One Man's Music: The Book
"Vince Bell has been a stalwart of the Texas singer-songwriter scene since he emerged in Houston in the 1970s. He was a rising star until he was almost killed in a car wreck in 1982. A severe head injury effectively wiped out his career. For a while. His determined rehabilitation and subsequent comeback have culminated in a trifecta this year: an album, a one-man play, and a wonderful book that tells the tale. Head injuries are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to overcome, which Vince relates well in his telling. We see progress from the outside; he sees it from the inside looking out. Either way, his recovery alone makes for an inspiring story. But it's the details along the way that make this such a good read, capturing the vibe of the Old Quarter and Anderson Fair in Houston through anecdotes such as his wild night opening for Townes Van Zandt and recalling his last recording session with Stevie Ray Vaughn before the wreck. This is a fine book about Texas music, the singer-songwriter tradition, and a personal journey that ends triumphant in the here and now. I'm proud to know Vince as both a friend and a fellow traveler." -- Joe Nick Patoski, author of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life
"After the coma, Vince Bell wrote notes to himself. "Life after death is a terrible joke," he wrote. And "Can you overcome loneliness?" There are people who have never heard of Vince's songs – and I feel about those people like I feel about people who have never seen the ocean – but it seems to me that most of us know Vince's notes by heart. This is a sad and triumphant tale of distance and reunion, of shrapnel and balm, and of a man and his guitar who manage to find poetry in tenacity. Vince is singular. This book is communal." -- Peter Cooper, The Tennessean
"Vince Bell knows how suddenly euphoria can turn to tragedy...[His] incredibly sad and moving story can be found in One Man's Music, a new autobiography that is as much about the life of a songwriter as it is a tale of rebirth. This reads real, as Bell shows the fairytale the door with a life of alcohol, depression, poverty and, worst of all, creative self-doubts. In the vibrant 1970s Houston singer-songwriter scene, whose graduates include Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle and many more, Bell was the one who seemed most like a writer who played the guitar, proving to be a gifted, often funny storyteller, with a rare knack for descriptions ("they were so suburban they glowed")...The reader gets a sense of the energy of the era when musicians inspired each other to show up next week with a song that would blow everyone away." -- Michael Corcoran, Austin-American Statesman
"Rock & Roll Summer Reading: Vince Bell's autobiography doesn't begin with the brutal car wreck on the early morning Austin streets of 1982, a disaster that nearly took his life and left him clawing for more than a decade through the lonely and incommunicable purgatory of severe brain injury. Instead, One Man's Music opens simply on the resilient memory of his 1968 Martin D-28 dreadnought acoustic guitar, a raw, unwieldy beast that defined the trajectory of the songwriter's life even as it was steered devastatingly and uncontrollably off course. Bell's prose flows with the same direct and poetic Texas style as his songs, unflinching and wrought with subtle detail. Even as his narrative becomes necessarily distracted with the at times awkwardly interjected recollections of his friends and family filling in the gaps of memory that the wreck provoked, Bell brings the reader into the struggle and isolation of his plodding recovery. Triumphs are registered in the smallest of improvements, all leading back to his remarkable restringing of the rugged Martin and the slow chiseling of confused phrases back into incomparable songs. One Man's Music is less the story of a music lifer than of a life resurrected by music." -- Doug Freeman, The Austin Chronicle
"Music has produced some great literature over the centuries, but rarely is it written by a musician. Dylan's Chronicles is one glaring exception of course. This latest exception from Bell will resonate with folks more than Dylan's stratospheric world and that's a good thing." Village Records
One Man's Music: The Book and The Songs
"I love Vince Bell, because, while shorter in stature, he is no less a giant among Texas songwriters. Bell never fails to deliver. [The book is] A thoroughly engaging tale of one man's storm tossed voyage through life, and a testament to his courage and self-belief, as it draws to a close Bell offers personal insights on the latter and more. Concurrent with the publication of his book Bell released a fourteen song CD of the same name. Recast in this acoustic duo format, the old and new songs simply sparkle. Ladies and gentlemen I give you One Man's Music, a testament to Vince Bell's tenacity and vision." -- Arthur Wood, Maverick
