Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Suites and Medleys: Texas Trilogy

Frummox: Texas Trilogy

[purchase (CD only)]

Steven Fromholz was a big part of the first wave of singer/songwriters who defined the always-in-search-of-a-better-name Texas outlaw country/folk/redneck rock progressive movement. A suite of three songs, called “Texas Trilogy,” is his masterpiece.

The songs, recorded in 1969 (predating the Preston Jones plays of the same name by several years), form a story arc depicting a “day in the life” of Fromholz's hometown, Kopperl, Texas. A recently published book, Texas Trilogy: Life in a Small Town, documents the songs and the town that inspired them. “It’s simply the story of what it was like growing up in Kopperl," Fromholz writes. "There’s not a great deal that happens in a small town like that, but what does happen has a lot of feelings attached to it.” "Texas Trilogy" kicks off with "Daybreak." ("Six o’clock silence of a new day beginning is heard in a small Texas town. Like a signal from nowhere, the people who live there are up and moving around.") After a spoken interlude, "Trainride" reminisces about the changes brought about when railways were replaced by highways. The three-pack closes with "Bosque County Romance," which sets to rhyme the hard times of Mary Martin and Bill Archer, who married young and lived out life as bad-luck farmers. ("The mortgage got the money and the screwworms got the cows. The years have come for Mary, she's waiting for them now.")

Fromholz first recorded the song as part of Frummox (“a cross between Fromholz and a lummox”), a folk duo formed with Dan McCrimmon. Frummox's debut album, which included "Texas Trilogy," was released just moments before its record label went belly up. ("It was the second most obscure album of 1969," Fromholz joked to journalist Jan Reid.) Fromholz went on to play with Stephen Stills and enjoyed a modicum of success as a singer/songwriter in the 1970s. John Denver and Willie Nelson were among those covering his songs. (You can hear Fromholz’s ragged call-and-response vocals on Nelson’s “I’d Have to Be Crazy.”) He mostly retired from the music business in the 1990s and became the Poet Laureate of Texas in 2007.

“Texas Trilogy” is decades out of print, but the song remains Fromholz’s best known work, famously covered by Lyle Lovett in his salute to Texas songwriters, Step Inside This House. In the book Texas Trilogy, Fromholz summarized the suite's impact this way: “I think I’ve painted a picture that will live much longer than I will.”

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