Tag Archives: Texas

Nick Verzosa: She Only Loves Me

Solid Texas country ala Pat Greene and Cory Morrow

When country fans discuss Texas artists, they often limit themselves to the renegade stars, such as Willie and Waylon, who abandoned Nashville, and the songwriters, Townes van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver who defined Texas country song. But there’ve been a couple more generations of Lone Star singer-songwriters, and as the music’s grown within the state, many artists, including Pat Greene, Cory Morrow, Kevin Fowler and Jack Ingram have initiated, and in several cases sustained, careers within the state’s borders. Texas is a big place, and touring the honky-tonks, clubs, frat houses and bars promoting independently recorded albums can be a full-time job.

The music of these road-warriors is built for dance floors and summer fairs, with two-step rhythms and electric guitars whose twang mate country and rock ‘n’ roll without crossing over to the pop of Nashville, and vocals that invite audiences to share in clever lyrics of familiar situations. Nick Verzosa fits neatly into this tradition, with songs of lost love, broken relationships, new love, summer days and Texas delights. It’s standard fair, but Verzosa’s a convincing singer, and together with producer Walk Wilkins he’s crafted a compelling album whose songs will charm a Saturday-night crowd at Gruene Hall, and whose closing “7th Year Senior” is surely a favorite on Texas’ many frat rows. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Nick Verzosa’s Home Page

Zane Williams: The Right Place

Excitingly unaffected Texas honky-tonk voice

There are voices that immediately announce themselves as something you’ve never heard before, there are voices that are so anonymous as to blend into the background, and there are voices like Zane Williams’ that lay in between. His singing is not immediately recognizable as a new tone or style, but there’s an excitement in his delivery that jumps off this latest record. What’s especially intriguing is how he combines the humble and direct style of someone like Bruce Robison with the honky-tonk extroversion of Robison’s brother Charlie. The Abilene-born Williams relocated to Nashville for nine years and released a string of indie albums that started to find a bit of twang with 2000’s Fast Licks and Toothpicks.

A couple of years after releasing 2006’s acoustic country Hurry Home, Williams returned to Texas and discovered his roots still intact. Together with producer Radney Foster he’s retooled himself as an electric honky-tonker, freeing himself to indulge his native twang on the roadhouse circuit through which Jack Ingram and Pat Green each found huge regional followings. Though recorded in Nashville, Foster and Williams conjure the wooden floors and neon beer signs of Texas dance halls, not least of which through Williams’ songs. The opener, “The Right Place,” offers a warm welcome from the regulars at the bar, and his incredibly clever “99 Bottles” turns the round into a tongue-twisting, thirst-quenching recitation of beer brands.

Williams’ ten originals tread tried-and-true subjects, but even there he finds some original and clever twists. The kiss-off “Tired of Being Perfect” isn’t due to cheating but the result of an overly-demanding mate, the bluesy “I Am What I Am” allows Williams to imagine other occupations as he stands firm in his commitment as a musician, and “The Cowboy and the Clown” peels away self-prescribed illusions of diminished expectations. The album closes with an original Christmas song that wipes away years of bad times with the miracle of a new baby. It’s a heartfelt (if perhaps a tad treacly) ending to a fine album that otherwise avoids the softer style Williams had developed in Nashville. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | 99 Bottles
Zane Williams’ Home Page
Zane Williams’ MySpace Page

Guy Clark: Somedays the Song Writes You

GuyClark_SomedaysTheSongWritesYouFinely crafted acoustic country-folk songs from a Texas legend

The songwriter’s craft of juxtaposing words to describe a person, scene or situation or to communicate a feeling is only the surface of a process that starts deep within. The ability to step outside one’s own moment to describe what’s happening or happened, to recognize, observe and frame an experience in which one may be an active participant, is the more ephemeral side of songwriting. It’s something that few do as well as Guy Clark, and married to finely selected words, his songs provide uncommonly detailed and communicative windows into moments and people who might otherwise pass unobserved.

In the title song, Clark addresses the alchemical process of songwriting. He notes that songs often appear to songwriters from thin air to exert themselves into being. But with a writer of Clark’s caliber, years of practice has left him open to divine these works, to snatch a moment of consciousness out of the rushing river of living. On “Hemingway’s Whiskey” he communes writer to writer about the debilitating muse, offering a personal glimpse into the pain of writing, and a picture of drinking as a chronic enabler rather than the classic reactive salve to lost love. Clark is equally effective sketching the seedy side of town, conjuring the scene of a seafarer’s final voyage, and animating a pawn shop guitar. The latter’s twist ending is laid in a lovely flurry of acoustic finger picking.

