Musically speaking, the town of Kerrville located deep in the Texas Hill Country is best known for the Kerrville Folk Festival held annually for 18 straight beginning around the Memorial Day Weekend. Renowned on the singer/songwriter citcuit, the festival has had a large hand in putting countless performers on the map. Within the last year, another Kerrville entity has begun its attempt to put that town on the music map, but in a different kind of way. Founded in 2005 with a reliance on Texas artists to get its feet off the ground (and here’s thinking they’ll probably keep it that way), Sustain Records has quickly cobbled together a quality stable of artists that have helped the label make inroads quickly in independent music circles catering to roots-based music. If recent releases from the label from Bruce Robison and Ray Wylie Hubbard, not to mention a Kinky Friedman tribute album featuring a bunch of Lone Star hot shots, are any indication of things to come, the future looks bright for Sustain Records. Those releases receive the capsule treatment with this week’s installment.
Ray Wylie Hubbard
Sustain Records SUS-001-020
What with his last album consisting entirely of covers (the rather out-of-character Delirium Tremolo from 2005), riding out the contract was one way to view Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard’s swan song for Philo Records. With his debut for Sustain Records called Snake Farm, Hubbard’s singer/songwriter juices are flowing once more. Consider the record Hubbard’s finest collection of songs since 1999’s Crusades of the Restless Knights. Mixing the serious and the not so serious on the song side with the backdrop running the gamut from blues to roots rock to country, Hubbard offers up a stylistic stew equals parts cagey, funny and deep and all right in keeping with his storyteller ways. Consisting entirely of all new songs Snake Farm takes the listener from the hoodoo garage swamp sounds of the title song (that’s producer Gurf Morlix weaving in and out on the slide guitar) which takes its inspiration from a roadside attraction on the highway between Austin and San Antonio to the hillbilly love slave antics of the provocative “Polecat” (where the male is the slave!) and the slicing “Old Guitar” which features Hubbard’s 12-year-old son in a guest spot on the six string to “The Way of the Fallen” inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Hubbard has made some terrific records during his lengthy career, but it is his live show and his talent for weaving gut-busting stories around his songs that keep folks coming back for more each and every time he plays live in these parts. Snake Farm is chock full of songs readymade for the storyteller side of the Ray Wylie equation. It’s also packed with lots of grit and groove, the kind that makes you feel kind of messy after listening to it all, but in a satisfying kind of way. (Sustain Records, 631 Water St, Suite A, Kerrville, TX 78028, or www.sustainrecords.com.)
Sustain Records SUS-001-013
While he’s written songs that top cats like Tim McGraw (“Angry All the Time”) and the Dixie Chicks (“Travelin’ Soldier”) have taken to the top of the country charts, here’s thinking the move that gained Austin-based singer/songwriter Bruce Robison the most attention might have been the Claritin commercial he did with wife Kelly Willis that ran last Spring in some very prime spots during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. What with the release of his third solo longplayer at the beginning of April called Eleven Stories, the timing of that commercial could not have been any better as far as attention goes. Not that there was any connection between the two events, but the few who may have been intrigued enough by the ad to find out about Robison hopefully took it as far as to check out his music. While songwriting has been Robison’s principal calling card, he’s also made some pretty darn good albums of his own. The aptly titled Eleven Stories is yet another fine chapter in the solo side of Mr. Robison. Never one to be pigeonholed, the “playing the field” approach to record making is loud and clear on Eleven Stories with Robison mixing songs from such diverse ends of the spectrum as honky tonker Webb Pierce (a terrific duet with wife Kelly on “More and More”) with a country-ized “Tennessee Jed” from the Garcia/Hunter archives to go with a fine bunch of original compositions. A self-professed fan of country star Don Williams who employed the soft touch on his many chart toppers, much like Williams Mr. Robison’s best songs have always possessed an emotional complexity that strikes a nerve in the average Jane or Joe out there with the aforementioned “Angry All Time” and “Travelin’ Soldier” being a couple of prime examples of his skillful ways as a songwriter. Whereas it remains to be seen if any of the originals on Eleven Stories find their way to the charts (and likely in the voice of a higher power), Robison is once again in fine form. Standouts this time around include the rousing kiss-off “All Over But the Cryin'” and the equally high spirited honky tonker “You Really Let Yourself Go”, the catchy love song “Virginia” and the heavy duty “Don’t Call It Love” with Willis once again in a supporting vocal role. An album that might not grab you on first listen, Eleven Stories is one of those records that grows on you in leaps and bounds with each listen. Recommended.
Why the Hell Not…The Songs of Kinky Friedman
Speaking of good timing, what with him in the running to be the next governor of the Lone Star State, there’s probably no better time to release a Kinky Friedman tribute album that right now. Why the Hell Not…The Songs of Kinky Friedman is a Texas-sized salute of the best of the Kinkster from his roadhouse days where he and his band the Texas Jewboys tore it up in haunts from coast to coast. The lineup on this salute to Kinky is an impressive one that includes the likes of Todd Snider (“They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore”), Lyle Lovett (“Sold American”), Kevin Fowler (“Get Your Biscuits in the Oven (and You Buns In the Bed)”), Ray Benson teaming with Reckless Kelly (“Homo Erectus”), and Dwight Yoakam (“Rapid City, South Dakota”), and Delbert McClinton (“”Autograph”), to name a few. The performances are most all standout. What they truly do is give credence to Friedman’s way with a pen clearly demonstrating that the next governor of Texas (Mark my words!!!) is one heckuva songwriter. Why do we need a collections like this? The better question is why the hell not!
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at email@example.com.)