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Various Artists

Travis County Pickin' Country-Jazz Guitar, Austin, Texas Style – 1997 (HighTone/HMG)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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The instrumental album, while an element of long standing in country music, is increasingly rare these days. But while rare, this fine album of instrumentals composed and played by a collection of Austin musicians shows it's not dead. The title plays off and links the themes of the album, Travis being the county in which Austin is located, and "Travis picking" the instrumental style of one of the guitarists, Merle Travis, to which the disc - and in particular, the contribution of Sean Melcher of the band High Noon - pays tribute.

The album also features performances by Dave Biller (late of Dale Watson's band), Joel Hamilton (Clay Blaker), Casper Rawls (Leroi Brothers), Brian Hofeldt (The Derailers), Scott Walls (Don Walser, The Derailers) and Jim Stringer, who also conceived of and produced the project. In the course of the proceedings, there are nods to a litany of country-jazz greats, from Speedy West ("Oreo Swing"), to Don Rich ("Ellen," "Buckaroo 2002"), to James Burton and Ralph Mooney ("White Corn") to Danny Gatton ("Danny's Boogie") to Chet Atkins. ("Liar's Poker"). And lest anyone think that mere slavish imitation is all that's going on here, check out "Buckaroo 2002," Rawls's tele-blasting update of the classic Buckaroos's signature tune.

This release not only pays homage to the country music instrumental tradition, but adds to it as well.