Terry Allen is a Lubbock-born singer-songwriter whose music is but one facet of a larger artistic identity. Allen is into everything: sculpture, theater, mixed media installation, painting, writing, performance art. There’s nothing commericial about him. Like a Tom Waits of the American Southwest, Allen is daring, dark, funny, devoted to language, and way, way ahead of the creative curve. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]

As a musician, the man runs in great company. The Flatlanders (Butch Hancock, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore) consider him a mentor. David Byrne, who came to know Allen well during the filming of “True Stories,” is a close friend. So was the late singer and slide guitarist Lowell George, who recorded Allen’s song “New Delhi Freight Train” with Little Feat. Allen’s albums are diverse in theme and approach. “Lubbock (On Everything)” feels like a West Texas short-story collection. “Human Remains” is optimistic, often Existential. “Salivation” is savagely satirical as it confronts blind faith in “Jesus Cash” – capitalism, right-wing fundamentalism and material appetites.

In the rock’n’roll era, the vast spaces of west Texas have been filled with great music. Joe Ely stands in a tradition born out on these gritty plains. It includes Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Tanya Tucker, Guy Clark, Delbert McClin- ton, Don Walser, Terry Allen, Lloyd Maines, his daughter Natalie Maines, and Joe’s enduring musical partners, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

It is a land where you can see for miles and miles and miles. Only those who don’t know it find it barren. For it’s full of stories if you know where to seek them. And it has customs and amusements all its own. Even the forever dipping oil wells have their role. “In high school, we used to get somebody to buy us a six pack and go out there to the fields and ride the front part of those oil pumps all night long,” Joe remembers.

Now, Ely lives in Austin and spends much of his life on the road. But when he’s accumulated enough song ideas, Lubbock is where Joe heads. “Somehow, just driv- ing for hours down those country roads is still the best place for me finish my songs.”

Panhandle Rambler is one of the most personal albums Joe Ely’s ever made. It brings forth this terrain, the spirited people it produces and that special sense of destiny, be it terrible or glorious, that its very vastness creates. “Wounded Creek” starts the album with what you might call a Western fantasy, except that the “bushes and the brambles,” the traffic light, the stray dog and the cold wind are all completely brought to life.

“Sometimes, when I was a kid, you’d look outside and the only things you’d see would be these huge radio towers, must have been fifty of a hundred feet tall, just swaying in the wind,” Joe said. “Won- derin’ Where,” perhaps Panhandle Rambler‘s most beautiful melody, pays tribute those trembling towers, the railroads which carried other things equally uni- maginable distances, the “cross between a river and a stream” where he played, and the dreams and nightmares that flitted across that kid’s mind and heart, and the loneliness of bearing such secrets. If it is possible to write a love song for a place, this is one of the great ones, “trying to find a verse that’s never been sung to hearts that need relief.”

“Here’s to the Weary” is the story of all the great musical refugees, from Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and Muddy Waters to the rockabillies — Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, the shadows of the others — who soothed our “weary and restless souls” with nighttime musical magic.

It’s also typical of all the songs on the album. The place doesn’t necessarily al- ways win, but, as in “Magdalene” and “Coyotes are Howlin,'” it’s the one thing that carries a sense not so much of per- manence as of inevitably. The two sides are fully summarized in the almost giddy “Southern Eyes” and the fatalistic “Early in the Mornin.'”

Of course, every Lubbocker album needs its legendary tales. Here that terri- tory is covered by “Four Ol’ Brokes,” which combines a hobo yarn with the bal- lad of a gambling scam, and “Burden of

Your Load,” in which true love triumphs over evil, if just barely, we hope.

Equally legendary, but true in every re- spect, is the closing song, “You Saved Me,” which is a love song to Joe’s wife, Sharon. The lyric never mentions her name, but no one who’s known Joe Ely longer than about a day could mistake her.

Legendary tales and legendary musicians. Panhandle Rambler, largely re- corded in Austin, features some of the most respected local musicians: drummer Davis McClarty, guitarists Lloyd Maines and Robbie Gjersoe, Jeff Plankenhorm, and Gary Nicholson, bassist Glen Fu- kunaga. There were also Nashville ses- sions, with Music City’s usual superb playing, led by guitarist Gary Nicholson. Joe wrote all but two of the songs: “Mag- dalene” by Guy Clark and Ray Stephen- son, and “When the Nights are Cold” by his original Flatlanders sidekick Butch Hancock.

This is a classic Joe Ely album. It has moved me, every time I’ve heard it, with a certain kind of awe. One reason is that, long before you hear “You Saved Me,” he put everything he has into telling the world about a place in the world, and through that, reaching his own emotional center. It’s beautiful and it’s inspiring.

