AmericanA to Z: Terry Allen

Today we’re re-starting a series we got going with a while ago before it abruptly came to a halt. Our favourite not so well known artists, going through the alphabet, week by week, starting this week with Terry Allen:  A conceptual artist, sculptor and painter as well as being a tremendous songwriter, Texan Terry Allen is perhaps the most “outlaw” of all the Texan musicians we regularly celebrate here at Americana UK. Much of his music is allied to his artworks with his debut album, Juarez, a suite of raspy bare boned songs telling the tale of four losers on the run from the law, began life as a series of lithographs, the songs added when a Chicago print company offered to print them with an LP telling the story with 50 copies eventually printed. The album, with Allen’s basic barrelhouse piano and raspy vocals, is a hardboiled tale of murder and mayhem somewhat akin to the novels of Jim Thompson with some David Lynch surrealism thrown in.

It’s his second album, ‘Lubbock (On Everything)’, a sprawling double set, which cemented Allen’s reputation as a writer and spectator of left of centre America on a bunch of songs which rival the best of Randy Newman. Little Feat had picked up on one of the songs, New Delhi Freight Train, on their 1977 album Time Loves A Hero with the song the last full blooming of Lowell George. Since then Allen has been covered by a small but select bunch of artists with one of his champions being David Byrne who included Allen on the soundtrack to his movie, True Stories. Regular collaborators include his fellow Lubbock musicians Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He was most recently in the news when it was revealed that his late chum, Guy Clark, had expressed his wish that Allen incorporate Clark’s ashes into a memorial sculpture. Rolling Stone magazine discussed this with Allen saying it was just like the legendarily crusty Clark to put that kind of burden on his friend with Allen responding, “I think it was kind of like a ‘Fuck you, Terry.’”

The canon. Depending on who you believe Allen has 10-12 albums under his belt, several of them comprising music composed for screenplays or theatre. His last full release was 2013’s Bottom Of the World but he continues to perform and his first two albums have recently been given a deluxe vinyl release.

Key Release. ‘Lubbock (On Everything)’ While Juarez is something of a tour de force in its narrative Allen produced what is probably one of the best albums of all time with this 20 song set. While his saloon bar piano is at the heart of the songs there’s an excellent country-rock sound all over as Allen outdoes the country outlaws on the sublime Amarillo Highway and creates what is a work of art on a song about a truckload of art. Listen to the magnificent moment on The Girl Who Danced Oklahoma when the piano vamp shifts into a pedal steel hallowed description of the dance. It’s an aural delight.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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