Songs Inspired by the
Texas Hill Country
This is my 15th album.
When I am out gigging, people want a CD that sounds just like what they are hearing, and now I have this to offer. I can also use this CD as a demo to drop off when I am trying to find places to play. The local Texas flavor just adds to the appeal and is in keeping with my history of themed albums.
Now to me, solo guitar is a bit on the naked side, so I thought it needed just a little “back up.” I liked the way “Mother & Calf” turned out on the Gray Whale Migration CD, so I followed that format. I record the song on guitar and put it in the left channel. Then I play it again and put the second guitar on the right. These are two guitars playing the exact same thing. I don’t have perfect mechanical precision, so sometimes you can tell it is two distinct guitars, sometimes you can’t. This studio technique gives the sound a very nice spatial feel to it. Next I play a bass guitar that goes in the center. The bass gives the sound more grounding. More base, if you will. All of the songs on the CD follow this recipe, except the last track (“Sunset over the Hill Country”), which uses only one guitar along with bass guitar.
Many of the other songs have a little more embellishment, like the strum of the 12 string on “Deer in the Woods” and “Enchanted.” But I avoided lots of discernible layers in an attempt to remain at least moderately close to my pledge of maintaining the one-guitar sound. Also worth noting is that there is no lead guitar on the entire CD.
I also changed the way I record. My first 12 albums use acoustic guitars with a pickup (where an electronic pickup is housed in the body of the guitar and the signal is sent to the processor). On recent CDs, I started using a microphone about half the time. To make a long and technical story short, a microphone does a better job of rendering an acoustic sound. Texas Hill Country uses microphone on the guitars almost exclusively. A second enhancement to my (supposed) skills as a sound engineer have come from the use of equalization (EQ). In the past I used only simple bass, mid-range and treble controls. Now I am using computerized EQ that can boost or trim any portion of the sound spectrum with near infinite variability. To appreciate the differences of microphone and EQ, go to a quiet room and listen to the second track on the CD, “Oak.” The sound is as thick and rich as chocolate pudding.
Hot damn, we’ve moved to Texas! Of course I had this great thing going with a series of albums inspired by the Pacific Northwest: Salmon Run, Music for Redwoods, Aqua Terra Strata, Wild River, and Gray Whale Migration. I am a firm believer in the knack for place to flow into art. As soon as we made the decision to move to Austin, that was in November of 2014, I started hearing songs about Texas coming through the guitar. Many of the tracks on the CD were composed while we still lived in California (we didn’t actually move until September of 2015), and others were written once we landed in the Lone Star State. Confession: a few of the tracks were older pieces, and I just changed song titles to fit a Hill Country mood that they elicited.
The Texas Hill Country, by the way, is a region in the center of the state immediately west of Austin. Most everything to the north, south and east of here is fairly flat. There are very deep layers of limestone that were laid down when this part of Texas was covered by ocean. The waters receded and the seabed became land. Some millions of years ago the area that comprises the Hill Country was geologically uplifted, and rainfall has been working on it ever since. The rain water that runs off the land has caused erosion and lots of river and creek valleys: hills. Water percolating through the ground has formed caves, vast underground aquifers and artesian springs.
In the world of CD manufacture, the cost of printing the cover is almost as much as having the plastic CDs burned. Those 8-panel CD covers I have been using with descriptions for all of the songs are expensive. So I decided to lower the budget on this project and went with a 2-panel cardboard sleeve. Still, I wanted to say something about each piece.
1. San Saba Sunrise
San Saba is a town in the center of the Hill Country that happens to make for good alliteration with the word “sunrise.”
As hot and dry as it is here, I just knew that vegetation would be sparse. So when we first visited Austin, I was astounded that the natural landscape is a fairly dense oak forest. Our yard is dominated by plateau live oak and post oak. These trees are tough and tenacious, yet stately.
3. Deer in the Woods
Our neighborhood is crawling with deer! Our street name, Shantivana, means “peaceful forest.” This is the first song I wrote after we moved here.
4. Bathed in a Summer Night
That peaceful, dreamy feeling when you are sitting on the porch on a hot summer evening: relaxed and enveloped.
One of the famous local geological features is a place called Enchanted Rock. It is a solid dome of granite that has been exposed by erosion. It rises 425ft and covers 640 acres. According to Indian folklore, the rock has magical and spiritual powers.
6. Leonids over Luckenbach
It turns out that the famous town of Luckenbach, TX, is in the Hill Country, and boy, don’t the stars (and meteorites) shine bright over Texas! (Leonids is the name of a meteor shower that occurs each November.)
7. Cretaceous Limestone
This song is all about the ocean that used to cover the southern tier of Texas. The Cretaceous period lasted from 149 million years to 65 million years ago, and that is when the limestone here was formed. Marine critters decomposed and calcified into this most wonderful rock as layer upon layer of sea shells and sediment sank to the bottom. In some places the limestone underground is 50 thousand feet thick.
Even when there isn’t air pollution, rain becomes slightly acidic as it falls through the atmosphere. This weak carbonic acid slowly eats through the limestone as it percolates through the ground. Small cracks can grow to become fissures, holes, tunnels, and ultimately caves. Places of wonder.
9. Parched Texas Tundra
The dirt here is a clay. Baked under the summer sun, the lawn goes brown and charred. The soil gets nearly rock hard and cracks: “Texas Tundra.”
The surface can be hot, dry, and crusty, but below is a dynamic drip and flow of cool, life-giving water.
11. Jacob’s Well
There is a spring not far from our home called Jacob’s well. Its flow rate is about 170 gallons per minute, and it forms the head waters of Cypress Creek. The “entrance” (“exit” would be more accurate) to the artesian well is a hole in the creek bed, maybe 12ft wide. Divers have traced the underwater cave back almost a mile. Geologists have determined that the water issuing forth is rain that fell about 2000 years ago. It has taken this long for it to find its way through the aquifer and back out again.
12. Flash Flood
Clay soil + limestone substrate + hills + occasional downpours = flash flood country. This song was written on the morning of a rain event in which we received 6+ inches in 8 hours. The afore-mentioned Cypress Creek rose from a trickle to a 16ft torrent overnight.
13. Ranch Road
According to Wikipedia, a “ranch-to-market road (sometimes farm road or ranch road for short) is a state road or county road that connects rural or agricultural areas to market towns.” So here’s to driving with the top down through the Hill Country.
14. March of the 9 Banded Armadillo
My first idea for a Texas CD theme was armadillos. So I read a book about them. Let’s just say there wasn’t quite enough material there. Did you know that all 9 banded armadillo litters are sets of identical quadruplets? Or that it was humans who first transmitted leprosy to armadillos, and not the other way around?
15. Cows Come Home
There is something peaceful and relaxing about the slow plod of bovines returning home to the barn at the end of the day.
16. Sweet Dreams, Cowboy
Even the roughest and toughest will nod their head and sleep like a baby.
17. Sunset over the Hill Country
The night before we left Crescent City, all packed up and waiting on the moving van the next day, this was the last song I wrote in California and originally titled it “Leaving California.” It was going to be the first song on the CD, based on the chronology of how we experienced everything. But then I thought anyone who purchased the CD here in Texas wouldn’t understand. So I exercised artistic prerogative and used the poignance of the song to describe the sunset as it draws the curtains closed on this beautiful Hill Country.