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Clay Blaker

Welcome to the Wasteland – 2001 (Neobilly)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Clay Blaker

Clay Blaker has credentials to spare. In addition to a successful songwriting career, with tunes recorded by artists ranging from George Strait to Barbra Streisand, his writing is also well-known amongst neo-traditionalists like The Derailers, and brothers-of-the-pen such as Jim Lauderdale. His fifth album, and third on his own label, reflects the varied flavors of his Texas hill country home - just a stone's throw from the legendary New Braunfel honky-tonk, Gruene Hall.

Blaker combines classic Texas country - twangy guitars, bending steel, shuffling two-steps and flavors of Mexicali - with a melodicism that suggests pop influences like The Beatles or Marshall Crenshaw. "This Heart is Not Mine" includes a double-tracked harmony that would fit comfortably on a Searchers record, yet the underlining steel and walking bass-line keep the country heart beating strong and steady. "A Day Late and a Darlin' Short" parlays a clever title into a country shuffle.

Baker's records with his crack road band, augmenting their sound with DavidLee Garza's fetching accordion on "Brown Eyes of Mexico" and Lisa Morales' duet vocal on Rodney Crowell's "No Memories Hangin' Round." If Nashville's machinations weren't so well-known, one would have to wonder why Blaker is more famous as a songwriter than the stellar performer he shows himself to be.