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Why Texas Music Legend Terry Allen Calls His New Album 'Just Like Moby Dick'

Terry Allen performs in studio at KUTX in Austin.
Terry Allen performs in studio at KUTX in Austin.

From Texas Standard:

In the 1970s, Lubbock-born singer-songwriter and conceptual artist  Terry Allen turned conventional country music on its head. Albums like Juarez and Lubbock (on Everything) featured wry, dry, satirical lyrics. Critics called the albums contemporary classics.

Last week, seven years after his last record, Allen released a collection of songs that's already being celebrated as the spiritual successor to his earlier standouts. It’s an album with a curious title: Just like Moby Dick.

Allen says he had a working title for the album, but then he was recording “Sailin' on Through” and ad-libbed “just like Moby Dick” at the end of the song.

“That resonated, I think, with the whole record,” Allen says. “I changed the sequences of the songs and it built a throughline and it became one thing, which is what I always try to get a record to do.”

Allen is an artist in many senses of the word. In addition to being a musician, he is also a sculptor. Before his death in 2016, fellow songwriter Guy Clark asked Allen to use his ashes in a piece.

Before he died, Allen says, this friend became obsessed with a crow’s nest made of barbed wire he had seen at the American Windmill Museum in Lubbock.

“Every time I talked to him the last three or four years of his life, he would bring up that nest,” Allen says. “It seemed to me he was talking about a lot more than these crows. What he was talking about really was what was happening to him, and so I just felt the need to make a big bronze crow. When the bronze was [in a] molten state, I poured some of the ashes in it. So the whole body is made out of ashes, and I opened it up and put the rest inside and sealed it.”

Allen donated the sculpture to the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Written by Morgan Kuehler.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

David D. Brown is executive producer and host of the award-winning cultural journalism program Texas Music Matters at NPR affiliate KUT-FM in Austin. He is former anchor of the award-winning public radio business program Marketplace, and a veteran public radio journalist. He has reported national and international affairs for Monitor Radio from bases in Atlanta, Boston, London, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
David Brown
David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
Leah Scarpelli joined Texas Standard in September 2015 from NPR’s Morning Edition, where she spent seven years as a producer, director and occasional reporter of music and arts pieces. As Texas Standard director, Leah is responsible for the overall practical and creative interpretation of each day’s program: choosing segue music, managing the prep of show content, and providing explicit directions for the host and technical director during the live broadcast. She graduated from Ithaca College in New York with a Bachelor of Science degree in Television and Radio. She enjoys riding her Triumph motorcycle and getting out for hikes in the Texas countryside. Her late grandfather was from Yoakum.