Ode to the Troubadours

Texas is legendary for its singer-songwriters, so numerous that they've almost become a dime a dozen in musical meccas like Austin and Houston. For every Willie Nelson or Lyle Lovett there have been hundreds, make that thousands, of wannabes toiling away in the state's coffeehouses and honkytonks. A new photo book by Steve Harris captures the flavor of the breed in artful images and an apt title: Texas Troubadours (University of Texas Press, $40).

Texas is legendary for its singer-songwriters, so numerous that they've almost become a dime a dozen in musical meccas like Austin and Houston. For every Willie Nelson or Lyle Lovett there have been hundreds, make that thousands, of wannabes toiling away in the state's coffeehouses and honkytonks. A new photo book by Steve Harris captures the flavor of the breed in artful images and an apt title: Texas Troubadours (University of Texas Press, $40).

The term "troubadour" literally refers to a European lyric poet or poet-musician from the 11th through the 13th centuries, but like the word "bohemian," it's acquired a pervasive (if vague) modern meaning. Probably with the help of the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles, the term now connotes a musician who sings his or her own songs and peddles them from town to town, year after year, often earning little glory and even less pay. As Kinky Friedman writes in this book's foreword, "Singer-songwriters have always been the long-suffering, little-celebrated spiritual stepchildren of the bigger, more commercial country music stars."