Hawaiian guitarist/pedal-steeler's expertly bottled Pacific breeze

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This Month In Americana

A highly able sideman to the likes of Neko Case, Calexico, The Waco Brothers, Sally Timms and Kelly Hogan, Tucson-based Rauhouse’s prior form included seven years with bluegrass traditionalists Southwind?where his command of pedal-steel was honed by watching Jimmie Dale Gilmore cohort Mike Hardwick?before joining Arizona alt.countryites The Grievous Angels. Reunited with ex-Southwind picker Tommy Connell soon after, the temptation to further explore the instrument’s nuance and shade resulted in 2002’s solo debut, Steel Guitar Air Show. Raised within pickin’ distance of cotton fields and with a bronco-riding brother (pictured on the inner sleeve), the thematic sequel was inevitable.

Roping in the same Air Show players (including Case, Timms, Hogan and Carolyn Mark, plus Calexico’s John Convertino and Joey Burns), Rauhouse’s gift for the unexpected is a delight on this balmy batch of originals and idiosyncratic covers. Timms, for instance, coos her goosepimply way through “(There’ll Be Blue Birds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover”, while Nick Luca’s piano and marimba canter through “Powerhouse”, first commissioned for a Warner Bros cartoon and one of 10 instrumentals here. There’s a Hawaiian-hammock swing throughout, not least on Hogan’s pouty “Smoke Rings” or guest vocalist Howe Gelb’s springy reworking of the Artie Shaw version of “Indian Love Call”. Rauhouse even digs out the banjo for “Jennifer’s Breakdown”, aided by the missus (of Pennsylvania bluegrassers Jim & Jennie & The Pinetops). The instrumentals adhere to the brief (“Widowmaker” refers to every circuit’s resident psycho nag; “Ropin’ The Goat” is a kiddies rodeo thing) as much as they stray (the bizarrely wonderful “Perry Mason Theme”). Rauhouse, meanwhile, makes a commendable vocal debut on “Wishin'”, “Work Work” and “Corn & Coffee”. Seriously laid-back splendour.