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We have heard several witnesses, this week, give evidence for and against the charge that Townes Van Zandt never achieved the ´excellence´ of recordings his songs deserved. Of course, that in this case ´excellence´ is a subjective word that does not really help us reach a conclusion.

The on-line site and newsletter, Texas Monthly, however, reminds us that many Texan songwriters are subjected to the same scrutiny as Townes, each of them, perhaps for different reasons.

Many books and essays have addressed the broad sweep of Texas music—its multicultural aspects, its wide array and blending of musical genres, its historical transformations, and its love/hate relationship with Nashville and other established music business centres. This book, however, focuses on an essential thread in this tapestry: the Texas singer-songwriters to whom the contributors refer as “ruthlessly poetic.” All songs require good lyrics, but for these songwriters, the poetic quality and substance of the lyrics are front and centre.

Obvious candidates for this category would include Townes Van Zandt, Michael Martin Murphey, Guy Clark, Steve Fromholz, Terry Allen (left), Kris Kristofferson, Vince Bell, and David Rodriguez. In a sense, what these songwriters were doing in small, intimate live-music venues like the Jester Lounge in Houston, the Chequered Flag in Austin, and the Rubaiyat in Dallas was similar to what Bob Dylan was doing in Greenwich Village. In the language of the times, these were “folksingers.” Unlike Dylan, however, these were folksingers writing songs about their own people and their own origins and singing in their own vernacular. This music, like most great poetry, is profoundly rooted.

That rootedness, in fact, is reflected in the book’s emphasis on place and the powerful ways it shaped and continues to shape the poetry and music of Texas singer-songwriters. From the coffeehouses and folk clubs where many of the “founders” got their start to the Texas-flavored festivals and concerts that nurtured both their fame and the rise of a new generation, the indelible stamp of origins is inseparable from the work of these troubadour-poets.

This book looks at the first (?) generation of Texan songwriters under the collective description of Too Weird For Kerrville: The Darker Side of Texas Music.

This section in itself contains other interesting topics, such as Townes Van Zandt: The Anxiety, Artifice, and Audacity Of Influence by Robert Earl Hardy and The Ballad of Willis Alan Ramsey by Bob Livingston.

Guy Clark: is called an Old School Poet of the World by Tamara Saviano whilst Kris Kristofferson: is described as The Silver-Tongued Rhodes Scholar by Peter Cooper (right) , which might interest our Americana Correspondent Peter Pearson (although I guess he already has a copy !)

Steven Fromholz, Michael Martin Murphey, and Jerry Jeff Walker are said to be a group of musicians that is  Poetic In Lyric, Message and Musical Method according to author Craig D. Hillis

Author Craig Clifford surely cannot be alone is seeing Kinky Friedman as The Mel Brooks of Texas Music and Billy Joe Shaver says writer Joe Holley, speaks in songs of  Sin and Salvation whilst John Finlay describes Ray Wylie Hubbard (left) variously as Grifter, Ruffian, Messenger.

These books perhaps could include a title such Honorary Texans, that would surely reference the songs of Wes McGhee (right) and his songs that introduced we Brits to beans ´n bones ´n buzzards, spiders ´n skunks ´n snakes in Texas 1, his song that concluded with the lyric that stated

but if this here´s the devil´s land

then I´m sure glad I never was good

The critics tell us that these books are

“…filled with thought-provoking insights”.

The Midwest Book Review

“Clifford and Hillis have chosen dynamic musical artists as representative of ‘ruthlessly poetic’ singer-songwriters. The essays are written in a manner that is accessible to a broad audience of readers and fosters further examination of Texas singer-songwriters.”

“This book promises a tantalizing feast to satisfy avid readers of non-fiction musical history.”

Elmore Magazine

Craig Clifford, author of In the Deep Heart’s Core: Reflections on Life, Letters, and Texas and other titles, is a professor of philosophy and directs the Honors College at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. With his group, the Accidental Band, he performs and records classic Texas singer-songwriters’ music, along with his own songs. Based in Austin, Craig D Hillis toured and recorded as guitarist with Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band from 1972 to 1976. A member of the Lost Austin Band, he maintains active involvement in the state’s live music scene.


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