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area and sat in with several bands.
When Miller began touring Europe, Deal hooked up with rising Texas honky-tonk star Ed Burleson for another four years and often sat in with Manders.
"Kevin reminds me a lot of Steve Earle, just in his voice and inflection," Manders says.
"I like his story songs, and you can't mention him without talking about his harmonica. He's a prolific writer. It takes me a year to finish a song. Kevin can come up with an album in a week."
Stalling says Deal has "the heart of Bob Dylan," and "just keeps getitng progressively better and better."
He says Manders is his "songwriting soulmate. He's instilled in me the passion he has for giving every word weight and making every line count. He has a theory about looking at the line before and the line after and meshing all of it together - sometimes so subtly that no one else may ever consciously recognize the tie-in."
Manders, in turn, says Stalling "is probably one of the deepest writers IÕve known personally. Anybody can make words rhyme. Max takes time to make words mean something and play off each other and have two or three different meanings."
Because they still have day jobs, Manders, Deal, and Stalling haven't performed a lot outside Texas and the surrounding states. That hasn't slowed down the rush of the biggest little label up the charts.