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Glenna Bell: Press

Lone Star: Songs and Stories Straight from the Heart of Texas (2016)

Well, it looks like Texas has done it again. The state (that is as much a state of mind for those of us unlucky enough to not live there) has produced yet another singular voice, worthy of her place in the long line of true Lone Star State artists.

I’m talking about Glenna Bell, whose new album ‘Lone Star: Songs and Stories Straight from the Heart of Texas’ (to be released on April 15, 2016) is as welcome as a rainstorm in West Texas in August… or as welcome as truth and beauty at any time here in New York City. 

The album is an introspective take on moments from a life lived in Texas. It is full of songs that are like chapters in a novel; a novel to be read when needing the companionship of coherence gained from experience. The flexible vocal power that Glenna Bell delivers is the only map you need. One listen to her sometimes weathered, sometimes trembling, always soulful voice and you know that she is to be trusted and believed. 

If I could hear the song “Shiner Bock & ZZ Top (Houston Avenue),” over and over, I bet I could drive all the way across Texas without even needing to stop at Whataburger once for relief. The song perfectly captures her unique quality—a poetic blend of confession and provocation. What a song and what a delivery. Also particularly charming is Bell’s anthem, “Proud To Be From Texas,” which comes across as a sublime tribute to Janis Joplin.

Oh, Texas. We, who love authentic music can always count on you. Thank you for giving us musical offerings much more frequently than your mysterious bluebonnets bloom. Glenna Bell is a gift to be sure, and a gift to be shared.

The front cover of Texas country singer Glenna Bell’s new CD features the singer with a man’s arm draped around her shoulder. She looks slightly sad, pensive. On the back cover the man is gone, the singer smiles. Do women need men? It is now over five years since Glenna Bell’s wildly underrated last CD, Perfectly Legal: Songs Of Sex, Love And Murder. Now Glenna Bell returns with a big new project, which deals with love, relationships, and Texas. We get seven wonderful new original songs and two well chosen cover versions. The music is book-ended with two short tracks, a brief spoken intro from the singer and to end things, a tribute to Glenna Bell’s home state of Texas, one of America’s most colourful states.

A delicate guitar starts
Poor Girl (In Blue) an intimate plea for love, with an honest, emotional vocal. The singer isn’t sure her man loves her. She is more sure with So
In Love With You, a warm, passionate country, love song. It’s almost like an answer to the Poor Girl song.

Of the two cover versions on Glenna Bell’s disc, Everybody’s Changing, which was originally a hit by UK band Keane is a bit of a surprise. The original hit was held together by Tim Rice-Oxley’s piano, on the new version he again plays piano. We now get a more stripped down song, with acoustic guitar/piano and a passionate Glenna Bell vocal. Country fans will clearly prefer the new version, the original is more commercial. The other cover version is Don Henley’s Heart Of The Matter a song from 1989. It’s not Henley’s best song but it fits in here very well. It is clear from Glenna Bell’s passionate vocal that she really cares about this track. The song deals with faded love, and dealing with the end of a relationship.

As usual with a Glenna
Bell album we get some humour. Pig In Lipstick Blues is a wonderful bouncy slice
of country/blues. Plus Shiner Bock And ZZ Top (Houston Avenue) a very entertaining slice-of-life song. A sad track, done with a pinch of humour. This song is written by Glenna Bell, who is now on peak form in the songwriting department. She decided to slow her
life down and spend more
time alone, to write the new collection of songs. This has proved to be a wise decision, as the new tracks are some of the talented singer’s very best.

It is kind of crazy that a major talent like Glenna Bell is still releasing her own discs, she is now on number five
but why is she not on a major record label? The song writing on the new album is of the highest quality, with sharp, observant lyrics, fine melodies and a few off-beat touches.

The vocals on the new
CD will engage the minds of listeners but may not be to everybody’s taste. Lone Star is a big-hearted Texas winner in my book. 

