The whole 'Americana' scene is so stuffed with contenders desperately trying to push the envelope these days that, just sometimes, you really do yearn for a good, old-fashioned country-rock album along the lines of The Band or The Flying Burritos.
Well, if you add in that special, indefinable Lone Star State something that the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Joe Ely have all displayed during their years as dusty Texan troubadours then that's what you've got with WALT WILKINS & THE MYSTIQUEROS' 'Diamonds In The Sun': a tremendously accomplished roots-rock affair performed by a quintet of guys who've travelled the US highways and byways more than enough times to know which way is up. When they're sober anyway.
Opening tune, 'Trains I Missed' gives you some idea of what to expect, delivering passionate, guitar-drenched roots-rock with a restless Van Zandt urge, more than capable Californian-style harmonies and leader Wilkins celebrating missing the forks in life he might have traversed, all the while knowing he can't go back now. Lyrically, he's already demonstrating that he's on drinking terms with the devil in the details and the way he delivers the simple-but-great wisdom inherent in lines like "here's to the the things I believe/ they're bigger than me" immediately draws you in.
The Mystiqueros winning line in tough'n'tender further defines itself thanks to impressive, hook-addled scenarios such as the redemptive 'Get Me Gone', the self-explanatory 'You Can't Outdrink The Truth' with its' memorable, rising chorus and the life-on-the-highway anthem 'Honky-Tonk Road' where the singer's wanderlust is tempered by the downs ("we get paid in cash/ straight from the door/ sometimes we wonder what we're out here for") the numbing day-in, day-out routine of touring at grass roots level brings with it.
Great all these tunes are, though, it's with the aching ballads that the record's heart truly lies. Arriving four songs in, the album's title track (actually written by bassist Bill Small) seduces us effortlesly with its' sad and blue tinges of full-on Gram, though it's soon run close by the unadorned, southern country-ballad designs of 'Quiet Moon' and the tangible, 'Gilded Palace'-style beauty of the deliciously stately 'All These Memories': both of which benefit no end due to the desert wind drift of guest Lloyd Maines' silvery pedal steel.
OK, so admittedly there's a couple of less inspired moments like the faithful, but perfunctory cover of Robbie Robertson's 'The Shape I'm In' and the the rather jokey and throwaway 'Stand Up Seven' to finish on, but they've still got the sparse and finely-wrought confessional 'Big Shiny Cars' and the positively showstopping 'Just Like Hank' (I think we can safely say it's Williams rather than Wangford, by the way) in reserve and both of these - especially the hedonistic latter - are quite beautifully performed and leave us in no doubt that The Mystiqueros have all their roots-rock bases covered and more besides.
'Diamonds In The Sun', then, is every bit the bleached and scuffed gem its' title suggests and its' allure is unlikely to fade in the future. Seems like we'd better add the name of yet another band of unmissable Texan troubadours to the Lone Star state's ever-expanding roll call of honour.