Austin clubhoppers and two-steppers fondly remember Chaparral for their magnetic live shows throughout the early ’90s at beloved (and long-gone) dives such as Henry’s and the Black Cat, among other nightspots. Dishing out a wonderfully pure brand of honky-tonk and Bakersfield country, singer Jeff Hughes and company helped reinvigorate a dormant Austin country scene. Though woefully under-recorded, the band served as a crucial local link between twangy ’80s pioneers Rank & File and the Wagoneers and latter-day faves like Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, et al.
Head For Cover, Hughes’ second release since his return from a staff writing stint in Nashville, is an intermittently strong but flawed step back in the right direction. A platter full of unlikely and unconventional cover tunes, Head For Cover turns the irony up to eleven on stripped-down covers of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child Of Mine” (a subdued, reverent version) and AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”.
The great lost Springsteen song “My Beautiful Reward” is an obvious highlight, Hughes leaning into the sumptuous melody with precision and gusto while the band finds the austere heart of the song. That track, and to a lesser extent Rod Stewart’s “Rhythm Of My Heart” and Roxy Music’s “More Than This”, Chaparral comes on like the best of interpreters, melding beautiful pedal steel, violin, and Hughes’ husky vocals into something haunting and memorable.
But much of Head For Cover is mere novelty: A few cuts, such as R.E.M.’s “Don’t Go Back To Rockville”, are pointless retreads, while Lennon/McCartney’s “Ballad Of John & Yoko” just sounds plain weird in this context. The overall effect of the zanier covers is not unlike a comedy album — fun the first few times through, tedious thereafter.