A Texas singer-songwriter who nearly died in his prime continues life’s second act at Library Girl
Artists’ lives are known for being dramatic, but Dallas-born, Houston-raised troubadour Vince Bell has survived a backstory more horrifying — and inspiring — than most.
Mentored by late legends Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and a contemporary of Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams, Bell was well on his way to securing a respected position in the ranks of storied Texas singer-songwriters when, in December 1982, he was struck by a drunk driver after leaving the Austin studio where he’d been recording his first album. Recovery from traumatic brain injury and mangled limbs took the better part of a decade for the onetime high school quarterback. After creating a play featuring his songs (Nanci Griffith later recorded “The Sun and Moon and Stars”), Bell finally released an album, 1994’s “Phoenix.” A triumphant autobiography followed in 1998, and several rootsy solo albums that attracted critical praise throughout the ’00s.
In contrast, Bell’s new album “Ojo” is an improvised, Beat-like blend of borderless jazz with Americana balladry and gruff spoken word — fragments of lyrics and poetry about footloose travels and misbegotten romances that he was encouraged by co-producer Bob Neuwirth to pull together from across decades. “If You Walk Away” and “Gypsy” recall Stephen Bruton and Van Zandt, while “I Don’t Wanna Hear It” reprises the song “Stevie Ray Vaughan played on in Austin the night I got knocked from the seventies to the nineties” over swampy slide guitar, percussion and wordless humming.
This Sunday, Susan Hayden’s monthly Library Girl literary series suspends its usual format to host a rare Southland appearance by the medium-mixing Bell, who will perform pieces from “Ojo” accompanied by bassist Ratzo Harris and jazz flutist Vinny Golia, and also read from “One Man’s Music,” his autobiographical “monologue with music.” LG regular Mason Summit will open with a couple of songs, and playwright/actor Leon Martell will deliver a reading in tune with the evening’s “Look of the Loner” theme. Tickets will likely sell fast, so reservations are recommended.
— Bliss Bowen
Library Girl hosts Vince Bell at Ruskin Group Theatre (3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica) at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. Tickets are $10. Call (310) 397-3244 or visit ruskingrouptheatre.com.