First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019.
Pedal Steal + Four Corners
Paradise of Bachelors (3 CDs, 145 mins)
Now here’s a fascinating one. Terry Allen is an artist of many forms: a conceptual artist, painter, writer, playwright and (most prolifically) a country musician. This release is a collection of five performance pieces recorded between 1985 and 1993. The works are each based around spoken word performed over musical beds and frequently interspersed with songs. Allen’s stories revolve around the lives of people at the fringes of society, usually within his native Texas; laced together with the music, they create extremely riveting and evocative set-pieces.
The first piece is ‘Pedal Steal’. Originally written as a soundtrack to a dance performance, it tells the tragic tale of ne'er-do-well pedal steel player Billy the Boy. The narrative is punctuated and accompanied by a mixture of country music, Navajo songs, Tex-Mex conjuntos and jazz as well as abstract soundscapes and found sounds.
The ‘four corners’ of the album’s title are four radio plays, each following a different set of outlaws, peasants and down-and-outs. They are as charming, wistful and bittersweet as ‘Pedal Steel’ with the exception of one. ‘Torso Hell’ is as evocative as the rest, but completely unpleasant, a dark, disturbing and ultra-violent critique on war narratives in Hollywood. Good art maybe but that doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable – a shame compared to the rest of the set.