Most modern country artists have no idea what being ‘country’ means--there’s more to it than your mama, whiskey, guitars and pick up trucks while you regurgitate clichés about picking up chicks in a honky tonk.  Glenna knows that it’s about telling true-life stories, emotion, and not being afraid to show the dirt under your fingernails.  She understands this very, very well.  Though there are similarities, I would hesitate to call her amazing new record ‘country’ at all, it’s ‘western’ if anything- and it’s a good time.

“As life accelerates and the world becomes increasingly more complicated, I wanted to take a step back, slow down and spend more time alone at home writing this collection of songs,” says Bell. “(They’re) meant to be heard in private spaces and enjoyed from the perspective of a listener, much as a reader would consume a good book.”  That’s the way Lone Star struck me, even before I opened the bio and discovered that was her intent.

Glenna’s trembling vibrato gives heart breaking songs like Poor Girl (In Blue) even more depth, and each consecutive track carries with it a feeling of truth and honesty, something that can be hard to find in country.  Lone Star was created deliberately to be an intimate experience, even as she cover’s Don Henley’s classic Heart Of The Matter.  Henley might be a better singer technically, but when Glenna sings this, it sure feels like she’s revealing a chapter of her own life.

It’s doubtful you’ll hear any of these songs on contemporary country radio--too honest, too raw, extremely well played but not slick and shiny enough.  Listening to Lone Star is an experience I recommend very highly--with songs of this depth and timbre, it would be great to see her tour with Ian Tyson- another great storyteller in the western tradition.

You don’t have to listen to more than a song or two on Bell’s latest album to conclude that she’s the real deal: she commands attention with rich, quavering vocals that convey vulnerability, and she can write, too, as demonstrated by the country originals that dominate this CD. Among them: “Poor Girl (in Blue),” about Bell’s life in Texas, and “Christmas Is Coming,” a follow-up to her successful “Be My Valentine (on Christmas).” Also here: a compelling cover of “Heart of the Matter,” the second-best song Don Henley ever recorded on his own (after “The Boys of Summer,” of course).

Glenna Bell is not your conventional singer-songwriter. She has a unique approach, blending stories and songs in a way that’s somewhere between talking blues and regular song structure. It’s genuinely personal, theatrically influenced and somehow balanced  between the introspective and light-hearted. The trembling yet soulful quality of her voice gives conviction to her tales, which at times read like short vignettes. There’s a bit more variety in terms of mood and tempo than her previous release, Perfectly Legal: Songs of Sex, Love and Murder, but the theatrical qualities still remain. Bell says, “As life accelerates and the world becomes increasingly more complicated, I wanted to take a step back, slow down and spend time alone at home writing this collection of songs that are meant to be heard in private spaces and enjoyed from the perspective of a listener, much as a reader would consume a good book, rather than from the vantage point of someone who is out to drink and dance the night away to the backdrop of a band.”

Nonetheless (because you’re probably thinking this is an acoustic record with just Glenna and her guitar), on most of these tracks she is backed by a full band and/or prestigious players. Producer and guitarist Mark Abernathy (Sabre Rattlers) and bassist George Reiff (Ray Wylie Hubard) join her on “Poor Girl (In Blue)” and “So in Love with You.” The writer and keyboardist from the UK band Keane, Tim Rice-Oxley, joins for her cover of “Everybody’s Changing.” Austin veterans steel guitarist Mike Hardwick and drummer Rick Richards lend their touches to Don Henley’s “Heart of the Matter.” The most radio friendly tune is also the most light-hearted track, her own “Pig in Lipstick Blues” featuring the esteemed roots and bluesman Johnny Nicholas on guitar and piano. Among these compelling tracks, perhaps the one that best defines Bell’s unique story-to-song style is “Shiner Bock & ZZ Top (Houston Avenue).”

