Reissues of two classic albums, presented with a great deal of care and consideration.
In what increasingly seems to be a labour of love, independent label Paradise of Bachelors follow on from their acclaimed reissues of Terry Allen’s first two albums with these splendid editions of his third and fourth records, released simultaneously. As on the reissues of ‘Juarez’ and ‘Lubbock (On Everything)’ the songs are remastered from the original master tapes – the sound is crisp, clear and engaging- and the artwork, design and liner notes are exemplary. With Allen himself fully involved in the process it’s a case study in how a reissue programme should proceed. Available on vinyl (for the first time since their original release) and on CD, both of these albums are quite essential for Allen fans and highly recommended for everyone else.
‘Smokin The Dummy’ was recorded in 1980, two years after ‘Lubbock (On Everything)’. Sharing many of the same players, the backing band here is baptised as The Panhandle Mystery Band and is given a credit. With several of them also performing in Joe Ely’s band at the time it’s no surprise to discover that ‘Smokin The Dummy’, compared to ‘Lubbock’, is a more raucous affair with the band well tempered following a series of live dates. It’s less Allen as a sly raconteur, more so as a crazed road dog howling along the Texas highways. Allen’s trademark piano stomp still drives many of the songs but the band are more feral and his voice is more often a fiery snarl than not, while his subjects are a litany of life’s losers – convicts, coke-heads, speed freak, greasers, holy rollers, truckers and truck stop waitresses – all nailed down with pinpoint accuracy and razor-sharp delivery.
The album opens with ‘The Heart Of California’, dedicated to Lowell George who had died a year previously. The pair were friends and George had recorded Allen’s ‘New Delhi Freight Train’ with Little Feat (Allen writes in the liner notes that this made him enough money to buy a four wheel drive Dodge truck but he had to sell it as it cost him $400 a month to run it – as we said, cool liner notes). Anyhow, aside from being as mean as a sidewinder on the attack with Lloyd Maines’ wired pedal steel and a blistering guitar solo from Jesse Taylor, Allen sounds as amphetamined up as any of George’s truckers as he follows the white lines with Jesus on the dashboard. It’s a white-knuckle ride which sits beside the swampy ‘Cajun Roll’, the gnarly country rock of ‘The Night Cafe’ and the sheer exuberance of ‘Red Truck Roll’, all of which find the band firing on all cylinders.
Closer to the lopsided brilliance of ‘Lubbock (On Everything)’ we have the woozy New Orleans influenced ‘Cocaine Cowboy’ (restored here as previous reissues for some reason left it out) along with Allen’s brilliant amalgamation of Chuck Berry and gospel on ‘Whatever Happened To Jesus (And Maybelline)?’ ‘Texas Tears’ is more straightforward red dirt country but delivered with a Doug Sahm like drawl. ‘Red Bird’ (described here by Allen as the first song he wrote which he actually considered a song), finds his saloon bar piano accompanied by primitive percussion and a percussive banjo like refrain on a song which is quite oblique but suffused with images of the Southern states.
‘Bloodlines’, released in 1983, is a more sedate and more fractured affair. Recorded over several sessions spanning six months it includes songs written for various plays and revisits a couple of numbers from his debut album ‘Juarez’. Although the Panhandle Mystery Band is pretty much the same musicians, they inhabit Mexican cantina, Caribbean lilts and even misty Celtic folk on some of the songs. Of the latter, I have to confess that, for a long time I misheard ‘Ourland’ for Ireland on that folky song, partly because the lyrics do seem to reflect “The Troubles.” ‘Cantina Carlotta’ is a full band version of a song from ‘Juarez’ which is great fun while ‘Oh What A Dangerous Life’ (written for a play by Joan Hotchkiss, ‘Bissie At The Baths’) opens with Allen satirising new moneyed folk drinking zombies in their hot tubs before going full tilt into an easy listening Caribbean lilt, yacht rock personified but with barbed lyrics.
That hard-edged Texas dirt does appear again on ‘There Ought To Be Law Against Sunny Southern California’ (another remake of a Juarez song) with the band huffing and puffing as they pound the highway, slide guitar, pounding piano and vocal snarl all present and correct. There’s also a perennial fan favourite here in the shape of ‘Gimme A Ride To Heaven Boy’ which finds Allen driving “like a bat out of hell” on a highway, pausing only to pick up a Jesus lookalike who then kills him and steals his car. The album is bookended by two versions of ‘Bloodlines’, an ode to ancestry and, yes, bloodlines. The opening offering is like an ancient hymn with Appalachian shades while the closing version adds a more rural touch with string band playing along with a host of voices plucked from the band’s family members including a young Natalie Maines, later to be a Dixie Chick.
Not as immediate as its predecessors, nevertheless, ‘Bloodlines’ deserves to be heard and again, this reissue is given the due care and attention it deserves.
Our score box doesn’t allow for two submissions so Smokin The Dummy gets 9/10 while Bloodlines is 7/10, giving us an average of 8/10