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Elliott Murphy and Iain Matthews, "From Hell to Breakfast" Various Artists

"From Hell to Breakfast" Various Artists (Sugar Hill) ****

This strong 15-tune Texas singer-songwriter collection bears witness to why the gifted musical bards from the Lone Star State stand so tall on the scene. Writing tunes from the heart, these folks eschew rocked-up effects and tricky chord changes for lyrically driven, acoustic songs heavy on poetry and soul. Some of the best Texas writers are not included on "Breakfast" — notably Steve Earle and Alejandro Escovedo — and the songs here are not necessarily the best from each writer's catalog. But Sugar Hill has included excellent examples of the Lone Star acoustic tradition in this grouping, and the CD is a fine overview of a talented bunch. Townes Van Zandt shows how simple melody, soulful singing and poetry combine to create songs for a lifetime. Multitalented West Texas wild man Terry Allen gets in a listener's face with humor and pride, while Guy Clark's carefully crafted songs about life's basics are songwriting lessons in themselves. Rodney Crowell gives us a tough look at a wrong-side-of-the-tracks childhood with precision and insight, and Robert Earl Keen's fierce and funny "The Road Goes On Forever" is a most fitting end to the set. Not every song here is the stuff of genius. But aspiring songwriters both experienced and fledgling should lend an ear to what separates many of us wannabe types from the real deal. — A.A.

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