Terry Allen is a visual artist and songwriter who was raised in Lubbock, Texas. He graduated from Chouinard Art Inst. in Los Angeles and has worked as an artist & musician since 1966. He has received numerous awards and honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship and National Endowment for the Art Fellowships; Awards for the Visual Arts (AVA), Washington D.C.; Bessie (New York) and Isadora Duncan (San Francisco) Critic Awards for text, music, sets, costumes for PEDAL STEAL (Margaret Jenkins Dance Co.); AICA Award 2004, 2nd place (International Association of Art Critics) for Best Show in Commerical Gallery, for DUGOUT I, LA Louver Gallery, Venice, CA, curated by Peter Goulds; Induction into the Buddy Holly Walk of Fame in 1992; United States Artists Oliver Fellow, 2009.

His work has been shown throughout the United States and Inter-nationally, including Documenta and San Paolo, Paris, Sydney & Whitney Biennales and is represented in major private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and L.A. County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (MCASD) and Houston & Dallas Museums of Fine Art. His numerous public commissions can be found in such places as L.A.’s Citi-Corps Plaza, San Francisco Moscone Center, The Stuart Collection at UCSD in La Jolla, CA, Oliver Ranch in Sonoma, CA and Denver, Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth Intercontinental airports. His book & theater piece DUGOUT was published in 2005 by Univ. of Texas Press and an extensive monograph TERRY ALLEN of Allen’s work was published in 2010, also Univ. Texas Press, with essays by Dave Hickey, Marcia Tucker and Michael Ventura.

He has written for and worked in both radio and theater. Some of his selected staged works include JUAREZ(A SIMPLE STORY), THE EMBRACE…ADVANCED TO FURY,  ANTI-RABBIT BLEEDER, WARBOY (AND THE BACKBOARD BLUES), GHOST SHIP RODEZ which he wrote and directed; PIONEER, set design, co-written with Jo Harvey Allen & Rende Eckert, directed by Robert Woodruff, Paul Dresser Production, performed throughout USA; LEON AND LENA (and Lentz), composer, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN; CHIPPY, Diaries of a West Texas Hooker, set & costume design, co-written with Jo Harvey Allen, music co-written with Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, directed by Evan Yianoulis, co-produced by American Music Theater Festival, Philadelphia, PA & Lincoln Center’s ‘Serious Fun’ series, New York, NY.

Allen has recorded 12 albums of original songs, including classics JUAREZ and LUBBOCK (on everything), and his most recent  BOTTOM OF THE WORLD.His songs have been recorded by such diverse artists as: Bobby Bare, Guy Clark, Little Feat, Robert Earl Keen, David Byrne, Colin Gilmore, Doug Sahm, Ricky Nelson, Cracker, and Lucinda Williams. He has written numerous songs for film and theater, including the music soundtrack for Jane Anderson’s Showtime Emmy nominated THE BABY DANCE. He has been described by critic Dave Hickey in the Los Angeles Times as “a true modern day renaissance man…renowned for his effortless command and outrageous combination of disparate genres and media, according to the task at hand.” Terry Allen lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, actress and writer, Jo Harvey Allen

Admittedly, Allen’s brand of Southern (dis)comfort may not be for everyone. But it should come as no small relief to his patient and not-so-patient faithful alike that the passage of 14 years hasn’t dulled the man’s razor-sharp, serrated wit a whit. On his brand new, long awaited Bottom of the World, heʼs still licking his chops — this time wryly pondering, among other things, the nagging damnation of the saved: “Do they dream of hell in heaven? / Do they regret how hard they tried? / And wish now they’d been much more sinful / and repented just a minute before they died?” Taboo-taunting questions — not to mention songs — just don’t get much more Terry Allen than that. And yet it would do Allen’s 11th album a disservice to label Bottom of the World as business as usual, even with the allowance that there’s never been anything remotely “usual” about Allen’s artistic sensibilities. Rest assured that the 11 new tracks on Bottom of the World reaffirm Allen’s standing as one of the most idiosyncratic and cunningly provocative voices to ever blow out that peculiarly fertile songwriter hotbed of Lubbock, Texas. But the presentation is quite unlike any other record Allen’s ever made. Co -produced by Allen and his son Bukka with longtime collaborator Lloyd Maines (Joe Ely Band, Dixie Chicks, Terri Hendrix) at Screen Door Studios in Buda, Texas, Bottom of the World doesn’t swagger so much as haunt. The minimalist arrangements — featuring just the Allen’s on keyboards, Maines on guitar and pedal steel, Richard Bowden on violin and mandolin, Brian Standeffer on cello, and Bukkaʼ wife Sally on harmony vocals — cast long, unsettling shadows that throw Allenʼs voice and lyrics in stark relief, like ghost stories told over a fire. The effect is every bit as chilling as Allenʼs 1975 debut, Juarez, but at the same time warmer and more intimate than anything Allen has ever recorded. While songs like “The Gift” and “Emergency Human Blood Courier” curdle the blood and make the hair on the back of the neck stand up, “Sidekick Anthem” and “Covenant” offer shelter and succor against the dark. “A promise lost next to a promised gained,” Allen sings on the later, closing the album with a disarmingly earnest grace note of reassurance and hope: “Going to find you / when you’re lost, Babe / Going to take your hand / and bring you home.”

