By day, local lad Jon Rauhouse is a mild-mannered pedal steel player who works with a wide number of interesting alt-country fringe stars, in the studio and on the road. But when he's turned loose in the cosmic lounge, Rauhouse turns into a kind of everyman of pop and country, a throwback to the tiki lounge era of Martin Denny and Patti Page and gimlets that makes your teeth soft.
On his second solo disc, Steel Guitar Rodeo, he kicks off with a romping warm-up riff, "Widowmaker," a Rauhouse original that introduces the listener to the smooth glide of Jon and his picking partner Tommy Connell, followed by "Smoke Rings," a 1930s Mills Brothers classic that has been remasticated by everyone from Sam Cooke to Les Paul. This time it's vocalized by sweet Kelly Hogan, and serves as an ode to a crumpled pack of Chesterfields in the honky-tonk hotel of love.
The next song, "Powerhouse," is a pure display of tech prowess, a classic by mutant pop genius Raymond Scott that invokes Spike Jones, Bugs Bunny and their ilk. The song ends abruptly, slipping into the quiet and passionate theme song from The River of No Return. Neko Case's vocals recall the Technicolor Mitchum and Marilyn, and make one wish for an entire collection dedicated to great Western themes.
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After several fine Rauhouse originals, there's a cover of "The White Cliffs of Dover" performed by Sally Timms that evokes the romance of just wars and fine and flirty red-lipped WACs with straight seams.
There's the underrated "Perry Mason Theme," the Gene Krupa hammer-down "Indian Love Call" that unintentionally satirizes Willie Nelson, and Russ Columbo's irony-proof classic "Prisoner of Love," sung by Kelly Hogan.
For Phoenicians, there's a cover of Hub Capp and the Wheels' renowned "Work Work," a song that's a kind of Zappa/Tennessee Ernie Ford parody, famous for knocking the Beatles off the local charts in the early '60s.
Rauhouse's last disc was mail order only, but this one is getting the full market nod -- and rightfully so, because it deserves to be pumped into the fine desert air from every dashboard jukebox. It's a lively CD swamp cooler for the parched fauna of a frenzied nation.