Gifted but obscure, Shad Blair has been knocking around the Austin-area country-folk talent pool for at least a decade, honing a style somewhere between Don Williams’ detailed, subtle warmth and the hardscrabble storytelling of a Chris Knight or Steve Earle. His 2008 release Sunday Blues leaned more towards the former, but the long-awaited follow-up Sawdust is more in line with his brisk, underrated 2004 debut Red Fall. Produced with an able hand by steel guitar ace Geoff Queen, it breathes fulsome, dynamic life into Blair’s engaging songs of love, heartache, and travel. Blair’s default point-of-view is that of a rural-rooted wanderer alternately amused, entranced, and troubled by what the hard roads and big cities have to offer, a mindset spelled out in the opening “Country Boy”: “Always trapped in a traffic jam, when all I had was space … wishing on the stars I wish that I could see.” Not bitter, exactly, but notably pining for the days of backroad romance (“Let Freedom Ring”) or childhood adventure (“Me & My Brothers”). Then again, some tracks find much to celebrate in the here and now, with “The Trucker” clearly loving his hard-traveling line of work and narrators elsewhere digging the charms of tattooed Nashville barmaids (“The Bartender”) or exotic dancers (“Down at the Bar”) … more specifically, “down at the bar where the women get naked,” a refreshingly direct descriptor.  Blair, Queen, and the musicians surrounding them don’t tweak the tried and true country music formula much, lyrically or otherwise: they just hone it to a fine edge and pretend the overcooked pop-crossover mash-ups of the last decade or so never happened. Sawdust is less concerned with breaking new ground than with scratching that itch for the real and relatable. — MIKE ETHAN MESSICK