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'Salivation' Tells Stories With a Master's Touch

**** TERRY ALLEN, "Salivation," Sugar Hill

May 08, 1999|RANDY LEWIS

Nobody else does country music like Terry Allen. But then, what other country singer-songwriter is also an established visual artist and playwright? Those talents are eminently apparent in the Texan's exquisitely crafted, image-rich songs, in which he applies words and instrumental textures with the skill of a master painter--dabbing, brushing or smearing for the most powerful effect. There's not a wasted word or extraneous musical lick.

A virtual sequel to his extraordinary 1996 album, "Human Remains," "Salivation" is populated by fascinating characters who grapple with lust, greed and other vices. They're usually left to wrestle with how their sins affect their prospects for salvation, be it spiritual, physical or romantic.

"The Doll" delves into the fallout of a society obsessed with making a buck but casts it in an Arabic-Indian musical setting that makes the scope of its point international. "Southern Comfort" lays out in the clearest terms the harsh choices implicit in Christianity.

After coursing through song after song that charts the hopelessness that often plagues humankind--though not without tremendous splashes of redeeming humor--Allen closes with the old country gospel song "Give Me the Flowers," which prescribes making the most of our limited time on Earth.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor); two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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