"You never know what to expect from a poet in terms of autobiography. Vince surprises in that while his prose is poetic, it reads well, like a good novel. We get small glimpses into his life filtered through the eyes of a good writer...filled with irony and self-deprecating humor, in the best sense. "I've grown up in music, worked to distraction in music, married unsuccessfully in music, and I've been at it for several wifetimes." Nope, that's not a typo, that's Vince at his best.....Last week my eyes were given the privilege of tasting the beautiful prose of Vince Bell, this week a CD with the same title arrived and it is my supreme pleasure to listen to his poetry and music. Call it folk music with a lot of chords, not quite jazz, not quite pop, but totally Vince singing words that mean everything to him. The passion is real." -- Richard Soos, Eartaste
"One Man's Music: The music traces a journey, and Bell's vocal stylings flow smoothly alongside the guitar chords. A stirring, thoughtful album, highly recommended." -- Midwest Book Review
"Now he's got a greatly expanded and highly recommended autobiography from The University of North Texas Press; a companion CD with 3 new songs and new, elegant treatments of 11 old songs, and a companion solo show that recounts the whole experience and where it's taken him on the quest to live for his art." -- Tom Geddie, Buddy Magazine
"At times heartbreaking and at others utterly inspiring, it's a story that's all but impossible to put down from his tragic accident on forward. And in the process, Bell emerges as not just another guy with a guitar and some songs, but a quite admirable, heroic, wise and quite likable figure, especially given his admission and acceptance of his fragility and foibles. Against all odds, he regained control of his battered body and literally bruised brain and began to make music again. The album of the same name is like a "best of" collection of Bell's songs — and one cover, titled "Frankenstein," which suits a man who was patched, sewn and bolted back together — recorded very simply with just the artist and his guitar and a piano. It certainly makes for quite good listening even if one isn't aware of the backstory. Add that context and the music resonates even more deeply." -- Rob Patterson, The Progressive Populist
One Man's Music: The Songs
"As a reviewer who comes to this desk via countless hours of effort in celebrating the possibilities in music, both my own and that of others, this CD is something of a field day for me. Wow!! So much could be said. Perhaps ironically, I will say less about the songwriting -- I've had only opportunity for one listening and don't consider that enough to get into the marrow bone of his seemingly simple structures, which is, yes, to say they're not as simple as they seem. And I have little to say about the singing. It's honest, which I consider paramount, if not overly melodious, yet I find listening to Vince sing quite comfortable. So what's left? Well, the session, used in this instance in the Nashville sense to incorporate the overall sound of a recording within the context of its elements. There were probably more than three mikes used, but there were only three sound sources in the entire project: the voice of Vince Bell, his V2 Pawless Guitar, and a Steinway Grand piano played by Ned Albright. The interplay between the guitar and the piano is masterful; so engaging, in fact as to be directly responsible for needing more listening time to comment on the songs. What got me so engrossed were the passages when I overtly guessed which instrument delivered a given riff, so compatible are their tonalities. It would be fun to learn how that combination came to be decided on -- I don't think I've ever heard JUST a piano and guitar blend, except for a couple of jams with Del Wood when we happened to be the only people in her living room!! And it never occurred to us that the two of us would be all we would need for a performance. Vince and Ned are absolutely all they need for this performance." -- Bill Littleton, The Bridge Works
"For One Man's Music: The Songs, Vince has stripped down fourteen songs to their bare necessities: very direct vocals, and his unique guitar playing, which is something in between finger-picking and strumming. Ned Albright adds some subtle touches of piano, just enough to add some colour. It works like magic! Except his guitar, nothing stands in between Vince and his poetry and this leads to some of the ultimate versions of his enchantingly beautiful songs. Vince's work is of an extraordinary nature and One Man's Music is either your chance to discover it or to enjoy 24-carat versions of those songs you know already. Without any doubt one of the albums of the year!" -- Jan Albert, Rootstime.be
Live in Texas
THE COCKBURN PROJECT.NET: "Highly recommended private release."
