With poker-faced, name-dropping absurdity, Kevin Welch sets the tone for 2010's Patch of Blue Sky, his first studio album in nine years. "Confucius was a joker, Kafka was a spook," he sings on the opening track. "Rumi was a homey, Bukowski was a duke." The journeyman Austin songwriter — who's the cofounder of Dead Reckoning, Nashville's most tireless outsider country label/collective — hasn't lost his underrated sense of humor. He's also retained his stubbornly mystical antinaturalism that, against the odds, never descends into pathetic fallacies or emotional clichés. And while Welch is a formidable, patient songwriter, his secret weapon is his beautifully eroded but still muscular tenor voice. Even after all these years, he can moan like Van Morrison buzzed on gospel wine and country soul.