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Various Artists

Our critics' picks in new releases

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Seemingly every significant Texas singer-songwriter of the past 30 years, save for Willie, Nanci and Lyle, has recorded for Durham's Sugar Hill Records. That makes From Hell to Breakfast a splendid buffet that features both major names and delightful discoveries.

Many of the latter are exceptional singer-songwriters from the Lone Star State; they also happen to be members of some of Americana's quirkiest ensembles: The Gourds, The Austin Lounge Lizards and The Bad Livers. Their songs stand up to those from the better-known singer-songwriters, but more importantly, From Hell to Breakfast gives listeners a chance to sample a trio of remarkably edgy bands. The Austin Lounge Lizards' "Old Blevins," for example, turns the "old man's wisdom" genre entirely on its head.

Terry Allen's anthemic honky-tonk rocker, "Gone to Texas," gets the disc off to a powerful start with the opening line, "I don't need no chickenshit businessman telling me what to do." It just gets better from there. Rodney Crowell's "Topsy Turvey," a chilling perspective on domestic violence, is a frankly autobiographical number from the Houston Kid, who's gone full circle from bring an '80s country star to an Americana icon. "Sis Draper," an old-time flavored tune, displays an unusual side of Guy Clark's writing, while both of the late Townes Van Zandt's selections demonstrate the power of his poetry. And I haven't even gotten around to Robert Earl Keen! This is a remarkable collection, ably assembled by Raleigh producer Lynn Lancaster.

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