ROCKZILLA.NET: "What you also have is both the eventual appeal of the disc, and the reason why that appeal may take a few listenings to become evident. Vocally Bell combines the gruff sound of John Prine with the lethargic delivery of the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins. The minimal instrumentation push Bell's singing to center stage, but it also provides a chance to listen to and absorb the message of the lyrics. As with Prine, or even Bob Dylan for some, it may take a few repetitions before the charm of the vocals really take hold."
Texas Plates Review Excerpts
NO DEPRESSION: "If Bell's story had stopped with the release of Phoenix five years ago, it would still rank as one of the greatest comeback triumphs of all time. As it is, however, that was just the first flower of his late-blooming career...Texas Plates continues where Phoenix left off, tastefully presenting Bell's songs in acoustic arrangements that bring out the subtle magic of his carefully crafted lyrics...His accomplishments as a guitarist and as an author not withstanding, Bell's truest talent remains as a lyricist."
ACOUSTIC GUITAR: "Vince Bell is not your typical Texas singer-songwriter. His music is more art song than folk song, more Jacques Brel than Woody Guthrie...He's easier to compare to David Crosby or Joni Mitchell than to Willie or Waylon."
MUSIC REVIEW QUARTERLY: "[Texas Plates] an excellent piece of roots music that easily equals the best works of those other noted names ['Lyle, Nanci, Townes, Guy']. In fact, Vince Bell takes a considerable jump on each of those because he is more willing to experiment with sound. He and producer Robin Eaton did a fascinating thing when they determined what the sound would be...Opposite the nouveau they placed...a wealth of history playing fairly traditional country licks in a variety of settings. So what happens is nicely comfortable songs with nicely comfortable instrumentation get to meet up with some slightly more experimental sounds, creating a catchy dynamic which suits a gravely nonchalance of Vince Bell's voice...That voice has plenty of real-world charm, and just enough of Taj Mahal's blues range to give it both a lazy smoothness and honest authenticity. Bell is an excellent writer. The subtle but intriguing mixture of sounds wouldn't matter if it weren't attaching itself to solid songs, and these are solid....long on staying power...and the whole thing comes off with a veteran ease and confidence."
CDNow: "When Texas singer-songwriter Vince Bell muses, there's good reason to listen. [He has] returned to create compellingly crafted albums like Texas Plates ...rough, friendly vocal qualities...gracefully swirling waltztime...irresistible, throbbing hooks...Beatleesque flashes...deeply sighing cadences...revelatory aura...he sets the perfect scene with his loving tribute to a Lone Star idyll, 'Poetry, Texas.' Vince Bell is clearly a man with goodly amounts of both in his soul."
HILL COUNTRY SUN: Texas Plates changes the definition of the American song...What seems to happen is that melody no longer rules the song. Bell's remarkable melodic lines, until now always the strongest part of his work, are boiled down...seemingly thrown away, tossed off to be replaced by swelling rhythmical word patterns, which elevate the lyrics to a poetic tour de force... making melody a component of dramatic effect. The results are stunning. Melody becomes somehow more beautiful. Lyric reaches dramatic energies untapped since the death of the western bardic traditions - except perhaps by rap and hiphop. It is transcendently beautiful. And every bit as modern as any music working today. It scares me to say this, but it may point the way to the "new day" in popular music. The one I've been waiting for since Paul Simon made miracles with Graceland."
THE BOSTON GLOBE: "With his second album, "Texas Plates", Bell shows that he's ready to stand on his own. The album shines as Bell's dry, smoky, vocals and well-crafted words float upon highly-rhythmic, mostly acoustic, arrangements. While the imagery of Texas is captured by such tunes as "2nd Street", "100 Miles from Mexico" and "Last Dance At The Last Chance", Bell's vision transcends geographical borders. Although he lost more than a decade of his career, the strength of "Texas Plates" shows that Bell's best work is yet to come.
