Terri Hendrix knew her Project 5 plan was a little crazy the minute she dreamed it up. Creating and releasing four stylistically diverse but thematically linked albums and an autobiography would be challenging enough, but doing it in one year? That would take a superhuman. As life — and death — intervened, Hendrix gave herself more time. But not even a series of health struggles — or the devastating loss of her sister in 2018 — could steal her resolve to see this project through.
On Talk to a Human (Project 5.3), Hendrix draws on Americana, folk and other roots genres to address how difficult communication has become in an age dominated by devices designed to do exactly that. The Who Is Ann EP, an electronica-based sonic exploration, uses vocal percussion and loops, captured sounds, spoken-word elements and other devices to address profound loss, depression and “the steely reserve to move forward and grab the light.”
The Girl with the Exploding Brain, in the works since 2003, offers an unflinchingly honest look at Hendrix’s efforts to control and cope with a seizure disorder while building and maintaining her career as a touring musician.
They join the Americana- and folk-oriented Love You Strong (Project 5.1), released in early 2016, and the blues-driven The Slaughterhouse Sessions (Project 5.2), which arrived that fall. Both coproduced by Hendrix’s musical partner Lloyd Maines, Love You Strong (remastered in 2017) contemplates love and loyalty, adaptability and working through adversity; The Slaughterhouse Sessions tackles war, poverty and racism.
Project 5 evolved over an eight-year span in which Hendrix discovered most of her writing seemed to touch on themes of love, hope and resilience, and that connective threads wove through much of her work. It was actually one single entity, she realized.
“Seeing that ‘big picture’ — and deciding to give it a bigger canvas, spanning four albums and a book — allowed me the room to explore different aspects of my writing and music in more depth than I ever have before on a single record,” she says.
As always, Hendrix delivers her observations in songs elevated by her impeccable musical instincts, virtuoso acoustic guitar and harmonica playing and lyrical acumen — including trademark dollops of wry humor in just the right spots.
She energizes the title track of Talk to a Human with talk-sung vocals and acoustic guitar picking; Latin rhythms pulsate through “Mi Madre,” which addresses a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, alcoholism, body image issues and, despite its humor, some darker aspects of her own history. In “WASP,” an inspirational song inspired by a museum exhibit, Hendrix pays homage to pioneering women pilots of World War II.
The album also includes great covers of Guy Clark’s “The Dark,” Cindy Walker’s “Don’t Meddle in my Mood,” the Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie tune “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” and a song combining her verses with a Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee chorus, titled “Dogging Me.” Recorded mostly at the Zone in Dripping Springs, Talk to a Human also features coproducer Maines on guitars, dobro, pedal steel, mandolin, banjo, papoose, bass and ukulele, and top talents Glenn Fukunaga (bass), Pat Manske (drums, percussion, keypads), John Silva (drums, percussion), Riley Osbourn (keyboards), Drew Womack (harmonies) and Jeanne Ply (fiddle).
Who Is Ann? contains five tracks, each titled by a single word. They jump from the upbeat tempo and positive message of “Move,” a dance track, to “Happy’s” staccato scratching-meets-mandolin-meets-poetry-slam spoken-word groove, to “Grieve,” a piano and guitar ballad that expresses agony with orchestral elegance — and somehow contains notes of hope despite its sadness.
Hendrix wrote The Girl With the Exploding Brain (Project 5.5) not only to reveal her truths and educate others about Epilepsy, but to provide hope to anyone who might be trying to cope with the condition or a similar issue.
When Hendrix began the project, she noted, “It’s about courage — and the beauty of not only finding it in oneself, but sharing it with others.”
She had no idea just how deeply her own courage — not to mention her resilience — would be tested, however. A bout of double pneumonia following Love You Strong’s release was just one challenge. She also had her Wilory Farm to manage, including a menagerie of dogs, goats and other creatures, and was launching her nonprofit community arts organization, OYOU, named for her mantra, “Own Your Own Universe,” while seeking funds for its permanent home in Martindale, Texas. Dealing with epilepsy, depression and the maddening complexities of America’s health care system were just part of life.
Then her sister, Tammi, died, on March 8, 2018. Of course, that changed the music. It irreparably changed her.
Hendrix says she went into her goat shed every night to cry. “I woke up one time with the goats curled around my head. Niem, my donkey, was standing over me,” she recalls. “It was pretty powerful. Another time I went out in a field out here and cried and had my head down and the cattle circled around me. I saw them do that with a dead calf once. I really haven’t been able to eat much red meat since.”
It adds a layer of irony to the fact that the project’s second release, The Slaughterhouse Sessions, was partly recorded in a former slaughterhouse, so be it. Hendrix apologizes for none of it. With indomitable Texas spirit, the San Antonio native keeps moving. She had to do it one limb at a time, just to get out of bed, after losing her sister. But life is always a day-to-day endeavor, and she’s managed to achieve many dreams in the days she’s had so far. Wilory Farm was one. Project 5 is another. And her OYOU center will break ground in 2020. Tammi may not be here to witness it all in person, but Hendrix knows that in her universe, her sister’s spirit will always remain as central as the sun.
Photo Credits: (1)-(7) Terri Hendrix (unknown/website).