The Krayolas

Long Leaf Pine (No Smack Gum)

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San Antonio's the Krayolas have been one of the American Pop Underground's best-kept secrets for more than three decades. They cut their debut single, "All I Do Is Try" b/w "Sometimes," in 1977, arguably the best Beatles 45 the Fab Four didn't get around to making themselves, and since then they've been writing and recording a slow but steady steam of killer pop tunes that run the gamut from infectious power pop and party-hearty garage rock to Latino rock in the manner of the Sir Douglas Quintet, plus a dash of traditional border sounds -- if Los Lobos ever jammed with the Plimsouls, you might get something like the Krayolas, and after a nearly 20-year layoff, the band has returned with a vengeance in the 21st century. 2009's Long Leaf Pine (No Smack Gum) is the Krayolas' second studio effort in as many years after returning to active duty in 2007, and it sounds like the work of a group with a lifetime of experience under their belts but no shortage of energy and inspiration -- the bluesy numbers like "Long Leaf Pine" and "So Happy" have swagger and bite to spare, "Hurtin' Me Baby" is beautiful, heartbroken, rainy-day pop with a dash of Dylanesque wordplay, "Matter of Time" and "A-Frame" rock out with muscle and excellent stick-in-the-ear hooks, and "Every Little Heart" is a smooth, slinky R&B number that comes straight from the heart. Lead singer and principle songwriter Hector Saldana is a major talent who, thankfully, is not only still in the game but is growing and taking chances -- "Corrido Twelve Heads in a Bag" is a blunt and chilling snapshot of lawlessness and violence along the border, "Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time" and "Chola Song" are beautifully observed sketches of life in Texas's Latino community, and "Marie Laveau" and the title tune demonstrate that the man is a born storyteller. Hector's bandmates David Saldana (drums and percussion), Van Baines (lead guitar), and Abraham Humphrey (bass) play with passion and precision that match the leader's skills, and they can jump from one style to another with élan. And veteran San Antonio brass section the West Side Horns (Louie Bustos and Al Gomez) add just the right seasoning to these tracks. The cover to Long Leaf Pine (No Smack Gum) is a knowing parody of the Rolling Stones' Out of Our Heads, and the comparison is apt even if the groups don't sound much alike -- like the Stones, the Krayolas are a band who've been around the block a few times but haven't forgotten how to write great songs and play ‘em right, and Long Leaf Pine is a stronger and more compelling work than Mick and Keef have offered us since the Krayolas were playing San Antonio clubs in their first incarnation.

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