Iconic and iconoclastic Texan songwriter and visual artist Terry Allen’s heartbreaking, hilarious new album, his first set of new songs since 2013’s Bottom of the World, features the full Panhandle Mystery Band, including co-producer Charlie Sexton (Dylan, Bowie, Blaze), Shannon McNally, and Jo Harvey Allen; mainstays Bukka Allen, Richard Bowden, and Lloyd Maines; and co-writes with Joe Ely and Dave Alvin. The connections to Melville’s masterpiece are metaphorical and allusive, as elusive as the White Whale. The masterly spiritual successor to Lubbock (on everything), Just Like Moby Dick casts its net wide for wild stories, depicting, among other monstrous things, Houdini in existential crisis, the death of the last stripper in town, bloodthirsty pirates (in a pseudo-sequel to Brecht and Weill’s “Pirate Jenny”), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (in the “American Childhood” suite), a vampire-infested circus, mudslides and burning mobile homes, and all manner of tragicomic disasters, abandonments, betrayals, bad memories, failures, and fare-thee-wells.
Just Like Moby Dick, his first set of new songs since 2013’s Bottom of the World, takes its title from the archetypal monster of American literature and the American imaginary. (Coincidentally—or not—his label Paradise of Bachelors also takes its name from a Herman Melville story.) “Memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights,” Melville writes, and for most of the novel, Moby Dick himself remains hidden, haunting Ahab as a crystalline monster of fathomless memory, a terrible fever dream from the depths. The whale remains a specter on Allen’s record too, appearing explicitly only in the briny final line of the last song “Sailin’ On Through,” and on the artist’s Side D vinyl etching and CD insert drawings, where he lurks menacingly beneath the roiling seas of Thomas Chambers, the 19th-century maritime painter whose floridly freaky nautical scenes adorn the album jacket.
RIYL: David Byrne, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Silver Jews, Sturgill Simpson, Townes Van Zandt.
FORMAT INFORMATION2xDeluxe LP Info: Moby Dick etching artwork on side 4.
2xDeluxe LP includes MP3 Download Code.