Houston Marchman and the Contraband

By now, you'd assume that country musicians would know it's easier to sell your soul in Nashville than it is to sell a song there. Yet every year, dozens of people like Houston Marchman head off to Nashville to make it as singers and songwriters, and the only thing they end up getting is broke and crazy. And after they leave the city, they all write songs about how bad Nashville was to them, how unappreciated their particular talents were there, how all those people were wrong and they were the ones fighting the good fight. The anti-Nashville anthem has become almost a rite of passage for any country musician, including Marchman, who fell off the assembly line, more of a cliché than the city itself. It's as though everyone forgot that Willie Nelson moved to Austin several decades ago, proving that success doesn't mean kissing the Grand Ole Opry's ass -- or paying your taxes.

At least Marchman had the guts to spill his feelings about his erstwhile hometown while he was still living there, naming his debut disc Viet Nashville and chronicling on the album's title track the six years he wasted there. It isn't hard to recognize Marchman's bitterness -- "I started pushing my songs, knocking on doors," Marchman sings. "Most every day I feel more like a whore." "Viet Nashville" boils down the city's aesthetic in one line: "Son, you've got to write for an eighth-grade-level divorced housewife here in Nashville." While the sentiment he expresses may not be all that original, at least Marchman has a handle on what works in Nashville, and what doesn't for him. The song -- and three others from Viet Nashville -- shows up on Leavin' Dallas, Marchman's uncomfortable return to his home state, welcomed back by a parade of fiddles and accordions. Completing his exodus from Music Row, it's the kind of record musicians make to show off just how Texan they are; the only thing that's missing is Lloyd Maines' name in the credits.

Still, Leavin' Dallas is the more thoughtful bookend to Pat Green's frat party, Marchman's sad-eyed odes to "Fort Worth" and "South Texas Rain" professing his love for the state without opening a gift shop. Although Marchman cites Jerry Jeff Walker's Viva Terlingua as one of his biggest influences in the album's liner notes, it's the musicians further down on the list that make their presence felt on Leavin' Dallas -- Guy Clark and Robert Earl Keen among them. Marchman is especially adept at taking cues from Steve Earle, another Texan that Nashville chewed up and spit out. The Civil War ballad "Bill Longley" (another Viet Nashville holdover) could have been left off one of Earle's post-rehab albums, the tale of a man the war left "too old to be 15," accompanied by the scruffy shuffle of minor-key guitars and mandolins. It's not exactly inventive, but at least it's not another Shiner Bock jingle.

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