Austin TX has been a musical hotbed for decades. As I was growing up, the PBS show Austin City limits gave America their taste of a mostly country Austin music scene. At some point the country-western scene began to expand, taking in alternative folk and eventually rock. Showcasing new music became so big in Austin, a city that had billed itself as “The Live Music Capitol of the World”, that a new festival was created called South by Southwest to show it all off. Austin had a solid reputation as a hotbed for rock by the time the MTV show I.R.S. Records Presents The Cutting Edge rolled into town. One of the most promising acts to have been featured on that particular episode was Glass Eye.
Glass Eye was a quartet lead by the duo of Kathy McCarty and Brian Beattie. Their voices often recalled country or folk music, but the choppy rhythms deconstructed melodies make them particularly fun to listen to. It was a stripped down and deconstructed sound not unlike what Robert Fripp might have made had he been from the hills of West Virginia. Their closest contemporary counterparts may have been the English band Moonshake who came years later.
The pointed and jagged sounds were juxtaposed with harmonies that were a sometimes smooth but often in sharp contrast in pitch, sorta like the way Fred Schneider would sing off key with the B-52s (but not nearly as obnoxious). I was exposed to Glass Eye in college about the same time they were gaining national attention. At that time in the late ‘80s they were making music that was in sharp contrast to the REM led movements that defined the college and underground charts.
Their second album Bent By Nature was my favorite of their modest catalog of 5 LP and 3 Eps. Bent By Nature combines the edgy rawness they are known for with driving rhythms. To further distinguish Glass Eye, they had an unusual sense of melody that connected the cowpunk, country and folk elements of their music. Sometimes the raw emotion of songs like “Whiskey” and “The Ballad of Abraham Lincoln” can remind the listener that this band comes from a place where country was is king. Country is an important base element, but Glass Eye was in no way limited by it musically.
That could be because Austin harbors enough weirdness to keep things interesting. Funk and cowpunk rub shoulders with TexMex creating a delightful diversity on Bent By Nature. “Dimsey Nash” and “Perder la Guerra” are just two extreme examples, but this music is often difficult to peg into one genre – it’s simply too ambitious.
There is at least one recognizable song on Bent By Nature that was not inspired by Daniel Johnston the grandfather of Austin’s interesting ’80s rock scene. Paul Simon’s “Cecila” takes on a new found hillbilly element thanks to strained vocals. Beyond that Bent By Nature is easily one of the most innovative and under hyped rock albums of the ‘80s. Had MTV continued its Cutting Edge show into the present day, its likely that they would have visited Austin again as its rock scene has now established itself as a major hotspot, much like the Athens area or North Carolina did back in the day.