Terri Hendrix sings the blues in a sweet, sweet way. One could easily forget the Texas troubadour mostly croons about life’s troubles, because she sounds so dang pleasant about it. The singer-songwriter understands that tears are meant to roll off one’s face, that even those with two left feet should dance, and the promise of tomorrow may just be a fantasy. Hendrix doesn’t let the disagreeable facts of life get in the way of living a rich life with a smile. The vast majority of the 15 tracks on her latest disc reveal she’s satisfied just singing and swinging. As the album’s title says, Cry Till You Laugh, what better choice do you have?
While Hendrix may be more Pollyanna than Cassandra, she doesn’t shy away from the truth. Hendrix details the distance between what’s real and what we want on the autobiographical “Einstein’s Brain”. We all know that the things we desire do not come easily, if at all. Hendrix reminds us that we can still dream about them. Magic can happen, even if only for a brief, incandescent interlude. We can taste the sweetness in our minds and imagination—and maybe that’s enough.
This concept has a negative side. If we can’t always get what we want and don’t get mad about it, are we simply crazy, like the title character of “Hula Mary”? Mary is lost in the ‘60s and finds solace in dancing, much to the amusement of those who watch her get lost in the music. The listener may sympathize, but presumably not want to be like her. Hendrix is aware of the limitations of crying until you laugh, because she also notes in “Sometimes” that sometimes it’s enough “to lay down and cry.” Or sometimes crying without laughing is comfort enough when there are reasons to be sad.
Maybe that’s why the most compelling song on the record is “”The Berlin Wall”, which acknowledges the two sides of emotional well-being. Told as the story of a relationship, Hendrix shows that one can have radically different feelings of freedom and entrapment when in love. Self-doubt and self-confidence live together in one’s mind when one looks for his or her self reflected in the eyes of another.
None of this would matter if not for the music. Hendrix writes songs, not poetry or stories. Still, she starts the album with a set of Dorothy Parker poems turned into song on “Wall Theory”, and she has turned Cry Till You Laugh into a book that’s due for release less than two months after the record.
Despite Hendrix’s venerable last name, she’s no guitar wizard. Her playing is competent, but her accompanist on a slew of instruments and producer makes the music shine. Lloyd Maines plays acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, papoose, steel, mandotar, Gitjo, banjo, dulcimer, and percussion in addition to providing harmony vocals. Maines really knows how to set off Hendrix’s voice and lyrics, letting the rhythms carry the songs when needed, getting out of the way and setting the atmosphere on other tunes. The music ranges in style from hot jazz to funky blues to desolate country without ever sounding disconnected from the whole. The variety adds up as a way to showcase Hendrix’s musical diversity.
There are a few missteps here. Her version of Ike Eichenberg’s “You Belong in New Orleans” in particular comes off as forced. Hendrix’s vocals sound more affected than sincere, and the scat singing falls flat. Still, this is the exception rather than the rule. On the vast majority of tracks, the Texas singer offers compelling vignettes of life in a voice that compels one to believe she means what she says. That’s no small task.