Posts Tagged ‘Tex-Mex’

Gary Nicholson: Texas Songbook

Monday, July 4th, 2011

A country songwriter sings his Texas songs

Gary Nicholson is a Texan who’s had a lot of success in Tennessee. His songs have appeared on the albums and singles of country stars Patty Loveless, Montgomery Gentry, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, marrying the hooks required of a Nashville hit with the complex emotions and deep country roots of Texas songwriting. His recording career has been more eclectic, starting with California country-rock in the early ‘70s, blues-rock in the mid-90s, and a return to his roots with an alter-ego tribute to Texas blues legends on 2008’s Gary Nicholson Presents Whitey Johnson. Last year’s Nashville Songbook, Volume One reclaimed a number of songs he’d peddled to Music Row, adding a songwriter’s expression that’s rooted in first-hand truth rather than interpretation and performance.

His new album sticks to the Texas tip, but in country style with a band full of Texans and Texas-reared guests (Delbert McClinton, Ray Benson, Marcia Ball, Mickey Raphael and Joe Ely) playing and singing songs about the Lone Star state-of-mind. Despite the length of time Nicholson’s spent in Nashville, he still writes in a native’s voice, even as he obliquely notes his two musical families with “Woman in Texas, Woman in Tennessee.” He celebrates the Texas character – tall tales (“Talkin’ Texas”), independence (“Fallin’ & Flyin’,” from Crazy Heart), and the bit of Texas that Texans carry with them wherever they go (“She Feels Like Texas”). The outsized scale of Texas geography is mapped in the compass points of “Lone Star Blues,” drawing a trail of mishaps for a luckless protagonist, and the ups and downs of a relationship are mirrored in the tumultuous “Texas Weather.”

Nicholson may not have the head-turning voice of those who’ve made his songs into hits, but as noted earlier, he sings with a songwriter’s feeling for lyrics and imagines a wide array of musical possibilities for his songs. The arrangements include fiddle-and-steel ballads, Texas two-steps, Western swing (including great steel from Tommy Detamore), New Orleans second-line rhythm and roll, Tex-Mex and country-folk. The album closes with “Somedays Your Write the Song,” co-authored with fellow-Texans Guy Clark and Jon Randall Stewart, and the title track for Clark’s Grammy-nominated 2009 album. The lyrics capture the hold that writing places on its writer, and provide a fitting cap to an album of songs that traverse both the truth and the legend of Texas living. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Hacienda: Big Red & Barbacoa

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Invigorating mix of rock ‘n’ roll, production pop, Tex-Mex and more

Among the most intriguing aspects of this San Antonio quartet’s second album is that you’re never quite sure what you’re listening to. Is it taking cues from early rock? California production pop? Stax soul? Tex-Mex? Neo-psychedelic grunge? The answer is ‘yes’ to all. At times, like the Beach Boys ‘65-inspired “Younger Days,” the influence is pure honorific. Other antecedents are amalgamated, such as the suggestions of Little Richard and Thee Midniters in the early rock ‘n’ soul of “Mama’s Cookin.” Others are honored and tweaked at the same time, such as a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “You’re My Girl,” on which the sound is a bit harder than the original, but the lust in the vocal gets at what Phil and Don could only allude to in 1965.

You can hear Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles in the guitars, the somber mood of Johnny Cash in the vocals, and the teenage energy of mid-60s go-go rock in the rhythms. But as quickly as one thing strikes you familiar another emerges from the mix to create doubts. “Got to Get Back Home” features the roller-rink organ of Dave “Baby” Cortez,” a Norteno polka-rhythm and accordion, and a vocal that swings like a drunken folk-revival whaling song. The closing title track is an instrumental session that sounds like ? and the Mysterians jamming a B-side in Memphis. As an added treat, several of the tracks are produced in punchy AM-ready mono and the album is available on vinyl! [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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