Troubadours and Texas music lovers will adore this collection of essays assembled and edited by Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hillis, Pickers & Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas. Several different writers pay homage to some of the veteran songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s who began their careers within the Lone Star State. Hillis, an author and guitarist who has toured and recorded with a few of the book’s highlighted artists, provides insights about Steven Fromholz, Michael Martin Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. Clifford, also an author and working musician/singer/songwriter who holds a standing day gig as a professor of philosophy at Tarleton State University, adds his authoritative perspectives about Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Walt Wilkins, Hayes Carll, Ryan Bingham, and Miranda Lambert.
My personal favorite penned by Clifford, “Beyond the Rivers,” portends that modern songwriters seem “caught up in the pseudo-country tropes of pickups and painted on jeans.” He also claims today’s mainstream country gives spotlight mostly to the young and the beautiful. Jeff Prince discusses the role of “iconic cultural happenings” or music festivals that introduce fans to lyric-driven songs too unique or obscure for radio play. Kathryn Jones, in “Roots of Steel: The Poetic Grace of Women Texas Singer-Songwriters,” calls Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Terri Hendrix, Nanci Griffith, Tish Hinojosa and Eliza Gilkyson “trail-blazers.” She claims they refuse to be pigeonholed in “the good ‘ol boys club” of influential music circles in a male-dominated industry.
Andy Wilkinson explains in a feverish stream of consciousness narrative why the Texas Panhandle, namely the Llano Estacado of Lubbock, per capita has produced so many songwriters thanks to its great expanse of land, the wind, and a culture composed of mostly friendly people. While some songwriters have had to leave the state to find their audiences, others simply have jumped into Austin’s musical stew pot. This book promises a tantalizing feast to satisfy avid readers of nonfiction musical history.
–Donna Marie Miller