All things being equal, this Seattle five-piece -- and their recent debut, King of Heartache (Will Records) -- might have faded into the long, thin, faux-neon night of Johnny Horton-come-latelies, where manicure and manipulation of fashion score as many points as musicianship and songcraft. The Souvenirs, however, are a band of ringers, including pedal-steel alchemist Don Paulak and songwriter Lucky Lawrence, a refreshingly relaxed and pose-free singer who sometimes suggests David Hildalgo, sometimes Marty Robbins and sometimes, as on the panic-stricken flare-up "1000 Miles Away," the desperate catharsis of John Doe. Backed by the voices of drummer Boots Kutz, bassist Buck Edwards, and guitarist Mo, the ensemble finds the harmonic ring and drive of the Everly Brothers, or the Crickets, or maybe the Buckaroos.
From young rockers who play, in Lawrence's words, "recreational country," one generally hopes for a few memorable songs and a glint of promise. But the Souvenirs -- who recently toured with BR5-49 and Junior Brown -- have emerged as full-blown sultans of hard-country swing, as confident with a bajo sexto two-step as a Sun session throw-down or a serotonin-stuck barroom weeper. Their music will make you dance, dream, sigh, hum and marvel that such sincere and tingling country music could have come from the Northwest capital of distortion pedals and software, or that it wasn't the Souvenirs who made you swoon for real country music in the first place. But in a way, it was: Lawrence's songs tap into the evergreen essence of honky-tonk, the band is tight as a Nudie seam, and their performances brim with delight and care. And if that weren't enough, St. Louis's finest hard-country band, Dealer's Choice (the veteran all-stars generally seen at Horstmeier's in St. Peters) are also making their Off Broadway debut.