Various Artists

In a Texas Honky Tonk

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Hightone Records have been milking their back catalog for all it's worth over the past several years, and this midline compilation is taken from albums recorded for the label by Dale Watson, Gary Stewart, Johnny Rodriguez, and Hank Thompson between 1988 and 2000. The link, of course, is all four artists are from Texas and here serve up country sounds in the classic barroom manner, and on that score this set delivers the goods. Rodriguez's cuts come from his excellent 1996 set You Can Say That Again, and includes a superb cover of Robert Earl Keen's "Corpus Christi Bay" that wrenches the song for all its beer-soaked tragedy. Hank Thompson's 2000 set Seven Decades is the source of three cuts that find the veteran singer and picker in fine form, especially the upbeat "Condo in Hondo" and a solid cover of "In the Jailhouse Now." Honky tonk revivalist Dale Watson sounds typically confident and Haggard-like on three cuts, mostly drawn from his great 1996 disc Blessed or Damned, with "Honkiest Tonkiest Beer Joint" sounding like his vision of paradise. And while the very 1980s drum sound and production on the three selections from Gary Stewart's Brand New seem a bit intrusive all these years later, his songs are superb and the performances heart-wrenching. If you're a fan of all four artists, chances are you've already got everything on In a Texas Honky Tonk, but this is a enjoyable sampler for hard country neophytes, and a reminder that they still know how to grow the real stuff in the Lone Star State.

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