One of the quirkier aspects of the Austin music scene circa 1990 — and likely in other towns as well, to a certain extent — was the quality of music being released only on cassette. Compact discs were not yet ubiquitous, while vinyl was being phased out. In Austin, an artistic oasis known for slackerly independence and shoestring budgets, the result was that some of the best music being made was limited to tapes.
Some of these, such as David Halley’s Stray Dog Talk, eventually got pressed onto CD. Others remain resigned to obscurity, most notably a series of remarkable rootsy-pop efforts by Grains Of Faith. And a few have lately been rescued from the scrap heap — the latest being the Highwaymen’s Live Texas Radio.
Captured in 1990 on the exemplary KUT-FM program “LiveSet”, this recording documented the local blossoming of a band that had relocated from Ohio a couple years earlier, largely because they wanted to live in the same town as the True Believers. Indeed, frontman Troy Campbell and lead guitarist Scrappy Jud Newcomb possessed a yin-yang fire that recalled the True Believers’ Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham, though they ultimately forged their own distinct musical identity on three subsequent discs under the name Loose Diamonds.
Live Texas Radio, expanded to fifteen cuts from the original nine on the cassette version, displays their rawer side well, and, perhaps most importantly, features three remarkable originals that remain among the best in Campbell’s catalog: the restless rocker “Side Of The Road” (sparked by a classic Newcomb riff), the unapologetically anthemic “All I Know”, and the gorgeous waltz “Kentucky Eyes”. Also of note is Jo Carol Pierce’s “Buttons Of Your Skin”, evidence of Campbell’s keen eye for a special songwriter (he would later co-produce a tribute album to Pierce). Among the added tracks is the band’s blistering rendition of Dylan’s “Highway 61″.