"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


the texas in africa year in review

I thought about doing best-of lists in all this blog's categories, but, well, it's too much trouble. Besides, if you want long lists of the best albums of the year, you can look here or here, and if you want to know what you should've read this year, you should find someone who reads books in the same year they are published. Instead, I thought I'd just cover some of my favorites from the year, with full recognition that they may not be the "best" in anyone else's opinion. With that, it's time to take a stab at choosing my favorite stuff and events from 2005:

Texan of the Year: Craig McDonald at Texans for Public Justice. If DeLay goes down this year, it's due almost entirely to McDonald and his staff's push for more transparency, less big-money influence, and less corruption in government. He doesn't get much credit for all his work, although Rolling Stone did a nice piece on him in their year-in-review issue.

Man of the Year: Jack Abramoff, for taking sleaze to a whole new level and then getting caught. Mark my words, he's going to cut a deal and it's going to shake Washington and state-level politics in a way that nothing has since the Iran Contra Affair. People who could be indicted or in serious trouble when he talks: Tom DeLay, Lamar Smith, Ralph Reed, and many, many others. People who probably haven't done anything illegal but who will have some serious 'splaining to do: John Cornyn.

Albums I Loved:

  • Anna Coogan & North 19, Glory - This is actually a 2004 album, but it didn't get airplay until this year. A classically trained opera-singer, Coogan sounds like Kelly Willis with a bluegrass band and the overall effect is stunning. I love, love, love the title track and listened to it throughout SXSW.
  • The Greencards, Weather & Water - We used to go see the Greencards play on the deck at Mother Egan's Sunday bluegrass brunch. Now they're famous and opening for big-time acts. Glad to see them succeed, sad that they're not at brunch anymore. This album is their real national breakthrough and they have earned success.
  • Calexico & Iron & Wine, In the Reins - Technically an EP; nonetheless my favorite album of the year. See my old review here.
  • James McMurtry, Childish Things - McMurtry takes it to a whole new level with this fantastic collection of musings on everything from the Bush administration to losing your innocence.
  • Kaiser Chiefs, Employment - Totally cheesy Brit-indie-post-punk-pop and I loved it. How can you not love a song called "Na-Na-Na-Na-Na"?!?
  • Sufjan Stevens, Illinois - It's a concept album! And he's a Christian! And there's hype in every single direction! And all the indie kids loved him! And Pitchfork picked him first! And it actually was really good.
  • Los Super Seven, Heard it on the X - Great compilation album/tribute to border radio. My daddy used to listen to Wolfman Jack on the X, and I owe my love of music to him. A great album from lots of famous artists.
  • Various, A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver Live - Excellent live album from last year's birthday tribute to one of the best songwriters ever.
  • Macon Greyson, Translate and Miles From Here - Macon Greyson is one of my favorite Texas bands. While Translate was their real release this year and was good and all that, one less-noticed thing that happened was that they finally released an album-length version of their old EP, Miles From Here. And it is amazing. I've loved the EP for awhile now and all its songs with their alt.country-history-acknowledging lyrics are here (including the fabulous "3 AM" ("no depression is harder than your own"), "Life of Riley,""You Will Be," and one of my all-time favorite songs, "Picture in a Frame." The rest of the album is live tracks and demos, and, okay, so it's cheating to call it a 2005 album, but I don't care. Listen to "PCS" and "Patchwork Alibis" (both of which are on Translate) and tell me it doesn't sound like what would've happened if Jay Farrar had been born in West Texas.
  • The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema - The opening track is SO much fun. This has been my make-a-bad-day-good album all fall.
  • Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, Souls' Chapel - Old-school gospel from one of my least-favorite country singers. Who'd've thunk, but it's such a great album. The best track is "Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time."
  • Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, Red Dog Tracks - It was such a pain to try to find this in DC when it was released in May, but wow was it worth it. Taylor & Rodriguez deliver a perfect blend of duets in a unique style that develops into something better and better with every album they release.

Albums I still don't know what to think about:

  • Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning - Back and forth, back and forth. Is Conor Oberst a genius/future Bob-Dylan, or just a pretentious Nebraska punk with a big head? Either way, "Land Locked Blues" and "First Day of My Life" are great songs.

Ryan Adams - Three albums in one year is overdoing it, even if you are a youthful genius. Rather than pick one, here's the album I would've liked to have seen, concepts be darned:

  1. Magnolia Mountain
  2. A Kiss Before I Go
  3. The End
  4. Let It Ride
  5. Rosebud
  6. Friends
  7. September
  8. PA
  9. Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play that Part
  10. Voices
  11. Now that You're Gone
  12. How Do You Keep Love Alive

The only Podcast to listen to:

  • Fulmerica Radio on Drive Like Hell. Say what you will about anyone who designs a website around fictional characters from his book, the alt.country/indie rock mixes are fantastic and well worth the six-week wait between sporadic postings.

