Jeff Walker Music Review: Terry Allen “Just Like Moby Dick” (Paradise of Bachelors)

The multidisciplinary artist and songwriter Terry Allen, 74, has received prominent fellowships, has had work featured in biennales, and has released twelve albums two of which are considered touchstones of outlaw country. In addition to a career as a musician, Allen is also a visual artist with drawings and paintings on display at some of the world’s most famous museums.

Called by many a “master lyricist,” he is such an imaginative, free-wheeling storyteller that his songs are almost like mythologies. He has so much to draw from whether that be drawings, prints, sculptures, theater, radio plays, songs or poetry. And, on top of that, he is a peerless historian of the American West. Allen does not make albums often, but he makes very memorable ones. “Just Like Moby Dick” is already being dubbed the spiritual successor to “Lubbock (On Everything)” from 1979, oft-cited as one of the most influential country albums ever. 

This is his first recording in seven years and his first release since 2013’s “Bottom of the World.” The new release was co-produced by Charlie Sexton (musical director as part of Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour”) and includes songs written by Joe Ely and Dave Alvin. He has brought new musicians and singers into the fold to create an album whose strongest moments result from its collaborations.

Allen has released his own blend of esoteric country folk records for 45 years since he first released “Juarez” in 1975. Allen has said, “There is something in that genre of music that is embedded in you from birth. Once you start dealing with real people all the stereotype stuff falls apart.”

Terry Allen proved long ago that he is a maverick beyond measure and one of our best storytellers. He does it again here, seemingly effortlessly with rough edges smoothed with singer-songwriter Shannon McNally’s harmonies and the superb backing of the Panhandle Mystery Band for his imaginative, highly literate tales. There’s a real mix of moods, tempos, and themes so it’s best to listen to it in its entirety. You’ll be rewarded. Allen was here in LA last week performing with The Panhandle Mystery Band as part of the Frieze Art Fair. Key tracks are “Houdini Didn’t Like the Spiritualists,” “City of the Vampires,” “Death of the Last Stripper,” and “Sailin’ On Through.”




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