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1. Texasee: Texans and
Tennesseans have always been first cousins in the American genealogy.
Both distrust authority and reality (strictly defined). Both have
strong folk music histories that are quick to sop up any and every
influence—hill music, old-time, native american, hispanic, blues,
rockabilly, bluegrass, country, alt-country, western swing. Texasee
is a musical utopia where what's best in song and spirit comes
together in a three-minute moment. When you really listen to music,
when in the words of Staples Singers, it “takes you there,” that
place must be somewhere—so for shorthand I just call it Texasee.
2. Billy the Kid Rides Again:
I wanted to write a song about a bad man that was still beautiful.
My Billy is reanimated on a modern superhighway where he gets stopped
for riding a horse without a license plate. He plugs the deputy and
heads south. No disrespect meant for our good highway patrolmen and
women. No disrespect either for the senorita whose companionship
Billy purchases. Tommy Spurlock is responsible for most of the
guitars, including haunting steels. He referred to the song as “big
3. Bob Bradlee, TV Cowboy:
Some things shouldn't happen. Our beloved cowboy entertainer is
murdered by his partner/wife and cuckholding sidekick. But the real
tragedy is his horse, doped up for broadcasts, who ends up addicted
to quaaludes. That wah-wah instrument is a bandoneon, a Tex-Mex
4. Here Today: The only
where, the only when. About as simple as three chords, really. With
tips of the sombrero to Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Neil “Bernard
Shakey” Young, and, most of all, Miss Cleo. Thanks to my brother
Sam Powers for the harmonies and guitar solo. Tommy Spurlock
midwived the Garth-Hudson-inspired insanity of the clavichord synth.
5. Selmer Tennessee:
Everyone saw the story on the news. The preacher's wife killed the
preacher. The small town shocked with the blood on its hands.
Shocked more by the hooker wig and clogs. The custody battle for the
little girls—it wouldn't end. But nobody has asked the fundamental
question: what it an accident or predestination? So I tried. John
Davis (of Superdrag fame) manages to play a pretty mean lead guitar
and sing those angelic “hallelujahs.”
6. Indian Eyes: Four
generations of Texasseans in a two-and-a-half minute song. All
passing down those coal dark “Indian eyes” that know a lot more
than a couple hundred years of so-called “history.” My daughter
objects to the little girl in the last stanza being born in '99
(Phoebe was born in '98). I told her '98 didn't rhyme, but she
didn't buy it. That's Tommy Spurlock on the fuzz-tone Fender steel
guitar (played in the style of his friend and mentor Sneaky Pete
Kleinow of The Flying Burrito Brothers).
7. Aron Presley:
Everybody knows that Elvis had a twin brother who died in childbirth.
The brother was named “Aron” (don't be fooled by the revisionist
“Aaron” or even “Jesse Garon”). They say that the living
twin carries the dead twin within him. I wrote my song from the
perspective of the dead twin. John Davis and Suzi Ragsdale co-star
in the role of the dead twin harmony vocals.
8. Tops of the Trees:
About as high as any of us need to get in this life. Tommy on steel.
9. Million Ways to Die:
Originally called “The Bounty Hunter.” A crazed
character out of a Peckinpah movie who will go to his reward
justified. Kenny Vaughn supplied the spidery guitars that remind me
of the early Elvis Costello.
10. In the Real World: Crazy
Horse (the Sioux warrior, not Neil's backup band) had a dream of the
ultimate reality without the benefit of having ever read Plato.
Jamie Oldaker conjures up a mesmerizing beat, and Suzi Ragsdale does
more than just harmonize—it's like some waking dream.
11. W Road Ghost: The W
Road trails up the back of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, where I grew
up. The switch-back near the top gives the road its name. In the
old days, before asphalt and guard rails, back-of-the-mountain
shiners used it as their personal “delivery route.” One Signal
Mountain moonshiner was so famous that he made runs all the way up
the Washington, D.C., to President Harding (who may, or may not, have
been poisoned by the stuff).
12. Paul is Dead: This
is, of course, pure parody, pure fantasy, fueled by that exhaustless
Muse known familiarly as “The Internet.” Articles, photos,
websites, podcasts—the conspiracy supposes that the real Paul
McCartney “blew his mind out in car” sometime in 1966 and was
replaced by the so-called “Faul” McCartney, who is taller than
John, has a different eye-color and even head shape. It gets fuzzy
whether “Faul” was simply a human impostor (from Canada) or
something far more sinister like a reptilian-human alien hybrid
(along the lines of the Bush or British Royal families). Remember, I
13. The Tower: Charles
Whitman climbed the tower at the University Texas at Austin the same
year that Paul was supposedly dying. The ex-Marine took out almost
fifty victims in less than ninety minutes with a rifle at ranges up
to 100 yards. You can do the math. He left a note asking that his
brain be autopsied for abnormalities. None were found. I take
pride in my creepy sounding harmonica bits.
14. My Hero: This is
sorta like Ray Davies meets Willie Nelson. The song goes like this:
a guy goes into a bar. Gets insulted by another guy. They take it
outside. The first guy shoots the second guy in the face. Only
problem: the second guy isn't armed. Uh oh. I guess that the
problem with having heroes—whether they're cowboys or not. Tommy
Spurlock plucks the banjo with conviction, without overdoing it.
15. Too Young to Die: You
say, Luke, Texasee seems like a pretty violent place. I paraphrase
Wallace Stevens, the violence inside is what shields us from the
violence outside. It all has something to do with the magic of the
imagination to transform reality in the Real. Anyway, the song's a
mini-film-noir story that supposed to leave you wondering, was it an
accident or predestination? Kenny Vaughan picks out of pretty nice
guitar lick. We left in his guitar crunch at the end. I guess our
hero doesn't make it?
16. Lower Broad: Is the
final stretch of Nashville's Broadway before bellies down to its end
at the Cumberland River. The city fathers and mothers have cleaned
it up now, but you still have a few of the old-time honky-tonks that
remember when hookers could walk the street with impunity. But I do
not come to cast stones. This is a redemption song—which brings us
back to where we started: Texasee. The voice is Suzi's.