Best shows I saw:

  • Concert for Tsunami Relief, Austin Music Hall, January 9. An incredibly varied evening of fantastic music for dirt-cheap ($25) and all for a very important cause. Where else will you see Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, Natalie Maines, and Spoon all on the same stage? Willie and Patty Griffin's duet on "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" was so beautiful it should go down in the record books.
  • The Old 97's live album taping, Gruene Hall, June 17. It's unfortuante that the album didn't capture the evening's energy, because the show rocked in the sweltering heat that caused a guy in front of us to pass out. Worth every bit of sweat and exhaustion.
  • The Arcade Fire, Emo's, January 21. Incredible, energy-packed show for the hipsters-in-the-know. It was perfect until they played a Talking Heads cover and we realized how much TH influence is in their music.
  • Calexico's SXSW set, Antone's, March 18. It took an hour to get inside and another hour of enduring the Frames to get there, but getting to be on the front row was worth it. Bonus when Neko Case arrived to sing along on a couple of songs. Fantastic show.
  • Son Volt's SXSW set, Stubb's, March 19. Front row at Stubb's for one of the revived Son Volt's first performances. What else can I say? Except that the set list is hanging on my wall, not much.
  • Billy Joe Shaver, Nutty Brown Cafe, July 9. Shaver says he's either all-there or not, and it was the former for this show. The highlight was when he sang "When the Fallen Angels Fly" and started pretending to fly himself before kneeling in prayer, then segueing into my favorite song, "Live Forever." Beautiful, transcendent, and exactly perfect.
  • James McMurtry, Waterloo in-store, September 8. An in-store is not a show, but McMurtry captured something in his brief performance that left an impression. This was the first time I heard the incredible, "We Can't Make it Here Anymore," a song about America's working rural poor - if you haven't heard the song, go download it now. Wow.
  • Best ACL sets, September 23-25 - Steve Earle & the Dukes, Leo Kottke & Mike Gordon, Split Lip Rayfield, The Weary Boys, Buddy Guy, Rilo Kiley, Wilco
  • Iron & Wine and Calexico, Stubb's, October 30. Wow. Wow. Wow.
  • Walt Willkins, Cheatham Street, November 11. He sang "Poetry" and "I Chose This Road." And I was happy.
  • Jeff Tweedy, Ulster PAC Kingston, NY, November 18. Yep.

Worst Show:

  • David Allan Coe, in a field in Smithville, April 30. So bad I can't even come up with a description. But the free KVET tickets and the fact that it was my birthday convinced my sister to come along and we had a ball mocking it all.


  • October 9 vs. Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Vindication was so, so sweet in the first place. Getting to enjoy it on the 50 in the OU section and on the OU Alumni Association bus was even better. Thanks, Aunt Becky!!!
  • October 22 vs. Texas Tech. GameDay Live in the morning, tailgating with a bunch of friends, and the energy in the air on a beautiful Saturday made for a great day of the best sport there is.
  • Big XII Championship vs. Colorado, Houston, December 3. Not because the game was interesting (it wasn't), or because we were seated on the roof (we were), but because it was like a big, vindicating pep rally for the Longhorns. The roses were nice, too.

Random Life Things
Wonder Products of the Year

Best random run-ins:

  • Karl Rove. Skye thinks it's our destiny to have something to do with the man down the line. First there was February and the inadvertant renting of his vacation home for our annual girls' weekend. Then in May while meeting friends at the Willard, who should come prancing down the stairs but the man himself? Then, Skye manages to be seated between his aides on a flight to Texas while the man himself sat up front. I hope our destiny doesn't have anything to do with his potential indictments.
  • I was waiting for a bus in Bukavu, DRC, and this guy saw the Texas flag on my Nalgene bottle and said, "Texas! LBJ!" We got to talking and it turns out that he's an English teacher there who went to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago during the LBJ administration. On top of that, he's a Baptist, and I have an invitation to services when I return.
  • Bill Clinton. July in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. Enough said.
  • Dinner with a whole mess of famous-for-DC types in Washington including this one, this one, and this one.

Best Things I got to Do:

  • Developing and running the first-ever Christian Life Commission Summer Public Policy Institute for high school students who are interested in the intersection of faith and politics. I feel like this was something I was meant to do - it was an opportunity to combine so many personal interests and skills and the kids we had were so great and we had such wonderful conversations about vocation, life, and calling. On the last night, we sat outside watching an electrical storm in the distance and sang some songs and took communion and it was just one of those perfect moments.
  • Getting to talk with the Wilton youth about poverty and policy while sitting at the Village Market cafe in Nairobi in August. These girls come from one of the wealthiest places in America and were in a little bit of shock, but it was great to talk with them about what difference they can make in the face of such overwhelming suffering.
  • The GA Campout at Enchanted Rock in April. So much fun to get out there with the kiddos and have an adventure. Some of them had made it to ten years old without ever going camping. We had a ball.
  • My first trip back to Connecticut since moving away over Memorial Day weekend. I went to Wilton Baptist for church on Sunday and we sang my favorite childhood hymn, "Blessed Assurance." I was sitting with Susanna and seeing so many familiar faces and thinking about God's grace when we sang, "echoes of mercy / whispers of love."
  • Moving to the ranch this fall. The light and the nature and the quiet were exactly what I needed.

There's much more because life is a constant wonder, but it's New Year's Eve and time to go. The rotten year of 2005 is finally over, Ginger has declared 2006 "The Year of No Crying," and I'm going with "It Can't Be Worse than '05." Hope you and yours have a wonderful new year. Thanks for reading my blog and see you next year!


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