The Country Underground and Neko: There’s nothing “alternative” about Neko Case’s country

By Richard Skanse

(From, February 23, 2000)

As soon as Neko Case belts out the heart-wrenching opening line, “Want to get it all behind me…” at the outset of Furnace Room Lullaby, you know she’s singing about L-O-V-E gone wrong. But she might as well be talking about love songs, and the troublesome way they can sneak up on you when you’re trying to write honest music, particularly of the country variety.

“It’s kind of embarrassing that so many of the songs are kind of love songs, because I’m so sick of them, I tell you,” the Virginia-born, Washington state-raised and Canadian-fine-tuned singer says of her just-released second album. “It’s the most cliched thing in the world. But if it just comes out and you didn’t force it, you can keep it, I guess. I’m getting out of that, but it’s impossible to not think about it.”

When further pressed on the matter, she cagily admits that some of it may have had it’s roots in a “long-term relationship that ended horribly,” but she’s not about to give that mess too much credit for inspiring any of the bewitching torch and twang lullabies on Furnace Room, or her slightly more raucous ’97 debut, The Virginian. “Basically, it comes from when you break up with someone who you’ve been going out with for a long time, and you realize how much of yourself you’ve lost in that relationship. You’re more mad at yourself for letting yourself do that than you are at the other person.”

When Case isn’t singing about love gone to hell on Furnace Room Lullaby, she’s likely to be singing about her beloved hometown of Tacoma, Washington. It was there, she sings on the album-standout “South Tacoma Way,” where she “found passion for life,” even though “there was no hollow promise that life would reward you.” “Loving your hometown — that’s a cliched thing too, but it’s a good break from, ‘Oh, my tortured heart!’” Case laughs. “[Tacoma]’s got a real bad name for itself — it’s really the underdog of Washington State. But at the same time, that keeps people from moving there. Downtown is practically deserted. It’s a very strange place.”

Case spent her teenage years in Tacoma, a period of her life that found her leaving home and high school at fifteen (“family problems”), living in a friend’s basement and banging out her angst playing drums in Cramps-style punk bands. Migrating to Vancouver to pursue a fine arts degree in college, she continued to pound the skins as part of the arty-roots-punk trio Maow. “We were arty in a way that was really silly,” she says. “We’d wear furry bikinis and stuff on stage, and we would get mad when people would go, ‘You’re such a novelty band!’ because we practiced just as hard as anyone else did.”

She stuck with the band all through college, touring with them and recording an album in ’97 for the Canadian label Mint. When it came time to write more songs for Maow, Case’s contributions didn’t quite fit the mold; the classic country music she’d been exposed to as a child via her grandmother had taken root in her subconscious. The result was The Virginian, a sterling collection of originals and vintage covers that sounded like Patsy Cline gone wild. Credited to Case and “Her Boyfriends” — a revolving band of male and female collaborators – the album (along with the later Furnace Room) was released by Mint and licensed by the U.S. insurgent country label Bloodshot.

Although her new songs didn’t quite fit Maow, Case says the move from punk rock to hard country was not a drastic one. “Country’s very much like punk rock, anyways,” she says. “It’s made by poor, kind of pissed-off disgruntled people. It’s just a very passionate form of music — they’re very similar in that way.” Just don’t make the mistake of calling her music “y’allternative.”

“I feel disappointed that people feel they have to call it ‘alternative country,’ because I listened to country music growing up, and that was my influence, and I don’t feel like I should have to justify what I do by calling it alternative,” Case says. “Because there’s no way in hell somebody’s going to mistake my music for ‘new’ country anyway. I don’t have to separate myself from that genre because I’m not anywhere near it.”

If Furnace Room Lullaby offers a marked improvement on the already considerable promise of The Virginian, it’s only because it finds Case the songwriter catching up with Case the powerhouse singer. Both sets are unabashedly vocal showcases, and Case sings the devil out of them. She credits her chops to years of practice singing along to gospel music — in particular, an album called Bessie Griffin and the Gospel Girls Swing Down, Sweet Chariot lent to her by a friend in Tacoma.

“Punk rock was really disappointing me at the time,” she says. “And the passion on this was so incredible. That’s what I’d been wanting. I wasn’t a religious person, but listening to the music really made me open up a lot and be more accepting of other people’s ideas. That record changed my life. It opened the door to the great musical search of my life. I’ve never seen a copy of that record since, and it makes me sad, because I’ll never have one. I’d love to get a copy of it — maybe if I keep talking about it, somebody will go, ‘I’ve got a copy and I’ll make you a tape of it!’ That would make my year.”

The only thing that could possibly make her happier, it seems, would be an honest shot at performing at that holy shrine of true country, the Grand Ole Opry.

“I would love more than anything to be on the Grand Ole Opry and have my grandma get to come,” Case says unabashedly. “I have since I was a kid. The Grand Ole Opry and country radio are kind of different, which is the one thing that kind of gives me hope. But I would die if I got to be on the Opry. I don’t know how that happens, though — I need to look into it. Maybe you move to Nashville, but I can’t really see myself doing that.”

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Review: Terri Hendrix’s “Pilgrim’s Progress (Project 5.5)

From Texas Music Magazine, Sept. 6, 2021

Pilgrim’s Progress (Project 5.5)
Wilory Records

When Terri Hendrix calls her latest release a “country” album, it’s not in a wink-wink kinda way suggesting a playful misdirect. Truly, sincerely, she means it, explaining her uncharacteristic focus on one genre for a change as a gift of sorts for her father, who’d asked her for years to record an album of his kind of music. But it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Hendrix’s 25-year recording career that the diehard DIY-er’s don’t-fence-me-in aesthetic remains unbowed. Pilgrim’s Progress may be a country album ostensibly made for her dad (who she even coaxed into sing harmony vocals on one song), but it’s still her record, and there’s no way a Terri Hendrix country record was ever gonna adhere entirely to any set of rules but her own. To wit: After the opening gambit of old-school Cindy Walker and Bob Wills/Patsy Cline, it only takes her four moves to get to the Waterboys.

Pilgrim’s Progress is the final installment of Hendrix’s “Project 5,” a collection of five thematically linked releases that she kicked off in 2016 with the albums Love You Strong and The Slaughterhouse Sessions and continued in 2019 with Talk to a Human and an EP, Who is Ann? The fifth album didn’t actually come into the picture until late 2020, though, after she called an audible and pushed a memoir she’d originally planned as the series’ closer to the back burner.

And yet despite that late substitution, nothing about Pilgrim’s Progress feels retrofitted or like an outlier, which is especially remarkable given that this is Hendrix’s first album made up entirely of covers. Part of that’s just smart curation, with all 10 of its tracks touching in one way or another on Hendrix’s core Project 5 themes of love, hope and resiliency — or sometimes even the inverse or loss thereof, à la “Faded Love.” But it’s also testament to the depth of influence that many of these songs and/or their writers have long had in charting Hendrix’s artistic journey. The John Prine, Dolly Parton, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson songs here (“You Got Gold,” “Wildflowers,” “Little Bird” and the title track, respectively) aren’t necessarily their most famous hits, but every one of them feels right in step with the spirit, character and color of Hendrix’s own songwriting at its very best. “Faded Love,” meanwhile, can be traced all the way back to her early childhood: Hendrix recalls it being one of the first songs she and her father would sing and play together when he showed her her first guitar chords.

Like every other entry in Hendrix’s 20-album catalog — save for her 1996 debut — Pilgrim’s Progress was produced by her longtime studio and stage collaborator Lloyd Maines. That’s a helluva lot of mileage to put on any partnership without expecting some degree of wear and tear in the mix, but that’s certainly not the case here — and with good reason. Be it on the hardcore-traditional or progressive side of the spectrum, country music has always been Maines’ main wheelhouse, and his command of the genre is on exceptionally fine display here on both sides of the booth. Hendrix credits Maines with all of the arrangements, most notably for “Faded Love,” and the man’s renowned pedal steel gets its best showcase since his last time onstage with the Joe Ely Band or Terry Allen … or at least since his equally above-and-beyond contributions to the Flatlanders’ Treasure of Love earlier this summer. (Hey, when you’re hot, you’re hot.)

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Hendrix leans full into the challenge of making each of these songs her own and delivers 10 of her hands-down best vocal performances in years, if not ever — all while battling the ultimate singer’s nightmare of a recently diagnosed essential vocal tremor. That’s not just “gold” she’s got inside of her, as Hendrix sings in the aforementioned Prine tune: It’s true grit. And if that ain’t country, well … you know how that one goes.

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Review: Rodney Crowell’s “Triage”

From Texas Music Magazine, Aug. 18, 2021

Rodney Crowell
RC1 Records/Thirty Tigers

Just because Rodney Crowell doesn’t make bad records doesn’t mean he only makes great ones. Or at least not every time. In the 20 years since releasing The Houston Kid (easily one of the finest albums in the Texas singer-songwriter canon this side of Guy Clark’s Old No. 1), the remarkably consistent (and prolific) Crowell has actually come remarkably close to matching that masterpiece a lot more often than not. For proof, see 2003’s Fate’s Right Hand, 2005’s The Outsider or 2017’s Close Ties. 

But his last album, 2019’s Texas, felt like a rare punt: long on extraneous special guests (never a promising sign) and a bit short on genuine keepers (save for one, the admittedly exquisite “The Border”). Again, not really a “bad record” by any means — but, as a whole, hardly representative of Crowell at his best. Which is to say, hardly representative of the Crowell heard in full on the new Triage. 

