Saturday, December 04, 2004

The 100 Essential Texas-related CDs
of the 20th Century
(One listener’s subjective opinion)

By Tom Geddie,
reprinted with permission from Buddy magazine

What are the 100 best Texas-related CDs to take into the 21st century? Sure, your guess is as good as mine, but it’s my job to populate that list here. Any list like this probably says more about who’s compiling it than it does about the state’s music, which is so rich and diverse that no one really grasps it all. Since my preferences are in the wide-ranging Americana field, that’s where most of my choices come from.

Terry Allen: Lubbock (On Everything), 1995, Sugar Hill - social commentator, cynic, uncompromising storyteller

Terry Allen: Salivation, 1999, Sugar Hill

Ernestine Anderson: Blues, Dues & Love News, 1996, Quest - jazz vocals

Asleep at the Wheel: Live & Kickin’: Greatest Hits, 1992, Arista - this one or the band’s first Bob Wills tribute

Austin Lounge Lizards: Small Minds, 1995, Watermelon - mostly intelligent, mostly original parodies

Erykah Badu: Baduizm, 1997, Universal - seemingly came out of nowhere, fully polished, combining traditional blues, R&B, and hip-hop strains

Marcia Ball: Blue House, 1994, Rounder - soulful, Cajun-flavored blues

Lou Ann Barton: Read My Lips, 1989, Antone’s - roadhouse blues with a twang

Brave Combo: Musical Varieties, 1987, Rounder - who can forget "O Holy Night Cha Cha Cha" or "People Are Strange" as a hora?

Charles Brown: Driftin’ Blues, 1995, Collectables - blues singer/pianist

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: The Original Peacock Recordings, 1990, Rounder - influential, Gulf Coast guitarist, fiddle player, and singer

Junior Brown: Guit With It, 1993, CURB - country with a guit-steel edge

Milton Brown: The Complete Recordings of the Father of Western Swing, 1995, Texas Rose - a little edgier than former bandmate Bob Wills

Betty Buckley: The London Concert, 1995, BBC Audio Entertainment - standards you’ve heard before, done well

Cafe Noir: The Waltz King, 1994, Carpe Diem - gypsy jazz?

Guy Clark: Cold Dog Soup, 1999, Sugar Hill - one of our best, most natural songwriters who makes great, understated albums

Guy Clark: Keepers, 1997, Sugar Hill - a "greatest hits" album

Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings, 1993, Rhino - major jazz influence with his "harmolodics" approach; can be an acquired taste

Albert Collins: The Complete Imperial Recordings, 1991, EMI - his nicknames (the Master of the Telecaster, the Ice Man, and the Houston Twister) explain it all

Ronnie Dawson: Live at the Continental Club, 1998, Continental - high-energy roots rockabilly like a blast from the past

Dixie Chicks: Wide Open Spaces, 1998, Sony - maybe this one instead of Fly because of the hint of melancholy playing off the sweet voices; sure, the old stuff is good, too

Steve Earle: Guitar Town, 1986, MCA - the borderlands between rock and country; this was his lean breakthrough

Steve Earle: El Corazon, 1997, Warner Bros. - a more mature sound, still excellent

Eleven Hundred Springs: Welcome to Eleven Hundred Springs, self-released - America’s youth come face to face with traditional country

Joe Ely: Letter To Laredo, 1995, MCA - crosses a wide variety of folk/country/western/rock genres; good singer and a better songwriter/storyteller

Rosie Flores: Rockabilly Filly, 1995, HighTone - one of the few really successful rockabilly collections by a woman; also has a strong traditional country edge

Lefty Frizzell: The Best Of Lefty Frizzell, 1991, Sony - Along with Hank Williams, he revolutionized country music in the early 1950s with such hits as "If You've Got the Money, I've Got The Time"

Jimmie Dale Gilmore: After Awhile, 1991, Elektra - introspective country rocker and songwriter

Jimmie Dale Gilmore: Braver Newer World, 1996, Elektra - combines his love of West Texas, Buddy Holly, and Roy Orbison with one good song after another, including Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan"

Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and the River, 1975 and 1996, Candid - hypnotic jazz blower (clarinet, flute, tenor sax, etc.); clean, light (in a good sense), and often innovative

Gourds: Ghosts of Hallelujah, 1999, Munich - “music of joy” that’s not irreverent; just reverent in its own way; call it neobilly or neonbilly (green, crackling in the night)

Nanci Griffith: Lone Star State Of Mind, 1987, MCA - queen of Texas country/folk, an inadequate description for such a successful, prolific performer

