Kevin Deal

The Lawless – 2003 (Blind Nello)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

CDs by Kevin Deal

Kevin Deal's fourth LP shows that he can turn a phrase like Billy Joe Shaver ("He's worn smooth as a buffalo nickel, he's rough as a prison tattoo"), and detail the sort of edgy characters that populate the songs of Charlie Robison and Steve Earle. Texas living seems to breed this sort of talent; perhaps it's the Shiner Bock.

With Lloyd Maines at the production board (and picking lap steel, banjo, baritone guitar and everything else that was stringed), Deal and his band cut an acoustic-electric sound across 10 originals and 3 covers, mixing blues with their country roots. Freddie Spears provides a guest vocal on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Mississippi Kid," tumbling along the country side on slide mandolin, Dobro and harmonica. The dragging beat of Hank Williams' "Lonesome Whistle Blow" fully captures the lyrics' despair.

Like labelmate, Max Stalling (whose own "Freedom for Mary" is included), Deal is a wordsmith with the experience of a life lived apart from music. His characters are fictional archetypes (e.g., outlaws, gamblers, truckers), grounded in the sort of every day detail that brings them alive, and rendered in music that is heartfelt and devoid of artifice.