As far as music appreciation opinions go, few topics generate as much conversational heat as cover songs. What I’ve found in more than 20 years of talking about music over the internet and across various bar tops and rehearsal spaces is that some people think covers are interesting, cool, or fun (me, regarding Less Than Jake’s version of the Laverne and Shirley theme), while others think covers are an unforgivable affront to some legend’s legacy (a person who heard the Poolside version of “Harvest Moon” at a restaurant and complained about it all the way home).
If you find yourself in the latter group, do you at least like trees? I think we can all agree on trees, right? The reason I ask is because there’s this LP of cover songs coming out in the fall called Texas Wild, and its sales will benefit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. Your purchase will help maintain our state’s natural beauty, and if you don’t want to hear Sarah Jaffe sing a Willie Nelson song, you can gift this record to someone who does.
Like me, for example. I love this album’s premise: iconically Texan hits performed by iconic Texas artists, produced by an Austin wunderkind. Walker Lukens, whose own music is an irresistible melange of genres, shaped these songs to reflect the variegated landscape of Texas’ musical history, incorporating blues and country, as well as cumbia, electronica, hip-hop, and R&B. It’s a nice reminder that the sound of Texas is as much UGK and DJ Screw as it is SRV and ZZ Top.
While the digital album will be released next month and the vinyl in the fall, a couple of singles are already out. One is Sir Douglas Quartet’s “(Hey Baby) Que Paso” by Houston rappers Fat Tony and Paul Wall with members of the Texas Gentlemen (Dallas), Grupo Fantasma (Austin), and Sir Woman (also Austin). The other is Ryan Bingham and the Texas Gentlemen’s version of The Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom.” The Toadies themselves appear on this record, presumably cranking up the amps on their take of fellow North Texan Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” and the Texas Gentlemen get their own track, covering Lyle Lovett’s “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” in a haze of their signature laid-back roots ’n’ roll boogie. You’ll also hear Shane Smith & The Saints with Hayes Carll singing “Pancho and Lefty”; Austin roots rocker Shakey Graves and Los Angeles-by-way-of-Austin singer-songwriter Jess Williamson tackling Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End”; Gulf Coast soul band the Suffers jamming “My Maria”; Sir Woman and Ray Wylie Hubbard dueting on the Khruangbin/Leon Bridges collab “Texas Sun”; and Dallas Latinx indie poppers Luna Luna doing Selena’s “Si Una Vez.”
Now, one’s opinion on what music is Texan and what is merely from here is totally subjective, and as such, I feel like there are some decidedly Texan stones left unturned — when I first heard about this record, I thought there would be, like, a Gary Clark Jr. version of an Edie Brickell song or Lizzo vamping her way through “LaGrange” (God, I wish!) or maybe San Antonio’s Mike Dimes rapping the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper.” I probably would have been surprised to have found a Power Trip tribute (maybe by Austin surf pranksters Being Dead?), but that sounds just as appropriate to me as any of these others. Perhaps if enough people grab these LPs, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and their partners, Rambler Sparkling Water and Tecovas Boots, will put out another volume.
For now, however, Texas Wild’s 11 tracks should be plenty. Until the full thing is available, I highly recommend sneaking those first two singles into every playlist you share with other people. A great, after all, is timeless. Whether or not a listener thinks a given performer’s version “did it justice,” the original tunes (or whatever iteration you heard that grabbed you first) become lodged in our heads for a reason. But while “The Road Goes on Forever” may exist until the universe finally runs out of gas, there is no such guarantee for Texas’ flora and fauna. When it comes to supporting Texas’ natural treasures, every little bit counts. And let’s be honest: The idea of The Toadies singing a Kelly Clarkson song sounds pretty damn cool. For more, visit TexasWildAlbum.org.