Allen entertains with potpourri of sounds

By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


September 6, 2005

Terry Allen
"Silent Majority: Terry Allen's Greatest Missed Hits"
Sugar Hill Records

Rugged individualist Terry Allen returns with a CD brimming with "out-takes, in-takes, mis-takes, work tapes, added tos, taken froms, omissions and foreign materials."

Just another way of saying more hard-to-pidgeonhole but easy-to-appreciate tunes from a grizzled Texan whose 1979 album "Lubbock (On Everything)" remains a singer-songwriter/folk/early alt-country masterpiece.

"Silent Majority," a CD reissue of a 1992 Fate Records LP, lacks the cohesiveness of "Lubbock" and some other efforts, such as 1999's "Salivation." But with the production and pedal steel virtuosity of Lloyd Maines, it all hangs oddly together.

Highlights include "Yo Ho Ho" and "Big Ol' White Boys," parts of a Paul Dresher Ensemble musical theater piece called "Pioneer," which takes apart the American pioneer spirit, and "The Burden" from the 1984 movie "Amerasia."

Some songs are political, some skew toward religion ("Arizona Spiritual"), a common Allen subject, and some are just plain cynical, such as the opening "Advice to Children." Here, Allen warns that it's wise not to be the best you can be in America, which is "all strung out on Valium in the mall."

Several players from the Maines and Jerry Jeff Walker wings of Texas balladry appear, including bassist Bob Livingston, rocker Joe Ely, various Maines offspring (he's also the father of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines) and Allen's wife, performance artist Jo Harvey Allen.

But perhaps the most interesting tunes are the least likely: four recorded with Indian musicians in Madras and then overdubbed by Allen, Maines and company back in Texas. "Big Ol' White Boys" is one of those songs, as is "New Delhi Freight Train," an early Allen tune covered by Little Feat. The Indian musicians' rhythms and percussion keep "Freight Train" on track and, really, what better song could there be for a sitar solo?