All Ears

Last week saw the CD reissue of two titles near the hearts of many Texas music fans, both of which have spent inexplicably long periods out of print: Doug Sahm's Doug Sahm and Friends, and the Sir Douglas Band's Texas Tornado. Both are seminal records, and the Friends disc works a hundred times better than all-star affairs usually do, but Tornado is the real humdinger, the one you'd whip out to prove to the uninitiated that Sahm ranks alongside Bob Wills as one of those Country-associated artists who could take any intgredient at hand and make it fit with everything else: the cocktail vibe of "Someday," Chicago-worthy blues in "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby," Tejano pride on "Chicano" - and "Nitty Gritty," which is surely on the jukebox in Heaven's back bar.

The next generation of Texas pioneers get to shine (or if that's too active, simply to radiate) on Outlaw Country, the latest in Austin City Limits' happily thriving archive series. Willie Nelson, Joe Ely, Kris Kristofferson, and friends take the stage for a convincingly casual front-porch-type affair, with songs swapped from one legend to another, and nice banter to fill the tuning-up moments. Naturally, the disc is capped by an all-together-now "On the Road Again."

To hear Wayne Hancock tell it, he's almost never not on the road. His new one may be called Tulsa, and proclaim that burg as the place "where quality is still the king," but half the other tunes are about catching a week of sleep back in the Lone Star State before getting back in the van. Another one of Hancock's pitch-perfect revivalist honky-tonk records that somehow manage not to sound at all like a conscious attempt to be retro (Wayne's straight-from-Hank whine is surely a big part of the secret), it slides one or two nice rainy-day tunes in between the bullfiddle-slapping ones.

Hancock's best known for a style, but Michael Hall refuses to be pinned down to one sound. On The Song He Was Listening To When He Died, the Texas Monthly scribe tries on plenty of arrangements that aren't part of his regular repertoire - a murky beat beneath the moving "If You See Me," techno-gurgle and noir narration on "I Had a Girl in Dien Bien Phu" - but the songs are still the point. Many of them ply grown-up themes with such precision and honest feeling that you wish thoughtful people got to choose what goes on the radio ("The Wedding" would be an end-the-reception staple in a perfect world), but once or twice, as on "America," Hall reminds us that he has a little smart-ass left in him.

Any smart-asses in the Current readership might have something to say about the new two-disc rerelease of occasional Texan Lucinda Williams's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. To wit: "If you're going to add a disc, and include a bonus track from the early Austin sessions that were scrapped in Williams' perfectionist quest, why not go all out and include them all?" But let's give the songwriter some credit and assume she has good reasons not to like those takes. What we get instead, a loose live set recorded for radio station WXPN, makes a nice substitute and even has highlights like "Drunken Angel," which here sounds like a raw wound.

Finally, Bongwater member Kramer recently decided to re-launch his cultish but defunct Shimmy-Disc label (called Second-Shimmy this time), and is bestowing first-release honors on a tribute to Texas's own Daniel Johnston. I Killed the Monster proves that practically everyone loves the guy's songs: after the recent star-studded anthology and K. McCarty's still-tops Dead Dog's Eyeball, this one tends toward the obscure. Jad Fair, Mike Watt, and Sufjan Stevens are the biggest names here, and the recordings are predictably quirky - from a couple of lo-fi takes mimicking the songwriter's MO to Kramer's own acid trip through "Bloody Rainbow" to Watt's groovy "Walking the Cow," which is unlike any version I've heard of this much covered song. Here's hoping this isn't the last bit of the recent revival in Johnston's popularity, which has so far ranged from movie screens to high-art galleries, and even included some online-only reissues of the DIY hero's early cassette-only releases.


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