Glenna Bell is a graduate of the renowned University of Houston Creative Writing Program where she studied with Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, Edward Albee. She has been honored by the State of Texas in a House resolution recognizing her musical contribution to the state as well as by many prominent Houston and Texas publications and organizations. This is her fifth album, building on the critical success and prolific radio airplay earned by 2010’s Perfectly Legal: Songs of Sex, Love and Murder. Bell’s music is intelligent, unique, and provocative. Grab yourself a glass of wine, find a quiet spot and listen up.

Lone Star-Songs & Stories Straight from the Heart of Texas:

It's a Texas thing, it's got to be. Recognized by the state as one of the state's musical treasures, Bell has songs that sound like they would inspire more suicides than early Leonard Cohen but she's actually smack dab in the heart of the Townes Van Zandt Texas troubadour tradition. Except for "Marie" or "Sanitarium Blues" she pretty much out Van Zandt's Van Zandt himself. Songs like this don't always inspire you to gargle with razor blades and it's sometimes nice to know you can get close to the edge as just another observer. Wild, deep stuff firmly in the literary tradition with no dust on it, here's a shining reason of why they love her so much on her natural stomping grounds. Check it out if you dare.

Singer-songwriter Glenna Bell is from Beaumont, TX, where Janis Joplin, Johnny & Edgar Winter and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown saw the light. Glenna grew up on a horse farm, went with her father to rodeos and graduated from the University of Houston, where she then attended the Creative Writing Program.

Glenna Bell recently released her album "Lone Star: Songs And Stories From The Heart Of Texas.” Besides the eight original songs, there are also two covers on the album. "Everybody's Changing" is a danceable ballad and a song by the English band Keane (consisting of Tom Chaplin, Tim Rice-Oxley, Richard Hughes and Jesse Quin), and on Glenna’s version of the song, the writer Tim Rice-Oxley performs on piano and harmonium. The second cover is Don Henley's "Heart Of The Matter" with George Reiff on bass, Rick Richards on drums and Mike Hardwick on steel guitar.

Glenna's songs are poignant, including the opener "Poor Girl (In Blue)", as well as "Shiner Bock & ZZ Top (Houston Avenue)" and the up-tempo song "What It Was The Art Guys,” all autobiographical stories, grabbed from her life in Texas.

"So In Love With You" and "Tonight's The Night (We Graduate)" are upbeat, old-fashioned pop rock love songs. For "Pig in Lipstick Blues" Glenna was in the studio with Austin music scene veterans Johnny Nicholas on boogie-woogie piano and guitar, George Reiff on bass, and Rick Richards on drums.

The grand finale is "Proud To Be from Texas,” an a cappella song, which ends with a smile and a final statement: “that’s it.”

For writing and preparing the album, Lone Star, Glenna Bell sought silence and solitude. The result is first and foremost a genuine and authentic singer-songwriter album, which projects intimacy. Fans of this genre’s quieter roots will make hassle free time to enjoy Glenna Texan stories, of which she herself is so proud.

If I’m ever down Houston way, I’m damn sure going to seek out local hero Glenna Belland her tales of Texas. She plays out a lot and you can catch her just about any night of the week. Her fifth self-released CD, Lone Star: Songs and Stories from the Heart of Texas, is possibly what Janis might have sounded like had she never left Port Arthur to become a big rock star. It’s an informal affair, filled to the brim with three chords and the truth, as they say. Actually, the chords are more plentiful than that but the truth, in this case, is unvarnished. You can dance to “Pig In Lipstick Blues” but most of this is intimate, have a sip and a toke, and listen, brother. Listen hard. “Shiner Bock & ZZ Top” might be her guilty pleasures but this gal will get to you. She covers Brit-Pop’s Keane (“Everybody’s Changing”) as well as Don Henley (“Heart Of The Matter”). She has friends from the bands of Asleep At The Wheel, Joe Walsh, Jerry Jeff Walker and Ray Wylie Hubbard on hand to spice up the mix but it’s her full-throttle yet vulnerable voice that carries the day.Lone Star makes a great companion piece to her last CD, Perfectly Legal: Songs of Sex, Love and Murder. Bell’s a ball. I wish she’d come Northeast.

