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Stefan George & The Ditchriders: Stefan George & The Ditchriders (Self-Released) 

A bona fide local-music treasure, George is a blues-folk singer, songwriter and guitarist who has recorded and played in Tucson for more than 30 years. He's performed as a solo artist, with groups too many to list here and as half of an inspired duo with Tom Walbank.

His latest project is a rough-hewn honky-tonk band that features stellar collaborators. Pedal steel player Neil Harry and accordionist Gary Mackender provide much mood and color to songs such as the gorgeous "Second Hand Boots." Mackender also plays drums, manning the rhythm section through upbeat numbers and ballads with bassist Jay Trapp. George's longtime partner, Lavinia White, supplies depth via lovely vocal harmonies—they've been singing together so long, it sounds effortless and natural.

In his earthy growl, George often sings in the first person, but his characters seem to come from all walks of life, such as the impoverished narrator on the dust bowl-style country "Where Did the Holidays Go" and the rambler fond of drink and women in the Tom Waits-style chantey "All Sins Forgiven."

Among these 12 tracks is some of George's best material. In the blues tradition, he often sings of challenges, obstacles and hard times—"That's How It Goes," "Hard Bitten World" and "Choose Love" is a great three-song cycle late in the album—but he also embraces the redemption of spirituality and love.

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