California is strange, and Lubbock, Texas can be stranger. Freak dust storms and that endless, flat-as-a-cow-patty landscape can make you feel like you’re adrift at sea. Lubbock made its native son Terry Allen want to strike out for a different world. In 1960s Southern California, Allen realized some of his dreams, only for Lubbock to call him back. As a visual artist and musician, he’s trained a wry eye on both small town Texas life and California’s fantasies ever since.
On May 6, the indie label Paradise of Bachelors will reissue Allen’s album Smokin The Dummy. By the time of its original release in 1980, he’d already earned fans in David Byrne and Little Feat’s Lowell George, and it’s easy to hear why on “The Heart Of California (for Lowell George).” Allen had a fever for much of the recording, but his Panhandle Mystery Band pushed him to new heights. It’s a song about driving, that classic of country music tradition, yet it’s also interested in bucking tradition like a bronco. The guitars are louder, the beat is wilder and Allen makes the journey sound almost metaphysical: “Jesus Christ on the dash / won’t keep it from the crash / and every curve’s just your nerves closing in.” The open road promises freedom, but in Allen’s hands, it can also be an existential trap.