As the midpoint of 2013 approaches, an impressive array of high-profile releases from Texas artists has already emerged, highlighted by an octogenarian legend (Willie Nelson), a cult favorite (Iron and Wine), an embattled Dixie Chick (Natalie Maines) and a promising country starlet (Kacey Musgraves). Who’s next? A Beyoncé album, still unscheduled, is somewhere on the horizon. But more immediately there is a robust selection of Texans releasing new music—from hip-hop to country and indie rock to Top 40—in advance of the summer touring season.
Crawling Up the Stairs (out May 14)
The genesis of this trippy Austin trio’s sophomore album was rooted in real-life drama: Nate Grace, its guitarist and singer-songwriter, spent much of last year recuperating from a serious leg injury without insurance or a guarantee he would walk again. The result is a bleak and unsettling song cycle about pain and the healing process, both physical and emotional.
The atmospheric heartbreaker “Thousand-Year-Old Child” finds its way from delicate acoustic guitars to loud blasts of electric feedback and back again. At its core—and arguably the core of the album itself—is the line “What am I doing with my life?”
Jason Boland and the Stragglers
Dark & Dirty Mile (May 14)
Armed with a distinctive baritone and a catalog of songs you can two-step to, the Oklahoma-bred and Austin-based Boland has been a consistent favorite on the Red Dirt touring circuit. On album number seven, he confirms that he is one of the country scene’s most multidimensional songwriters, unfurling honky-tonk rave-ups, slices of slow-burn swing and tear-in-your-beer ballads.
On “Electric Bill,” traditional fiddle and pedal-steel belie a very modern love song about the economy and advanced government surveillance: “When they need to take a closer look at what it means to love, they can watch with a drone from miles above.”
Demi (May 14)
At 20, this Dallas-raised singer and X Factor judge’s roller-coaster career arc—from Disney Channel sensation to 2010 rehab graduate—has routinely threatened to overshadow her music. Coming off the 2012 chart-topping single “Give Your Heart A Break,” she returns with a fourth album that somehow feels like a comeback effort, even though she never really fell off the pop-star radar.
The first single, “Heart Attack,” is an anthem about resisting love that alternates between bravado and vulnerability but is resolute in its message: she is happy to be a single lady without the ring.
Love Is Everything (May 14)
Now on Year 2 of the Cowboy Rides Away tour, his long goodbye from the road, Strait, the self-proclaimed “king of country,” returns with album number forty and three songs written with his son, Bubba Strait.
Although “Give It All We Got Tonight” has yet to crack the Top 10, Strait’s label and fans have teamed up for the “60 for 60” campaign to make this lush, summery love song his 60th chart topper before his sixty-first birthday (May 18).
Smart Ass Black Boy (June 11)
A three-time winner of the Houston Press Music Awards’ best underground hip-hop artist title, this Nigerian-American’s third full-length album brims with equal parts smarts and swagger. Like Rabdargab (2010) and the Double Dragon mixtape (2012), this is a collaboration with his go-to producer, Tom Cruz.
The frenetic “Hood Party” is a convincing bid for dance-floor play, but it is also an evenhanded meditation on gentrification that refers to the Houston Housing Authority’s Cuney Homes and the upscale River Oaks neighborhood. The former Das Racist rapper Kool A.D. scores bonus points for a guest verse that name-drops Sufjan Stevens and the CNBC Mad Money host, Jim Cramer.
Burden of Proof ( June 11)
On his twelfth solo release since 1998, this prolific Austinite—who has freely bounced among rock, Americana and X-rated funk—tones it down a notch or three for a largely mellow collaboration with the Tosca String Quartet, the Austin classical ensemble. There are surprising stylistic nods to Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, but Schneider is also still balancing the odd and perverse: the record features both a gorgeously straightforward reading of “Tomorrow,” from the musical Annie, and a double-entendre-laden love song with a title unfit to print.
There is nothing subtle about “Unpromised Land,” which finds Schneider shouting come-ons over crashing drums and loud guitars. It’s a jarring outlier when considered in the context of the rest of the album, but it works well as a stand-alone: Schneider sounds confident navigating the tightrope between brash and melodic.