“The Road” has always played an outsized role in country music. Whether moving toward or (more frequently) running away from something, singers and songwriters have used anything from dusty trails to four-lane highways to explore their own lives, their futures and pasts, their failings and, occasionally, even their successes. Terry Klein’s second album, tex, is a collection of well-worn (yet brand-new) songs exploring the ways the road can shape a life.
For an album titled after the Lone Star State, Klein begins in an unusual location: Cape Cod. But “Sagamore Bridge” makes sense, because it could happen anywhere that tourists and locals quietly clash. Beginning with acoustic guitar and fiddle before Klein’s deceptively easy-going vocals come in, he sings of a place that caters to visitors – “They took out the circle/But the traffic’s no better” – while barely acknowledging the the struggles of the people who make the town go – “There’s a suicide fence on the Sagamore Bridge.” The title refers to the bridge which connects Cape Cod to the Massachusetts mainland. Geography aside, the song is relatable to anyone left behind after the summer fades away.
Klein’s travels take us back to red dirt country with “Oklahoma”, the first single from the record. The tempo speeds up a bit as the narrator travels – drinking along the way – to his mother’s funeral, Several times, he considers reversing course, but ultimately continues the journey in hopes of providing comfort to his father, so he places his faith on the road: “I hope I-40 carries me home.” Paternal bonds also shape the narrative in “Daddy’s Store”, which is about the road NOT taken. A young man tends to his father’s store after his older brother left and, “Daddy slipped and broke his hip the spring I turned 18.” Rather than leave, the younger son stays and helps out in this sweetly sad tune. The song continues on with a long instrumental conclusion – time passing for the young man who stayed behind in the small town.
More bittersweet familial relationships are found on the roads of tex. “Every Other Sunday” seems to be a simple, after-church-drive tune, but it details a young man’s memories of being shuttled between the homes of his separated parents. Accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar and fiddle, the boys tells us that, “I practiced feelin’ nothin’/It worked to keep the tears away.” As Dad drives away, Son wonders if Mom “ever would’ve liked him to stay.” During these visits, mother and son share little, other than an intense loneliness. “Anika” features a more grown-up heartbreak – of a lost love and a busted-up heart, Klein sings, “Some things just stay broke/And that’s the way it goes.”
Uptempo tunes pop up toward the end of a record. “Straw Hat” mixes ragtime and roadhouse with a jaunty piano line – Klein even calls out Bart de Win’s work during the song. And there’s some fun Tex-Mex to be found on “When The Ocotillo Bloom.” The album wraps with the smoky blues of “Steady Rain,” a slow-burn tale of an aging spy recalling his life’s work and ruminating on a long-ago femme fatale he dubs, “Two-t’s Anitta.” It’s the little details like that last one that set apart Klein’s amazing songwriting ability, honed in a workshop run by the legendary Mary Gauthier.
Klein wrote all 10 songs on tex, and the album was recorded in Austin at Jumping Dog Studio, produced by Walt Wilkins and engineered and mixed by Ron Flynt. Musicians include vocalist Jaimee Harris, Bill Small (bass), John Chipman (drums), Kim Deschamps (steel), Warren Hood (fiddle), Robert Casillas (bajo sexto), John Bush (percussion), Corby Schaub (electric guitar) and Arianne Knegt (spoken word vocals) and Bart de Win on multiple instruments.