A lot of the reason why Triage merits top-shelf placement is that it feels both tempered by fire and disarmingly vulnerable. Written and recorded in the thick of a worldwide pandemic and released just two weeks shy of Crowell’s 71st birthday, this is the work of an artist staring hard down the barrel of mortality, not with steely defiance but rather with a keen balance of penitence, bracing urgency and a zen sense of “Here Goes Nothing” come-what-may. “I’ve been a liar, I’ve been untrue,” he confesses at the start of the opening “Don’t Leave Me Now,” hat in hand and ashamed heart on sleeve. “To shatter your faith in me has torn my whole apart.” The song begins quietly, like an intimate one-on-one confession, but a minute and 10 seconds in, it shifts on a dime into overdrive with a surge of pounding drums and a Gaelic whirl of mandolin and guitar that startles like a code blue.

That wake-up call establishes right from the jump the high stakes at play all through Triage, as Crowell waxes philosophical about matters ranging from personal health scares (“Transient Global Amnesia Blues,” literally written from a hospital bed) to guilt (“The Girl on the Street”), the climate crisis (“One Little Bird”) and finding/maintaining faith — be it in mankind, oneself or whatever higher power there might be out there (“Something Has to Change,” “This Body Isn’t All There is to Who I Am,” “Hymn #42”).

Above all, though, Triage is a record about l-o-v-e with a capital “L,” unfettered by trappings of romance, sex or even the thinnest scrap of common ground. When Crowell declares, in “I’m All About Love,” that “I love Vladimir Putin and Benedict Arnold / I’m happy to say I even love Donald,” it’s clear that even if he’s kinda-sorta-obviously kidding, he still wants to believe it himself, because therein lies the path to enlightenment. Or as he puts it best in the last verse of the album’s five-star title track: “If Love is what we make it as you reap so you sow / The yang and yen the where and when the first and last to come and go / Then Love is all creation as Love is manifest / It’s love when we’re all given life and love when we’re all laid to rest.” 

No, not every record Crowell makes is a “great” one, but Triage most definitely is. So move over, Kid.

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Review: The Flatlanders’ “Treasure of Love”

From Texas Music Magazine, July 27, 2021

Treasure of Love
Rack ‘Em Records/Thirty Tigers

You know that philosophy espoused by organizational guru Marie Kondo, about improving your life by getting rid of everything that doesn’t “spark joy”? Sure, it may help tidy up your home and closet space, but hoarding can have its rewards, too — at least if you’re Joe Ely. Ever since launching his Rack ’em Records label back in 2007, the Lubbock-reared roots rocker and founding member of the Flatlanders has been mining pure gold (or “Pearls from the Vault,” as he calls them) from his huge stockpile of unreleased music spanning more than five decades, most of it tracked right inside his own Spurs Studios in Austin. Last year’s meticulous rummage through that archive yielded the stunning Love in the Midst of Mayhem, which mixed songs new and old (but previously unfinished) into a seamless soundtrack for the summer of pandemic. And with plenty of lockdown time left for Ely to keep digging for more, lo and behold, he found all the right parts for a brand new Flatlanders album, too.

Coming hot on the heels of 2009’s Hills and Valleys (hey, we’re talking about a band here that once took 30 years between records), the aptly titled Treasure of Love comprises 14 songs — primarily covers of old country, folk and bluegrass favorites — that Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock recorded together at Ely’s during various windows of opportunity throughout the last dozen or so years. They were sometimes accompanied by available band members, like guitarist Robbie Gjersoe and bassist Jimmy Pettit, but most of the sessions were just for fun, just old friends casually swapping songs like they did when they shared a house in Lubbock way back in the early ’70s.

It wasn’t until late 2019/early 2020 when they actually planned to write and record a new album together only to have to break for quarantine, that the realization that they actually already had a perfectly good new record ready to go even occurred to them. Well, almost ready. Enter co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines, who took the demos like a hand-off from the Flatlanders’ own 20-yard line and ran them clear across the field into the end zone.

Maines — a Lubbock light in his own right and half (with the late Jesse “Guitar” Taylor) of the twin-engine roar of the original Joe Ely Band — is definitely the MVP of Treasure of Love, as made apparent from the moment his wailing pedal steel kicks into thunderous, Live Shots-worthy overdrive on the opening “Moanin’ of the Midnight Train.” Penned by Hancock and sung by Ely, “Moanin’” is one of just four originals here, two of which Hancock and/or Gilmore previously recorded on solo albums. All circumstances considered, that’s still a bummer — especially compared to the bounty of brand new songs all three Flatlanders co-wrote together on their last album (most notably the outstanding “Homeland Refugee” and “Borderless Love”).

But to everyone’s credit, the 11 covers that make up the bulk of Treasure — including songs by fellow Texas legends Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, Earnest Tubb, George Jones and the Big Bopper — are hardly filler. The instrumentation — most notably the guitar and steel work, be it overdubbed by Maines in post-production or tracked in the original sessions by Gjersoe and the Flatlanders themselves — is feisty and uniformly excellent, and Ely, Hancock and Gilmore all turn in superb vocal performances.

So here’s hoping they do come back around to writing at least one more album together. But if there’s more buried treasure in Ely’s closet on the level of Gilmore singing Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” Hancock doing right by Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose” or all three of them of them taking a rousing whirl at “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” well, another album just like this one should still spark more than enough joy to keep any Flatlanders fan plenty satisfied. — Richard Skanse

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Review: The Chicks’ “Gaslighter”

From Texas Music Magazine, March 12, 2021


It was the best of timing, it was the worst of timing. For fans of the Dixie — sorry, habit! — the Chicks, the mid-summer release of the trio’s first new studio album since 2006 was a bright spot in a seemingly endless year of quarantine malaise. And, buoyed by a robust media push and the warm afterglow of a highly successful 2016 nationwide amphitheater tour (the trio’s first U.S. headlining tour in a decade), Gaslighterseemed primed to ignite one of the biggest musical comebacks of the last 20 years. But of course, all of that was planned in advance of the entire concert industry slamming to a halt under lockdown, leaving Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Strayer ready to run but with nowhere to go. And just like that, the buzz on The Chicks’ triumphant 2020 return fizzled quicker than, well, Tiger King.

A bummer? Sure — but maybe a blessing in disguise. Doubtless the whole campaign will ramp up again eventually, but given room to breathe outside of the hype, Gaslighter can be better appreciated for what it really is: Not an overt “Album-of-the-Year-or-bust” play so much as just a dozen good to great new songs that aim more for expressing personal and musical growth than storming the charts. That might seem a curious read on an album co-written and produced with Jack Antonoff, who’s been one of Taylor Swift’s key collaborators throughout her own blockbuster pop crossover. His involvement was clearly very hands-on, too, in dramatic contrast to the “just show me what you did today” methodology of Rick Rubin, who helmed 2006’s Taking the Long Way.

But the results are revelatory and invigorating; equal measures sassy and vulnerable, Gaslighter is far and away The Chicks’ most eclectic and adventurous album to date. It’s packed with playful feints and twists, right from the way the anthemic opening title track mischievously teases a diss on old No. 45 but is in fact really (or at least mostly) aimed at Maines’ ex. The firebrand singer actually addresses her recent divorce head-on throughout the album, sometimes venting (“Sleep at Night,” “Tights on My Boat”), other times reflecting on the aftermath with disarmingly sincere maturity (“Young Man,” “Set Me Free”), and that confessional stance in itself charts new ground.

Although her powerhouse vocals have long been front and center in The Chicks’ sound, apart from a couple of key songs on their last album, this is arguably the first time Maines has used that voice to share her voice — and she sounds both empowered and humbled by it. Meanwhile, sisters Strayer and Maguire aren’t taking a back seat here by any means: those formidable banjo/dobro and viola/violin (if maybe not fiddle and mandolin) chops remain integral to the mix throughout. But as ever, it’s ultimately the sound of all three Chicks singing together that really delivers the payload, burnishing even the less memorable tracks on Gaslighter (of which there are at least a couple, par for the group’s course). And when they marry those perfect harmonies to the walloping emotional and melodic sweep of career-best standouts like “My Best Friend’s Weddings” and “Julianna Calm Down”? Hold on tight and mind the goosebumps. — RICHARD SKANSE

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Review: Lucinda Williams’ “Good Souls, Better Angels”

From Texas Music Magazine, March 13, 2021

Lucinda Williams
Good Souls Better Angels
Highway 20/Thirty Tigers

Admittedly, this won’t ever be the go-to Lucinda Williams album to prove her bona fides as one of the best American songwriters of the last half century; for that, there’s no beating the one conveniently titled Lucinda Williams. And as long as we’re being forthright here, song for song her finest hour of the last decade remains 2011’s Blessed. But don’t misconstrue any of that as a knock against Williams’ latest, because Good Souls Better Angels merits its own badge of distinction: Spoiling for a fight, and rough and rowdy in ways Bob Dylan’s own duly lauded 2020 offering only teased at, this is the Lucinda record to go to when you just really want to hear the woman — backed by her pummeling power trio, Buick 6 — flat-out rock.

Mind, this is not uncharted territory for Williams. She’s had an edge about her going all the way back to her salad days on the Texas folk scene in the ’70s, her slurred Louisiana drawl peppered with grit even when she objectively sang “pretty.” And the more her voice has calcified over time, the more she’s leaned into it, Tom Waits style — albeit sometimes straying into a croaky red zone and running roughshod over her best melodic interests. But on Good Souls, she commands that instrument, harnessing its ragged glory into a full-throated, primal roar that packs a satisfying, brass-knuckled heft to every line she sings.