"Tonight's the Night (We Graduate)"

Writer: Glenna Bell; Publisher: Glenna Bell, ASCAP; GB (track)

Texas favorite Bell has a throaty, distinctive vocal style. Her records always perk up my ears. This outing is about young lovers graduating from high school. She recalls their courtship and vows to go all the way on their big night. I hung on every word. Her new collection is aptly titled Lone Star: Songs and Stories Straight From the Heart of Texas.

5 minutes with Country Music Artist Glenna Bell

 

About your career

Q:  What is your fondest musical memory?

A:  I noticed right away that these questions really make one have to think, which is constructive, but there are so many memories, highlights, etc. it seems impossible to choose just one—sort of like asking someone which child is your favourite? 

What comes to mind off the top of my head is two musical memories from my early years when we lived in East Texas in Lumberton, near the Big Thicket, and we would sing a cappella as a congregation in the little church in the woods and when we would visit my mother’s side of the family in Orange, Texas in the Golden Triangle near Port Arthur, the birthplace of Janis Joplin, where we would sing at family gatherings with generations of relatives playing popular and occasionally original songs on the piano, representing the pop culture of their respective eras, dating all the way back to the twenties.

 

Q:  What has been the highlight of your career?

A:  Thankfully, there have been many highlights, but one that comes to mind is receiving the House Resolution honouring my musical contribution to the State of Texas at the Texas state capital in Austin.

A more recent highlight would be the day that I spent in the studio with John Pickering who sang the backing vocals on several Buddy Holly hits and our lunch with Sonny West (who wrote “Oh Boy” and “Rave On”) at the little Mexican restaurant on legendary Telephone Road here in Houston.  There’s also the time I played Threadgill’s in Austin to a crowd who compared me to Janis Joplin as they remembered her performances there in the early-to-mid ‘60s and the Johnny Cash Bash at the Continental Club in Austin with Johnny Cash’s long-time piano player Earl Poole Ball accompanying me in an impromptu version of “Get Rhythm” in front of a packed house with standing room only and hundreds of Johnny Cash fans dressed in black, lined up around the corner outside the front door on Congress.  There are the memories of playing here and there and everywhere, New York and Nashville, with people I knew and didn’t know at all.  The on going shows with Greg Henkel on his incredible vio-fiddle.  The record store, Bill’s, in Dallas.  Cosmos Café in Houston.  Y’all come!  There is no place like home.  

 

Q:  Your latest album ‘Lone Star: Songs and Stories Straight from the Heart of Texas’ has recently been released. Which song from the album means the most to you and why?

A:  I’d say “Pig in Lipstick Blues” means the most to me at the moment because I’ve caught a bad case of the blues, and that song showed me that, yes, I can “bring it” both as a writer and singer.

 

Q:  Do you ever get nervous before you go on stage?

A:  No, I just “wing it.”  Live in the moment.  Be yourself.  Forget about yourself.  You’re there for the audience.  Not yourself.  Lift them up.

 

Q:  What piece of advice can you give to aspiring country music artists?

A:  Read.  Read real books, not online.  Listen to “old music,” preferably on a record player.  Get unhooked.  Be in Nature as much as possible with no distractions.  Write.  Listen to the music of the birds and the breeze in the trees.  Lie down alone in a field of grass and star gaze or watch the clouds go by in the sky.  Dream.  Find your voice.  Give yourself time.  Get in touch with something beyond this material world.  Be willing to stretch and try new things within the limits of your sense of ethics and morality.  Always listen to your deep inner voice.  Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing anything that would go against your personal or artistic convictions.  Learn to know yourself and don’t compromise yourself or your art.  Stay humble and authentic.  Don’t try to take shortcuts to success—you will undermine everything.  Build your house on a rock.  Think long term and do what it takes to set things up for longevity so that you can continue to do what you love for a lifetime.  Accept criticism gracefully but learn who and who not to listen to.  Some people are well meaning and very convincing because of their credentials and years in the business, but they don’t know.  Stop and help a stray dog.  Help a young person.  Help an old person.  Help a homeless person.  Make yourself a helping person and you will then know the joy of giving, which is the key to performance.  Be open-minded.  Don’t stereotype people.  It is a huge mistake.  Don’t be an artist unless you just cannot not be.  Don’t do it for the money.  Most likely, you will be very disappointed in the end.  Endure. 

