By Andrew W. Griffin

pop writer



Hitting Texas radio in 2007 with the hilarious-yet-painful country-rocker "You Look Better on MySpace," the Fort Worth-based Zach Edwards Band is starting to make some solid inroads in the amiable-but-competitive Texas/Red Dirt music scene.

Making their first trip to play a gig in Oklahoma, the tight quartet featuring singer-songwriter-guitarist Edwards, bassist Forrest Johnson, guitarist Ian Willmore and drummer Sparky Sorenson were performing in front of a low-key family crowd at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar -- Grill on a recent Friday night.

With a classic country sound mixed in with some rock and pop rhythms and melodies, Zeb, as they sometimes call themselves, has been hitting the Texas honky-tonk circuit pretty hard, paying some dues and gaining a following of fans.

So, smiling out at the Moms and Dads and kids munching on chicken-fried steak and "Freedom fries," Edwards kicks off with "Git 'Er Done" a mid-tempo song having absolutely nothing to do with country comic Larry the Cable Guy. Yet, upon closer inspection it's not a rousing, raunchy anthem, rather, a surprisingly tender song about love and spending your days with that special someone.

"It's a good thing y'all aren't on the coast," Edwards says, noting the approaching Hurricane Ike to the Texas coast.

This may have gone over the heads of the Toby Keith fans in the audience, however, since when the song wrapped up, there was a clap or two. In fact, from this reporter's vantage point, they looked like they were in a bit of a stupor. So much for Friday night frivolity.

Edwards must have sensed this, since he and the boys then launched into a cover of Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl." This is a tried-and-true song choice by bands from here to Kuala Lumpur. Audiences always love it, even when the line "making love behind the stadium with you" was countrified to "making love behind that old pump jack with you."

Zeb's guitarist Willmore, a very able country guitar player, starts playing the opening chords to Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance." He changes the lines referring to Indiana to Oklahoma, naturally. Then "Whiskey River" and "Folsom Prison Blues" get covered, quite ably I should add.

"Best of Me," another Zeb original, is similar in mood to "Git 'Er Done."

Covering Doug Sahm's "Who Were You Thinking Of," the Zach Edwards Band seems to be getting their stride as they play another original ? "Best of Me."

Coming from remote Big Lake, Texas, Edwards is clearly proud of the Lone Star State, as is evidenced in the songs on the independently released "Cowboy Crew" album. It was "Texas Women" that got Zeb some well-deserved attention on the radio dial.

And now, they're playing Toby Keith's, playing a strangely-subdued "Keep Your Hands to Yourself." Well, that's due to the management not wanting them to get too wild. This isn't the Wormy Dog Saloon, after all.

But drummer Sorenson is having fun. His fancy stick work is worth the price of admission, as they say. And today it's free. Sorenson later said he's been a traveling drummer for 12 years and normally was in rock bands. But when he heard Edwards' music, he had to join the group.

"Now that I'm playing country, Mom's never been prouder," Sorenson says as he takes a break and holds a baby, presumably his.

"Our necks are red like the skies are blue," Edwards sings on the pedal-steel inflected "Cowboy Crew." This "redneck" persona in his music, while authentic, doesn't mean Edwards is a mean ol' dude. No, Edwards and his cowboy crew are friendly, professional and know how to mix in the cover songs with the originals. And being from West Texas, Edwards isn't afraid to mix in some Tejano and Spanish lyrics in a set. Note "Rancho Grande," for instance.

"We're going to step it up several notches. Better production ... it'll still have that Red Dirt feel but it'll be more country with a glam and rock influence," Edwards said during a break. "We're already working on some new material."

And while noting that the Toby Keith's gig is a blessing, Zeb is best in a dancehall or bar environment. Perhaps a gig at the Wormy Dog?

"That's when we can get rowdy and raunchy," Edwards said. "The crowd loves it."

Edwards said the band is hoping to play in Oklahoma more often. There's another Toby Keith's gig scheduled for the second week in November.

For more information on the band, their music and how to get "Cowboy Crew," go to www.countryzeb.com or take your chances at www.myspace.com/countryzeb.

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