Ceding the dark side of pedal steel instrumentals to the likes of Friends of Dean Martinez, Lanterna and Scenic, virtuoso steel player Jon Rauhouse's neo-tiki-lounge Steel Guitar Air Show is a 16-track reminder that pedal steel goes as well with a nice dry martini as it does with a lonely glass of beer. Rauhouse, the former Grievous Angel and current Bloodshot label studio ace, has teamed with picker extraordinaire Tommy Connell to form a modern version of the Jimmy Bryant-Wesley "Speedy" West duo that mesmerized the Southern California country scene in the '50s, and spiced up hits from the likes of Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Horton and Gene Autry. On Jon Rauhouse's Steel Guitar Air Show, Rauhouse has added a little Southwestern flavor of his own -- in the form of Calexico's John Convertino (drums) and Joey Burns (bass); while adding guest vocal appearances from Bloodshot stable mates Neko Case, Kelly Hogan and Sally Timms to keep the record from being truly all instrumental. If the combinations sound familiar, it's because Rauhouse has done his steel thing for all of the above on some of their previous recordings. Here, however, it's Rauhouse's show, from the opening classic "Glow Worm," through familiar titles like "Lonely Bull," "Choo-Choo Ch' Boogie," "Perfida" (Timms' showcase), "The World Is Waiting for a Sunrise" (a 1951 hit for Les Paul and Mary Ford, sung here by the full-throated Case), and "Accentuate the Positive" (with an as nearly impressive Hogan on vocals). In the company of songs with such memorable pedigrees, Rauhouse's originals fare quite well in comparison, the strongest being the sinister-sounding, "Agent Burns (Theme)," and the pickers' delight, "Can O' Corn." All in all the tracks result in one of those rare discs that work as an homage to an era and its unsung heroes without sounding remotely dated. There's a shot or two of Ennio Morricone-inspired Spaghetti Western, a dash of Santo & Johnny, a jigger of Esquivel with spurs, and a healthy dose of West and Bryant. It's a great mix, one whose light flavor shouldn't distract from the powerful punch it packs.
AllMusic Review by John Schacht