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(Wilory 30005 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/17/2002)
The Texas singer-songwriter scene has been a strong one, going back to performers like Jerry Jeff Walker and the late Townes Van Zandt, and up to people like Lyle Lovett. But one usually associates Texas songwriters with men, much more so than, for example, the very co-ed Boston folk scene. But there are some notable Texas women singer-songwriters, such as Nanci Griffith. This week we have the latest release by another outstanding woman of song from the Lone Star state, Terri Hendrix, whose new CD, her fourth, is called The Ring.
Unlike many musicians and artists who are attracted to the Austin music scene from elsewhere, Ms. Hendrix is Texas born and bred. A native of San Antonio, she is the daughter of a military father, so she had a somewhat nomadic childhood, including being stationed in Panama. It was there that Ms. Hendrix' sister got a guitar as a Christmas present, and in a bout of sibling rivalry, the then seven-year-old Terri would steal the guitar and play it, in her words, to "torment" her sister. But eventually, Terri grew to enjoy playing the guitar and pursued musical studies, including winning a scholarship in classical music at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, then transferred to Southwest Texas State at San Marcos, where her brother had gone. She eventually dropped out to study music with Marion Williamson, whom Ms. Hendrix describes as a composer and philanthropist, and also owned Wilory Farm, in Hye, Texas, where there were plenty of animals about, and which was apparently a resort, where Ms. Hendrix worked. She later would name her own independent label Wilory Records in tribute, using a goat from the farm called Peggy Lee as a mascot.
Ms. Hendrix has been performing regularly since the early 1990s, and released her debut CD Two Dollar Shoes, in 1996. It was around that time that she met Lloyd Maines, a respected producer and multi-instrumentalist, and father of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Maines has produced all of Ms. Hendrix' CDs.
The new release The Ring is somewhat more intimate in sound than her last couple of CDs, with mainly acoustic instrumentation, but it's also a pleasingly eclectic work, running from fairly typical singer-songwriter fare to a bluesy-swing track to more upbeat material. Ms. Hendrix is known for her articulate lyrics and an attractive, easy-going vocal style. And this CD's very tasteful producing makes it a memorable recording that one will want to return to often. Maines also co-wrote five of the song with Ms. Hendrix, and there are two non-originals among the eleven tracks, though they are hardly covers of familiar hits. On The Ring Ms. Hendrix also spans a wide range lyrically, from tender songs about her family to assertions of independence to an interesting musical complaint about insomnia. She is particularly adroit with her metaphors and turns of phrase.
In addition to Ms. Hendrix, who is also known for her harmonica playing, and Maines, who plays a good number of stringed instruments, regulars on the album include bassist Glenn Fukunaga and drummer Paul Pearcy. Also appearing is keyboard man Riley Osborne, and another Texas singer-songwriter, Sara Hickman, who does backing vocals on a track.
Opening the CD is Goodbye Charlie Brown a song considering the changes that life brings. It's rather typical of the upbeat, but primarily acoustic sound of the CD. <<>>
The following song, Spinning Off is a nice example of Ms. Hendrix' inspired lyric-writing. The song considers one's possibly rash actions, and their consequences, all put in an attractively melodic pop setting. <<>>
An interesting departure is From Another Planet with its bluesy jive sound, and interesting, playfully cryptic lyrics. It's a fun highlight of the album. <<>>
The first of the non-original songs is Long Time Coming one of whose composers, Marcus Hummon, plays mandolin on the track. The difference in writing style is quite apparent, with this piece being a much more conventional love song with a pop bent than Ms. Hendrix' compositions. Still, the performance is first-rate. <<>>
The song about insomnia is called Night Wolves. The demons and distractions keeping the songwriter awake are woven into the track in the form of sound effects and voices. It's not often that such a subject is addressed in song, and Ms. Hendrix' musical treatment of it is brilliant. <<>>
Though Terri Hendrix tends to avoid clichés in her songwriting, she does come up with a great upbeat hummable love song, Consider Me. Despite the almost danceable sound, mandolins are dominant part of the accompaniment. <<>>
The CD takes one excursion into bluegrass on the song The Fact Is, a kind of assertion of independence. <<>>
The album's title track, The Ring, is definitely a highlight. The contemplative song is the story of the protagonist's Viet Nam-vet father who made a ring for his wife out of fifty-cent piece. <<>>
The album ends with the other of the non-original pieces, Prayer for My Friends, a wonderful country-styled song by Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, that could easily become a standard at folk concerts and festivals as a sing-along. This mainly acoustic performance is very appealing and highlights Ms. Hendrix' fine vocals. <<>>
Terri Hendrix' new fourth CD The Ring is an outstanding work by an ascendant Texas composer-vocalist who combines adroit lyric writing with a warm, attractive vocal style to create music that stands out among the well-populated singer-songwriter field. Lloyd Maines' very tasteful, primarily acoustic production and arrangements make the CD all the more worth seeking out. At its most basic, this is a singer-songwriter record that excels in both singing and songwriting.
For sound quality, we'll give the CD close to an "A." The recording is as tasteful and understated as the arrangements; there's very nice sonic clarity and studio effects are very subtle. Dynamic range is about as good as can be expected in these days when over-compression of CDs has become the norm.
Clad in her trademark overalls, and with a goat serving as a mascot, Terri Hendrix cuts a down-home image, but her new CD The Ring definitely marks her as a class act.
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