Birthed in no small part in 2000 from loosey goosey near wood-shedding sessions at Austin's famed Broken Spoke, South Austin Jug Band burst forth with its jubilant self-titled debut. Though a young band comprised of individual players who are likewise young (no member has yet crossed the threshold into the thirties), sheer devotion, road dog readiness and the passage of time has helped season and mature the aggregate. As such, these song-makers have stepped it all up and brought forth the excellent Dark and Weary World.
Musicianship and songwriting both take a leap on Dark and Weary World, while joy and freshness still have a place at the front of the mix. Young enough to not have fully worked through influences to find their own voice, but with the confidence to wear said influences boldly, Dark and Weary World takes on the personalities of its contributors with familiar nods to writers and styles. There are bits of blues and jazz by way of an inspired razzle dazzle of a cover of "Lady Be Good," and dualing fiddles / mandolin newgrass "Overdrivin' the Mic," "Delirium," and "Bluegrass in the Backwoods." Too, there's swinging Texas Playboys style: the delightfully retro-contemporary "Karma" and "No Baby Swings Like Mine." And songs like "Ghost" and "She Don't Care About Me" bear more than fleeting reference to front man James Hyland's years of listening to elder statesmen Steve Earle and his predecessor, Townes Van Zandt. The slap bass, reeling melody, group harmony, and subject matter (lack of both love & liquor) of "Raleigh and Spencer" speak of a kinship with contemporary string bands such as The Old Crow Medicine Show and their good friends The Hackensaw Boys (my favorite of all).
South Austin Jug Band gets it most right of all by playing straight up Texas from influence to reference of place and when all these jive together on the title cut and on standouts "Summer Sunset" and "Weather on the Wood." Both tunes are underplayed with a subtle and graceful ease--so much so, in fact, it's easy to overlook just how skillful the players are. The former breaks from traditional song structure for a rangy foray into mando-breakdown, spiraling briefly back to the main melody tying it all together; the latter is a warm wending tune that documents both the band's roadtime and the love left behind.
Dark and Weary World shows that South Austin Jug Band has no reason to stay under the porch as they've every right to run with the big dogs. • Paige La Grone Babcock