 

Terry Allen Bottom of the World Let’s not mince words here: It’s been a god-awful long while since the last time Terry Allen released a collection of new songs. Maybe not record-breaking long — some of his peers in the Texas songwriter and Americana field have bested him by decades — but the fact is, we haven’t had a new Terry Allen album to savor since the waning days of the Clinton administration. That would be 1999’s Salivation; it’s the one with the painting of Jesus (“Big Boy”) on the cover and songs like the riotous “Southern Comfort,” in which Allen feasts on the delicious irony of self-righteous hypocrisy and gleefully baits anxious Rapture waiters by trumpeting a Second Coming rife with gotchas: “When Jesus saves the world / All time will stop with sin / And nothin’ will be mysterious / It’ll all just be The End.” The end result is an album that easily ranks amongst Allen’s very best, right up on the top shelf next to the aforementioned Juarez and 1979ʼs epic Lubbock (on everything) (regarded by many as not just a high-water mark in Allen’s career, but as a landmark album in Texas music history and a cornerstone of alt country.) As befits such an achievement, Bottom of the Worlds CD and digital release in early 2013 will be followed soon after by a limited-edition box set containing both vinyl and CD versions of the album and a suite of lithographs, one for each song on the record. For “Queenieʼs Song,” the eulogy for a murdered dog that he co-wrote with fellow Texas songwriting luminary Guy Clark, Allen shot a hole through the songʼs sheet music. Although Allen’s entire musical career had been paralleled by his equally if not even more decorated career as a visual artist (for which he has received, amongst other honors, both Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a recent USA Artists Grant), this marks the first time he’s entwined the two into a single package since the original pressing of Juarez 38 years ago. (Fittingly, Bottom of the World also continues Allenʼs tradition of revisiting a different track from Juarez on album every album heʼs recorded since — this time choosing the enigmatic “Four Corners.”) Of course, thereʼs still the unanswered question of why the hell it took Allen so damn long to share Bottom of the World with the world. It for certain wasnʼt a case of creative fatigue or writers block. Rather, one can blame it on the manʼs demon work ethic and refusal to ever trap his muse in the corner of a single artistic medium. When inspiration seeds a song or even batch of songs in Allenʼs mind, itʼs never been a given that the end result will be an actual album. Any song he writes is just as likely to spawn (or be spawned by) a sprawling multi-dimensional project comprising prints, paintings, mind bending installations and hybrid theater/film/ music productions. In the last decade, heʼs completed two such massive and ambitious undertakings: Dugout, inspired by stories left behind by his late parents and his own childhood, and Ghost Ship Rodez, a harrowing meditation on the life, art, and madness of the French artist and writer Antonin Artaud. When pieces from both works were recently featured in an exhibit at NyeHaus Gallery in New York titled Ghosts: Works from “Dugout” / “Ghost Ship Rodez” / and Others, a New York Times review noted that Allen is the “one person whose art has been seen in high-brow museums around the country and is an inductee of the Buddy Holly Walk of Fame in Lubbock, Texas.” Allen also recently presented a song and narrative production called Covenant, a collaboration with his wife, film/ theater actress and writer Jo Harvey Allen, conceived as a survey of both their separate careers and their lifelong partnership in life, love, and art. (The Bottom of the World song “Covenant,” dedicated to Jo Harvey, came out of that intimate work, while the songs “Hold On to the House” and “Do They Dream of Hell in Heaven” were originally featured in Dugout and Ghost Ship, respectively.) Add to all of that Allenʼs busy schedule as an artist with commissioned sculptures and other public art works across the country, along with gallery showings, touring, and contributions to other musical projects (like his recording of “Old Friends” for the Grammy – nominated This Oneʼs for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark), and itʼs clear that he hasnʼt spent the last decade and change daydreaming about things to do and places to go like Bottom of the Worldʼs title track ironically implies.Quite the contrary, heʼs been firing on all creative cylinders at a breathless pace. In fact, at the time of this writing, with the ink still drying on his last print for his new album, Allen is already off and running on his next creation.What shape, form and medium that takes remains to be seen. Until then, Bottom of the World stands on its own as both further testament to the weight, depth and beauty of Allenʼs songcraft, and as unassailable proof of that age-old adage about good things coming to those who wait.