David Halley “Stray Dog Talk” / <i> Dos Records</i>
There are so many singer-songwriters in Austin, Tex., that you could use them for kindling and still have enough left over to gather around the fire to harmonize on “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Yet, even in that crowded company, David Halley stands out.
Fans of Texas music have likely heard his “Hard Livin’ "--with its refrain, “I wish hard livin’ didn’t come so easy to me"--covered by Joe Ely. It also was a Top 10 country hit for Keith Whitley, and Jerry Jeff Walker and Jimmie Dale Gilmore have also recorded Halley’s material, which is so life-weathered that singers can easily infuse his songs with an autobiographical tang.
“Stray Dog Talk” was originally released in Europe in 1990 on Elvis Costello’s Demon label, but this is the first time it’s been heard in the United States, and it’s a lost diamond. (There also is a fine album of more recent Halley waxings, “Broken Spell.”)
He has a peerless song-crafting sense, into which he sets lyrics that have a beautiful ache.
Take “Further,” a song about a horse of the same name and its weary, rootless rider: I sometimes wonder, brother/ If his pace is ever gonna slow/ ‘Cause I sometimes think that further/ Is the only place we’re ever gonna go.
Some of the album’s songs, such as “Opportunity Knockin’,” rock so persuasively that you have to know Halley grew up in the same town as Buddy Holly--Lubbock, Tex. But his strong suit is ballads, and, boy, can he pen a sad one.
The standout song here is “When It Comes to You,” as bitter and broken a reflection on love as one is likely to find, or want to: Well it’s not like I want, it’s not like you care,/ I don’t mean as much to you as the ribbon in your hair,/ And you can make love but only skin gets touched,/ You could never respect nobody who could want you very much.