 

And just for fun…

Q:  If you could sing a duet with any country artist in the world (past or present) who would it be? 

A:  George Jones

 

Q:  Pick a song title for the story of your life…

A:  Moon River

 

Q:  You have the chance to time travel to any gig or concert that has ever taken place – which one would it be?  

A:  Newport Folk Festival, 1965

 

Q:  What was the first record you ever bought?

A:  My very earliest recollection of “buying” records was when I was so young that I can’t even recall the first one.  I even called my mother but she can’t remember either.  I know that it was at the mall in Beaumont, Texas and that it could have been “The Entertainer” or “Candy Man” by Sammy Davis, Jr.  Maybe John Denver’s “Country Boy.”  Through my dad’s record collection I discovered The Gunfighter Ballads and through my Auntie’s collection I learned to love and laugh, dance and sing with my little sister to songs like “Sugar Time,” “Charlie Brown,” and “Short People.”  I also loved the story songs like “Please Pass the Biscuits” and Andy Griffith’s comedic monologue, “What It Was Was Football.”  When I l was older I was profoundly affected by George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and Buddy Holly’s “Raining in My Heart.”  

 

Q:  Tell us something that will surprise us?

A:  I recently found out that I have had about 700,000 streams on Spotify for the last two consecutive seasons for my holiday song, “Be My Valentine (On Christmas).”  As an independent artist, this news came as a surprise to me.

Perfectly Legal: Songs of Sex, Love and Murder (Oct 2010)

A concept record of sorts, Texan songwriter Glenna Bell’s Perfectly Legal is presented in four “acts,” (divided by recording session and overall sound) with a common theme of, as the subtitle suggests, gothic shenanigans in the old South. The album opens with her take on the old stand-by “Frankie and Johnny” rendered as an intriguing hybrid of boogie-woogie and folk, followed by a haunting a capella version of Sam Cooke’s “Lost and Lookin’” that is all bare emotion and tremulous voice. Bell’s fiery originals round out the album and are given simple country-folk settings that capture her live sound well. Bell’s voice is pure barrel-proof bourbon, sweet and smoky, capable of hushed drama (“Hurricane”) and more ringing tones as well. She flashes girlish, Dolly Parton charm on “Honky Tonk Man,” a duet with John Evans, and rockabilly grit on “Big Kev.” Bell clearly has a sense of humor but doesn’t let it tip over into novelty. Case in point, the feisty “Cougar Anthem”: with its mischievous call-and-response chorus and cheerfully leering lyrics, it could be mistaken for a topical joke, but there’s no mistaking the pride in Bell’s voice when she says, “I’ve got my own money, and I’ve got my own car.” Fans of classic country music will find much to appreciate here.

It may be tempting to dub Glenna Bell the distaff Terry Allen -- after all, she is a Texan country-folk singer/songwriter with a wry, satirical bent who has also worked in theater -- but that comparison would be too easy, and not entirely accurate. While Allen is a songsmith who happened to wander into theatrical work, Bell's trajectory seems to have been the opposite; though she's released a number of albums, she has a past as a playwright and a theater critic, which seems to inform her songwriting sensibility (this release is, after all, dedicated to "my mentor, Edward Albee"). Toward that end, she has framed sections of Perfectly Legal as "Acts." As is so often the case with concept albums, the thematic arc means as much or as little as you want it to mean. Ultimately, what matters is how well the songs themselves stand up, and the covers and original tunes contained here hold their own just fine. At eight songs clocking in under a half hour, Perfectly Legal pushes the technical definition of an "album," as opposed to an EP, but the dramatic arc to which it aspires has "full-length" written all over it nevertheless. In the course of that arc, listeners get Bell's versions of such tunes as the traditional "Frankie and Johnny" and the old Sam Cooke cut "Lost and Lookin'," delivered in a dusty, evocative tone that brings Rosalie Sorrels to mind. The Texan's own tunes range from the rolling, atmospheric "Hurricane"'s tale of a stormy romance to the stark storytelling of "The Southern Gothic Wedding Waltz" and the lighthearted, randy "The Cougar Anthem."