The album is filled with lush acoustic playing from Clark and Verlon Thompson, and the rhythms of Kenny Malone (drums) and Bryn Davies (bass) provide a stable but subtle bottom end. Clark’s voice has weathered over the years, and though it’s never been the prettiest or most melodic instrument, it’s filled with emotion, particularly when covering his late friend Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” His co-writes with Rodney Crowell, Shawn Camp, Gary Nicholson, as well as several up-and-coming writers, bring together two generations of his disciples. Clark’s long been a “songwriter’s songwriter,” but he’s never stopped working on his craft, and the results are plain to hear on this latest release. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | The Guitar
Guy Clark’s Home Page

Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses: Roadhouse Sun

ryanbingham_roadhousesunPreternaturally weary and wizened country-rock

Ryan Bingham sounds more road-weary and wizened than can scarcely be imagined for a twenty-eight year old. He’s a hoarse-voiced troubadour in the mold of Dylan and Earle, a rocker in the sing-song vein of Willie Nile and Steve Forbert, a rousing melodist ala Bruce Springsteen, and a dusty Westerner (born in New Mexico, but raised in rural Texas) whose roots also touch John Mellancamp’s heartland. Like fellow Texan Jack Ingram’s early days touring the state’s elaborate network of bars and dance halls, Bingham displays an unbridled urgency to communicate with each performance. The provenance of his gravel-stained voice includes an early exit from parental supervision and hard years of independent living on the rodeo circuit. With such experiential riches, you’d expect Bingham’s songs to dig into emotional pain, fate, self-reliance, resurrection, hard work, or realized dreams, and while his band (under the baton of the Black Crowes’ Marc Ford) gives fiery and impassioned performances to match the vocals, the lyrics don’t always make as strong an impression. The dues paying “Roadhouse Blues,” for example, includes images of wanderers, badlands, freight trains and long-haul trucks that aren’t quite convincing as vivid memories. The sound of Binham’s voice and the power of his band’s playing are enough to carry this release, but listeners may be left feeling he hasn’t fully connected with his own story. There’s a great deal of emotion in this work, but it’s in the tone rather than words. That will be enough for many listeners, and played live these tunes are sure to satisfy. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Hear “Dylan’s Hard Rain”
Ryan Bingham’s Home Page
Ryan Bingham’s MySpace Page

Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind

hayescarll_troubleinmindWitty, arch and funny hard Texas country

Carll continues to make good on the deep Texas songwriting talent demonstrated on two previous albums. For this third release he moves onto the Lost Highway label, and picks up the considerable backing talents of Fats Kaplin, Darrell Scott, Will Kimbrough, and Dan Baird and others. Better yet, producer Brad Jones and engineer Mark Addison spend that instrumental firepower in support of Carll’s vocals and his witty, incisive lyrics. While some may prefer the more primitive sound of his earlier albums, in retrospect they sound like demos for this more fully realized outing.

The restlessness of Steve Earle courses through Carll’s narratives and keenly observed portraits, but so does the irascible spark of Charlie Robinson and the tongue-in-cheek pathos of rock musician Ben Vaughn. The latter’s wit is mirrored in the story of love lost to salvation, “She Left Me for Jesus” and the performing musician’s litany of horrors, “I Got a Gig.” Carll’s drawl collides with the freewheeling blues and nasal syllables of Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35” on “A Lover Like You,” with the word ‘lover’ drawn as if Tennessee Williams’ Maggie the Cat sang ragged country blues. Carll stays sly, though his lyrics aren’t always joking. “Don’t Let Me Fall” pleads for forgiveness and support in the wake of moral failure, and his cover of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” is both petulant and preternaturally knowing. The rasp in Carll’s voice can express resignation, dissipation, irreverence, cynicism and ire, but it always seems to be balanced with a wounded poet’s optimism. The break-up of “It’s a Shame” is mourned for the hope of what could have been rather than the loss, and Tom Waits’ romantic Bowery sentiments are translated into rural images on “Beaumont.”

The album’s cover art reaches back to Merle Haggard’s early Capitol albums, but Carll’s not as inconsolably self-deprecating as The Hag, and the twangy mix of instruments covers more ground. There’s plenty of fiddle and steel, but also baritone guitar, six-string electric leads, harmonium, banjo and mandolin, and it’s all deftly woven into backings that are modern in reach but traditional in effect, practiced in their looseness and anchored by the emotional abrasion of Carll’s voice. Fans of Van Zandt, Earle, Nelson, Kristofferson, Shaver, Waits, Bruce & Charlie Robison, and Chris Knight will find much to love here. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

Hear “She Left Me For Jesus”