The follow-up to Terry Allen's 1979 double-album masterpiece Lubbock (On Everything), 1980's Smokin' the Dummy largely pales in comparison to its immediate predecessor, one of the most creative and twisted country albums ever. On its own merits, however, Smokin' the Dummy is, for the most part, a solid piece of oddball country-rock. Opening with the Little Feat-style rocker "The Heart of California" (dedicated to the Feat's recently deceased frontman, Lowell George), the album has a much more pronounced rock edge than either of Allen's previous albums. The richer arrangements, built on Allen's keyboards and producer Lloyd Maines' overdubbed electric and acoustic guitars (with plenty of pedal steel and slide for texture and occasional dashes of fiddle and New Orleans-style horns for color), sound terrific. They're particularly appreciated, however, because lyrically this is probably Allen's weakest album. There's a few of Allen's typically unique vignettes of west Texas life; in this respect, the almost short story-like "The Night Cafe" is the best thing here, with the spookily mesmerizing "The Lubbock Tornado," an impressionistic, almost Biblical tale of an April 1970 twister that destroyed a good chunk of the west Texas college town where Allen was raised, a close second. But for every lyrically and musically inventive track like "Red Bird" and the obsessively pun-filled "Helena, Montana," there's an underwritten country-rocker like "Roll Truck Roll" or "Feelin' Easy." The nadir is "Whatever Happened to Jesus (And Maybellene)?," which starts out just fine in a dryly ironic gospel mode, but after a clever pun on a popular brand of makeup, it degenerates into a rather pointless cover of Chuck Berry's first hit, as if Allen couldn't be bothered to finish his own song. Perhaps recorded too soon after the mightily impressive Lubbock (On Everything) for Allen to have enough solid songs at the ready, Smokin' the Dummy is a frustrating melange of ideas both terrific and terrible.
Smokin' the Dummy Review
by Stewart Mason