There’s a tight thematic focus at work here, too, established right from the opening stomp of the Memphis Minnie adaptation “You Can’t Rule Me”: “Yeah man Ive got a right / To talk about what I see / Way too much is going wrong / Its right in front of me.” The bruising “Bad News Blues” sets the scene of a world gone wrong, a la Dylan’s “Everything is Broken,” and the last president is the unnamed but obvious target of the seething “Man Without a Soul.” But there’s more meat on Williams’ “Bone of Contention” here than just righteous liberal fury. “Wakin’ Up” lashes back at an abusive lover like a cornered animal done taking it, while “Big Black Train” and the sizzling “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” wrestle more internal demons like depression, shame and doubt. Tellingly, those are the confrontations where Williams doesn’t always sound quite so self-assured, but that vulnerability — coupled with the empathy, compassion and even a cautious measure of hope that comes through in fits and starts on the back end — only deepens the record’s overall impact.

In the closing “Good Souls,” she calls on the hands of saints and “better angels” to help keep her strong, fearless and righteous in the face of despair. But after hearing her summon, at age 67, the most ferocious performances of her 41-year recording career, rest assured this is one battle-hardened survivor who can more than fend for herself until the cavalry arrives. — Richard Skanse

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Q&A: Courtney Marie Andrews (from


Courtney Marie Andrews (Photo by Alexa Viscius)

The prolific and widely travelled (but still “emerging”) singer-songwriter talks about her new album, “Old Flowers,” and the beauty of coming to peaceful terms with the end of love.

By Richard Skanse

(from, Aug. 29, 2020)

By the time she hits 30 this fall, Courtney Marie Andrews will have officially spent half of her life as a performing artist and songwriter. Or actually a little more than half, if one goes all the way back to her salad days as a 13-year-old riot grrrl plotting her escape from Phoenix, Arizona.

Although her first band, a Bikini Kill-inspired feminist punk trio called Massacre in a Miniskirt, never did get around to playing anywhere outside of rehearsal, by high school Andrews had redirected all of that earnest intensity into a prolific outpouring of strikingly mature acoustic confessionals that would make her the toast of a burgeoning Phoenix coffeehouse folk scene. In short order she had three full-length albums and thousands of miles under her belt, using MySpace to book solo gigs on both coasts and touring as far afield as Australia as a backup singer and keyboard player for Arizona alt-rockers Jimmy Eat World. All by the ripe old age of 20.

But Andrews’ story isn’t that of yet another teenaged wunderkind, because at 21 she effectively hit the reset button on her career by moving to the Pacific Northwest and leaving her first three records behind, figuratively if not literally buried in the Arizona desert. Or, as she’s put herself, “I’ve erased them from the world,” blithely dismissing them as reminders of being “sort of burned by a bad deal I did when I was a kid, because I didn’t know anything about the music industry yet.” Jaded but unbroken, she began (somewhat) anew with 2012’s No One’s Slate is Clean and 2013’s On My Page, continuing to tour but surviving in large part through bartending and a steady run of studio and side gigs, ranging from playing “psychedelic” electric guitar for songwriter Damien Jurado to singing backup for European pop artist Milow. It was on account of the Milow job that Andrews found herself living for a spell in Belgium, nursing her way through a recent breakup and reflecting on the inherent loneliness of a rootless “Table for One” existence lived not “free,” but rather “always chained to when I leave.” The resulting songs  shaped her beautifully introspective Honest Life — Andrews’ sixth album overall, the third that she still acknowledges, and in many ways, her first to really count.

“I used all of my bartending money to make that record, because it just felt like so much was at stake,” she’d later recall. “Which I guess is kind of funny, because when I made Honest Life, I was playing to like, three people a night.”

But the album’s release in August 2016 put an end to that — and her bartending days, to boot. As Honest Life garnered critical acclaim and landed on multiple year-end lists, Andrews’ shows began selling out on both sides of the Atlantic, leading to her “International Artist of the Year” win at the third annual UK Americana Music Awards (following previous winners Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell). Her next record, 2018’s even more widely lauded May Your Kindness Remain, won her another UK Americana award for “International Album of the Year,” along with a nomination for “Emerging Artist of the Year” back stateside at the Americana Music Association’s Honors and Awards at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. And although she didn’t actually win that one, the fact that she was asked to sing alongside Brandi Carlile and Irma Thomas for the evening’s closing tribute to Aretha Franklin left little doubt that she’d made the team. The handful of unforgettable dates she played opening for and duetting with the great John Prine the following spring — a year to the month before his death — just made it official.

Courtney Marie Andrews’ “Old Flowers” was released July 22.

With all of that momentum at her back, Andrews was on pace for what most likely would have been the biggest tour of her career when her next album, Old Flowers, was announced, back in the first week of March of this year. Of course, COVID-19 nipped that right in the bud, along with pretty much everyone else’s original plans for 2020. But from a glass-half-full perspective, upon its eventual arrival in late July (seven weeks later than originally scheduled), Old Flowers proved to be a profoundly apt soundtrack for life slowed to a more meditative crawl under quarantine lockdown. In stark contrast to May Your Kindness Remain, a robustly soulful, full-band set that showcased Andrews’ boldest vocals and most outward-looking songs to date, Old Flowers is a quiet storm of a record, as intimate as an epiphany after a dark night of the soul or a private conversation between lovers. Andrews describes it as an album “about heartbreak,” with all 10 of its songs written in the wake of a nine-year relationship coming to an end. But calling it a “breakup album” doesn’t really do justice to the emotional range and thematic sweep of those songs, through which Andrews surveys the entire relationship in deeply personal yet remarkably relatable detail. In the title track, sequenced right at the halfway point, she makes it patently clear to both her ex and herself that a backslide is off the table: “Please go home now, I can sleep on my own / I’m alone now, but I don’t feel alone.” But it’s telling that for all the implicit sadness between those lines, there’s no real rancor in that moment, let alone much in the way of regretful hindsight to poison the happy memories she revisits in the first half’s wistful “Burlap String” and “If I Told.” Mind, there’s definitely some blood on the tracks here, too, with just enough still-raw vulnerability laid bare to keep things honest. But long before Andrews comes to the zen denouement of “Ships in the Night,” Old Flowers reveals itself to be more of a sincerely heartfelt, clear-eyed tribute to the most impactful love of her adult life — and the independent woman that emerged in its wake — than an embittered postmortem.

It’s also, at least to this avowed Honest Life evangelist, the best album that Courtney Marie Andrews has made yet — and a frontrunner for my personal favorite album of 2020, period. Having first interviewed Andrews two years ago for a profile that I unfortunately never could quite pin down, I was grateful to finally have the opportunity this summer for a proper re-do. We talked by phone in June, a few weeks before the release of Old Flowers.  

I remember you saying in our interview back in 2018, a little before your last album came out, that you didn’t really have a “home” at the time because even when you weren’t on tour, you kind of just hopped from Airbnb to Airbnb in different cities. Is that still the case? Or did you finally plant roots somewhere?

Yeah, I have! I have a house in Nashville now.

What made Nashville “the one”?

You know, I don’t know if I’ll ever think any place is the one. But it’s the right one for now. (Laughs) But I kind of landed here because I made some really great friends here, and it’s an easy place to tour out of.

In theory, at least! I know quarantine has been hard on most artists who make their living from gigging and touring, and assume it’s been especially weird for you, given how used you are to moving around so much for so long. But have you found any silver lining in the stillness?

Yeah, actually it’s probably been really good for me, to just sort of stop for a minute. I think creativity has been a saving grace during this time. I’ve just sort of travelled inward and started exploring my creativity in new ways, and that’s been really, really great. And it’ll just make tours that come up all the more memorable!

Well, I can’t say that I’ve been all that productive myself over the last three months, but I have listened to Old Flowers a lot in that time. I became a fan of your music with Honest Life, then going back to everything I could find that came out before and of course everything since. But in the three months that I’ve had my advance of this new album I think I’ve already listened to it more than all of your other ones combined.

Ah, man, thank you so much! I’m so happy to hear that.

In a note you posted about the album and the relationship that inspired it, you wrote, “These songs are my truth. I think they might be yours, too.” Just as a listener, it’s really remarkable to me how songs that can seem so unabashedly personal, down to those really fine details, can still somehow be so relatable to others. Does that ever kind of mystify you, too, from the writing end?

Um … no. (Laughs) Because I’m a human, and you guys are humans too! And we all have moments that maybe are shaded a little bit differently, but they’re kind of all rooted in the same, you know, story.

We’ve literally all “been there.”


But that said, making even some of the most specifically detailed parts of your own story resonate in a way that feels familiar to the listener is kind of a hallmark for you. My favorite song of yours is “Near You,” which I was happy to hear you do in your first quarantine live-stream back in April. I assume that whole song is a true snapshot of an actual personal experience of yours, but every line somehow really hits the bullseye for me. And I imagine you hear that from people about a lot of your songs.

Thank you. Yeah, “Near You” is actually a song that has sort of resonated with a lot of people, which is funny because it’s not on a record. I wrote that song when I was like 19 years old, so it’s getting to be a decade old now. (Laughs) But I thought that for quarantine it was kind of a perfect anthem.

I knew you had a version of “Near You” on your Leuven Letters EP a couple of years before re-recording it as a single in 2017, but I didn’t realize it was that old. So I’m glad that you let that one stick around, unlike the three whole albums you made in your late teens that you’ve since purged from your catalog. And I can understand why did that, but there’s a few old clips of you performing some of those early songs still on YouTube, and the couple I’ve heard, especially one called “Darling Boy” — the maturity that was already on display there is staggering to me. Do any of those songs ever come back to the surface in your set lists these days, or have you completely divorced yourself from all of them?