Nanci Griffith: Other Voices/Other Rooms, 1993, Elektra - tribute to folk roots

Nathan Hamilton: Tuscola, 1999, Steppin’ Stone - near-perfect Americana gem released in Europe in 1999, due anytime here

Wayne Hancock: Thunderstorms And Neon Signs, 1995, DEJADISC - "Wayne Hancock paints a picture of Hillbilly Heaven as perfect as can be painted," says Joe Ely

Terri Hendrix: Terri Hendrix Live, 1999, Tycoon Cowgirl - approximates her wide-ranging, sometimes-electric live performances with Lloyd Maines (and the full band)

Z.Z. Hill: In Memorium: 1935-1984, Malaco - versatile blues/soul approach and amalgam of brassy horns and strings and background singers helped revitalize interest in classic R&B in the early 1980s

Tish Hinojosa: Homeland, 1989, A&M - classic folk including the border trilogy

Buddy Holly: The Buddy Holly Collection, 1993, MCA - one of the great popularizers of rock and roll in his short career, with "Peggy Sue," "That'll Be The Day," and other hits in the late 1950s

Lightnin’ Hopkins: The Complete Aladdin Recordings, 1991, EMI - traditional blues storyteller

Lightnin’ Hopkins: Jake Head Boogie, 1999, Ace

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Dangerous Spirits, 1997, Rounder - has become one of our best writers

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club, 1998, Misery Loves Company - music, monologues, and the obligatory encore

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Crusades of the Restless Knights, 1999, Rounder - where Dangerous Spirits leaned to western mythology, this one leans to Southern gothic

L’il Son Jackson: The Complete Imperial Recordings, 1995, Capitol - Introspective country blues singer/songwriter during the early and mid-1950s who quit show biz to work on cars

Waylon Jennings: Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line: The RCA Years Discs 1 & 2, 1993, RCA - one of the original so-called country outlaws from the 1970s, a movement that still shapes music

Waylon Jennings: Honky Tonk Heroes, 1999, Buddha - Billy Joe Shaver wrote most of the songs; Jennings turned them into a movement

Blind Willie Johnson: The Complete Blind Willie Johnson, 1993, Sony - amazing, frog-croaking voice on straight-ahead, stone-cold country-blues gospel

George Jones: All-Time Greatest Hits, 1994, Liberty - lives the hard life he sings about in a prolific series of songs from rockabilly to torchers to straight-ahead country

George Jones: It Don’t Get Any Better Than This, 1998, MCA

Janis Joplin: 18 Essential Songs, 1972 and 1995 - psychedelic psyCinderella; her music survives the 60s

Robert Earl Keen: West Textures, 1989, Sugar Hill - influential Americana storyteller plagued by beer-drinking frat boys

Robert Earl Keen: No. 2 Dinner, Live, 1996, Sugar Hill

Freddie King: Hide Away, The Best of Freddie King, 1993, Rhino - Eric Clapton said, "He taught me everything I needed to know - when and when not to make a stand - and most important of all - to make love to a guitar."

Kris Kristofferson: Singer/Songwriter, 1991, Sony - some people think he’s the best songwriter the state ever produced; that’s a tall claim, but he’s good

Mance Lipscomb: Texas Songster, 1989, Arhoolie - ballads, breakdowns, reels, shouts, drags, spirituals, children's songs, jubilees, and blues; spent much of his life as a sharecropper before he was "discovered" at age 65

Lyle Lovett: The Road To Ensenada, 1996, MCA - so smooth he’s easy to take for granted

Lyle Lovett: Step Inside This House, 1998, MCA - a thoughtful tribute to his own Texas musical influences

Delbert McClinton: one of the fortunate few, 1997, Rising Tide - soulful blues-rock

Meat Purveyors: More Songs about Buildings and Cows, 1999, Bloodshot - Jo Walston sings like a dirty Appalachian angel, and the bluegrass-based band has a serious side centered around Bill Anderson’s dark writing

Julie Miller: Broken Things, 1999, HighTone - mix of folk, hard pop, and country, with deep Celtic roots; rich in variety and Miller’s intriguing vocals, which range from sweet to almost dangerous

Katy Moffatt: Midnight Radio, 1996, Watermelon - the London Daily Express said Moffatt’s voice “is perhaps the most searingly beautiful thing you’ll ever hear;” the Blackwell Guide to Recorded Music calls her an "obscure country music vocal genius," but she's as much a bluesy ballad and folk singer

