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(Wilory Records 30008 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/11/2007)
Texas seems to spawn a good sized herd of singer-songwriters. Among the household names in the field are the late Townes Van Zandt, along with Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely and many others. That list of names, as you might note, are all male. But there are also some worthy women to emerge from the Lone Star State's folk scene, probably the best known of whom is Nanci Griffith. Another outstanding artist from the state, who is also known to bring her geographical environs into her songs, is Terri Hendrix, whose new CD, her ninth, is called The Spiritual Kind.
Terri Hendrix was born in Texas to a father who was a career military man, and a mother who grew up in Cuba. Ms. Hendrix spent several years of her childhood in Panama, where her father was stationed. In her capsule autobiography, she describes her family making a trip when her father's hitch was up, from Panama back to Texas in a van up through Central America and Mexico, which was apparenly quite an adventure. Growing up, Ms. Hendrix was attracted to music and played her sister's guitar, and then went on major in classical music and voice in college in Abilene, though she did poorly enough with music theory that she transferred to another college and another major, working her way though college by waiting tables. But music remained her passion, and she began appearing at open mic events. In a search for employment to pay for college, she encountered a woman named Marion Williamson, who hired her to take care of some goats on her farm. Ms. Williamson also happened to be a guitarist skilled in the rural blues style of Mississippi John Hurt. Ms. Williamson taught and encouraged Ms. Hendrix, who began lining up some gigs in the Texas Hill Country, and recording demos of the songs she was writing.
After being turned down by a record label in 1996, she decided to release her own album and started a website, back when it was a lot less common to do so. Along the way, she met producer Lloyd Maines, among whose clients is his daughter, Natalie Maines and her group the Dixie Chicks. Ms. Hendrix and the elder Maines went into partnership on their own label called Wilory Records, named after Marion Williamson's farm. Ms. Hendrix has been releasing an album almost every year since then, touring widely and attracting more and more attention.
Her latest recording is somewhat more acoustic in sound than some, but it's fairly wide-ranging in texture and content. I suppose that it could validly be called a "folk" album, not only for the acoustic instrumentation, but for the fact that there also a couple of songs from the folk tradition, including a classic by Woody Guthrie. The result is one of her best albums yet. The material is first-rate, Ms. Hendrix' performance is warm and confident, and Lloyd Maines' production is impeccable.
Ms. Hendrix has lately been playing more harmonica in a blues style, and that features more prominently this time around. Maines plays a paragraph-long list of string instruments and does some backing vocals. Ms. Hendrix holds down the guitar and also does some mandolin. Joining them are Glenn Fukunaga on bass and Paul Pearcy on drums.
The CD opens with a non-original piece, Life's a Song, written by John Hadley. Ms. Hendrix says that she has opened many a show with the upbeat song, and add that it's how she feels about music. <<>>
The first of the originals is Bottom of a Hill. The appealing song uses the topography of her home as a kind of metaphor for life. <<>>
The title song The Spiritual Kind also uses autobiographical details to look at the larger world and its inhabitants. The band gives the tune a great back-porch country kind of sound. <<>>
Throughout her musical career, Ms. Hendrix has acknowledged the influence and outright help provided by Marion Williamson and her farm. The CD contains a song called Acre of Land, which is a tribute to Ms. Williamson. Ms. Hendrix says the song was written a number of years ago but not previously recorded. <<>>
The Woody Guthrie songs she included is Pastures of Plenty, which seems to have as much relevance to today's immigrants as it did to the dust bowl refugees about whom it was written. Ms. Hendrix and company deliver the song tastefully but with enough of an edge to make it interesting. <<>>
The other old traditional song is What Is the Color of the Soul, which she credits to Jimmy Rodgers. The song is often known just as "Soul of a Man," but Ms. Hendrix takes the song and turns it into something that addresses racism, thanks to some added original lyrics. <<>>
Also making a social commentary is Jim Thorpe's Blues, the story of the Native American athlete, after whom a Pennsylvania town was named, who was stripped of his Olympic medals for reasons that many have said had to do with racism. <<>>
One track that does go a bit over the top is If I Had a Daughter, with its spoken-word verses, and weepy steel guitars. The words in that spoken mode, are also decidedly unsubtle. <<>>
The CD ends with a tribute to the jazz singers over the years that Ms. Hendrix has admired, Mood Swing. She's not exactly a jazz chanteuse herself by nature, but she does well, and the band's performance rises to the occasion. <<>>
The Spiritual Kind, the new CD from prolific Texas-based singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix is one of her best recordings to date. Though she includes three cover tunes among the dozen tracks on the CD, her original songs are gems, and she continues to become an ever more appealing performer, with her clear, pleasing vocal style. With the esteemed Lloyd Maines at the helm in the studio as producer, the CD's arrangements and production are absolutely first rate. And the somewhat more acoustic sound adds to the CD's assets.
Our grade for sound quality is also close to an "A." The tastefulness that was brought to the music was also applied to the recording's sonic approach. Instruments are clean and bright, and Ms. Hendrix's vocals are rendered warmly. The dynamic range is also fairly decent.
Mention Texas singer-songwriter, and some guy in boots usually comes to mind. Terri Hendrix wears the badge very well, and her new CD is a reminder that this is an artist who has been doing music on her own terms for over a decade. She has racked up a worthy repertoire, and I think, can be counted among the best of her state's practitioners of the art.
(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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