Nicholson is a hit songwriter, Grammy-winning producer, guitar picker, and singer. His own albums haven't been wildly successful, but he's penned tunes for the Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart as well as hits for Don Williams, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Reba McEntire, Montgomery Gentry, and Mickey Gilley ("Jukebox Argument" for Urban Cowboy) to name just a few. He played guitar in Delbert McClinton's band for a decade in the '70s, and these days, he tours regularly with his own band. Texas Songbook is just that, a collection of tunes about the men and women of the Lone Star state with contributions from Nicholson pals including Joe Ely, Marcia Ball, Ray Benson, and other hard to classify mavericks. The music, as you probably guessed, is outside of the Nashville mainstream, with an under-produced, down-home flavor that showcases Nicholson's excellent writing, fine vocals, and diverse arrangements. "Talkin' Texan" is a swing tune with a tongue in cheek lyric and a killer hook: "He ain't lying, he's just talkin' Texan." Jason Roberts on fiddle and Tommy Detamore's pedal steel add to the tunes' devil-may-care feel. "Texas Weather" is a midtempo ballad that deals with the tribulations of love using storm clouds and sunshine as metaphors for the course of a longterm relationship. "Somedays You Write the Song," a tune Nicholson co-wrote with Guy Clarke, is a song about songwriting. That kind of thing is hard to pull off, but the lyric is universal enough to appeal to non-songwriters, too. "Messin' with My Woman," co-written with Austin bluesman Seth Walker, is a blend of swing and jive with hot fiddling by Roberts, honky tonk piano by Floyd Domino, and a smooth dual guitar lead à la Bob Wills by Nicholson and Joe Manuel. Joe Ely and Ray Benson sing backing vocals on "Lone Star Blues," a swinging truck driving song co-written with Delbert McClinton. "Listen to Willie" rides a Waylon Jennings-style backbeat with a lyric that's put together from titles of Willie Nelson hits. It's a throwaway track, but still full of the unpredictable touches that make the record so much fun.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet