Terry Allen : Bottom of the World
(2012 Terry Allen)
To be honest I hadn’t heard about Terry Allen at all until a few weeks ago, when a review on http://www.glitterhouse.com made me take notice and thinking ‘What the hell? I’m gonna buy that record.’ So it’s fair to say that I listened to Bottom Of The World with an open ear and only had a vague idea what’s in store. What first struck me was the electric piano he is playing, which is fairly uncommon in a musical field where Singer/Songwriters usually play the guitar.
Which is not to say that there are no guitars to be heard on the album. Far from it, as Lloyd Maines who has been playing with Terry Allen for a long time, and whose guitar work I have been admiring before (most notably on Richard Buckner’s outstanding debut album Bloomed which has been a firm favorite of mine since it was released back in 1994), delivers plenty of exceptionally beautiful guitar parts, I especially love the steel guitar, on here too. The songs are mostly slow, and leisurely paced to mid-tempo, with only occasional (synthesized) drums, and Allen’s vocals (and Maines’ steel guitars) mixed far into the foreground. Which is as it should be, as his rich, weather-beaten (he’s 70 after all) and resonant voice is ideally suited to lyrics full of sarcasm, wit and the occasional (well, let’s say frequent) swearword. My favourite lines are found on Queenie’s Song (which is also excellent musically) whose title sounds quite nice – but don’t let that fool you, the lyrics are anything but: ‘Some SOB shot my dog I found her under a tree if I hadn’t loved that dog so much it wouldn’t mean nothing to me But you Son Of A Bitch I tell you what I will not be deterred I’ll find you out and track you down on that you have my word’. Throughout the whole album, the rather nice and beautiful music merely sets the listener on the wrong track when compared with the often biting lyrics.
Most lyrics are also quite obviously informed by the American Southwest too (he’s living in Santa Fe, NM), for example Four Corners, presumably named after Utah/Arizona/Colorado/New Mexico area of the same name, Wake Of The Red Witch with numerous John Wayne references or Emergency Human Blood Donor which mixes morbid imagery of a red, ‘beat-up Detroit Dodge Dart’ speeding towards Mexico to deliver blood badly needed in the drug war raging there, with acute social observation.
Another highlight is the title track, one of the slightly more up-tempo tracks on here, it’s equipped with a crackin’ tune. Angels Of The Wind is extremely beautiful too with some rather Celtic-sounding influences amongst the Country ones.
Other instruments adding nicely to the rather sparsely arranged (but beautifully produced, the sound is great) songs are violin and cello (used to beautiful effect on the lovely solo of Do They Dream Of Hell In Heaven), mandolin, cello and accordion (on a number of TexMex influenced numbers such as Bottom Of The World or Queenie’s Song). Female background lyrics are provided by Sally Allen (don’t know if there’s a relation). Sometimes the music reminds me of (a more relaxed) Giant Sand and even of Leonard Cohen (especially on brilliant slowly winding along and utterly captivating Dark/Gothic-folk song The Gift) as well as John Prine (mainly the voice). Sidekick Anthem has the most reconciliatory lyrics on the album ‘if you need me I’m just a call away, if you’re grieving I’m just a call away…’ (although he can’t resist to stick some swearwords in them too: ‘Turn your back on the bastards, liars and the kiss-asses too, just gimme a call and tell ‘em to screw it all…’).
Fascinating stories abound and wonderful music. He’s also a visual artist and trained Architect. Hats off to Terry Allen.