West Texas is the best Texas
From the Panhandle to the Trans-Pecos
From the Llano Estacado all the way down to Big Bend
There’s something in the dust out here
There’s something in the wind.
::: West Texas Is The Best Texas — The Panhandlers
I was just fixing’ to pull my truck into the garage when an unfamiliar song came on the Outlaw Country station on SiriusXM (my go-to alternative when the eleventieth-thousandth repeat of Leader of the Pack on the Sixties station — which has inexplicably and maddeningly been shifted to channel 73 from the more logical channel 6, [and was replaced by something called the Coffee House with some guy named Ed Sheeran who I thought was Johnny Carson’s sidekick but maybe I’m thinking of someone else; anyway, don’t get me started] — becomes too much) and I was led to let the motor idle just outside the open door until the song finished.
Having been born in, grown up in, and then worked in three of the four regions mentioned in the lyrics above — the Panhandle, the Trans-Pecos, and the Llano Estacado — I was intrigued by their mention, so I had to investigate the song and the musicians further.
The Panhandlers is a quartet of Texas musicians, each of which have successful careers apart from the band. Two of them are from West Texas (Midland and Idalou), one is from South Texas (San Antonio), and one from East Texas (Flint). The album is entitled Tough Country (here’s a review), and here’s the song that captured my attention:
Having listened to this song, I needed another helping of their music, and landed on the next one shown below. It’s an intentionally rough and raw live version recorded at Caprock Canyons State Park, which, as everyone knows, is just north of Quitaque and a bit west of Turkey, Texas, and the lyrics will ring true with anyone who’s spent time in that unique “tough country.”
Continuing with the West Texas musical theme, the next song appeared in the YouTube sidebar, and it’s a pretty terrific. John Baumann is a member of the Panhandlers. If this song sounds familiar, it could be because you’re one of the dozen or so people who watches an obscure TV program called Yellowstone. It was a featured song on an episode last December. (I confess I’ve never seen Yellowstone; please don’t take me to the train station.)
As I continued to fall down this musical rabbit hole, I hit a ledge and took an unexpected bounce to the side and landed on the following revelation. Some say that Lindsay Ell is the female Brad Paisley of guitar players, but she’s certainly not limited to country music. Her partner on this performance is Nashville blues legend Bob Wood, who was 81 when this recording was made in 2015. I think Robert Johnson would approve of this version.
And speaking of ladies who have mastered an instrument of the stringed persuasion, check out Sierra Hull‘s rendition that puts the blues in bluegrass. A mandolin in her hands is, for my money, equal to Itzhak Perlman’s Stradivarius. Plus, I’m pretty sure Itzhak doesn’t have the voice of an angel, although I might be mistaken about that. (You can find out more about multiple Grammy winner Del McCoury, who wrote the song more than 30 years ago, here.)
And, of course, no post with overdone references to a rabbit hole would be complete without a song about a rabbit. Fortunately, it just so happens that the song I’ve picked is another one that could easily be put on repeat for a couple of hours. Molly Tuttle is another virtuoso guitarist, won the 2023 Grammy for the Best Bluegrass Album, and was the first woman named as the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year. [Here’s a wonderful interview with her via the PBS Newshour.]
She and her band, Golden Highway, make Jefferson Airplane’s version of White Rabbit sound like something from a kindergarten music program (not that there’s anything wrong with a kindergarten music program; I enjoy a good stick bell solo as much as the next guy). The ridiculous costumes in the video somehow make their musical talents even more impressive.
And as long as I was careening down the bluegrass offshoot, I couldn’t find a reason not to linger a while on the next little number. I confess that I once thought Steve Martin was a comedian playing at being a musician, but now I believe it’s the other way around. Alison Brown is the real deal, and if Steve Martin is good enough to hang with her, he’s certainly good enough for me.
The magical trampoline at the bottom the rabbit hole flung me back to reality, and as good as all of the preceding music is, the finale here is the one that sent chills down my spine. But first, a bit of background is in order.
The singer is a guy named Dan Vasc (shortened from his given name, Daniel Vasconcelos, according to this website). Vasc is a bit of an enigma in that there’s not a lot of 3rd party information about him, but from various interviews I’ve learned that (1) he did a stretch in the Brazilian army, (2) he’s best known as a heavy metal musician, and (3) his musical influences include such disparate performers as Andrea Bocelli, Steven Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Petra, and John Williams.
I’m not a metalhead and I don’t know much about the folks who inhabit that audio universe, but my perception is that Vasc lets other people take his “metalness” more serious than he does. For example, here’s a video for a short song he wrote entitled All Hail Friday Night Tights, which he crafted from clips sent in by his fans.
He doesn’t shy away from doing metal covers of hymns and other songs of faith (such as Adeste Fidelis, Angels We Have Heard On High, and Beyond Belief [Petra cover]. He also covered The Sound of Silence, mirroring Disturbed’s metal version with his own metal version.
All that brings me to this: a version of Amazing Grace that’s…shall I say it?…amazing. Simply. Amazing.
While “researching” this post, I discovered a YouTube channel for a dude named Ken Lavigne, who puts himself forth as a singer and vocal coach. His channel features his reviews and comments about performances from various singers from all genres and nationalities, and his videos are very well done and engaging. If you were moved by Dan Vasc’s rendition of Amazing Grace, you might find Lavigne’s take on it enlightening. Spoiler alert: He likes it. He likes it A LOT.