Katy Moffatt: The Greatest Show on Earth, also known as The Evangeline Hotel, 1993, Rounder

Lynn Morris: You’ll Never Be the Sun, 1999, Rounder - authentic bluegrass; serious fun, toe-tappin’ music with a touch of contemplation and a riff of quirkiness

Willie Nelson: Shotgun Willie, 1973, Atlantic - we could call him the prodigal child of traditional country music, who has spawned generations of his own during his trip

Willie Nelson: Red Headed Stranger, 1975, CBS - a genuine horse opera

Willie Nelson: Willie and Family Live, 1978, CBS - as close as you can get to Willie and band doing a show in your living room

Willie Nelson: Stardust, 1978, CBS - because mellow sentimentality isn’t always a bad thing (admit it)

Mickey Newbury: Nights When I Am Sane, 1994, Winter Harvest - with his writing and performing, Newbury helped reshape country and folk music from the mid 1960s through the 1970s

Mickey Newbury: Live in London, 1998, Roadhouse - simple acoustic masterpieces

Marvin "Hannibal" Peterson (Hannibal Lokumbe): The Angels of Atlanta, 1994, enja - jazz/classical opera featuring the Harlem Boys Choir

Jo Carol Pierce: Bad Girls Upset By The Truth, 1995, Monkey Hill - find this for the monologues as much as for the songwriting, and hear how the smiling little country girl on the title page turned into the gleamy-eyed woman on the back inside cover

Ray Price: The Essential Ray Price, 1991, Sony Music - early honky-tonker turned smooth country crooner

Toni Price: Low Down and Up, 1999, Antone’s - bluesy and a little jazzy, with faint country roots; mostly modern love songs for a rainy day

Willis Alan Ramsey: Willis Alan Ramsey, 1972/1999 Koch - finally released on CD in 1999, every song on it is as familiar as if we’d heard it just yesterday

Kimmie Rhodes: West Texas Heaven, 1996, Justice - intelligent, lyrical singer/songwriter; guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt

Bruce Robison: Wrapped, 1997, Boar’s Nest - small-town dreams and relationships that go bad, chronicled by a good songwriter

Charlie Robison: Life of the Party, 1998, Sony Lucky Dog - defines Americana: storytelling, wide-ranging country-folk-blues influences; "like the stories your grandma told you," Robison says; my grandmother wouldn’t have told some of these stories, but she would have known them

Tom Russell: The Man From God Knows Where, 1999, HighTone - now that he lives outside El Paso, we can finally consider him a Texan; this album is a thought-provoking folk opera based on his immigrant ancestors

Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet: Best of Sir Douglas Quintet, 1996, AIM - shuffles between country and rock and blues and folk

Selena: Dreaming Of You, 1995, EMI - Anglo audiences began discovering the Corpus Christi artist only after her murder; reminds us how thin the line can be between fame and obscurity for many good musicians

Billy Joe Shaver: Tramp on Your Street, 1993, BMG - country poet who delivers straightforward songs and performances like he means it, and he does

Billy Joe Shaver: Victory, 1998, New West - stark, simple, personal album about family and spiritual yearning; Shaver sings and plays guitar, his son, Eddy, adds complexity with guitar and dobro

Frankie Lee Sims: Lucy Mae Blues, 1992, Specialty - a contemporary and partner in the late 1940s and early 1950s of T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Little Milton, Etta James, etc., he blends traditional blues with what would become rock and roll

George Strait: Strait Out of the Box, 1995, MCA - when you’ve gotta have smooth, white-hat country with integrity, George Strait is the man

Eric Taylor: Resurrect, 1998, KOCH - a narrative, gritty, musically lean, acoustic collection of stories about the remains of people all of us meet from time to time, and who some of us are from time to time; folk with a trace of the blues

Texas Tornados: The Best of Texas Tornados, 1990-92, 1994, Reprise - wasted days and wasted nights

Hank Thompson: The Country Music Hall of Fame: Hank Thompson, 1992, MCA - hard blend of honky-tonk and Western swing helped expand country music from the rural South into the cities beginning in the late 1940s

Townes Van Zandt: High, Low and In Between, 1996, Tomato - near-fabled songwriter and folk/country singer born labeled by Billboard as "the Van Gogh of lyrics;" this version also includes The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt: Abnormal, 1996, Normal - simple, straightforward live versions from a European tour

