The Derailers at the Star Bar, Atlanta

The Derailers packed the Star Bar for this early Monday night show; eager fans stayed through the hour-and-a-half first set and on into the second for tasteful revved-up honky-tonk. Many couples danced while others watched and tapped their feet.

The Star Bar caters to fans of retro rockabilly and country. The audience is discriminating in their taste for authentic roots music, but The Derailers proved they had exceptional taste. While the band set up, the PA system played a recording of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke.” Proving they know their roots, The Derailers opened by playing “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke.”

They followed it with an instrumental number showing off the twangy lead guitar work of Brian Hofeldt and the tight rhythm section of bassist Ethan Shaw and drummer Terry Kirkendall. Hofeldt makes the lead electric guitar sound like a pedal steel by producing a brilliant tone, controlling the volume knob and drawing from his huge vocabulary of string-bending licks.

The Derailers have done their music history homework. Within the first half-dozen songs, they had called up the riffs and vocal styles of The Everly Brothers, Buck Owens, George Jones, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, The Louvin Brothers, Bob Wills and Chuck Berry, with echoes of more contemporary artists Dwight Yoakam and The Jayhawks.

Singers Tony Villenueva and Brian Hofeldt traded lead vocals on verses and soared on the harmonies during the choruses. They favored the peculiar country music habit of singing lonely lovers’ laments in harmony, a tradition in coutry music going back to the Carter Family.

The Derailers’ songs stick with you long after you leave the show; the melodies are filled with hooks and the lyrics never seem jarring or pretentious. Two standouts, which also appear on their new Sire recording, Reverb Deluxe, are “California Angel” and “Can’t Stop a Train.” They also play a surprising cover – a stomping honky-tonk rave of Prince’s “Rasberry Beret,” the final (unlisted) track on the new CD.

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