Any fans of country music - and we're using a definition that starts just west of real country and stops a bit south of alt.-country - who aren't sold on Austin's Texas Sapphires four songs in to this sophomore studio release can be suspected of unnecessary stubbornness. Just look what that first third offers. You get both a male voice and a female voice: Billy Brent Malkus' is handsome yet tough and wiry enough for a bar fight, and Rebecca Lucille Cannon's is lovely yet, well, tough and wiry enough for a bar fight. And as Riddled Days
demonstrates, the two voices waltz well together.
There's smart writing ("Here's one more for the road/He went away on") and twangy hooks to seal all deals. There are flights of pedal steel; well-placed fiddle, Dobro and mandolin and more flights of pedal steel. There's a swell cover to start things off in the form of Baltimore honky-tonker Arty Hill's Nashville Moon, and Malkus' catchy, clever Stunt Double is an ideal-world smash. And it doesn't hurt that there's a decent-sized bottle count, ranging from Hill's fondness for Maker's Mark to 190's taste for liquor of that proof.
Now none of that is meant as an indictment of the rest of "As He Wanders...", where the joys range from the sweet-picked Freiheit Rag to the hyper Farmer's Tan with title-of-the-week winner How Did I Get So Sloppy Drunk (When I Was Drinkin' Neat) somewhere in the middle. Nope, it's just meant as proof that Malkus and Cannon - both among the latest in a long line of punk rockers to return to the country music they heard growing up - sure know how to kick-start a roots record.