If Bob Dylan hadn't written the line "Don't ask me nothin' about nothin'/ I just might tell you the truth," it is likely Terry Allen eventually would have. Like a surgeon general's disclaimer on a cigarette pack, Dylan's warning should be prominently displayed on The Silent Majority (Terry Allen's Greatest Missed Hits), which Allen describes as a compilation of "out-takes, in-takes, mis-takes, work tapes, added tos, taken froms, omissions, and foreign materials." It is packed with sarcasm-laced tunes like "Big Ol' White Boys," "I Love Germany," "Arizona Spiritual" and "3 Finger Blues" that throw vicious left hooks to the protruding glass jaw of our national hypocrisy and its corollary assumptions of cultural superiority. The pithy aside that closes the opening track, "Advice to Children" -- "yeah, this is America, all strung out on Valium at the mall" -- makes a fine précis for the collection.
Like Allen's visual art, this music (which was originally released on the ill-fated Fate Records in 1992) refuses to be dated. In the visual-art world, Allen is a noted recombinist -- or maker of pastiches recombined from found objects -- and as a musician, lyricist, vocalist and arranger, Allen takes much the same approach. His music is both instantly familiar and entirely alternative.
Tracks like "Loneliness" and "Lonely Road," composed for Margaret Jenkins's dance production Pedal Steel in 1988, could pass for legit commercial country were it not for their poetic and emotional depth, while the snarling "Cocktail Desperado" and "High Horse Mama" find Allen taking country music way beyond the foul lines. One can no more imagine some current plastic-hat country star singing "you better get off your high horse, mama / and get back down on this mule with me" than one can imagine Karl Rove bedding down with Hillary Clinton and a box of cigars. But we can easily imagine Hillary's husband playing his sax to "she was a beautiful Spanish dancer, about as psychological as they come / she's a nervous wreck when she makes love but she's not the only one."
No Terry Allen album could ever be classified as "easy listening," and The Silent Majority is certainly a demanding, complex collection. It has aged extremely well.
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