I remember a time when it seemed like I went to Blanco's every week. If it wasn't the Hollisters, it was folks like Jim Lauderdale or Chris Wall or some other totally legit act that would pack the little joint like a sardine can. Unfortunately (and maybe not incoincidentally?) Blanco's seemed to kinda dumb it down a bit during the Bush years. That scene just seemed to go stale a few years back, and average rather than exceptional became the musical standard.
But occasionally the venerable River Oaks honky-tonk still gets it right, and tonight it returns to form with Austin stalwarts Heybale. Continental Club mainstays, these guys can - and do - play with anyone, but they've all decided to play with themselves in this all-star lineup that includes superpicker Redd Volkaert, Johnny Cash sideman Earl Poole Ball and Gary Claxton, one of Austin's supreme singers in the Buck Owens tradition. The only change from the regular Heybale lineup is in the rhythm section, where Tom "He's Played With Everybody" Lewis continues on the drums, but former Wagoneer Brent Wilson fills in for Kevin Smith on the upright bass.
Lewis is quick to note that the Continental residency is not the only thing the band has happening.
"We've been covering a lot of Wynn Stewart songs, things like "Wishful Thinking," "Big, Big Love" and "I'm Not The Man I Used to Be," so we're kicking around a plan to cut a Wynn Stewart album. And," says Lewis, who was a longtime member of Jesse Dayton's band and has numerous ties to Houston, "we've got enough new material among everybody to do another album. But with our commitments to other artists, it is just a monumental task to get a block of time that works for all of us to go into the studio and get a record done."
"We're also going back to Norway in July, some festival dates and stuff. So for a bunch of guys with the other commitments we've got, this thing is just really solid and building," he says. "People still know that hardcore country when they hear it, and in Europe there actually is a kind of hunger for it. And as long as that's happening, we're gonna stay busy."
This is a band that can play any damned song it decides to. Maybe with Wilson on board for the evening, they'll break out the Wagoneers' old fave, "Hell City."
8 p.m. tonight at Blanco's, 3406 W. Alabama, 713-439-0072 or www.houstonredneck.com.