I’ve probably divorced myself from all of them, just because of the time that they were born out of was a particularly painful one. So I just try to avoid singing them all together. But also I think artists just have a hard time with the really early catalog stuff, you know? I was raised right when the internet was becoming a thing, a classic millennial, and we didn’t have that kind of blessing-in-disguise of having to wait to record our songs. So the first songs I wrote, I recorded at home and put out …

With no filter.

No filter! (Laughs) But then you learn so much as you get older and develop this whole skill set to where, when you look back … I think it’s just easy to get over-critical about those records, you know?

Well, luckily I guess you felt you’d learned and developed just enough by your fourth and fifth albums (No One Slate is Clean and On My Page) to let them stick around and even be reissued, and by Honest Life you were clearly confident enough to really put yourself out there. Coincidently, just like now with Old Flowers, I remember you describing Honest Life as sort of a break-up album, too — or at least one that you wrote in the wake of a break-up. Without meaning to pry too much, was that the same relationship?

It’s the same person, yeah. I’ve known that person since I was 17, and we kind of, you know, dated since we were so young, broke up a few times, got back together. So it was definitely … I learned so much from that relationship, and wrote all of my records in that relationship — or out of it for a month or two at a time. (Laughs)

I think the real beauty of Old Flowers is that you use the whole album to reflect on that one long-term love of your life, as if saying something that impactful deserves more than just one song or a even few songs here and there. You really give the story room to breathe, and allow yourself the space to examine it from different angles.

Yeah. I mean, it’s so nuanced, love — it’s not just, you know, “hey I love you, this is it.”

Each song on the album plays like a memory, but it sounds like they’re not necessarily all in chronological order, because of course memory doesn’t really work like that. So some songs reflect where you’re at right now, others flashback to the very beginning of the relationship or to more recent history, and then “Ships in the Night,” the last song, sounds like it’s you looking back from months or even years further down the line from the present. Unless I’m reading that one wrong.

No, that was super intentional. “Burlap Strings,” the first song, is in sort of that first stage of grief, where you’re wishing you could go back and change things. And then the album sort of follows the trajectory of all the different emotions you go through. And then “Ships in the Night” is like, several years later, where you’re sort of reflecting on it all and wishing the other person well, in so many words.

This might be a weird thing to ask a songwriter, but when you commit to a project like this, or maybe when you first realize where it’s going — do you ever do any kind of research? All of these songs have clearly been lived and experienced, but just in terms of helping you focus or maybe express or approach something in a way that maybe you haven’t before, were there any writings or even other albums that you studied or kind of marinated in?

I don’t think I’ve ever done research intentionally. But I think as a songwriter I personally have always done subconscious research, where I’m just like, reading something and it affects my writing but I don’t even realize it until later. And that sort of happened with Old Flowers. I was listening to a lot of instrumental music during the making of this record, instead of listening to a lot of songwriters, like I’ve done in the past. But what I was doing was a lot of reading, like a lot of Mary Oliver poems, and Jack Gilbert. And I feel like those two poets really sort of penetrated my view love in a lot of ways, and the feeling of grief and coming to terms with the end of love. I really respect both their views on that, and I think it’s very in line with my view on it. So I think that that was my subconscious research that I didn’t even realize until later.

The way you write yourself about “coming to terms with the end of love” is really what defines this record. It’s full of heartbreak, but there’s not really a song on it that’s like, “you hurt me.” I mean, you do sort of play around with that conceit in “It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault,” but it’s clear that you see through that.

Yeah. And I think “It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault” is almost like a stab at my own ego. (Laughs) It may be not clear in that song that I’m aware of how silly that is to say, but we have all been guilty of that. And I think I was making myself very aware of how we all place blame on somebody else, because it’s easier. It’s easier to do that, or to place blame on something that happened in our lives. But really … well, there’s this Jack Gilbert poem, “Flying Not Failing.” It’s a poem that I’ve actually loved for a long time; an English teacher gave it to me a long time ago and said, “study up.” And his poem basically says, in so many words, like, love doesn’t have to be a failure because it came to an end; it can be a triumph, it can be this beautiful thing that happened. And yes, it didn’t work out, and yes there was crying and wanting to jump out of a driving car when you get into a fight — all these things that are sad, because in Western culture, we so often just make it this sad, poor me thing. But with Old Flowers I just wanted to take ownership of the fact that I loved this person for a long time, you know? And we did hurt each other — but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t triumphant that you spent this time with somebody. So I guess that’s just a thread throughout it.

The name is escaping me at the moment, but what was that movie with Jim Carrey, about completely erasing all memory of someone after a breakup?

Oh, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Yeah. Anyway, I thought it was a beautiful film, but that whole premise of actually wanting to erase someone who was that important to you from your brain, just because things went south — I couldn’t relate to that at all. Because I just can’t imagine it being worth losing all of the good memories, too. 

Right! And that kind of reminds me of that Blaze Foley line (from “Clay Pigeons”): “I could build me a castle of memories, just to have somewhere to go.” I think that says a lot about how I view love as well.

It’s also telling how, in “Carnival Dream,” you sing, “Will I ever let love in again? / I may never let love in again” — but never “I will never let love again.” You hear a lot of songs where people definitively say “never again,” but you stop short of going that far. Because you don’t know!

Right. And I think that’s sort of my view on life in general: I don’t know! (Laughs) I sort of take the philosopher standpoint where you can just continually ask questions forever if you want to.

The story you’ve told about that song is really something, about you and your ex both having essentially the same dream about trying to find each other at this carnival. But that’s also what the album as a whole kind of sounds like to me; there’s a fever dream quality to it, like it’s literally haunted. It’s like you’re going from room to room through an old house, or that Blaze Foley “castle of memories” you just mentioned, and the floor and walls creak with every step. So I kind of laughed when I noticed the band credits for “meanderings” on the song “Break the Spell.” Can you explain what that entailed? And speaking of “Break the Spell,” what is that weird, ghostly howling sound in that song?

Well, there’s a harmonium on there, or maybe it’s a pump organ — I can’t remember which one it was, but it’s some kind of woodwind key situation. And then the “meanderings” was just … well, I should first mention that the studio we were working at (Sound Space in Los Angeles) is just this insane play land of vintage gear. Like, everything from ’80s synths to super old world music instruments. So we’d do probably five or six takes of us not hearing the song at all, but just playing on whatever instrument called to us, and that’s what that is. And we did a lot of that kind of stuff, just creating these moments in the room together, and keeping a lot of first takes. We didn’t pressure ourselves to make things perfect; it was about, “Wow, I could tell you really felt something on that take — we’ve got to run with that.” There’s mistakes throughout the whole record, but that’s what we were going for.

There’s just you, producer Andrew Sarlo, and two other musicians on the record. I read that Matthew Davidson and James Krivchenia are in a band together (Big Thief), and Sarlo had worked with them before, but how did you come to work with them?

Well, my manager also manages Big Thief. And as for Andrew … I wanted to do a test run with producers this time, rather than just choose somebody and go with them, you know? So I chose like three producers I was going to go and meet with, but then Andrew was the first one and I knew immediately, so I just went with him, afterall. (Laughs) I knew right away just from the way he talked about the songs that I’d sent him, his commentary on them. Because when you send Andrew a song, he’ll send you paragraphs back about it, and a lot of people just don’t do that anymore. He was so articulate and so invested from the very beginning, and I just really, really loved working with him.

Well, you made a beautiful record together, and whether or not you work with him again, I look forward to hearing what direction you go in next. Honest Life felt very intimate and introspective, and then on May Your Kindness Remain you started looking more outward and it was more about empathy for others and the world around you, with you really belting out a lot of the songs Aretha-style and the production leaning more towards big and bold, classic Memphis-style soul arrangements. But Old Flowers really turns that focus back inwards and feels even more hushed and understated that Honest Life did. Obviously that makes sense given the subject matter of these songs, but — just because I remember you talking about how much fun you had making May Your Kindness Remain, were you at all surprised to find yourself going back to that quieter place so soon?

Yeah. But I just never think about things in a strategic career sense. This is just something that happened in my life and my art reflected that. The next record, who knows what will call to me? But I feel like it’s important as artists to always just do what feels right in the moment and to trust that. Because you know, if I was to think about my career strategically, I would have made a lot of different choices! (Laughs)

My time’s about up here, but I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a little about the video you made for “Burlap String.” When you premiered it back in April, you wrote about filming it in Bisbee, Arizona, at the site of a memorial to your musician friends Derrick and Amy Ross, who both died in October 2013 (Amy from a blood infection and her devastated husband by suicide later the same day). I first read about their tragic story after hearing your song, “A Song for Amy Ross” (from the 2014 Leuven Letters EP), which is honestly one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard.

Oh, thank you.

I know they performed together as a duo, “Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl,” and you described them as your “DIY music mentors.” How so? And how far along were you in your career when you met them?

Well, I had already released many records before kind of meeting them. They were maybe 15 years older than me, and living in Bisbee, where they would play a weekly gig at this place called the Grand Saloon on Wednesdays, like three hour sets. And Amy … she had one of those crazy musical brains where she could hear something on the radio and play it that night without looking up the lyrics or anything. She was just a really inspiring woman. But they were both inspiring to me in the sense that, they assured me that I could be a lifer doing this, too, even if it might not look like how you would expect it to. You know what I mean? It might not be like living in the Hollywood Hills or Topanga Canyon in the ’60s. Instead, I might be living in a studio apartment in a little town like Bisbee, or you know, just bumming around — but still doing what I want. They did that and lived true to that, so I think in that way they were my mentors. Their outlook on life, and their outlook on creating, are very intertwined with my own ethos about those things, and I hold all of that very close to me.

