- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

The travel bureau boasts that Texas is "like a whole other country." It's true when it comes to cuisine, culture, topography and music. It's big enough to accommodate vast differences in musical styles from swing to folk, from the blues and Cajun influences of East Texas, to the Tejanos of South Texas and the singer-songwriters of West Texas. North Texas is home to the biggest Celtic music festival in the Southwest, and Austin, the state's capital, is one place where these styles mingle freely.

Texans seem to take music and musicians seriously, and they also seem quite open to, and in fact celebrate, these differences in styles. The state that brought us Buddy Holly also claims Scott Joplin as a native son. Currently, stars as disparate as Tish Hinojosa and Robert Earl Keen bring us their disparate views of all things Texan. It's all good.

When it comes to music, Texas is a giant melting pot, and we listeners are fortunate to get a sample.

Texas music fans demand only honesty, and in return, they remain loyal to their own. Those of us, as Lyle Lovett sings, who are "not from Texas," might not understand completely what it is to be Texan, but we're lucky that Texans enjoy sharing.


Willie Nelson

Crazy: The Demo Sessions

Sugar Hill Records

Pop this CD in and step back into another age, when country sounded like country, songs were clever and moving, and they appealed to the common man.

These 15 tracks include one newly discovered and heretofore unreleased song, "I'm Still Here," and seven previously unreleased Willie Nelson recordings of songs put on the country charts by various artists in the 1960s. There's a version of Mr. Nelson's "Crazy," the crossover hit made famous by Patsy Cline, some tear-in-your-beer tunes and rollicking songs but none of the calculated, synthetic blends passing themselves off as popular country these days.

As mainstream as it sounds, this material from country music's golden age contains the seeds of Mr. Nelson's "outlaw" movement, which was the original alternative country.

Extensive liner notes by Steve Fishell and historic photos document Mr. Nelson's first few years away from the clubs of Texas, where he had been struggling to earn a living as a singer-songwriter before such an occupation was ever dreamed of. Embedded in the disc is a video interview of Mr. Nelson's Nashville pal and fellow songwriter Hank Cochran.

Mr. Nelson washed up in Nashville in 1960 in a beat-up green 1941 Buick that died on arrival. Some 14 albums and 10 years later, he had written chart-topping hits for the likes of Miss Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price, but fame as a performer would elude him until 1975, when he recorded "Red Headed Stranger."

The liner notes quote Mr. Nelson as saying he always believed his stripped-down demos sounded better than the Nashville versions of his songs, which were overdubbed with strings and horns. Indeed, there is a casualness and honesty in the singing and playing of the eight solo songs that just can't be duplicated with session musicians.

Although the songs on this disc are short four of them are just barely more than a minute long they come from Mr. Nelson's prolific early days as a publishing-house writer.

The story behind the discovery of these tapes is also chronicled in the liner notes. The songs were recorded by Mr. Nelson between 1960 and 1966 for Pamper Records, the publishing house owned by Ray Price and Hal Smith that hired Mr. Nelson for $50 a week in 1960.

The quarter-inch tape was found in 1994, labeled "Pamper Demos," in the vault of Nashville publishing giant Sony/ATV/Tree. Tree International had bought Pamper's whole catalog in 1969. In 1989, Sony bought Tree. This tape was likely lost in the shuffle because demo recordings are routinely recycled to save money. None of the original multitrack tapes survived, however, and there are no notes regarding the session musicians on the seven songs featuring a backup band, although Mr. Fishell makes an educated guess on the credits.

Jay Votel


Tom Russell

Modern Art

Hightone Records

Texas balladeer Tom Russell spins tales of sports heroes and folk icons, turns in three duets with Nanci Griffith and covers artists ranging from Michael Smith and Emmylou Harris to Warren Zevon and Dave Alvin in his potent disc, "Modern Art." He even performs a recitation of beat poet Charles Bukowski's "Crucifix in a Death Hand" in a voice that sounds like Allen Ginsberg-meets-Johnny Cash.

Two of Mr. Russell's songs celebrate famous sports figures Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali, and he covers the tragic death of Stephen Foster in Carl Brouse's "American Hotel." Perhaps the most poetic song on the record details the true 19th-century life and death of Welsh sailor Isaac Lewis, whose hopes end as his disembodied spirit watches his body wash ashore near the spot where he fished as a boy.

With backing from lead guitarist Andrew Hardin, Miss Griffith and Eliza Gilkyson, Gurf Morlix on pedal steel and Elan Fremerman on fiddle, the dozen tracks here repay repeat listening. Mr. Russell's imagery is riveting, his selection of covers impeccable and his voice as deep and rugged as the West Texas landscape. The most pop-country-sounding song on the disc is the title track, intoning that "only two things can break your heart: modern love and modern art."

J.V.


Delbert McClinton

Room to Breathe

New West Records

Delbert McClinton has writing credits on all 12 of the country-blues tracks on his latest CD, a work that sounds like it came straight off a jukebox in a dusty roadhouse with a dance floor in a place like Lubbock, Texas. These songs are populated by cowboys and their faithless women, truck drivers and gamblers and just about all the folks sitting at that bar in Lubbock, where the land is table flat, the music is good and loud, and everyone sings along.

Texas spills all over this disc, thick as a bowl of chili, spicy as jalapenos in August and hotter than a two-dollar pistol. Perhaps the song destined to be covered by rowdy guitar-slingers drinking around a campfire, though, is "Lone Star Blues," in which the protagonist a rodeo bull-riding flunky who now drives trucks for a Seattle construction company finds his blues at all points of the Texas compass. Backing vocals here read like a list of Texas all-stars: Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Steve Earle, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Rodney Crowell, to name a few.

Mr. McClinton's wry humor comes wailing through the opening track, "Same Kind of Crazy," which ought to get lots of time on the radio and in jukeboxes, both within Texas and elsewhere. "Jungle Room," a likely name for the bar where Mr. McClinton got his inspiration, also is the title of the record's third track. There, the beer is served ice cold along with homemade whiskey. "Pace yourself so you don't go blind," admonishes Mr. McClinton, "Get there early, don't leave too soon. It gets good late at the Jungle Room."

Lovesickness figures in "Everything I Know About the Blues" and "Blues About You Baby." Classical strings add flavor toward the end of the record, in "Don't Want to Love You." There are plenty of dynamics in this recording, and Mr. McClinton shows his range to great effect while remaining faithful to his country-funk, roadhouse style.

J.V.



Lyle Lovett

Songs From the Movies: Smile

Curb/MCA Records

Those who like Lyle Lovett's big band sound get a treat with his latest compilation of songs he sang for movies all of them covers, and some of them from America's best-known songwriters of the 20th century.

Mr. Lovett swings through Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and Nat King Cole's "Straighten Up and Fly Right." He croons "Smile," co-written by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parson, and he bops through "Moritat (Mack the Knife)" like a latter-day Frank Sinatra.

Of the 12 tracks, Mr. Lovett does best on "You've Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story," which he sings with its composer Randy Newman, and "Till It Shines," a Bob Seger song he sings in duet with Keb' Mo,' from the movie "Mumford." Most moving is "Walking Tall," the Burt Bacharach and Tim Rice theme from "Stuart Little."

This collection in no way exhausts Mr. Lovett's work from the movies, however. He scored and performed the music for the 2000 Dallas-based film, "Dr. T and the Women," for example, which featured music much more in keeping with Mr. Lovett's style and voice. Big-band swing and Texas swing-influenced pop might be related, but they certainly aren't interchangeable styles.

One thing his music for "Dr. T" does have in common with many of the songs on this CD: It's more memorable than the movie for which it was created.

J.V.

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