Right from the start of Texas Wild, it’s clear that the musicians involved in this compilation album wanted to do something different. A minute into the opening track, tejano great Augie Meyers’s “(Hey Baby) Que Paso,” Houston rappers Fat Tony and Paul Wall break from a soulful chant of the song’s bilingual chorus into hip-hop rhymes that build upon Meyers’s original lyrics. This ain’t your grandfather’s Texas music, y’all.
The eleven-song collection features Texas musicians covering well-known songs by Lone Star songwriters—but you’ve never heard these tunes quite like this. And that’s largely the point. Assembled to raise awareness of state parks by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation, Texas Wild seeks to “engage new and diverse audiences in outdoor recreation,” says Anne Brown, the foundation’s director.
The album, which hits digital platforms on October 27, with a vinyl release to come in November, continues a year-long celebration of Texas state parks’ hundredth anniversary. “Our centennial campaign in general revolved around [increasing diversity in park visitation],” says Brown, who credits former and current colleagues Jay Kleberg and Phil Lamb for helping to envision the project. Austin brand-development studio Butler also helped with the campaign. “To encourage new generations of state park lovers, we specifically targeted families who’ve never been to one,” the studio notes on its website.
The diversity aim resulted in a wonderfully broad range of musical styles. We get not only Houston rappers doing a San Antonio Tex-Mex classic, but also outlaw-country Zen master Ray Wylie Hubbard paired with indie-folk chanteuse Sir Woman on “Texas Sun,” a 2020 collaboration between Fort Worth soul star Leon Bridges and Houston trio Khruangbin. We hear Black Pumas mastermind Adrian Quesada teaming up with Austin singers the Soul Supporters on the 1999 Destiny’s Child chart-topper “Say My Name.” Rootsy troubadour Ryan Bingham takes a dip into grungy nineties rock by covering “Possum Kingdom” by the Toadies, a Fort Worth band that in turn puts a harder edge on pop singer Kelly Clarkson’s 2004 pop smash “Since U Been Gone.”
Texas Wild could have taken a more obvious route and featured chestnuts long associated with the state, such as the 1940s standard “Deep in the Heart of Texas” or Ernest Tubb’s signature “Waltz Across Texas.” But casting the net wider was a wise move, as was the inclusion of the kind of massively popular songs that will almost certainly attract listeners, such as Selena’s 1994 hit “Si Una Vez,” covered by Luna Luna.
The opportunity to reconsider what defines Texas music was a big part of the project’s appeal for Austin musician Walker Lukens, who produced the compilation. “The mission is really what attracted me more than anything,” says Lukens, whose own new album, Accessible Beauty, came out in September.
Texas Wild “represents what I think most musicians who live in Texas already know and experience on a daily basis, which is that we’re all digging influences from a ton of genres,” Lukens says. “I was attracted to this idea that we want to represent the multitude here, because that, for me, is the most unique thing about whatever you want to call music from Texas.”
The album’s fullest realization of that aesthetic may be Houston band the Suffers’ take on “My Maria,” a top-ten pop hit for singer-songwriter B. W. Stevenson in 1973. “My Maria” got a second life in the mid-nineties when Nashville duo Brooks & Dunn topped the country charts with a fairly faithful remake. On Texas Wild, the Suffers brilliantly reimagine the song as if it were kin to early-seventies soul staples by the Spinners or the Stylistics—groups whose songs got played right alongside “My Maria” back when Top 40 radio stations featured admirably eclectic playlists.
Suffers singer Kam Franklin credits bassist Juliet Terrill with suggesting “My Maria.” Franklin wasn’t yet born when Stevenson’s version came out, but she became quite familiar with the song when she was working at “a not-great karaoke country bar out in Baytown,” she recalls with a laugh. “People would sing that one a lot, so it kind of became a part of my brain.”
Transforming “My Maria” from country rock to slow-burn soul didn’t seem like a huge stretch to Franklin. “My family members, especially two of my elder aunts, were country obsessed,” she recalls. “It was just a part of all the other music I grew up with, including R&B and gospel and stuff like that. And to me, country and soul always kind of went hand in hand with how I grew up and where I was.”
The album ends with perhaps its two safest choices: Denton’s Sarah Jaffe puts a gauzy indie shimmer on Willie Nelson’s sterling “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” while Hayes Carll joins Shane Smith & the Saints on Townes Van Zandt’s iconic “Pancho & Lefty.”
Including a Willie song seemed almost an obligation, but it also played into the hands of Lukens, who in 2020 released a Nelson tribute album in which he almost completely reinvented classic cuts such as “Hello Walls” and “On the Road Again.” Somewhat surprisingly, Lukens says, “I could not get anyone to do Willie Nelson without prodding them a little bit. It was basically a ton of nos and then Sarah suggested [‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground’], which I thought was a pretty cool idea—a deeper Willie song instead of one of the major hits. I think that allowed her to make it her own.”
Indeed, that’s the overarching sense of Texas Wild—song after song of Lone Star artists taking tunes by their influencers or contemporaries and making them their own. From Shakey Graves and Jess Williamson’s sweetly elegiac reading of the late Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End” to Dallas collective the Texas Gentlemen’s falsetto-sweetened groove on Lyle Lovett’s “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” and beyond, Texas Wild feels like one revelation after another: Texas artists reshaping and redefining Texas music, all for the love of their state parks.
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