Glenna Bell is Texas born, bred, and educated. She grew-up in the small Texas towns of Lumberton and Pineland before receiving a master’s degree from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in Venice, California as a theater critic and playwright and then a doctorate in creative writing from The University of Houston's exclusive Writing Program formed the foundation for her career in music.

She is now firmly entrenched as a singer/songwriter who has just released her latest album Perfectly Legal: Songs Of Sex, Love and Murder. She possesses a classic country voice and her lyrics of anguish, loss, and the dark side of life is traditional country as well. It is her simple and stripped down arrangements that push her sound in a folk direction.

It is her theater and writing background that is important for this release. She explores the life and experiences of a woman living in the 21st century. She divides the album into four sections with each part having been recorded at different studios with different musicians which gives them their own personality.

The best songs of the first act is a barrelhouse cover of the old standard “Frankie and Johnny” which fits the title and themes of this album well and a simple version of the Sam Cooke classic “Lost and Lookin.” Act two features a tender duet on the Clint Eastwood movie theme song, “Honky Tonk Man.” The lyrics just make you ache as happiness is always just a note away. Act three presents her own “The Southern Gothic Wedding Waltz” and the title says a lot. She fills in the sound a bit with a second guitarist and some keyboards. The final track from act four is another of her compositions. “The Cougar Anthem” is an up-tempo and amusing beat driven tune that stands out as a nice counterpoint to the rest of her material.

Perfectly Legal: Songs Of Sex, Love and Murder is a gentle and thoughtful album built around eternal themes. Songs of the heart and mind explore the light and darkness of human life. A fine effort from deep in the heart of Texas.

This song [These Days] tells the story of a girl, "very long ago, in a fairy book world" and a man she holds a dream-like affection for, always admiring him from afar. The girl in the song "believed in dreams" so the man visited her there, but never in reality. And the girl waits. Waits for years.

In our interview with Glenna Bell, she revealed that the song was written about her aunt, a woman who inspired Glenna with stories of her life, with her powerful voice and music. After 81 years of life, Glenna's aunt passed away, and tucked into the folds of her purse was a black and white photo of a lover lost long, long ago. Glenna was moved by her aunt's unending affection for this man and her quiet longing. "These Days" was written for her aunt and her grief.

It was in the wake of her aunt's death that Glenna Bell turned to music to navigate the world of sadness that the loss had created in the Golden Triangle of East Texas where both women were born. "These Days" is an understated track on Glenna's album Perfectly Legal: Songs of Sex, Love and Murder, yet cuts right to the heart. The empathy the song is sung with, the rich tones of sadness and the love evident in every careful phrasing makes this song a particularly special listening experience for anyone who ever missed someone.

USA Today named "The Cougar Anthem" a top ten pick of the week on November 8, 2010, alongside songs by Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Aaron Neville, Dave Brubeck, Meatloaf, and others: “‘He's 19 years old and hot hot hot’ and makes this of-a-certain-age Texas blues/country singer pine for an upgrade.’”

USA Today - USA Today (Nov 8, 2010)

The Road Less Traveled (2008)

Glenna Bell's magic is her ability to wring the purest emotion from a lyric with the least possible effort. The Houston-based performer doesn't overdo her intimate tunes with flowery notes or dramatic flourishes. It's a rare thing and gives The Road Less Traveled, Bell's gorgeous new record, a poignant shimmer. Every moment has a spare, sparkling beauty . . .