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Filed under 2020, Features, From Lone Star Music Magazine

Q&A: Eliza Gilkyson (from

Eliza Gilkyson by rodney burseil

Eliza Gilkyson (Photo by Rodney Burseil)

Talking quarantine blues, apocalyptic tendencies, and her “2020” mission to set things right through the power of peaceful protest and stubbornly purposeful folk music.

By Richard Skanse

(From, May 1, 2020)

“Today is the day our record is released into this strange, alternate universe that we’re living in right now where I can’t tour …” 

Under more ideal circumstances, Eliza Gilkyson undoubtedly would have opted to celebrate the launch of her latest record, 2020, at a different venue — pretty much any venue — other than her garage.

Eliza Gilkyson picks a different theme for each of her weekly quarantine live-streams (Fridays on Facebook at 5:30).

Don’t take that the wrong way. Like countless other artists sequestered in the time of COVID-19, Gilkyson has dutifully learned to make lemonade out of quarantine lemons and a decent wifi connection; and as makeshift performance spaces go, that garage — or at least the tapestry-decorated corner of it that she allows on camera — ain’t shabby. With lighting and mixing assistance from her son and producer, Cisco Ryder Gilliland, her live-streaming set-up is a fair sight (and sound) better than most, and she’s embraced her Friday night broadcasts on Facebook as an opportunity not just to stay connected with her audience, but to deep dive into her catalog for thoughtfully curated theme sets: e.g., “Songs of Comfort and Consolation,” “Songs for the Earth,” “Love’s Shadow,” etc.) She’s not singing to digital crickets, either. To date, every one of her “ELIZALIVE” episodes has been watched in real time by hundreds of fans around the world: far more, at least per show, than could ever be accommodated by most of the prestige listening rooms and even some of the smaller theaters she normally plays when she can tour.

And yet, still … there was just something about her April 10 live-stream, showcasing songs from her released-that-same-day brand new album, that underscored both the limits of the medium itself and an unintentional irony baked right into 2020’s title. Because if ever there was an album not made for a time of social distancing, it’s this one. 

“I was really hoping that we’d be marching together and singing these songs together at shows,” a resigned but resilient Gilkyson told her online viewers at the outset. More than just an after-the-fact hope, though, she explained that it was actually her intent behind writing those songs and making the album in the first place. Inspired by “the great tradition of Seeger and the old-school folk movement,” her aim was to help like-minded souls find courage through solidarity in the fateful run up to the 2020 election. And you can hear that sense of purpose running throughout the entire record, from the opening call to action of “Promises to Keep” (“I’ve been counting on my angel choir / to put some wings upon my feet / Fill me up with inspiration’s fire / And get me out into the street”) straight to the closing affirmation of “We Are Not Alone”: “We are conjuring our forces / And coming face to face with every fear / But there is comfort in our voices / reminding us of all that we hold dear.” 

As for which side of the political divide Gilkyson is standing on when she sings of and for “we,” rest assured it’s not the one that’s spent the last four years trampling civil rights under foot and locking children in cages at the border, to mention just two of the horrors referenced in the album’s “My Heart Aches.” Other clues, as if needed, abound: The sing-along anthem “Peace in Our Hearts” marches its defiance right up “into the face of the hateful mind,” and the fearsome “Sooner or Later,” heralding a day of reckoning for those abusing power at the expense of both the people and the planet, cracks like ominous thunder just before the apocalyptic cleansing of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” And just for good measure, there’s even a Woody Guthrie song about a Trump — or rather, a brand new Gilkyson song adapted from a letter Guthrie addressed in 1952 to Beach Haven, a segregated apartment building owned by the notorious landlord Fred Trump, Donald’s dad. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Gilkyson has looked to Guthrie and his generation for inspiration. Her father, the late Terry Gilkyson, was a contemporary of Guthrie’s who sang with the Weavers in the early ’50s and later led his own folk band, the Easy Riders, before taking his songwriting talents to Disney in the ’60s. Eliza, born and raised in California, released her own first album in 1969, at age 19, and went on to record prolifically throughout the ’80s and ’90s. But it wasn’t until the release of her watershed Hard Times in Babylonalbum 20 years ago that the by-then Austin-based singer-songwriter really hit her stride. Since then she’s been nominated for two Grammys and earned many times over her sterling reputation as a critically and peer-revered paragon of modern American folk music. And as a conscientious crusader from the school of WWWD (What Would Woody Do?), she flies that folk flag higher than ever here in the year 2020, despite the trend toward favoring the more contemporary, hipper handle of “Americana” or even the catch-all “singer-songwriter.”

“I am proud of my folk music heritage and roots,” she wrote on her Facebook page earlier this week, echoing the come-together message at the heart of her new record. “And yes, I’m a sap for ‘us’ and all that we dream of and work towards, and even if we never reach our goal, we had a lot of fun on the way, we got to have a chair in a wonderful circle of dreamers who made sure we had food and a roof over our heads, and who lustily sang along with us. And yes, which side are you on? It’s a damn good question. Sing it loud. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re a folksinger damnit!” 

I caught up with that proud folk singer — via phone, of course — in early April: three weeks into quarantine, two days before the release of 2020, and the morning after the passing of John Prine from COVID-19. 

So, normally I’d start a phone interview with a standard “where are you talking to me from,”  but that seems like a particularly dumb question these days.

[Laughs] Well, I’m at home in Austin, but it’s still a fair question to ask of me, because I usually spend part of the year in Taos. And believe me, we keep looking at Taos and thinking, “Do we need to escape from Monster Island?” But there’s really no place to run, so we’re going to hang in here in Austin. We’re in the age group where you’re really supposed to stay home and not do anything, so that’s what we’re doing. I think in the last three weeks, we’ve gone to the market twice, and that’s it.

I know I’m probably not the first person to bring this up, but what could be more “2020” than 2020 throwing a global pandemic into the picture right before you release an album actually called 2020?

Who knew, right? I knew I really wanted to make this for the election year, because I think this is such a pivotal, critical year in the history of our nation and the history of the earth itself. So I thought it should be named that. But of course I didn’t know what that was going to mean at the time, though. It just keeps getting more intense.

And the hits keep coming. Yesterday we lost John Prine. And I’m sure it wasn’t lost on you that we had a super moon last night, just like the one on the night of the 2016 presidential election that you wrote about in “Lifelines,” on your last album, Secularia: “All of these like minds reel from this blow to the heart / turn to each other on the night of the super moon.

Yeah. Super moon to super moon. That’s basically what we just did: 2016 election, super moon, and now here we are, with the death of John Prine and … end times. It makes it hard not to see this as just something that’s happening that is so beyond our control that it’s just cyclical; that’s it’s the nature of things. And you can’t stop it. You have to just get up every day and hope for the best, because otherwise, you won’t get up.

Did you know John, personally?

You know, I was telling my husband last night about how a lot of people in our genre knew him well, but I did not. I opened for him several times, and he was incredibly sweet to me and very supportive, but we weren’t friends. So I’m just like everybody else: as a musical person, I feel a big hole, and I feel the collective sorrow of what we’ve lost, a role model for artists and for human beings. But he was somebody that I loved from afar.

When did you first open for him? Was that after Hard Times in Babylon?

Oh, no. It was very long ago; I would have to say late ’70s probably, because I was still “Lisa” Gilkyson then — I hadn’t claimed my real name yet. But it’s actually a really sweet story. I was living in Santa Fe, and I got a gig opening for him in Alamosa, Colorado. And I expected nothing, because as usual, I’m always under the radar: nobody knows who the fuck I am, and I was so young really, just starting out. But I opened for him, and it turned out that he and his band heard me, and they came out and watched my opening set. And when I came backstage afterwards, they all came over to my dressing room. John and his band all brought their guitars and they serenaded me. It was like they were honoring me, like they recognized me as a comrade. And it was so touching that I never forgot it.

This is a tangent, and I’ll come back to 2020 in a minute, but … I knew you used to go by Lisa Gilkyson. I actually found a copy of your 1979 album From the Heart, which you released under that name. But I’ve never heard you talk before about how changing to Eliza was you claiming your “real name.” What was behind that?

Well, I was born Eliza, which is an old family name; on both sides of my family there are Elizas. But I guess my parents kind of thought that wasn’t a very classic American ’50s name, so they called me Lisa. And I was Lisa the whole time I was growing up — I didn’t claim Eliza until I was in my 30s. It was at a point where I really wanted to distinguish myself. And it was actually hard to change back to my real name, because I had really identified with Lisa for so long. My brother and sister were very kind about it, but my dad was kind of annoyed that I asked him to call me Eliza, and my friends all had to practice it for about a year before it took. And there were times when I thought it seemed kind of phony, and I felt like, “I can’t keep asking people to do this for me …” But I’m really grateful that everyone did, because now I look back at “Lisa” and I think, “Oh my god, who was that person?” I’ve evolved so much since changing to “Eliza” in my 30s, and that was almost 40 years ago! So I’ve been Eliza now for most of my life. 

Once you got through that initial awkwardness, did reclaiming that name feel empowering?

Oh it was very empowering. In part because it’s an unusual name; you see more of them now, but back then, there was nobody with that name. But it also gave me an opportunity to sort of claim an identity, and also in a way, reinvent myself. But reinvent myself maybe based on who I really am. Because up to that point, I was trying all these different hats on musically, just trying to figure out who I was. And being able to claim my honest name was a big part of finding myself.

Well I’m glad it stuck. But — transition! — it really sucks that, right now, you’re finding yourself literally stuck at home, just as you’re releasing this record that’s all about feeling called to action with “promises to keep” and …

“Get me out into the street!” Right. And now we can’t even do that! It’s so freaky.