IOWA CITY PRESS-CITIZEN: "This past Tuesday Vince Bell released his terrific sophomore effort, Texas Plates , on Paladin Records. His voice is stronger, more expressive, the songs are focused outward, and his band is even better than the previous all-star aggregation. Get on up behind this ol' boy, and spread the word -- he's got some serious lost time to make up."
ST. LOUIS RIVERFRONT TIMES: "Vince Bell died in 1982, but that hasn't stopped him from writing songs so lively and wise they'll be remembered long past we're all gone...Texas Plates , a suite of soulful, elliptical homages to Texas and the phoenix-like force of love...surging, lush, acoustic sound. I think he's worth following all the way."
IN MUSIC WE TRUST: "A fighting spirit, a voice, and a guitar is all Vince Bell needs to create some of the best country sounds you'll ever hear... he's managed to come back and record one of the year's best country albums. Strikingly pure and honest, and full of hope and optimism... I'll give it an A+."
ALL MUSIC GUIDE/ROCK.COM: Bell's second album, Texas Plates, delivers on the promise of his critically acclaimed debut, Phoenix. down-to-earth, straight-to-the heart songs like Push Comes To Shove and 100 Miles From Mexico desplay Bell's knack for writing poetic, poignant and humorous songs about love and life. Rootsy and hones, Texas Plates will please fans of country and rock alike.
Phoenix Review Excerpts
MUSICIAN: "...[Phoenix] is a haunting, spare set of recollections that recall Robert Johnson in their stark intensity and Hank Williams in their country simplicity."
ROLLING STONE: "...Bell has returned with the album of a lifetime in Phoenix." "...spellbinding..."
LYLE LOVETT: "He was a great songwriter before the accident, and he has continued to be a great songwriter after the accident. He writes songs about his life, and when I would listen to Vince's songs, I would want to know about the person singing t he songs. I think that's what great songs do."
NANCI GRIFFITH: "From all of us who were beating the paths around Texas in the 70's, I always felt Vince was the best of us."
TOWNES VAN ZANDT: "Vince is a poet."
BILLBOARD: Phoenix chosen as one of the top 10 recordings of 1994 by Peter Cronin, Associate Country Music Editor.
STEREO REVIEW: "...Bell just may be the last undiscovered Houston/Austin songwriting genius. Get in on the ground floor."
OOR MAGAZINE (Netherlands): "Bell's performance is as classic as his album." "The CD sounds honest, tasteful and bewitching." "Debut album of the year."
BUSCADERO MAGAZINE (Italy): "We are facing a cultured and sensitive singer-composer, who distinguishes himself with the intelligence of his lyrics, who is capable of touching performances, delicate and intimate, just like his sonorous constructions. " "...his unusual creativity, his personal poetic vein pervaded with magic surrealistic sense, and his capability - in a musical world which celebrates the obvious and the usual - to sing and celebrate the diverse and the unusual."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: "The opening 'Frankenstein' gets to the monster myth in three minutes with much more grace than Kenneth Branagh's whole overwrought movie. From there, the veteran Texas troubadour explores the poetry of the misfit with understate d passion."
NEW COUNTRY MAGAZINE: Phoenix chosen as one of "The biggest and best" of 1994. "There's an elliptical, open-ended simplicity to his songwriting that implies a lot more than it declares, and which has sent revie wers reaching far and wide for superlatives..." "...Bell's work is destined to last."
THE LEAK: "Vince,...Your album is as good as anything I've ever heard - truly fantastic. Thanks for your music." Lee Hurley, Editor "Phoenix packs over 20 years of song writing into a master blend of Bell's m usical heritage, including folk, blues, country & western and a touch of rock & roll."
APPEL FARMS FESTIVAL Program: "As a songwriter he can easily take his place in that hallowed area occupied by the likes of Randy Newman, Bruce Cockburn and Tom Waits."
ASSOCIATED PRESS: "...anyone with the time and inclination to give a real listen will be rewarded." "...the songwriting bears up under repeated listening."
