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July 1997

 

CHARLIE BURTON & THE TEXAS TWELVE STEPPERS

Rustic Fixer-Upper

Lazy S.O.B. Recordings SOB 003

(44m 16s) [US]

Rating: 9/10

Charlie Burton, you say? Never heard of him! Well, dear reader, it will doubtless surprise you to know that you are about to read a review of Burton’s sixth, so you have some catching up to do if this is your first encounter with the man.

Rustic Fixer-Upper is his first album for David Sanger’s enterprising little Austin-based Lazy S.O.B. label, and if it isn’t going to break sales records, it’ll certainly bring Charlie to a bigger audience than any of his previous five, most of which barely got out of the midwest of America.

Like his fellow "adopted Texan" Cornell Hurd, Lincoln, Nebraska-born Burton is technically not the greatest singer in the world, but like Cornell he has felling and a way with words that most Nashville-based songwriters would give up a cut on a Garth Brooks album for.

Consider the tonking tale of I’m The Guy Who Let Miss Universe Slip Through His Fingers where he couples "To say that she was purty was a mild understatement, her picture’s in the dictionary where it defines what great meant." Or the moody, swamp-bluesy On More Than One Occasion with Burton attempting to woo a dissatisfied-with-her-lot lady via lines like "On more than one occasion, I’ve seen him treat you like a non-caucasian"!

Perhaps more Don Bowman than Harlan Howard for sure, but funny, intelligent writing nonetheless, and this album is full of it...

...It’s not the only thing Rustic-Fixer Upper is full of either. The album fair brims with instant danceability, and whether the Texas Twelve Steppers are offering brisk, on-the-fours shuffles such as She’s Out Of My Hair (But Not Out Of My Mind) or the cautionary rocker Thin Ice-Deep Water the beat just won’t quit when Charlie and Co. are on.

Even the slower grooves are imbued with a quality that renders standing still impossible. And if you really don’t want to dance, just sit back and marvel at the brilliance of Burton’s song construction—this is a man who can rhyme "Questionmark, ampersand, comma" with "Ooh, yo’ Mama!" in The Things I Wished I’d Said and make it sound like the most natural coupling since "Moon" and "June."

Your reviewers favourite bit of Butonese comes in the menacing tale of the Rogue Cop when, after listing the bent bobby’s many character flaws, Charlie muses ruefully "...and to think he graduated at (or near) the top!" Only Texas songwriting gives you subtext within the lyrical mainframe and only in Texas could it be that funny.

Co-opting Vic Gerard from the Derailers as one of the Texas Twelve Steppers was a masterstroke, as Gerard’s walking bassline both steadies the rockier tracks and drives the honky-tonk material to even greater heights of brilliance.

Mark Korpi proves to be an unflashy lead guitarist who plays only what’s necessary and makes his point well when he does, and for David Sanger, well, if Ray Benson’ll have him drumming for Asleep At The Wheel he’s good enough to land a gig anywhere.

These pickers are occasionally augmented here by some other great Austin-based folks—most notable two titans of pedal steel, the Wheel’s Lucky Oceans and the great Scotty Walls, and their equally renowned fiddlin’ friend Erik Hokkanen.

Other vital contributions come from Mary Cutrufello on twangy baritone guitar and former Small Face Ian McLagan with some fulsome Hammond fills on the funkier cuts.

With little more than a scrapbook of local rave notices to show for a 20+ year career in music—not to mention advancing age and a receding hairline—it’s highly unlikely that this album is going to take Charlie Burton to the Big Time after so long as a local hero, but CMP is always happy to applaud the efforts of anyone who tries to expand the boundaries of country music without compromising what made it good in the first place.

To that end, Charlie Burton scores high on the ol’ clapometer. If you’re ever down in Texas, look him up.

Chris Bolton

 

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