Slightly sketchy ZZ Top fan unleashes her folkie chains ("Outside the Bars," "The Texas Aggies Win Again"). [Note: Mr. Christgau gave The Road Less Traveled three stars, which--in his own words--means that the album is "an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure."]

Country is at its best when it's simple, melancholy; something that stares you right in the eye without beating you down with force. It's not just that Ms. Bell's voice has that quality grafted to it; she knows how to dress it down without turning it all into one big gimmick. Just the right amount of echo, on her guitar as well as her voice, with lyrics that never overreach in their scope. The thematic territory is familiar, with heartbreak at the center of it all, but it is with honesty. Aside from a few slightly more lavish moments, this is sparse music with a void as its backbone, a void which pulls us in close to Ms. Bell and imbues her words with an equal gravity. This is a quality that cannot be faked or honed, it is intimate and honest without being simplistic or dumb; this is a sort of music that I'd feared dead.

The road less traveled, indeed. I say that simply because any number of singer/songwriters sound like some guitar wielding predecessor. Glenna Bell goes beyond a list of influences. She doesn't sound like the usual suspects—Lucinda, Gillian, Iris, Mary Gauthier, etc. She sounds older than that. Way older. Like Texas is old. The Road Less Traveled plays like an old field recording. You're listening to songs like the gritty prison ballad Outside The Bars and the mournful, yet redemptive Johnny Bush duet The East Side expecting to hear the pops and skips of old vinyl. With her arrangements raw, production back-porch sparse, and a haunting, halting vocal style, Bell fixes your attention on her songs and not the tired who-does-she-sound-like guessing game that gets in the way of a good listen far too often . . . People are listening. You should too.

This is not your ordinary country record. The Road Less Traveled is not quite your ordinary anything. It's not that Glenna Bell has invented a new genre of music or anything of the sort, it's just that she's found a startling original way of making the familiar -- heart songs and life-as-lived narratives, long the stuff of the country tradition -- sound almost as if she'd invented them. There is a genre called country-folk, probably as good a characterization as any of what's going on here. Typically, country-folk singers are folk artists who are comfortable around country. Bell, on the other hand, is a country singer who knows something about folk. The folk in these (metaphorical) grooves is the peculiarly skeletal production, not at all like what's called "traditional country," which is very much a band sound with prominent fiddle or steel (or both) and electric lead guitar. Bell's acoustic guitar, sometimes with minimal accompaniment, is prominent on just about all of the cuts. Here and there a small ensemble joins her but never comports itself quite predictably. Then there are Bell's clipped, brittle vocals, likely the first thing you'll notice -- as I certainly did -- on hearing this disc. Hers is one distinctive voice. It is nearly always effective, but never more so than on the shatteringly personal "The Texas Aggies Win Again," so raw and wounded that it may make you gasp. It's, well, incredible, everything a song can aspire to be. Her aching ballad of lost dreams, "The East Side," appears twice, once in a duet with Texas honkytonk hero Johnny Bush, the second time with John Evans. Somehow, each version finds its own personality, even if subtly so . . . A resident of Houston, Bell is not in fact a honkytonk girl but a writing teacher with a graduate degree in English. Clearly, she knows how to put together an exceptionally fine song, and she also knows how to deliver it with grace, power and humor, all of it direct, unadorned and blunt. The emotions are laid as bare as emotions can be laid in a song. The Road Less Traveled is one highway no discerning musical wayfarer will mind passing down.

Texas singer/songwriter Glenna Bell sings with a quiet, stirring authority and edge, delivering this CD's 11 songs with such might and power that it's impossible not to be impressed by their simplicity and urgency. Bell covers many subjects such as faith and inspiration ("The Family Bible" with Willie Nelson"); heartache ("I Can't Get My Mind Off You"); sports fandom ("The Texas Aggies Win Again"); and the oddities and inherent problems in any marriage ("How I Found Out I'm Insane). She's not only a poignant and effective lead vocalist, but an outstanding duet partner (superb duets with Johnny Bush on "The East Side" and both Billy Ed Wheeler and Jerry Leiber on "Jackson"). The lack of studio polish reaffirms the grit in Bell's delivery and the quality of her interpretations and lyrical settings. The Road Less Traveled is brilliantly performed, and a triumph for a standout performer.