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Live at Carnegie Hall, 1997, Sony - Jimmie was the earlier success and was an original Fabulous Thunderbird; Stevie Ray was at least the best modern blues/rock guitarist and was legendary even before his death

Voices of Change: Voces Americanas, 1998, Composer Recordings Inc. - versions of modern classical works by composers with ties to Mexico

Jerry Jeff Walker: Great Gonzos, 1991, MCA - which has many of his own songs, including "Sangria Wine" and "Mr. Bojangles," and songs by other singer/songwriters that he popularized

T-Bone Walker: The Complete Imperial Recordings, 1950-1954, 1991, EMI - one of the most influential urban guitar blues performers ever; some say he changed the blues forever in the late 1930s

Cedar Walton: Cedar Walton at Maybeck, 1993, Concord - played piano for several famous jazz bands and on hundreds of albums but, like many of his Texas colleagues, was slow to be recognized at home

Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, 1998, Mercury - her edgy, personal insight into more-or-less ordinary life oozes with the kind of Southern-ness that radiates outward from southern Louisiana, whether she’s singing about a drunken angel or a june bug versus a hurricane

Kelly Willis: Kelly Willis, 1993, MCA - with songs including "Heaven’s Just a Sin Away" and "That'll Be Me" (a duet with Kevin Welch), Heaven never seemed closer than Willis’ distinctive country voice

Bob Wills: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys Anthology 1935-1973, 1991, Rhino - popularized Western swing, combining cowboy, country, blues, big band, jazz, even a little Latin influence into a danceable, good-time mix

Johnny Winter: A Rock N Roll Collection, 1994, Columbia - scorching blues-rock guitarist and singer who hit big in the late 1960s

ZZ Top: Rio Grande Mud, 1972, Warner Bros. - consistently solid, bluesy rock from Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard, who got together in Houston and seem to be lost in time and their own beards

Special mention to four musicians normally not associated with Texas, but who spent considerable time here: Zydeco king Clifton Chenier (60 Minutes With The King of Zydeco, 1991, Arhoolie); Jimmie Rodgers (First Sessions, 1927-1928, 1990, Rounder); Woody Guthrie (Woody Guthrie: Library of Congress Recordings, 1988, Rounder); and Buck Owens (All-Time Greatest Hits, Volume 1, Rhino). Chenier had a home in Houston; Guthrie spent the Depression in the Texas Panhandle before moving to California; Rodgers lived his final years in Kerrville; and Owens, born in Sherman, is known for pioneering the Bakersfield sound out of California.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Dec 04 email newsletter
Vol. 1, No. 7

Less than a mile from where I find myself, between my new home and the cemetery where all of my grandparents are buried, the Neches River begins its 416-mile history. The Neches comes up from deep in the ground to wander through Guthrie's pastures of plenty, through loblolly, post oak, dogwood, pecan, and more -- nurturing all of its life like a minor deity.

Down river, the land flattens into virulent swamp, the Neches lazes around cypress and Madonna trees. Birds and bullfrogs sing, water lilies dance with 'gators while a woodpecker goes on one of his drumming sprees.

The Neches finds its own cemetery in the Gulf of Mexico (where its spirit merges with the world's seas and oceans). It loses its self in the evidence of mankind's exploitation born in the belief of divine rights and in greedy notions.

Water flows, and people pass into the earth.

The Clovis culture was here; it passed; the Caddo culture was here; it passed. The Spanish, with their missions, couldn't hold the land. The white man spewed pollution for what he amassed. The pirates de Aury and Lafitte soiled the Neches; slave smuggling became part of the lower river's dread. Logging upriver, rice down; the Spindletop oil boom, cities built of ammonia, phenol, sulfides, zinc, and lead.

Water flows, and people pass into the earth.

The Neches and its land challenge the empty places in the human soul. Blues flourished here, an odd expression of hope; mountain sounds, too, calling love a "wounded heart." My people came across the South from Cape Fear to harvest from the land, to live and die in this place, to learn that time becomes melody as much as rhythm near where the Neches begins its journey to disappear.

Water flows, and people pass into the earth.

Near where the Neches begins, I see light cling along the horizon at sunset. I see moon's eclipse the color of dried blood. I see a willow dance. I see stars wink without regret.

Water flows, and people pass into the earth.

Less than a mile from where I find myself, ghosts claim that water coming up from the ground is the cold, collected tears of the dead. I say the sweet, first taste of that clean water, as you bend to reach it, is closer joy. It is as close to first water, as close to pure, as we'll ever find anymore.

Water flows, and people pass into the earth.