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Like Texas itself, Texas Music has a bit of an image problem at the moment. (Thanks, W.) As with any other especially polarizing genre — metal, punk, rap — it can be difficult for otherwise rational people to separate the music from its audience, and a dance hall full of ballcap-clad, longneck-hoisting, screaming Aggies isn't everybody's idea of a fun Saturday night. Unless, of course, they themselves are a ballcap-clad, longneck-hoisting, screaming Aggie.

Consider "The Road Goes on Forever," more or less the unofficial Texas Music national anthem. When Joe Ely does it, it's a roadhouse rocker for people who also dig Dwight Yoakam, Uncle Tupelo and the Clash. But when original author Robert Earl Keen closes his set with it, suddenly it's frat-country in the extreme. Same song, and the arrangements aren't even that different (Keen's usually has a fiddle in there somewhere). Either way, it's a ripping good yarn, particularly for a song that's not even set in Texas.

To be fair, a lot of Texas culture is as rooted in football, Lone Star beer, pickup trucks and barbecue as the worst shitkicker stereotype imaginable. Most, but not all, Texas Music artists know this and play it up to varying degrees in their music; they do have to pay the bills, after all. But that music also remains as rooted in the state's rich storytelling tradition as it ever was. There might seem to be a world of difference between Pat Green's "Take Me Out to a Dancehall" and Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," but save Gilmore's considerably more melancholy tone, there's really not.

And, just as much, if anyone tells you Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams don't have at least a little shitkicker in them, they're either lying or just stupid. (Listen to Earle's "Copperhead Road" and Williams's new AC/DC cover "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)" and tell Noise he's wrong.) Billy Joe Shaver shot a guy last year, for God's sakes.

Because he makes his point clearly, concisely and hilariously, Kevin Fowler's "Beer, Bait and Ammo" isn't a worse song than Guy Clark's "Desperados Waiting for a Train" because it's about rednecks who like to fish (and drink) and not a bunch of Deadwood extras lingering at the depot to see who gets the last swallow of whiskey. To its eternal credit, Outlaw Country recognizes this where the narrower-minded among us don't. Or won't.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your ass.

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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