november 2009

Stephen Bruton
Dedicated to the late Stephen Bruton (above, in an early, undated photo), who plays on it, Geoff Muldaur and friends’ Texas Sheiks album assays vintage blues, hokum, jug band and western swing tunes.

A Splendid ‘Diversion’

By Billy Altman

The Texas ShieksThe Texas Sheiks
Tradition & Moderne

According to the press release that went out with this CD, The Texas Sheiks began as a "diversion" to help Stephen Bruton, the veteran guitarist and longtime bandmember for the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt who'd been diagnosed with terminal cancer, spend some quality time recording fun music with close friends. To that end, a gangly crew of musicians including singer Geoff Muldaur, dobroist Cindy Cashdollar, fiddler Suzy Thompson, guitarist Johnny Nicholas and bass player Bruce Hughes convened several times in an Austin studio for a series of sessions where they ran through a batch of great vintage blues, hokum, jug band and western swing tunes dating back to the 1920s and '30s. After Bruton passed away last May, the band, along with Muldaur's former bandmate Jim Kweskin, completed enough tracks to warrant the release of this album dedicated to Bruton's memory.

It's rather fitting that they should dub themselves the Texas Sheiks, since the freewheeling, loose-limbed music found here draws much of its wonderful spirit from groups like the Chatman Brothers' Mississippi Sheiks and Frank Stokes' Beale Street Sheiks, whose infectious good-time tunes were re-discovered and neatly revived during the folk movement of the 1960s. Anyone familiar with the old Kweskin Jug Band from those days (and that includes this listener) is going to be grinning ear to ear hearing the ever-spry Kweskin sashaying through nuggets like the Texas Ramblers' "Blues In The Bottle" and Bob Willis' "Fan It," and the blues-soaked Muldaur stomping through Gus Cannon's "Poor Boy" and the aforementioned MS Sheiks' "The World Is Going Wrong" and Stokes' "Sweet To Mama." On this "reunion," they perform like they're just picking up where they left off some forty years ago. It's truly remarkable.

But even if you're not a Kweskin aficionado, or don't know the source material that this collection draws from, it still seems safe to say you're still going to have a hard time not getting caught up in the joyful noise being made by this roots music supergroup. From Hughes' giddy singalong "Don't Sell It (Don't Give Away)" and Nicholas' shape-shifting vocals on blues evergreens like Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor" and Big Bill Broonzy's "All By Myself," to Thompson's toe-tapping fiddle breaks, Cashdollar's right-as-rain dobro riffs and Bruton's ever-sinewy guitar and mandolin leads, the Texas Sheiks sound like they had a ball making these recordings. And my guess is if you get out your Ouija board and contact Bruton, he'll tell you that, in the end. maybe you can take it with you after all.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024