But it’s unfortunately par for the course of late. It seems like, at least if you’re on the left, the last three and a half years have been defined by this recurring pattern of surges of hope that inevitably run smack into a wall. From the 2016 election to the Texas senate race in 2018 to the Kavanaugh hearing to any number of things since, it’s been just blow after blow after blow.

I know. And that was what I wanted to address, the emotional roller coaster ride. I wanted to write about the extreme feeling of this time period. There’s so much grief around it, and then of course there’s the anger, and the dashed hopes and the determination to continue — 20 times a day we’re going through this stuff. And you want to just go deep into the cave and lick your wounds, but we have to just keep showing up. And that’s what I really wanted to tap into on this record, rather than just, “Here’s this political stance I want to take, here are the hierarchical powers that I’m fighting, etc.” It wasn’t going to be about that. It was going to be more about, “What can I do to rally the troops?”

Was that rallying spirit tangible in the studio? You brought the songs, of course, but did it feel like everyone playing on the album shared that same sense of purpose? 

Yeah. Well, one thing that Cisco did that I think in hindsight was prescient, was he wanted me to go into the studio with a band to cut this. And I hadn’t done that in years. I usually cut to click with my guitar, and I sort of work a lot of stuff out by myself, and then we add layers, piece by piece. But Cisco really wanted a band feel this time, so there was a real sense of solidarity. And I mean, when you’re working with players like Chris Maresh and Bukka Allen and Mike Hardwick and Cisco, there is a real sense of purpose and determination, just because of the kind of players they are. Everybody knew exactly what we were doing and what the music was about.

Did you bring all of the harmony singers in at the same time as the band, too?

No, they all came later, but we did get them all at once. The call went out to the WEWIM (“Women Elevating Women in Music”) group here in Austin, and they all came in together. And everybody had to bring their own headphones, because we didn’t have enough! We had to run a lot of cables from the control room, because in Cisco’s studio, we’d only ever cut one or two things at a time. We’ve never done a big group like this before. So that was challenging but fun, and we had a lot of laughs. And it was also really neat because my granddaughter (Bellarosa Castillo) joined us, too — that was the first time she’s sung with me on a record.

There’s a line in the opening song, “Promises to Keep,” that could be read two different ways: “We’re on fire / on fire / we’re on fire now.” I assume that means “we” as in a movement, rather than “the whole country or world’s on fire” — or did you mean both?

It was both: the troops are on fire and motivated, and the world’s on fire. I actually wrote it in a hotel room while Australia was burning, so it was literal. But it was really more about the collective “we” as in a bunch of us, saying, “get me out into the streets!” And that was one of the really important points that I tried to focus on in this record: singing to the choir, to get us all on the same page. Because you know, we’re very, very disjointed and not unified right now, and we don’t stand a chance if we’re not together in these next steps for the next six months. 

When people use the term “preaching to the choir,” it usually implies that you’re wasting your time instead of trying to reach the unconverted. But in this case getting everyone in the choir not just all on the same page but inspired really is the priority.

Oh my god, the choir is really demoralized right now! And it’s so split. There’s so many disparate points of view, I have to preach to the choir. I mean, there’s nothing you can do anymore to turn the minds or the mental set of the right wing; they’re going to ride this thing to hell. So I have nothing to say there and there’s no argument to be made, because they drank the Kool-Aid. But we — as in the rest of us — need to get our shit together and come together with a real sense of unity and purpose. Because we’re running out of time. 

But as urgent as your message is here, there seems to be element of, if not quite restraint, then at least an almost “zen” calmness to it. When you first announced on Facebook that you were making an album to be called 2020, and noted that it was obviously going to be very political, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was expecting to hear 10 or so brand new songs as furious as “Man of God,” which you wrote in reaction to the Bush administration and the war 15 years ago. But that’s not what this turned out to be at all. There are flashes of that kind of fury, like in “Sooner or Later,” but the main message is far more “Peace in Our Hearts.”

Yeah. Because you’ve got to pick what it is that the collective needs at any one time. And you know, “Man of God” was more about really channeling the anger and the outrage of it all, but we’ve walked a lot of miles since those songs. Things are so much more complex now. And I think we’ve really got to find in ourselves, as individuals and as a collective, the common thing that unites us now, which is a sense of wanting our agenda to be the agenda, to be the ways that the poles shift. And we need to decide, what is our agenda? Is it that we’re just so fucking pissed off that we’re going to tear the building down? Or is it that we’re going to call on the better angels of human nature to fight this battle? So I think that’s why I went in this direction of, “What is the unifying principle?” And that’s “peace in our hearts.” It’s got to be that.

I feel like that also speaks to the fact that you’re writing now in response to a very different kind of threat. You’re not singing so much about taking on the archetypical “masters of war” again as you are about a fight for the soul of America. 

That’s right. You fight for the soul differently than you do for or in the political arena. That’s really true. It comes down to the soul. We’ve lost so many rights, and now it really comes down to moral and ethical choices. 

Did you have to pull yourself back any? Were there songs that were more venomous that you decided just didn’t fit the message, where you were like, “No, I’m not going to go that way,” or did they all just naturally fall in line?

Well, you can’t really control what comes out when you’re writing; you don’t want to control it, you just want to let it come out. But I did have a kind of agenda in wanting to write songs that people would sing, that they would just want to burst into song and sing with me. So you know, singing “with peace in our hearts” over and over again, or even “sooner or later.” Even though that one [“Sooner or Later”] is venomous, it’s also saying, “When is this going to happen, and how is it going to happen, if we take this back?” So it is more of a complex time. But in order for people to sing along, I had to come up with very simple and really fairly positive thought forms. Well, I don’t know if they’re all positive, but they are sing-alongable and simple.

It’s interesting that even in “Beach Haven,” the song you wrote by adapting a letter Woody Guthrie wrote to his landlord, Fred Trump, the message isn’t “Let’s pull the bastard down out of his tower and drag him into the street!” It’s a utopian dream of, “Imagine how beautiful this place could be if we could all just sing and work and play together.”

Right. And I think that’s the message we need right now: “Imagine how beautiful it could be.” And that’s what I was doing with my song, “Beautiful World of Mine,” too. It’s like, “oh my god, yes, it’s awful, it’s fucked — but this is how beautiful it really is.” It compels me to want to dedicate my life to this beauty, and to this vision. And I think that purpose, that arrow, can strike more true than any other approach.

You’ve got a song each on this album by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone”), and Bob Dylan (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”). That’s quite the folk trifecta.

Yeah. And I really thought about it, too, because I know right now that’s sort of … “Okay, boomer.” [Laughs] So Cisco and I talked a lot about how, with that mentality that the boomer era is sort of in the past, do we — do I — really want to do this? Is it just retro? But then I thought, no, it’s not. Because folk music has always been political, and it’s always been about people singing together. And so it just seemed really important to me acknowledge those folk roots, and Seeger, Guthrie, and Dylan are the foundation of urban political folk music.

It’s fitting that you mention that “okay, boomer” mentality, because it kind of leads right into a question I wanted to ask about your father and his reaction, as part of the pre-boomer folk era, to the music of your generation — or specifically to Dylan. There’s the whole popular narrative of Bob Dylan hitting the folk scene of the early ’60s like a meteor, even before he went electric, and sort of wiping out a lot of the dinosaurs. And because your dad came from that generation before Dylan … do you know or remember if he felt threatened?

I think my dad really could see the end of his youthfulness, or — what is the word? — his relevance. I think when the ’60s hit, and certainly by like ’67, ’68, I think my dad saw his whole thing, his genre, waning. He saw that his time was up, and he kind of bailed at that point. He really stopped producing. So I think that does happen. But then you look at Pete continuing on forever and staying relevant, and of course Guthrie never lost relevance; even though he died so many years ago, he’s continually being reinvented. So I think if you dig deep enough for the humanitarian roots behind political folk music, you’ll always mine the archetypical vein and you’ll find the thing that runs true through generations.

Well, yeah, but do you remember if your dad ever expressed his opinion of Dylan in particular, as one songwriter reading another?

You know, I think he “got” it. I don’t think he totally got Dylan’s voice, but … well, I don’t actually remember him saying anything specifically about Dylan to me. But I do remember one time, we were driving somewhere in my dad’s VW van, and we were listening to “A Day in the Life,” which had just been released. And my brother and I were both so excited by the ending of it. Remember how it ended, where it would build and build and then hit that big crescendo? My dad had kind of turned the radio down, but when it got to that end part, either my brother or I — I can’t remember who — reached over and just cranked it up. And we were both like, “THIS is what’s happening!” And our dad just looked us like, you know … [Laughs] Of course he was very musical himself, so he understood that musically it was interesting. But I think he also saw that it was the death knell for what he did. 

Do you remember the first time you heard Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”? I guess you would have been about 13 when it first came out. Did it hit you right away, or not until sometime later? 

I can’t really remember when I heard it first. Did Joan Baez do that one? I can’t remember if she did or not. But yeah, it definitely hit me. Because I’ve alwaysbeen apocalyptic. I have! If you look at the stuff I was writing in 1968, I could see the end of this cycle even back then: I don’t know about the end of everything, but I certainly could see the end of this system as we knew it. I guess somewhere real early I just understood that we couldn’t go on the way we were going. So Dylan’s apocalyptic stuff always resonated with me. “Jokerman” is another one of his that I’ve done. And for the most part, over the years, I’ve had to tamp down my apocalyptic, end-times tendencies. I’d only allow myself one or two per record. [Laughs] 

So exactly how apocalyptic are you feeling right now, four months into 2020 and seven months from the election, with everyone under quarantine? Or to try to put it in a more optimistic way, on a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rank your hope at the moment? 

