Casual road trippers (myself included) treat the 300-plus-mile stretch of Interstate 10 between Houston and New Orleans as a mini-cannonball run. Along the way, though, is a healthy slice of Americana. The highway cuts through an area of southeastern Texas called “The Golden Triangle” (or, the space between Port Arthur, Orange and Beaumont), which has produced national staples such as black gold and gold records. The city of Beaumont in particular holds the unusual distinction of having one of the first major oil fields in Spindletop, as well as hosting music greats like Blind Willie Johnson, the Big Bopper and the Winter Brothers. Makes sense, then, that there would be something in the water. Fortunately for the casual musical tripper (myself included), a label like Numero Group exists specifically to mine such forgotten treasure troves.
Lone Star Lowlands is the label’s second installment in its new series on city/region-specific labels Local Customs. Similar to 2009’s Downriver Revival, this edition covers the musical output of an overshadowed, neighboring city. Last year, we heard the artists of Ecorse, Mich., who struggled to make a mark outside of nearby Hitsville USA’s international reach; this year we hear how Beaumont quietly produced talent that often gigged in Houston or beyond. Likely because these artists aspired for audiences beyond their own zip codes, the music styles range vastly. Numero describes them perfectly: “The gamut of southern boogie rock, CSNY clones, British blues thunder, hungover garage-psych, Morricone-esque supper-club instrumentals, yacht rock, and what can only be described as Bobby McPherin fronting the Velvet Underground.” Coupled with the rough, demo-quality of most of the 22 songs on this collection, Lone Star Lowlands is a rocky yet welcome ride through an unturned pocket of music history.
Highlights abound depending on your tastes. Looking for some subtly religious yet groovy pick-me-up-when-I’m-feeling-down numbers? Look no further than Insight Out’s “Live My Life Today” and “It Makes You Feel So Bad.” Need a prescription for that fever? Check out Mourning Sun’s cowbell-powered “Where’s Love Gone Today.” Expecting to fulfill your stereotypes of Southern-countrified funk? Bump Circus’ “Love Of The Morning.”
However, the centerpiece of Lone Star Lowlands lies appropriately in the middle of the compilation. Sage’s “I Found My Music” begins with a quirky synth beep-boops before blossoming into a beautiful ode to music. The chorus — “I found my music and now that’s all I need” — takes on a new meaning in the company of these forgotten, decades-old tracks. Though recorded with the intent of being heard by listeners far and wide at the time, these songs have instead become fascinating time capsules of burgeoning music scene.