Tommy Alverson,
Country to the Bone
(Palo Duro, 2007)

The charms of Texas may be more apparent from the inside than from the outside, where the rest of us live without entertaining much desire -- as we might with some more obviously appealing place -- to move there and check it out. Nobody with working ears and functioning taste, however, can rationally dispute that the Lone Star State has produced a wealth of classic American music in a range of genres, perhaps none more so than country.

Listening to veteran Texas country singer Tommy Alverson will not convince you that we need another Texas-bred president -- ever -- but it'll make you feel good about the more down-to-earth Texas culture he represents, spawned in honkytonks and dance halls where blue-collar folk go to ease their sorrows by memorializing them in songs.

Country to the Bone doesn't penetrate quite so deeply as the title suggests, but it's burrowed at a respectable depth beneath the skin. It's "traditional country" only in the relative sense, which means that it's what you'd hear among the relatively less pop-inflected tunes on the country radio and jukeboxes of the 1970s. I am modestly expert on that subject, since the years of my own most committed honkytonking were in the first half of that decade in the same grim precinct -- literally the same seedy block, since lost to gentrification -- that the distinguished novelist Louise Erdrich writes about in the early chapters of her celebrated Love Medicine. That was far to the north of Texas, but Tommy Alverson's voice, emanating from the border country between grizzled and honeyed, would have moved both beer and feet even in that cold clime.

One thing among many that I like about this album is that Alverson knows how to pick songs. He didn't have to look very far for them, either, since nearly all of the non-originals (Alverson wrote two solo and another two with Charlie Throckmorton Jr.) were produced by Texas pals. Probably the only recognizable title is "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye," the brooding, emotionally complex Mickey Newbury/Doug Gilmore piece that Jerry Lee Lewis turned into a hit in 1970 during his honkytonk period. But the rest of the CD has its pleasures, too, from woozy, amusing-to-hilarious testimonials like "Upside Down" (Brian Burns) and "This Buzz is for You" (Roy & Jerri Lynn Robinson) to darkly sober adult meditations on love (Jerry Max Lane's "She Found Something in Me"), adultery (the Robinsons's "Tequila Rose") and alcoholism (Walt Wilkins & Davis Raines' "Just Like Hank").

Even the sad songs light up with shuffle beats and Tex-Mex rhythms, driven by a band of superior pickers comfortably assembled in an Arlington, Texas, studio. Though he's performed country music all of his adult life (and he isn't young), Alverson boasts that he's been to Nashville only once. Clearly, he didn't miss anything. These days, they do this sort of thing a hell of a lot better in Texas than in Tennessee.

review by
Jerome Clark

8 December 2007

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