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Terry Allen | Amerasia (Sugar Hill)
Awash with fascinating, disturbing and sometimes trivial ironies, ‘Amerasia’ is an intriguing and subtly profound record, incorporating as it does a juxtaposition of widely divergent musical cultures, whilst simultaneously making a bold political statement that’s as relevant now as it was when it was recorded almost twenty years ago.
Something of a maverick, Terry Allen, although born in Wichita Kansas, was raised in Lubbock, Texas and developed musically in that area during the early to mid ‘70s, alongside peers like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, all now internationally recognised solo artists.
The seeds of ‘Amerasia’ were sown, when in 1983 or thereabouts, Allen was invited by a German filmmaker to go to Thailand to record music to accompany a documentary he was palling about expatriate Vietnam veterans who had remained in South East Asia after the war. The first of many ironies is the fact that the film itself is no longer available – a fact revealed by the David Byrne’s brief though perceptive liner notes in this reissue (Allen had worked with Byrne on the Talking Heads’ film ‘True Stories’).
‘Amerasia’ is a captivating and richly rewarding set, that’s also a deceptively savage indictment of US foreign policy – it’s a tragic irony that so little has changed and that the same futile, fatal mistakes are continuing to be made on the whims of fickle, shameless, strutting politicians.
The album was recorded over two sessions - in January 1984 in Bangkok with Laotian, Surachai Jantimatorn and his band Caravan, then completed a year later in Lubbock, with The Panhandle Mystery Band, Allen’s regular collaborators. A further irony is revealed by the fact that a pivotal member of The Panhandle Mystery Band was renowned pedal steel guitarist and producer, Lloyd Maines, who’s since worked with a string of contemporary Americana artists including Richard Buckner and Wilco, but more pertinently here is also the father of Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines, whose views on George Bush so inflamed the wrath of right-wing American opinion earlier this year, and for which they’re still shockingly having to pay the price.
The most tragic and damning irony the project conjures up though, via a little extra curricular research, is learning that the indigenous Native American peoples, so cruelly oppressed by western cultures for hundreds of years, had originally populated North and South America, having travelled from their original homes in the far east and crossing the Bering Strait into Alaska. With gratitude from good old Uncle Sam and the Vietnam conflict they were given the opportunity to go back and ‘visit’ their ancestors.
It’s a refreshing change to find an album - albeit one from the ’80s - that entertains and tackles serious issues. ‘Amerasia’ is a richly detailed cross pollination of sounds, influences and ideas, from east and west that makes for an absorbing and thought provoking listen and one that’s also very accessible. It’s a ‘must buy’, simple as that.
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003