Honky-tonk crooners have been serenading the Texas dancehalls since the beginnings of the genre, and while they’re not as ubiquitous as they once were, 24-year-old Justin Trevino is a worthy upholder of the tradition.
Comprised of eight classic-country covers, four originals, and two new songs written for Trevino by songwriting great Lawton Williams (“Fraulein”, “Farewell Party”), Trevino’s latest album (he recorded his first at the age of 17) is the real deal, its relaxed shuffles and heart-rending ballads masterfully evoking a melancholy world of dim lights and hardwood floors.
Cross Marty Robbins with Johnny Bush and add a bit of a lisp, and you have a rough approximation of Trevino’s soulful, dramatic croon. His own songs are rock-solid honky tonk squarely in the tradition and touching upon the time-honored themes of drinking, cheating, unrequited love and eternal devotion. Of particular note are the shuffling title song and the desolate “I Turn To The Wine”. Williams’ contributions are also stellar, especially the chilling “Lord Forgive”, a song from the perspective of a spurned man who’s about to murder his former lover and her new love.
Trevino nails all eight of the covers. The highlights include his sprightly version of Carl Smith’s “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way” and his operatic takes on Jeanne Pruett’s “Love Me” (which was also a hit for Robbins) and the Boudleaux Bryant-penned “Take Me As I Am”. Also excellent are two duets with his mentor, Johnny Bush: “Walk Me To The Door”, a 1963 hit for Ray Price, and the 1968 Bush hit “What A Way To Live”.
Bush also plays drums on the record (the Country Caruso drummed behind both Price and Willie Nelson in the 1960s), and a couple key members of Don Walser’s band (pedal steel guitarist Scott Walls and fiddler Howard Kalish) also provide accompaniment.
Trevino’s own production is at times a bit too plain to suit the richness of his voice and the often melodramatic material, but that’s a minor quibble with an album that’s aptly named: It’s sure to stand as one of the finest examples of Texas honky tonk in the ’90s.