October 28, 2008
Juarez (Fate 1975)
It is a wonderful problem to have in this troublesome world, but sometimes it is hard to pick the next album for this lowly blog. Over the years, so many albums have wormed their way into my heart. Some have been my best friend at 4am when the whiskey wears thin and soothing sounds are required to ease me into the next day. Some are forever associated with moments of sheer ecstasy where life was absolutely electric. Others lack an association with a particular moment, but they still remind me of why I spend so much of my time listening to the albums which litter my home. There is a massive mental list of albums that I would like to share, but Terry Allen’s Juarez was always near the top of the list. However, a fella can’t give it all up on the first date, so you had to wait a few months before I slipped off my granny panties and revealed what is in store for you.
Terry Allen may be one of the most unsung voices in country music and Juarez, his debut album, might be the first I would grab if ordered to take one with into the next life. He never received the same accolades as Lubbock, TX contemporaries like Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, but only the Flatlanders debut can match the brilliance of his opening salvo. Juarez is a concept album, but dispel all notions of Yes and ELP’s prog manifestos since this concept is noirish at its very core. It documents the dark tale of an alcoholic couple on a bender who get involved in murderous sojourn through a Southern California desert by way of Mexico. It is more than a great album, but a well-crafted story complete with spoken word interludes that introduce the characters in a colorful fashion. The story is the linchpin that draws you into the world of Sailor, Spanish Alice, Jabbo and Chick Blundy as they drink, fuck, get married, escape, the law, honeymoon and meet ther eventual demise. Each song is another step in a narrative about adventure, bad decisions, love and a surrender to impulse. I cannot think of another album that works so well as both a story and ode to the tragic nature of the outlaw in country music.
The best moments are the most sparse. When it is Just Terry Allen and a piano, it reminds me of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush or Tonight’s the Night, but with less rock and roll at its core. “Cortez Sail” is the pinnacle of the album as it may be one of the most lonesome songs about leaving a town for a new beginning. A storm accompanies their departure and it serves as a metaphor for all of the shit that is about to go down, but amazingly shifts into a vivid description of the Aztec persepctive as Cortex arrived to conquer and colonize a foreign land. It is an odd juxtaposition, but one that truly spooks me to my core. When he yodels “Pachuco” it sends chills up my spine. Plus, any song that includes the lyrics “see how the lightning makes tracks in your air, tearing the clouds in and closing the tear, but you’re not surprised anymore, you’re going home” is ok with me. It foreshadows doom, but the protagonists are ok with their fate because their is a certain beauty to the idea of home.
If there is anything you cherrypick from this ramshackle collection of musings, please make Juarez your first destination. It is an album rarely cited as a classic, let alone mentioned outside of country aficionados and deserves much love and respect from all who encounter it.