Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rising Star Brings Fans Back to Country's Roots

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rising Star Brings Fans Back to Country's Roots

Article excerpt

When it comes to real country music, Don Walser is about as good as it gets. The 6-foot, 4-inch (in cowboy boots) traditionalist that some call the "Pavarotti of the Plains" has been playing his pure brand of music for decades in relative obscurity. But he's now well positioned to surf a new wave known as "alternative country," a movement focused on the classic roots of the music.

Walser's following has slowly grown over the years, boosted by a national tour and opening shows for big names like Johnny Cash; it could widen considerably with the release next month of a new CD now being recorded in an Austin, Texas, studio.

Country fans have complained that their music has been heading south for years, its giants singing off the same playlist that sounds like 1980s pop. A few mainstream artists like Dwight Yoakam have found it pays to pay attention to tradition. And now big record labels are signing artists who play what they love - the simple sound of cowboy western, honky-tonk, and western swing. The new fans may not be who you think. Alternative country attracts a diverse audience. At places like the Broken Spoke and Jovitas in Austin, where Walser plays each week, the crowd is a mix of young and old, black and white. Couples in boots and faded jeans two-step as a young man with dreadlocks watches. "I really think that they are looking for the roots of all kinds of music, not just country," Walser says, laughing as he relays a story about an encounter with a fan. "A young lady with orange hair came up to me. She had an alternative-rock CD in one hand and mine in the other, and I said, 'Which one of these do you want me to sign?' " That scene is replayed in other venues that Walser plays across the country, including the Barns at Wolftrap in suburban Washington, where even casually dressed policy wonks appreciate tunes like "Shotgun Boogie." Walser will tour the East and Midwest later this summer. In the past, Walser has said he was too country for country, but he seemed happy not to follow the herd. …

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