A Holiday Gift Guide for Music Lovers

Gary Clark Jr.'s newest set, Blak and Blu, and five other albums by local artists.
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Buy the blues lover on your gift list Gark Clark Jr.’s new album, Blak and Blu. Photograph by Frank Maddocks

The holiday shopping season is here and with it comes a rise in the practice of “showrooming,” where customers head to traditional stores to research gift ideas before buying the product from an online retailer, often at a cheaper price.

It sounds like another trend story documenting the dominance of e-commerce, but record shops have long been causalities of Internet shopping, first from the rise of digital downloads and later with the popularity of all-you-can-eat subscription services like Spotify.

One of the ways record stores—particularly small, independent shops—have maintained loyal foot traffic is by supporting sales of locally produced music. Admirers of homegrown talent know a visit to the neighborhood record store is still one of the best ways to tap into their community’s music scene—and possibly offer a chance to run into a local artist who is hand-delivering albums to the shop.

We asked representatives from three independent record stores in Texas to recommend recent releases from local artists.

JOHN T. KUNZ, OWNER

WATERLOO RECORDS, AUSTIN

Alejandro Escovedo, Big Station  (Fantasy)
In March the Austin-based singer-songwriter brought out Bruce Springsteen for a surprise four-song appearance during his Austin Music Awards performance at South By Southwest. The show also doubled as a preview of what would be Escovedo’s eleventh solo album, a song cycle produced by Tony Visconti (T. Rex, David Bowie) and largely co-written with Chuck Prophet, his longtime collaborator.

“In a lot of ways, it’s a big-sounding rock record,” Kunz said. “But there’s also ballads here that are unbelievably tender and personal. That he covers such a wide emotional range is really impressive to me.”

Gary Clark Jr., Blak And Blu  (Warner Bros.)
After a summer of introducing himself to large music festival crowds on the main stages of Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Austin guitarist’s major label debut entered the Billboard albums chart at number six. Last month Clark, 28, was tapped as VH1’s You Oughta Know  Artist of the Month and taped his first Austin City Limits television appearance.

“A lot of this town saw him playing as a teenage wunderkind at Antone’s,” Kunz said. “So while it may look overnight to people outside of Austin, he’s really paid his dues. And with the whole world seemingly watching, he’s made a really adventurous record full of energy and imagination. It’s rooted in the blues, but there’s also elements of R&B, soul, and alternative. There’s a lot going on and all of it’s done well.”

BILL WISENER, OWNER

BILL’S RECORDS, DALLAS

Tiger Darrow, You Know Who You Are (foreverything)
An Austin-raised singer-songwriter and guitarist and cellist, Darrow studied music at the prestigious Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. Now a sophomore at New York University, she tours between semesters in support of a pair of recent records: Hello and You Know Who You Are.

“Dallas was introduced to her while she was studying at the same school that brought us Norah Jones, Erykah Badu, and Edie Brickell,” Wisener said. “Everyone that comes from there carries such a unique sound and sensibility and she’s absolutely that way too. Her music is her music and it doesn’t sound like anyone else.”

Emily Elbert, Alive, In Love  (self-released)
A Dallas native and graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Elbert, 23, placed first in April’s B.W. Stevenson Songwriting Competition at Dallas’ Poor David’s Pub. Her third CD, Alive In Love,  a Kickstarter-funded live album, was released in May.

“She’s a terrific singer-songwriter who’s performed regularly in the store,” Wisener said. “She’s got the kind of energy that people fall in love with once they see her live or hear the record. When we play the record in store, it stops people in their tracks. That’s always a good sign.”

QUINN BISHOP, OWNER

CACTUS MUSIC, HOUSTON

Buxton, “Nothing Here Seems Strange” (New West Records)
In 2011 this five-piece indie-folk band raised its national profile with buzz-building showcases at New York’s CMJ Festival and Austin’s South By Southwest. The band eventually licensed its debut record to the indie label New West Records, which released their debut in January.

“It’s a fully-realized, very atmospheric album, recorded on their own but with brilliant production values,” Bishop said. “And live they’re a headcutting rock ‘n’ roll band. The album really shows the duality of who they are—that they can be great, but different bands, in the studio and onstage.”

John Egan, Phantoms (Gin Diaries)
The son of a former Houston Rockets point guard and coach of the same name, Egan is a regular presence on the Houston club scene, playing dark, but rich-sounding, solo blues on a resonator guitar.

“He’s been kicking around Houston for years and just starting to get the credit he deserves,” Bishop said. “He’s a stompin’, hollerin’ bluesman. But in a lot of ways, along with the blues, it’s also got an outsider-folk element to it, like it’s cut from the cloth of a classic Tom Waits record. It’s a really dark and masterful album.”

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