Monday, June 6, 2011

Gary Nicholson: "Texas Songbook" (2011) CD Review

This album is Texas through and through. Gary Nicholson had set out to make what he calls "a truly country record." He's certainly succeeded, though there still are other elements there, like a New Orleans flavor on a couple of tracks. But those who love country will most likely dig this album.

I have to admit, at first I had a bit of trouble with this album. Maybe it's because I have a lot of negative associations with Texas. First off, there is George W. Bush and that whole debacle. Also, Texas executes many more people than any other state. And we have Texas to blame for Alex Rodriguez's insane contract and subsequent ego. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the music (except that the music celebrates that state). And this album definitely did grow on me, especially songs like "Some Kind Of Crazy" and "A Woman In Texas, A Woman In Tennessee."

"Texas Weather"

The album opens with "Texas Weather," a sort of love song. Its first lines are, "Sometimes we're a lot like Texas weather/We take a turn for the worse, then take one for the better." The best sections of this song are the instrumental parts, mostly due to the wonderful fiddle work by James Pennebaker. But lyrically this is one of the weaker tracks on the album.

"Same Kind Of Crazy"

"Same Kind Of Crazy" is more of a country rock tune. This one is about finding that perfect woman. Gary sings, "Man, it's amazing/She's the same kind of crazy as me." That's basically perfect. After all, it's generally accepted that everyone is bonkers. So the object is to find someone whose lunacy matches your own. This song grew on me, partly because of these funny lines: "She talks endlessly but she always gets my name right/Whatever it is that's wrong with her/Is something I just can't see."

"Same Kind Of Crazy" was written by Gary Nicholson and Delbert McClinton.

"Messin' With My Woman"

"Messin' With My Woman" is pretty fun. The backing vocals are a bit silly - they sound almost like the pop vocal groups of the early 1960s, echoing some of the lyrics - a strange element to mix in with country. My favorite section of this song is the lead keyboard part two minutes in, which is then followed by some good work on guitar. This song is basically one that threatens violence to anyone who fools around with his woman when he's away. He sings, "Don't be messin' with my woman when I'm out on the road/Let my song be a warning/You can't say you ain't been told."

"Listen To Willie"

"Listen To Willie" opens with a reference to "Bloody Mary Morning," which is a fantastic song from Willie Nelson's 1974 release Phases And Stages. Then in quick succession, Gary includes references to several other Willie Nelson songs such as "The Party's Over," "Hello Walls," "Night Life," "Crazy," "On The Road Again" and "Me And Paul." He then sings, "I need to listen to Willie for a little while/Just the sound of his voice always brings a smile." Hey, we all need to listen to Willie Nelson.

"Listen To Willie" features Mickey Raphael on harmonica. Ray Benson and Stoney LaRue perform backing vocals on this track.

"Texas Ruby"

Though the title is "Texas Ruby," this song is country with a New Orleans flavor and references to St. Charles Avenue and Bourbon St. It's about the vibe of New Orleans getting to a Texas girl, and making her acting a bit out of character. "It's not so much that I recall the face/But all the other parts were right in place/And when she saw me standing by the bandstand/She reached out and she took my hand/She said I usually don't perform on a streetcar down St. Charles/New Orleans heat just got to me."

This song features Marcia Ball on piano and Jim Hoke on saxophone. Both are wonderful. And "Texas Ruby" has a big show tune finish. "Texas Ruby" was written by Gary Nicholson and A.J. Croce.

"Live, Laugh, Love" also has a bit of New Orleans thing going on.

"Talkin' Texan"

"Talkin' Texan" is pure fun. I can't help but love it, partly because of its sense of humor about itself, which is refreshing. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "He ain't lyin'/He's just talkin' Texan/He's got a wild imagination/Under that old Stetson/There's nothing he ain't seen or done/He's always got the biggest one."

"Talkin' Texan" was written by Gary Nicholson and Jon Randall Stewart.

"Bless 'Em All"

"Bless 'Em All" is about folks from all of the religions of the world getting along. But what about agnostics? I don't think Gary includes them in the song. Because, as he sings, "I believe there's one living god among us/Wishing we could all get along/As long as we're singing his glory/He don't care what kind of song." (He does mention atheists in the line, "And the atheists got nothing to do" - but really, they're not going to join that song either.)

The album concludes with the sweet "Somedays You Write The Song," which was written by Gary Nicholson, Guy Clark and Jon Randall Stewart.

CD Track List
  1. Texas Weather
  2. Same Kind Of Crazy
  3. Fallin' & Flyin'
  4. Messin' With My Woman
  5. A Woman In Texas, A Woman In Tennessee
  6. Listen To Willie
  7. Texas Ruby
  8. Lone Star Blues
  9. Talkin' Texan
  10. Bless 'Em All
  11. Live, Laugh, Love
  12. She Feels Like Texas
  13. Somedays You Write The Song

Texas Songbook is scheduled to be released June 21, 2011 on Bismeaux Records.

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