Has anybody been recognized by the Texas legislature for their music since Gary P. Nunn? Bell now joins that august rank with her tunes. A real from the heart folk rocker, Bell may or may not reach the top of the charts with hit singles, but if we were still living in an album world, this would be one of the sets all the hip kids would be toting in their back packs. Coming at you with a real load of Texas in her soul, Bell delivers the kind of set that cold cocks you when you don’t expect it and just makes you want to turn everyone on to her. Killer stuff that you don’t have to be a tied in the wool folkie to love.

The album, Face This World (http://cdbaby.com/cd/glennabell) by singer-songwriter Glenna Bell, was one of the musical highpoints of 2005 in my modest opinion--a masterpiece, which almost got my number one spot in my personal top 25. Richard Stooksbury's debut album beat her, but she was in the respectable company of Sam Baker, Jimmy Lafave, and Colin Brooks. It is a bit of a pity that the subsequent album, The Road Less Traveled, took such a long time (strike the iron while it is hot) because this pretty lady from Beaumont, Texas was in the neighborhood of Gillian Welch, Iris Dement, and Mary Gauthier and will need some luck to regain her place again. But will she succeed with The Road Less Traveled?... We believe so! "Never change a winning team" is also a saying that works well for Glenna Bell because the perfect collaboration with producer & multi-instrumentalist John Evans (vocals, guitar, piano, electric bass) was renewed on the opening track "Outside the Bars," and on the magnificent duet "The East Side" with Texas Country Music Hall of Fame member Johnny Bush, as well as "The Texas Aggies Win Again" and "La Casa Qua Yo Amo." The sober acoustic accompaniment (guitar, bass, and drums), which was so characteristic on Face This World, also goes very well with the folky/americana/roots voice of our Glenna and lifts The Road Less Traveled high. Glenna's cover of Willie Nelson's "The Family Bible on the Table" could be considered as a (nice) leftover from "the influences of a cappella songs in the local church" where she grew up. But all of this gives way (to our surprise) to a somewhat more lively Glenna Bell on "Can't Get My Mind Off You," and on Glenna's cover of J. Cash's classic duet "Jackson" [with John Evans]. She is even a bit naughty and funny with "How I Found Out I'm Insane" and "Shiner Bock & ZZ Top." Little girls grow big, throw away what they were once taught, and feel more and more at home in the musical scene . . . the result is amazing! The appeal on "Be My Valentine on Chistmas" will create some overheated situations in Texas. We will stay calm in "Limburg" and enjoy fully the pearl which is Glenna Bell's The Road Less Traveled. Good Luck, Glenna . . . You did it again!!!!! SWA, http://www.rootsville.be

Christmas Eve will be here before you know it. So I'm giving you all a heads-up on what's new from Music City for your holiday soundtrack. These records are mainly from our country community. GLENNA BELL/Be My Valentine On Christmas Writer: Glenna Bell; Producer: John Evans; Publisher: Glenna Bell, ASCAP; Vintage Sound (www.glennabell.com) Her vocal vibrato is a mile wide, but there's no escaping the audio charm of this simple, affecting song and its sweet, tinkling, acoustic instrumental bed. Recorded in Houston by a producer who seems to understand exactly how to play to Glenna's musical strengths.

Face This World (2005)

There’s a cry in Glenna Bell’s voice like that of a classic country singer. Her songs cover classic country topics, too – from heartbreak to other hard life trials. Standouts include “Here in Texas,” an upbeat anthem with a nice, fat electric guitar and “Cosmo’s Café,” a toe tapping number with washboard and banjo. -JA

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