Let’s go back to the time when music was packaged to create a continual listening experience, when songs were sequenced to sustain a mood or provide a chronological context. Here’s a list I put together years ago, during the glory years of Rhino Records. Things have changed, but all these songs are out there somewhere.
The Herald Recordings – Lightnin’ Hopkins (Collectables)
The king of boogie blues and a topical songwriter who wrote of war, prison, natural disasters, poverty and even the space race, Hopkins was a true original. This CD, from the early ‘50s, is cited above all the others for a hard driving sound that presaged rock ‘n’ roll.
The Chirping Crickets – Buddy Holly and the Crickets (Decca)
Released in late 1957, this was the influential Lubbock group’s debut LP, and it’s a clunker-free mix of hits (“Oh Boy,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Maybe Baby”) and shoulda-been-hits (“Lonesome Tears,” “Tell Me How”).
The Many Sounds Of Esteban “Steve” Jordan (Arhoolie)
Sequenced chronologically, you can trace El Parche’s journey from early ‘60s conjunto duets with then-wife Virginia Martinez to the squeezebox stratosphere on cuts like like the jazzy Johnny Mercer cover “Midnight Blues.”.
Texas Music, Vol. 2: Western Swing & Honky Tonk (Rhino)
This one covers all the bases, from Bob Wills and Milton Brown, the inventors of Western Swing, to the likes of Lefty Frizell and Hank Thompson, to the modern day acolytes Asleep At the Wheel and Alvin Crow.
Shine On Me – Soul Stirrers (Specialty)
R.H. Harris and Paul Foster duke it out on twin leads, but then Harris captures the spotlight on the title track, a work of shimmering beauty.
The Best of George Jones (Rhino)
The best pure singer in the country music field matures right before your ears.
Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams (Dust-To-Digital)
Slated for release in late spring 2015. This music is almost childlike in its simplicity and yet its so raw and primitive that songs like “I Had a Good Father and Mother” and “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today” hit deeply. No other music sounds like this.
Blues Masters: The Very Best Of T-Bone Walker (Rhino)
There are more exhaustive collections (“The Complete Capitol/ Black and White Recordings” is a wonderful three-disc set), but this single CD captures the essence of the first great electric blues guitarist.
The Best Of Lefty Frizzell (Rhino)
Even on a state-of-the-art music system, these songs sound like they’re coming out of the jukebox at a roadhouse on the border between wet and dry counties. “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” that slice of honky tonk heaven, kicks it all off.
Hideaway: the Best of Freddie King (Rhino)
Freddie’s guitar stings. It slices. It grooves. It soothes. It plays blues, country, rock, jazz. It does more than any appliance hawked on TV at 3 a.m. and it’s all here.
The Capitol Collectors Series – Ella Mae Morse (Capitol)
“Cow Cow Boogie” established not only this black sounding white singer, but a new record label called Capitol. This is post war West Coast swing led by an elastic voice that snapped all over the beat.
ZZ Top’s Greatest Hits (Warner Bros.)
The most Texan of all rock bands, the Top understands how to mix technology with mythology. If it wasn’t about a whorehouse, “La Grange” could be the Texas Anthem.
Tramp On Your Street – Shaver (Zoo)
Billy Joe Shaver and his guitarist son Eddy put it all together on this electrified 1993 set that delivers the best version of the oft-covered “Georgia On a Fast Train,” as well as the father and son co-write “Live Forever.”
Texas Music, Vol. 3: Garage Bands & Psychedelia (Rhino)
From Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right,” through Johnny Winter’s exploratory blues epic “Fast Life Rider,” this compiles the wild, raunchy, brain-fried ‘60s in Texas. Among the Lone Star nuggets here: “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the 13th Floor Elevators, “Thunderbird” by the Nitecaps and the early regional version of “She’s About a Mover.” Warning: there’s also a lot of crap here, like “A Public Execution” by Mouse and the Traps.
King Of the Country Blues – Blind Lemon Jefferson (Yazoo)
The first great country blues star, Jefferson created much of the blues language still popular with such songs as “Black Snake Moan,” “Matchbox Blues” and “Easy Rider Blues.” He packed a whole lot of music in his 32 years on Earth.
Dreaming My Dreams – Waylon Jennings (RCA)
The great country singer and bandleader at his moodiest. And angriest, as evidenced by the classic “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
In Step – Stevie Ray Vaughan (Epic)
The only solo studio album SRV made after getting off drugs and alcohol, it’s also his strongest from beginning to end. From the riveting “Riviera’s Paradise” to the incendiary “Crossfire,” this CD shows an artist at the top of his game.
The Best Of the Bobby Fuller Four (Rhino)
The term “ringing guitars” has been overused by critics, but there’s no better way to describe the core of this underrated outfit. There was much more to this group, which could’ve been the Texas version of Creedence Clearwater Revival if not for a tragic turn, then “I Fouhgt the Law.”
He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes (Tompkins Square)
Splendidly spiritual piano playing, often accompanied by Pentecostal-flavored mandolin, and a voice that couldn’t control itself. This is scary stuff.
Tejano Roots – various artists (Arhoolie)
A great primer for the conjunto-curious, this is a cost effective way to sample the sounds of Lydia Mendoza, Isidro Lopez, Narciso Martinez and many other great Tex-Mex pioneers.
Red Headed Stranger – Willie Nelson (Columbia)
This is a concept album not only in its story of sin and salvation, but in its overall sound. It’s a musical meditation. The concept is that if you listen to this album from beginning to end, you’ll find a measure of peace.
The Original Peacock Recordings – Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (Rounder)
These are the tracks, from the 1950s, that convinced Houston heavy Don Robey to go into the recording business. Brown is second only to T-Bone Walker in the pantheon of Texas blues guitarists, but “Gatemouth” was also proficient on country fiddle and big band jazz.
At My Window – Townes Van Zandt (Sugar Hill)
Townes purists prefer his stripped-down early albums, but this full band effort from 1987 is a mesmerizing romp, with such standouts as “Snowin’ On Raton” and “Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love.”
For the Lonely: 18 Greatest Hits – Roy Orbison (Virgin)
Pop music’s greatest male voice, this West Texan could sing the clouds away or make them darker.
The Complete Blind Willie Johnson (Sony/ Legacy)
A voice that sounded like he’d gargled with battery acid insures that this Marlin bottleneck wizard will remain obscure. But with wife Willie B. Harris smoothing the gravel and Johnson’s amazing guitar playing, this is some of the most otherworldly music you’ll ever hear.