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PRESENT COMPANY : The All-Texas Border Tour Brings Together Four Musicians With a Past

March 23, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

Tish Hinojosa's new album sprang from a search through the past for a song she had never heard. In hunting it down, she discovered a trove of music and lore from her Mexican American heritage.

Butch Hancock recently began writing a novel about a man for whom the past doesn't exist: Everything that ever happened to him seems to be an immediate reality unfolding in the present.

Crossing borders between past and present clearly holds a fascination for these two singer-songwriters, who will arrive at the Galaxy Concert Theatre tonight with the all-Texas musical revue dubbed the Border Tour.

Joining them are two other headliners who specialize in bringing musical forms out of the past to enliven the present. Santiago Jimenez Jr. hews to the traditional conjunto folk accordion style that his father pioneered and that his older brother, Flaco Jimenez, has translated into pop and rock surroundings on his solo albums and as a member of the Texas Tornados. Don Walser, who started his musical career in West Texas sharing bills with Buddy Holly, plays a vibrant, thoroughly traditional brand of barn-dance country music that is shot through with the wild and strange delights of his yodeling vocal style.

Hinojosa, 39, straddles many a musical boundary. Her songwriting bridges two languages, with some original songs in Spanish, others in English, all delivered in a voice of striking purity and nuanced restraint.

She ranges between traditional and contemporary styles--Mexican folk and country music on the one hand, modern folk-pop on the other. Her themes oscillate between the romantic and the political. Even her business situation crosses borders--Hinojosa (pronounced ee-no-HO-sah) is simultaneously under contract to Warner Bros., a major label pitching her to mainstream audiences, and to Rounder Records, an independent company that is issuing her more traditional and rootsy efforts, including the new, all-Spanish release "Frontejas."

Hancock, 49, has arranged his creative life to be fluid and virtually border-free. He is a prolific songwriter whose work has been given wide exposure by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Jerry Jeff Walker and Hancock's two boyhood chums from Lubbock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He also is a photographer, an architect-remodeler, the owner of a combination record shop, art gallery and performance space in Austin called Lubbock-Or-Leave-It and a part-time guide and serenader for river rafting tours.

Hinojosa is the hostess and prime mover for the Border Tour, and her four-man band will back all the performers.

"We're not climbing on the bus as cheerleaders for Texas," she said of the revue, speaking fom the Austin home where she lives with her husband, a lawyer and ex-musician, and their two children. "We're all people in whom the culture is ingrained pretty naturally. All four of us represent a very sincere and honest place with our music."

Hinojosa grew up in San Antonio, the 13th child of immigrant parents. The first music to capture her was in Spanish, coming over the radio or sung by a mother whom Hinojosa would later discover had been known for her singing in her youth in Mexico. In her teens, Hinojosa got caught up in the folk and rock of the '60s; she cites Linda Ronstadt as a key influence in her decision to make a career of singing.

Hinojosa's earliest steps as a professional singer were taken in Spanish, in her hometown. She moved to Taos, N.M., in 1979 and began to absorb country music. That led to a stab at Nashville and the country mainstream during the mid-1980s.

"It didn't take me long to get bored and frustrated from something that didn't move me," she said of her time trying to sing material incubated in Nashville's commercial song-hatcheries. "I knew I had something more to offer, although I didn't know what that something was."

In 1989, having moved to Austin, Hinojosa emerged with the album "Homeland," in which she clearly had discovered that she had more than one thing to offer. Her album-opening "Border Trilogy" included reflections in English and Spanish on her own family's history and on the plight of present-day Mexican immigrants; other songs roamed through sprightly Tex-Mex music, pure honky-tonk, even a touch of R&B.

"Frontejas" finds Hinojosa digging deeper into the Mexican musical legacy. Her initial motive was personal: On a visit to Mexico, Hinojosa had learned that her mother, who died in 1985, was known in her hometown for singing a certain ballad. Hinojosa decided to track the song down.

Armed only with the title, "Collar de Perlas" ("Collar of Pearls"), her inquiries proved fruitless for almost a year--until she got a call from a retired professor from the University of Texas, Americo Paredes. He sang her the sad ballad of lost love under its alternate title, "Dejame Llorar" ("Let Me Weep").

That led to what Hinojosa describes as an "apprenticeship" under the octogenarian Paredes, an expert in the music and history of the Texas-Mexico border.

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