the South rises . . . again?

Diablo Canyon (Blues Bureau International)

The Outlaws

By Cary Stemle

It's a little hard to believe the Outlaws hit the scene 19 years ago, another of the multi-guitar armies touched by the legend of the Allman Brothers and carrying the torch of the New South.

Now they're back -- like a fair number of bands that were working in 1975 -- with an album of new material. And, believe it or not, it's their best since Hurry Sundown in 1977.

Founder Hughie Thomasson is the lone original member, and his fingerprints are literally all over the record. Thomasson has returned to his strongest elements -- sharp, ringing guitar solos built around strong tunes that highlight his sinewy tenor voice.

As always, the solos are numerous and lengthy. But as Carville might say (he's no Lee Atwater, by the way), it's the melody, stupid. That's what you gotta have, and that's when the Outlaws are best.

Three tunes -- "Diablo Canyon," "Dregs Fall to the Wicked" and "Steam on the Blacktop" -- immediately recapture the aesthetic. Also good is "Fingers Do the Walkin'," which might go down as mere bragging except for Thomasson's ability to back it up. Old Outlaws fans will appreciate the sly reprise of "Waterhole," the classic instrumental from their first album. "Macon Blues," an ode to the city that has been responsible for so much of the Southern sound, cooks.

Beyond that, the album gets tedious as it strays from tight song construction. Still, it's heartening to hear Thomasson sounding so good after so long, after so many have gone by the wayside.