I think it depends on what it is you’re hoping for. I mean, if you’re hoping for things to go back the way they were, I don’t think that’s going to happen, because time’s running out on the environmental clock. In terms of the environment, I think the pooch has already been screwed, and we’re going to have to change how we live entirely in order to live with the catastrophe that’s coming down the pike. But do we still have time to mitigate it? I would hope that the earth could start to survive whatever we’ve done to her, that the life force is so strong that it could start to regenerate. I mean, you look at the pollution clouds over Wuhan after they shut everything down — it’s very telling, the way the sky clears up and the air clears up.

So, I do think the earth could surprise us. But I don’t know what’s going to happen to human beings. What I do hope for — and maybe I’m at a five or a six right now on the “hope scale” — is that we will be decent through the worst of times; that we’ll be kind to each other, help each other, and share. Because everything’s going to be about cutting back and living with less: that’s what’s coming, either tomorrow or 10 years from now. But one thing that I think we have seen so far with the pandemic is, if the president and his minions could just get out of the fucking way, then people do know what to do. They know how to be kind. So, without someone fanning the flame of divisiveness and cruelty, perhaps we could fall in that direction. And that’s why I’m hopeful with Biden, because he’s not a polarizing person. If we could at least just get back to a neutral gear, then maybe our desires for decency and goodness will prevail. And that’s why my call for unity is so important. Because if we don’t win this next thing … then I don’t know how we ever get it back. I really don’t. It’s so critical, it’s sick. And they’re going to gerrymander and they’re going to hack and they’re going to do everything they can to keep people from voting, so we have to show up in the most undeniable numbers. 

On a completely different note … It’s clear you’ve had a lot more on your mind than looking back on your own career, but 2020 — both the year and the album — marks 20 years since Hard Times in Babylon. Does that blow your mind at all? I don’t mean as in, “wow, time flies,” but rather, could you ever have imagined back then that that record would be the beginning of such a strong and long second or even third wind for you?

I almost think that it was my first wind when Hard Times came out. [Laughs] It was sort of like, “Now we’ve got something going!” Because up until then, I was just like, “Who am I?” But I think it is interesting that Hard Times was really about fluffing the skin off of this sort of wounded person. It was about going to the bottom of the well, like in that song “Persephone”: “On the floor of the cavern / you sort through the seas / separate expectation from the things you need.”  It was about going into the cave and coming out the other side a warrior. And that’s what happened I think with that record for me; it was about mourning a break up and the loss of love, and then reaching a point within myself where I was never going to let that happen to me again. The song “Flatline” was all about that — just girding yourself to go back out there and do it right. And then from then on out, it was all about just rebuilding myself. And it’s a short step from pulling yourself out of your own mire to then starting to care about what’s going on in the world, because you’re not the main focus anymore. Once you’ve lost your sense of navel gazing and self absorption and being a victim, you start to look around and go, “Oh my god, what’s going on and what can I do to help?” And I think that would be the progression of my records in the last 20 years.

I can’t imagine a better song to have kicked off that last 20 years than “The Beauty Way,” the first track on Hard Times. I assume by now you’ve heard — or at least know about — the cover of that song that Nobody’s Girl (the trio of Austin songwriters BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, and Grace Pettis) recorded for their full-length debut that’s coming out later this summer? 

Yeah! Oh, I was so touched! 

I know this isn’t the first time one of your songs — or even that song — has been covered. But I imagine this one probably feels particularly special to you. BettySoo sang harmony on both 2020 and your last album, and I assume you know Rebecca and Grace, too. 

Yeah. BettySoo and Rebecca are both in our WEWIM [“Women Elevating Women in Music”] group here in Austin, so the fact that they’re doing my song with Nobody’s Girl is a real testament to our love and respect for each other. 

Charlie Faye and I started WEWIM about a year ago; that was our baby. What happened was, over the years, as I got older, I was starting to see all of these other women coming up, these new songwriters, and for a while I was actually very threatened by them. And I was jealous. But there was a point I finally reached like seven or eight years ago where I was like, what the hell am I doing? These are my sisters coming up, and they’re good. They’re really good. But it’s really hard for them; the climate is even more difficult for them now than it was for me, and it was terrible for me when I was coming up. Women never got record deals, because it was all a man’s world. But there’s just so many artists out there now that it’s hard for women coming up today to even get a foothold. So I thought, I’m just going to befriend these people and see what I can do to help them. And that’s how WEWIM was born. WEWIM was initially going to be about, “Hey, let’s get together and talk strategy and about our careers,” but it’s become so much more than that. It’s a therapy group and a safe place for us to cry and to really deal with the stresses and the misogyny and all the other things we deal with, and also celebrate the wonderful progress that we are all making. It’s become a very, very strengthening and loving and supportive tool. We ended up having to close the group after we got around 25 members, just so we could keep it where everyone could be heard in our meetings, but we highly urge other female artists to do the same in Austin and everywhere. It’s the new model for how women go through this musical industry ride together. In my day, we were competitive and out to get each other and get ahead of each other — but today it’s all about, how can we help each other?

That’s really honest though, how you describe your initial wariness to that new generation: “I’ve been building this my whole life, and these kids are getting all the attention now!” Who can’t relate to that? 

Yes, exactly: “I can’t buy a thrill!” And that is true, because it is a youthful industry. And there is some ageism, which I hate. But there is surrender as well when we age, and we have to be grateful about it. There’s surrender involved as these new people come in with a fresh energy and new music that’s exciting.

But you’ve never surrendered in terms of writing and producing relevant new music of your own. And although I’m not as familiar with all of your super early stuff as I am with everything from Hard Times and on, to my ears it doesn’t sound like your voice has changed that much at all. Do you think it has? 

Well, my voice is a lot lower; I can’t even sing a lot of those earlier songs in the key that I wrote them in. So my voice is really going through some old lady stuff, but I have learned to adapt to it. Because there’s something else that’s emerging that in some ways makes me feel like I’m singing better than I ever sang before. I know how I want to sing these songs, and sometimes my voice won’t let me; I have to warm up, it takes me 30 minutes of warming up to sing anything. Aging is daunting, and there is a challenge there for us to do it with some grace, and to accept that we’re not at the prime of our performance abilities. But yet we have something to offer, because there’s a depth of wisdom and experience in aging that money can’t buy. So it’s a trade out, and it’s all part of preparing ourselves to leave this mortal coil, you know? You don’t get to be young forever, and we’re going to die someday, so it’s good to kind of take notes and prepare. But, the songs still seem to be coming, so that’s always a good thing. Like, thank you!

On that note of … optimistic fatalism: How’s quarantine been treating you? I got a kick out of the selfie you posted to social media with the cheese puff stuck to your face.

[Laughs] Well, I finished the cheese puffs, so that’s over! I’m actually doing okay with things in the self-discipline department, but let’s talk a month from now! It’s easy to fall into sort of a slothful place, so I try to get dressed ever day, and I try to exercise every day. We take the dog on a million walks and work outside in our garden a lot. I unknowingly planted a vegetable garden, so we’ve been eating out of that, which has been really nice. But I’m also doing a lot of stuff online. I kind of alternate between political news and family news and humor, because I think we need to keep laughing.

Are you binge watching anything in particular?

Ozark! Have you watched that? Oh my god! It’s worth going through the whole thing. The acting is so amazing and the characters are all so fully developed, and the plot lines  … there’s just really nothing that compares to that. We streamed all the other usuals that people like, too, but nothing has struck us like Ozark. We just finished the third season and now we’re like, “How can we wait till the next one?” 

You’re also about to start doing weekly (Fridays) live streams on Facebook, right? [Her first, from 2020‘s April 10 release day, is archived here.]

Oh yeah, and that’s been a whole project, too. Cisco helped me set all of that up in my garage.

I know you’d obviously rather be playing these new songs outside of your home, but can you see yourself getting used to live streaming as part of the new “normal,” at least as long as you have to? 

Well, we set up our stage area with lights, so the lights are coming on me and I’m not just looking into my garage at my husband hanging out sitting at the computer, which would be weird. So having the lights has been helpful in that I can get into my stage persona. And I’m okay with not having the clapping at the end of songs, because I know people are out there watching. The part that I miss is, I usually like to travel with a side guy; it’s fun for me to play off of somebody. So having to play everything myself is an adjustment, and I’m used to having more toys and stuff to get just the right guitar sound and set up my voice a certain way. But Cisco has really helped by putting me through a little mixer which makes it sound a little better, so that’s only a small complaint. And, of course, I also miss selling actual product and making a living. That would be novel! I mean, I’m one of the lucky ones who can float for awhile … but I can’t float forever.

Well, here’s hoping that we can all get back out there, sooner or later. And that 2020 can still take a turn for the better. 

Yes! Sooner than later. In every sense of the word.

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Q&A: John Prine (from

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(Screenshot from “In Spite of Ourselves” video; Oh Boy Records, 1999)

In spite of himself, John Prine comes up grinning
A candid talk on cancer, cheatin’, and the trouble with happiness

(From, Sept. 27, 1999)

By Richard Skanse

John Prine is sitting in a midtown Manhattan hotel bar at happy hour, talking passionately — and rather cheerfully — about heartbreak. It’s not that he’s obsessed with sadness; he just loves the songs that inevitably spring from misery — the sound, as it were, of loneliness. “I just like a good, sad song,” he says with a sheepish, sadistic grin. “The sadder, the better. It moves me.”

