Border crossing
Literature has always been a prime source of inspiration for musicians, although--like films made from novels--the results are rarely as impressive and are frequently bizarre. Blue Oyster Cult, for example, cited William Blake as the source for their remarkable but hardly profound Secret Treaties. Jim Morrison was also greatly influenced by Blake, while too many artists to count allude to William Burroughs as Muse King. David Lee Roth presumably relied on "Penthouse Forum" for lyrical (and other) stimulus, and Michael Jackson--well, in retrospect, no one wants to know what "Beat It" is really about, do they?

Occasionally, though, such records stand on their own. Joe Ely's recent Letter to Laredo, heavily influenced by the works of Cormac McCarthy, is an album that retains the flavor of its inspiration even as it achieves an autonomous brilliance. Similarly, Tish Hinojosa's '96 Warner Bros. album, the shimmering, astounding, bilingual Daydreaming from the Labyrinth, was inspired by a variety of writings indigenous to Mexico (particularly Octavio Paz's collection of essays, The Labyrinth of Solitude) that address the isolation and singularity of the Mexican spirit.

In fact, Daydreaming from the Labyrinth is one of the best records ever made by a Texas artist. At its core, the album is a collection of vibrant, haunting pop songs delicately seasoned with flamenco guitar and lush strings. But it's the execution of the record's concept--a reconciliation of her bipartite heritage in all matters cultural, artistic, and spiritual--which renders it a work of heightened vision and craft.

Which is not to say Hinojosa didn't have a fine catalogue from her prolific past; she has, of course, achieved a rather substantial folk following and public radio fan pool based on a series of albums recorded arduously over the course of a not-always-easy career.

Hinojosa grew up in San Antonio as part of a hard-working Mexican-American family held together by love, faith, hard work, and music. She learned guitar while quite young, played folk clubs and taught in recreation centers during her early teens, and used her heart-melting voice to score jingle work and Spanish-language pop tunes. By the late '70s, she decided she wanted to compose and record her own material, and set off in a decade-long game of hopscotch between Nashville, Austin, and New Mexico, pursuing any lead possible and trying to create several of her own.

In 1987 Hinojosa released an indie cassette called Taos to Tennessee, and a few years later signed with A&M, for whom she released the stunning Homeland (produced by Los Lobos member Steve Berlin). She then moved to Rounder, where 1992's Culture Swing won the National Association of Independent Record Distributors Folk Album of the Year award. Still searching for an ideal record deal, Hinojosa recorded her next few albums for the small-but-artist-friendly Watermelon label (including a children's album, a live recording of original and classic Spanish-language tunes called Aquella Noche, and Frontejas, which might be thought of as a stylistic precursor to Labyrinth).

In 1994, she signed with Warner Bros. and released the excellent Destiny's Gate, an effort that served as a bridge between traditional folk stylings and mainstream pop. It also set the stage for Labyrinth, which has recently been released in an all-Spanish version. Watermelon has also issued a greatest hits package from her years with that label, The Best of the Sandia: Watermelon 1991-1992.

Now living in Austin, Hinojosa supplements her professional schedule by staying active in many community affairs, including the Special Olympics, the National Latino Children's Agenda, and the National Association for Bilingual Education.

--Rick Koster

Tish Hinojosa performs with Kelly Willis and Ray Wylie Hubbard Thursday, July 17, at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth.

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Rick Koster