Pitchfork Scribe Stephen M. Deusner Tells Us His Five Favorite Story Songs From Texas Acts
In the past few years, music critic Stephen M. Deusner hasn't exactly made a new gaggle of friends here in the North Texas.
Sure, the Chicago-dweller's reviews for Pitchfork, Paste Magazine, and ABC News are insightful and well-organized, but he just seems largely unimpressed with North Texas music. If nothing else, credit him for this: He's not afraid to make strong, not-so-flattering statements about albums from area treasures such as Will Johnson and Josh T. Pearson. (In fairness, he digs The Theater Fire. So there's that.)
Turns out, though, while Deusner's originally from Tennessee, he feels he has a deep connection to the Lone Star state. With close family members living in Arlington, he says he's grown to appreciate even the Texas Rangers as much as he has our state's music.
"I'm obsessed with the state and its music," he recently told us. "Not only for its sound, but for its anything-goes sensibility."
It's in that spirit of fair play -- and our own appreciation for the many unique qualities that often separate a Texas-based artist apart from others -- that we asked Deusner to give us his All Time Top Five Texas Story Songs. Read his answers after the jump.
My All Time Top Five Texas Story-Songs
(with heartfelt apologies to Marty Robbins and Willie Nelson)
1. Robert Earl Keen, "The Road Goes On Forever" (1989/1996)
"Sheila was a waitress at the only joint in town" has to be one of the best opening lines, and it prompts the loudest cheers at every Robert Earl Keen show. The studio version on 1989's West Textures is fine, but the ultimate is the showcloser on No. 2 Live Dinner, with its feistier tempo, rowdy crowd singalong, and barreling jam that ends up three counties over.
2. Okkervil River, "Westfall" (2002)
"Westfall" marks the point when Will Sheff settles into his role as a storyteller, weaving a tale about youth and murder that's all the more chilling for being told in the first person. Sheff doesn't let himself -- or his listener -- off the hook. Nor does the band, who open the song with dusty flourishes of guitar and mandolin before turning it into the bleakest sing-along imaginable: "Evil don't look like anything!"
3. Townes Van Zandt, "Pancho & Lefty" (1972)
There's barely a story here, just old memories worn and threadbare and tragic. Van Zandt sketches out the details skillfully, but his voice conveys more about the characters' lives than the lyrics do, evoking years of hard livin' and hard runnin'. That such human characters can be reduced to boasts among federales may sound tragic, but Van Zandt lets them live on in those tall tales.
4. Hayes Carll, "KMAG YOYO" (2011)
The Houston native's latest album is an underrated country-rock gem, centered around this fraught, funny tale of a soldier who gets in way over his head as he goes out of his head. Did the government really send him on a mission to space? Or is it all a really bad narcotic trip? Hayes and his ace touring band keep you guessing as the song's momentum matches the narrator's existential panic.
5. The Old 97s, "Doreen" (1994)
It's an age-old story: Boy meets girl, girl out-drinks boy, boy goes on tour, boy goes nuts with jealousy, boy sees God. Rhett Miller invests "Doreen" with that same tragicomic sensibility, unafraid to play the loser/stalker or wallow in romantic angst. He gets the details just right ("there's Fina off the highway with a phone") and the band capture just the right jittery energy that you totally believe him when he says he sees God in Queens.
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