AUSTIN CHRONICLE: From SXSW Review: "...the most ebullient soul to grace a stage at this conference. Bell was on target...proving himself a consummate performer...rendering picture-perfect versions of songs from his long-overdue LP." "He has a gruff voice that occasionally hints at Eric Clapton and a moody songwriting style that hints of Neil Young."
AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN: "...one of the best albums by a Texas artist this year..." "...a spellbinding experience..." "Bell's voice -- honeyed but gritty -- is so evocative and his songs are so elliptical that what fills the spaces and the space s themselves are crucial. "...you know what, this guy is a major league talent. Before you buy anything by Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, Shake Russell or Robert Earl Keen, you oughta get 'Phoenix.'"
TEXAS MONTHLY: "...an extraordinary recording."
MAVERICK REPORT, Austin, TX: "Bell's great 'steady here, syncopated there' acoustic guitar playing is accompanied by the textural arrangements of tasteful, understated, masterfully played acoustic instruments - brings the width of the accompaniment up to match the depth of this magnificent songwriter."
HOUSTON CHRONICLE: "Phoenix adroitly mixes elements of folk, blues and country in an acoustic setting. It's Bell's alternatingly oblique and soul-baring lyrics that make the album a captivating listen."
HOUSTON PRESS: Phoenix chosen as one of the top 23 albums of 1994. "...the achingly beautiful Phoenix...a powerful talent...wrenchingly felt meditations on love and loss th at straddle all sorts of musical lines, breaking down distinctions between folk and blues and lyric confession even as they make those lines irrelevant in the face of a singularly tried-by-fire voice."
PUBLIC NEWS, Houston, TX: "...Bell crafts his songs in the same fashion as a sculptor works stone." "The songs are created after all excess has been carefully tooled away."
HILL COUNTRY SUN, Wimberley, TX: "The smoky-sweet voice of Rod Stewart with the intensity of Peter Gabriel. Got it? No? Try haunting, beautiful lyric poetry that drags you in and makes you feel and then rewards you with new ground covered and exp erience gained."
URBAN CAMPFIRES Program, San Antonio, TX: "Vince is a great songwriter and an enchanting and memorable live performer. He's back and he's better than ever."
THE ROCKET, Seattle, WA: Phoenix chosen as one of the top 20 albums of 1994. "From seemingly out of nowhere comes a strong candidate for album of the year." "...aching, lovely (if unusual) voice and piercing l yrics." "Indeed, nearly all of these songs probably deserve to be covered eventually...."
BOSTON HERALD: [Headline: Buried Treasure; Uncovering the best unknown musical releases of '94] "Vince Bell, Phoenix. Just another great singer-songwriter from Texas."
BOSTON PHOENIX: "The restrained production helps showcase a remarkable talent who should have emerged a decade ago."
GALLERY: "...[songs] brimming with the man himself, a lot like Leonard Cohen's in their hopeless romance, Randy Newmanish in their eye for detail."
SAM GOODY MAGAZINE: "Call it western gothic; prairie-wide and hot-wind wild, it's an album of naked beauty that starts out chillingly lost and wanders through regret and resignation before winding up triumphant and strong, if a bit wistful."
DIRTY LINEN: "...an important album that establishes Bell's credentials as a performer as well as a songwriter."
SING OUT!: "...we finally have Bell's gem of a debut album...extremely talented...lovely poetic imagery...one of those albums whose songs reveal new insights with each subsequent hearing."
WWUH-FM Program Guide, Hartford, CT: "Bell's accomplishment is that he has taken his own particular brokenness, edginess, and dark corners and fashioned images that are universal, mirrors for us all." "It will appeal especially to those who are wil ling to find beauty in out of the way, unexpected, sometimes difficult places. Phoenix is a quirky gem."
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: "His voice gave me a chill...exquisitely understated arrangements...It's a long-overdue debut by Bell, but all the more significant."
OKLAHOMA GAZETTE: "Writing about the differences in the human condition, Bell is a vivid story teller with a fine sense of melody, simple and direct." "...one of the best albums released this year."
On a fall trip to New York, Vince visited with Chuck Scarborough on NBC Nightly News