Over the last three decades, Prine has written more than his fairs hare of world-class wrenchers; songs like the bittersweet “Far From Me” and the incomparable “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” that don’t so much tug at frayed heartstrings as snap them in two. But for his latest album, In Spite of Ourselves, the quintessential songwriter’s songwriter gave his pen a rest and gleefully dug into a heady batch of his favorite “meetin’, cheatin’ and retreatin’” songs, each cut as a duet with a different female singer. Smack in the middle of recording the album, Prine was diagnosed with neck cancer, but after a year of treatment he returned to the project and ended up with one of the most enjoyable albums of his career.

In spite of all the songs about broken love and infidelity, In Spite of Ourselves is packed with wry humor and the sound of a man having the time of his life with nine different women. Prine sums it up best on the title track, the album’s one original, which he wrote for the upcoming film, Daddy and Them (in which he co-stars with Billy Bob Thornton): “In spite of ourselves,” he sings with a delightfully demented Iris DeMent, “We’ll end up sitting on a rainbow … There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts dancin’ in our eyes.”

You’ve always been known first and foremost as a songwriter. Any doubts, then, about releasing an album of covers with only one new original song?

It was a pet project. I figured, why have your own record company if you can’t do something like this? It’s not like I’m singing Tibetan war chants or something. These are my favorite songs, and I figured I’d just see if some of my favorite girl singers would come to the studio and sing with me. I kind of halfway expected a lot of people to go, “What’s this? Where’s his newest 12 songs?” But in order to keep my juices going, I’ve got to do something like this every once in a while.

When did you start this project?

We started in September of ’97. We were at it for a week and almost had half the record cut. I took Lucinda Williams, Iris DeMent, Melba Montgomery, Connie Smith in one week, and we cut eight songs and we used all eight of them. Then I hit the road and I finished up some dates, I came home around Thanksgiving, and that’s when I got diagnosed with cancer. So I just set everything on the shelf for a year and a half until I got back on my feet and picked the record back up in January. Otherwise, the record would have taken two and a half weeks, it was going so fast.

Did the cancer pose a direct threat to your singing career?

Well because it was in my neck area, there was a possibility that it could spread to the throat. They had to radiate the whole throat, the vocal cords. I don’t think it really did anything — it might have dropped my voice a little bit. One of the things that I had to deal with afterwards was they took the saliva glands out, so your mouth dries up in like an instant. So far I haven’t had any problem doing shows, I just take a big drink of water before a song and hope it lasts until the end. But the doctors were going to try to block my vocal cords so they didn’t get any radiation to them. I said, “You guys ever heard me sing? If I can talk, I can sing. I’ll worry about singing, you guys worry about getting rid of all the cancer.”

Did you write at all during that time?

No. But I do everything to avoid writing. That was a good excuse not to write for a year and a half. I mean, I’m feeling fine right now, but the last thing I want to do is sit down and write a song. I’ve got a feeling I’m getting close to writing, but I don’t know about what. The subject matter is getting stranger and stranger for me. It has to keep me interested, so I’m thinking of turning into a dirty old man. I have to have something that really excites me in order to write about it.

Were you concerned at all about how your versions of these songs would stand up to the originals?

(Laughs) No. I don’t think anybody’s going to wonder if I had a better version than George Jones. The only time it really occurred to me that I was trying to stand in George’s own shoes was when I was singing “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” with Melba Montgomery, his duet partner, and Melba tells me that Buddy Emmons, who’s sitting in on steel guitar next to us, played on the original record too. And all of a sudden, I go, “What am I doing here?” I felt like I was in a karaoke place, and I got to sing along with my favorite artist, but I could take their voice out and sing with their duet partner.

How intimate — or personal — are your own hurtin’ songs?

It’s usually drawing on personal experience. I don’t think I could dig deep enough trying to get into somebody else’s life. Like “Far From Me” — I wrote it about this waitress that I was dating when I was 15 or so, and she broke up with me. It’s great, though; you really feel like you got them back when you can write a song that good about something somebody did to you.

Don’t those songs dredge up a lot of bad memories, though?

Just during the song. But that feels good; you feel like you’re doing your job as a country folk singer. You get there right again, you’re right there in the door when she’s slamming it in your face, just singing about it.

How about at the actual time of impact — when your heart’s being stomped on, do you always feel a song coming on?

Oh yeah. I never know it at the time, but you can get a lot of great ones out of it. I wish I had the wherewithal to do that right at the time when it really hurts, like, “Man, this is going to make a really great song.” But I think I’d rather be happy than sitting around waiting for something sad to happen so I could write a good song about it. They don’t make as good songs, though, I don’t think — happy ones. Right now I’ve got a very happy home life; it’s at a point where I don’t know what I’m going to write about. My songs might all be about whistling and skipping around the house. Or I think I may have to get into a peeping tom mode where I’m writing about the neighbors and their problems. I’m running out of problems here.

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Terri Hendrix: From “Wilory Farm” to Wilory Farm (From Texas Music Magazine, Fall 2019)


Terri Hendrix (and friends) at her Wilory Farm in Martindale, Texas. (Photo by Kim Maguire)

The DIY queen of Texas Music looks back on 20 years of owning her own universe  — and her dream of helping others find their way, too.

By Richard Skanse

Long before she first appeared on the magazine’s cover (Fall 2007, Issue 32), Terri Hendrix could claim bragging rights to being the first artist, period, ever profiled in Texas Music. Not that she ever would brag about such a thing herself — but as the writer of both pieces, I have no such qualms.

When I met publisher Stewart Ramser at SXSW in spring 1999 and heard his plans for this magazine, Hendrix was one of the first two stories I pitched him. My Flatlanders cover would have to wait until Issue 2, but my Hendrix “Spotlight” was fast-tracked to appear not just in the premiere issue (Winter 2000) but as the pre-publication sample article Ramser would use in the first Texas Music media kit.

The timing was perfect. After years of building a grassroots fanbase, the San Antonio-born, San Marcos-based songwriter had just won Best New Artist at the 1999 Austin Music Awards and was one of the brightest rising folk stars in Texas and beyond. Wilory Farm, her second album and first collaboration with Lloyd Maines, had even taken her overseas.

“It was an exciting time, for sure,” Hendrix recalls. “I felt a sense of satisfaction that things were really clicking. We didn’t have a record label, booking agent, management or any of those ‘wheels’ of the industry, but we were playing ball with everybody who did have all of that, and we accomplished the same things they were, all on our own.

“Of course,” she adds with a grin, “I can also remember being gullible as a goose. And naive! I was like a Lab puppy: ‘Who, me? Wow! Let’s go!’”

But considering she owns the masters to every album she’s ever made (18 and counting), Hendrix was never really that naive about what she calls “the part that’s not art.”

And as for the part that is art, well, the genre-blurring breadth and emotional depth of her music speaks for itself. Wilory Farm and its 2000 follow-up, Places in Between — the two pivotal early albums that put her on the map — both sound as fresh and unlike anyone else out there today as they did upon release, and the artistic growth on every record she’s made since is testament to her stubborn refusal to stop pushing herself.

To wit: In 2016, Hendrix released two of the finest albums of her career, Love You Strong and The Slaughterhouse Sessions. Though stylistically night and day (the former folky and vulnerable, the latter bluesy and assertive), both were thematically linked as the first two chapters of an ambitious omnibus she calls “Project 5.”

This September, she continued Project 5 with the eclectic and open-hearted Talk to a Human and the “electronica”-infused EP Who Is Ann? (“Ann” being closet techno-freak Hendrix’s middle name). The final chapter will be a memoir, The Girl with the Exploding Brain, chronicling her life-long battle with epilepsy.

Hendrix first told fans about her seizure condition in 2005, two years after it returned following a long remission. She opened up about it further in her 2007 Texas Music cover story, hoping then, as now, that sharing her experience could help others facing similar challenges.

It was that sense of purpose, coupled with Hendrix’s conviction that music has been a key factor in her mental and physical resilience, that seeded what she considers the most important endeavor of her life: founding the OYOU, a Central Texas-based nonprofit dedicated to enriching people’s lives regardless of age, income or mobility.

Launched in 2013, the OYOU (for “Own Your Own Universe,” Hendrix’s personal mantra) hosts dozens of events a year, including workshops, children’s music camps and free concert series.

In 2017, Hendrix sold her home in San Marcos, the one she called “the house that Jack built” — after the Dixie Chicks’ Grammy-winning instrumental “Lil’ Jack Slade,” which she co-wrote — to buy a 12-acre plot of land in nearby Martindale. Hendrix and her beloved mutts now live in a small apartment on the property, with a pen just outside for a donkey and family of goats.

But she didn’t buy the spread for herself. The nonprofit’s offices are next door to her modest living quarters, and in 2020 she plans to break ground on an OYOU arts center.

“I bought the property so the OYOU wouldn’t have to pay rent, utilities or real estate tax,” she explains. “By keeping the overhead low, you don’t have to fundraise all the time.”

And her name for the property where she’s building this dream? Wilory Farm.

Which brings us back to where our conversation started, 20 years ago. I ask Hendrix, now 51, if there’s any wisdom she wishes she could share with her younger self.

“I remember being really hypersensitive of what people thought of me,” she admits. “People saw me as ‘cheery,’ and I’d take offense at that internally, because I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. There’s a certain ‘table’ or conversation I’d hoped to be invited to join, and I remember a sense of not quite fitting in and thinking it was because maybe those people hadn’t really listened to what I was doing.

“But,” she continues with a smile, “what’s so wonderful about where I am now is I still respect that table, but I’ve created my own table. And I don’t want to sit at any other table but mine. I really like what I’m doing, and I don’t care if it’s dark or light. People can make any assumption they want about what I do, but it’s not my business to lead them where to go.

“I know my writing, and I’m too busy to justify it to anyone. And that’s a really freeing place to be.”

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