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The Texas Sapphires

Valley So Steep – 2006 (Lowe Farm)

Reviewed by Dawn Pomento

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CDs by The Texas Sapphires

The Austin-based Texas Sapphires don't really need good reviews from critics for their debut. The quintet already has the gold seal of approval from Lloyd Maines. Long before he became widely-known as the father of Dixie Chick Natalie, Maines was infamous for working with young talent, the likes of Richard Buckner and Wayne Hancock. Here, Maines lends his expertise as producer and adds his skill on the Dobro and pedal steel to several tracks. A new band couldn't ask for a better imprimatur.

The disc is graced with a fine songwriter: multi-instrument playing Billy Brent Malkus, who shares singing duties with Rebecca Lucille Cannon. Both voices have a hard-worn quality - like the wood of dancehall floors - that especially suits this kind of bluegrass-influenced, retro-country music.

Paul Schroeder on mandolin and banjo and Jeff joiner on bass lend their voices to the lovely harmonies. Drummer Ram Zimmerman rounds out the band and, along with the banjo, drives the action forward on a frenetic song like "Ladyfest, TX," perhaps the best example and showcase of the band's energy and Malkus' hook-driven choruses.

The Texas Sapphires might not need the acclaim of critics, but they should get it with this accomplished set. (http://www.thetexassapphires.com, 512-653-7282)