Black Music Matters Festival

Derailers stay on the right track

TT the Bears, Cambridge, Mass., April 22, 1998

By Jeffrey B. Remz

CAMBRIDGE - The Kinleys, a sister duo from Philadelphia, may have won the best group award from the Academy of Country Music Wednesday, but don't tell that to the packed house at TT the Bear's who saw The Derailers in action.

This Austin, Texas-based band, who went to Buck Owens U., really know how to play what many would consider real country music.

The quartet, with Mike Ireland and Holler opening, is hitting the club scene around the country, touring incessantly since the release last fall of their very fine major label debut, "Reverb Deluxe," on Sire.

Despite about 10 months of touring, the quartet is none the worse for wear. In fact, this was a much stronger show than their area debut last July.

For starters, lead singer Tony Villanueva has a commanding stage presence with his sonorous voice. He's not flashy and has a warm glow about him, but the guy can sing. He does a fine job on the songs recalling the man behind the Bakersfield Sound.

But there is far more to the band than the Buck sound (they did do Buck's "Tiger By the Tail"). And the group smartly mixed up the sound enough to avoid sameness setting in. The slower, sparer "Can't Stop a Train" was followed by "I Don't Believe I'll Fall In Love (Today)," a classic Harlan Howard song.

When lead guitarist Brian Hofeldt takes a turn on vocals, he tends to sing more of the rave-up, rockabilly songs. He turned in a fine performance on "I Got Stung," done by Elvis once upon a time.

Hofeldt also was a powerhouse guitarist, whether on the straight ahead country songs, the several Bob Wills covers, the Fifties sounding songs or the instrumental "Ellen."

And the rhythm section of drummer Mark Horn and bassist Ethan Shaw did their job quite well, especially Horn. Shaw, however, proved a bit wooden in singing lead on two songs.

While the band's version of "Raspberry Beret," the night's closer, may be a bit of a novelty on the disc (it's actually a hidden final track), in concert, it sounded like yet another fine country song.

The songs are catchy and very hummable without falling victim to the syrupy sweetness of much of today's commercial country.

This was one enthusiastic, energetic performance throughout the 75-minutes.

The Derailers may not be winning any national awards from the mainstream country crowd, but don't despair. These guys are on the right track.