Don Walser

Talk about your feel-good stories. During his youth, Walser specialized in authentic country music before joining the National Guard. But in 1994, nearly four decades later, he retired from the service and reached for his guitar again. And even though he was considerably grayer and rounder than he'd been the first time around, his music was every bit as vivid and exciting.

Rolling Stone From Texas, Big Don's first post-Guard platter, and Texas Top Hand, cut in 1995, have plenty in common: They were originally put out by the late, lamented Watermelon Records, and they feature production by Ray Benson and T.J. McFarland, of Asleep at the Wheel fame, as well as the playing of more than a dozen sidemen who seem to be downright dizzy with glee. But the real attraction is Walser, whose voice is a genuine marvel whether he's singing in a tenor so twangy and exuberant that it produces grins on contact or yodeling with an abandon that's simultaneously thrilling and unnerving. On the discs' respective title cuts, the glottal manner in which his tongue and throat shimmy and vibrate is so wild that some listeners may initially wonder why his accompanists didn't call a nurse to perform the Heimlich maneuver on him. But in short order, it's clear that Walser, for all his abandon, is perfectly in control of an instrument that more than does justice to his throwback originals and the chestnuts he chooses to cover. Rolling Stone's "Shotgun Boogie," penned by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Top Hand's "Divorce Me C.O.D.," a Merle Travis favorite, are just two examples of tunes that couldn't be in better hands -- and better lungs.

The folks at Texas Music Group, the label responsible for reissuing these treasures, has an ear for C&W that rings with authenticity: Anyone who thinks Toby Keith is country will be rapidly disabused of that notion by Johnny Bush's new TMG platter, Green Snakes. But Walser's music isn't simply about preserving the past; it's about making up for lost time. Thank heavens he retired when he did.


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