Terry Allen: Juarez (Reissue)


Videos by American Songwriter

Terry Allen
Juarez (Reissue)
(Paradise of Bachelors)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are ordinary reissues and there are reissues that are labors of love. This falls in the latter category.

Originally released on vinyl in 1975, singer/songwriter/artist/playwright Terry Allen’s debut Juarez was a limited edition box that included not only the album, but a set of lithographs reflecting the songs. The idea was that both were complimentary to the concept with the music as much a part of the modal as the artwork. Allen went on to become feted in the art world, with works on display in prestigious museums. Musically he has collaborated with David Byrne, Guy Clark and Lucinda Williams and influenced everyone from Little Feat (who covered his “New Delhi Freight Train”) to Dave Alvin, whose circa 2003 notes are one of three fascinating and strikingly written dissertations that embellish this deluxe edition.

There are few more riveting, influential, even haunting debuts from Texas musicians than Juarez. It’s a cinematic-styled song cycle about two couples on road trips, and how their destinies intersect in violent ways. With its inherent drama, vivid characterizations, deeper philosophical meanings and a storyline featuring sex, violence and general weirdness, it’s as much of a movie for the ears as a batch of songs wrapped around characters you end up knowing well, if not necessarily liking, at the end of its 15 tracks (including some spoken word sections to move the story along) and nearly hour-long length. 

Musically, it’s a stripped down affair with Allen’s ever-present piano lines incorporating rock, country, folk and blues tinges, basic percussion often sounding like the singer stomping the floor and occasional acoustic guitar from Peter Kaukonen and Greg Douglas. Vocally, Allen has an intriguing everyman voice with just enough Southern twang to put across a statement like “today’s rainbow is tomorrow’s tamale,” without it sounding silly or impetuous.

It’s no revelation to say this isn’t either background or easy listening material. Allen’s often poetic, overflowing lyrics come fast and loose. The conceptually based songs, while melodic, eschew traditional structures and because of that don’t generally connect outside of the whole.

But art doesn’t usually come in bite-size pieces. The full experience of Juarez is not just listening to it at one time, but absorbing the bulging, immaculately detailed and enormously informative 48-page booklet included. Here you can follow along with the lyrics, see the art so intrinsically attached to the concept (for the first time in any reissue) and read multiple essays on the project (including a 17 page one that’s a scholarly dissection of the album’s many themes). Quotes from Allen on Juarez from 2010 along with a detailed chronology show that it remains an ongoing venture.

Clearly this is a heartfelt, meticulously crafted package for a cult artist who deserves far more acclaim and respect from a wider audience. As a single disc, non-boxed set re-release, it’s everything this classic deserves and a beautifully realized example of how reissues should be done. 

Hard Working Americans: Rest In Chaos