by: Thomas D. Mooney
“From a musicological point of view, that album is a watershed moment. That’s when Lubbock music grew up.”
–Andy Wilkinson on Terry Allen’s Lubbock (on Everything)
“Going to climb that mountain with all my friends.”
–Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry on “Devil On My Back.”
37 years ago, Terry Allen released Lubbock (on Everything). It’s widely considered the greatest, most complete piece of work in Panhandle Music history. It is the Lubbock album.
It’s not as though Allen returned to Lubbock in 1978 and declared himself king of a nonexistent scene. He didn’t create Lubbock music over the course of a double platter record. But like fellow Lubbock singer-songwriter Andy Wilkinson said about Allen, the album was a watershed moment.
It was the album that kicked everything into a higher gear. It energized a music scene that was ready to take on the world outside of Lubbock. Lubbock legends Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, The Maines Brothers, Jesse “Guitar” Taylor, David Halley, Jay Boy Adams, Mac Davis, Bob Livingston, Jo Carol Pierce, Tommy X Hancock and The Supernatural Family Band were already on the cusp of a music revolution. Lubbock (on Everything) just sped things up. It made being a Lubbock artist chic–for both those on the come up and for those who had been chiseling away for years in Hub City. In short, the making of Lubbock benefited everyone who ever claimed to be a Lubbock musician–even if for some, that was indirectly or perhaps, not asked for.
Fast forward the current age and we’re perhaps seeing another “Lubbock watershed moment” in real time with the overnight success of Flatland Cavalry’s Humble Folks, an album that made it into the Top 30 selling albums overall on iTunes this past Friday. Various publications are already calling the 11-track album the best of the new year by any Texas or country act.
So is it?
Being as it’s only five days since the actual release date, we
may be are rushing to judgement with even considering Humble Folks a watershed album for Lubbock. But it doesn’t mean it’s totally an unwarranted question.
If you’ve followed New Slang for any reasonable amount of time, you’re fully aware that we’ve been calling Lubbock’s music scene the most underrated and genuinely the epicenter of Texas music for essentially the last five years. That ultimately means that we’d consider the successes of songwriters and bands who have making music over the last decade in the Panhandle already worthy of a listening to. It means there’s always been a plethora of overlooked talent.
Now, obviously there will probably be a small sliver of you calling even the suggestion that Flatland’s Humble Folks more important than [insert the Lubbock album title of your liking here] preposterous and perhaps, even borderline sacrilegious.
Albums such as William Clark Green’s Rose Queen, Thrift Store Cowboys’ Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping, Cary Swinney’s Martha, Amanda Shires’ Carrying Lightning, Brandon Adams’ Brandon Adams & The Sad Bastards, Charlie Shafter’s 17th & Chicago, One Wolf’s One Wolf II, Josh Abbott’s Small Town Family Dream, and many, many others are all testaments to that notion. Those all could have been what busted the door down and made the collective heads of the masses turn and acknowledge what’s been going on in Lubbock in the last 15-20 years. But they ultimately didn’t–no matter if they were successful, critically acclaimed, influential, or landmark pieces of art (Side Note: In the summer, we’ll be counting down our Top 100 Lubbock Releases of the last 15 Years. It’s then when you’ll see our overall breakdown of what’s been the “best.”)
We’re not here arguing that Humble Folks is any better than Lubbock albums released by William Clark Green, Red Shahan, Daniel Markham, Amanda Shires, or Kenneth O’Meara over the last few years. We’d actually argue that all of those were vital to even get to this place. Take an album out and we’re possibly talking about Randall King or Grady Spencer’s watershed moment.
Conversely, Green, Abbott, Bowen, Thrift Store Cowboys, etc would be part of the foundation on which Flatland ultimately built upon. Without context and climate, perhaps Cordero and company’s Humble Folks isn’t even Humble Folks.
It’s important not compare Lubbock (on Everything) and Humble Folks outright. We’re not here to compare the artistic value of the albums. But rather, it’s about the climates in which they arrived. It’s about what happened directly before and ultimately, what’s to come in both the immediate and long-term future.
What hurts Humble Folks watershed case most would be time–or the lack thereof. With Lubbock, we have the luxury of now realizing Allen is a musical genius who transcended Lubbock and the state of Texas. His work not only influenced his peers within the Panhandle, but all over Texas not to mention abroad. It’s just as easy to see Allen’s influence on The Maines Brothers Band and Delbert McClinton as it is to see on Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, and David Byrne. Allen’s impact wasn’t just limited to those making music in days of Lubbock either. Modern contemporaries such as Ryan Bingham, Evan Felker, and Natalie Maines all find something in Allen’s work that moves them.
In 10 years, we could be seeing a whole generation of songwriters and bands claiming a Flatland influence. But we also could be calling Humble Folks an anomaly. I highly doubt it, but it’s certainly in the realm of possibilities.
The quality of the album is important. It’s what gives an album longevity. But, the quality of the album and whether it’s a watershed album aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’d be nice if they were, but it’s not as though we haven’t seen inferior albums spark recognition for an area, scene, or genre.
The longterm effects of Humble Folks and Flatland Cavalry as a whole won’t be fully understood for years. What is though, is the shift and turn of the tides. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The success of Flatland isn’t going to just give them heightened acclamation and notoriety. It’s going to be the Panhandle as a whole that ultimately reaps those benefits.
The true litmus test will not be just how many arrive for future Flatland shows, how many copies of Humble Folks exchange hands, and the number of articles and reviews written about them. But rather, how many show up looking for the next Next Big Thing (Hell, even acknowledging and referencing back to Green’s Ringling Road may be revealing the true watershed record.) It’ll be measured by how outsiders view Lubbock and Panhandle bands over the course of the next decade–if Lubbock goes from underrated to properly rated, to ultimately overrated.
Maybe the floodgates are open.