Last month, more than sixty independent record stores across Texas kicked off the holiday shopping season with a Black Friday edition of Record Store Day, an annual promotion that features special vinyl and CD releases made exclusively for mom-and-pop record stores. It is intended to bring shoppers back to independent record stores, which offer what Internet retailers can’t: the element of human interaction between customers and clerks that often results in the discovery of a new favorite band or album. Better still, what makes small record stores different is their emphasis on stocking and selling locally produced music, whether released by a major label or brought in on consignment from the artists themselves.
As people prepare their holiday shopping wish lists, we asked representatives from three independent record stores in Texas to recommend recent releases from local artists to give as gifts to music fans.
JOHN T. KUNZ, OWNER, WATERLOO RECORDS & VIDEO, AUSTIN
Hayes Carll, KMAG YOYO (& other American stories) (Lost Highway Records)
Last year, the Americana Music Association named Carll, an Austin-based singer-songwriter, the new/emerging artist of the year. His second national release, titled after an unprintable military acronym, landed him on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
“I love the sense of humor in his songs,” Kunz said. “And humor, especially the self-deprecating kind, is part of the singer-songwriter tradition in Texas. But he’s also very politically aware—from the title track’s take on war and national security to ‘Another Like You,’ a wry, John Prine-style duet between politically opposed lovers. The whole thing is really a huge leap forward for a guy I think we’re going to be listening to for a long time to come.
Sarah Jarosz, Follow Me Down (Sugar Hill Records)
Jarosz, a twenty-year-old Wimberley native, recorded her second set for Sugar Hill Records by flying to Nashville on weekends and holiday breaks from the New England Conservatory in Boston, where she is studying contemporary music improvisation. A who’s who of the acoustic music world—from Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas to Shawn Colvin and the Punch Brothers—contributed to the album.
“Her comfort zone keeps widening as she soaks up new influences,” Kunz said. “She’s got this angelic, plaintive voice that marries so well to her songwriting. And while she comes from a very traditional folk and bluegrass tradition and is so adept with those instruments, on this record she shows a great pop sensibility too. And then she’ll pull out a Radiohead cover. It’s so encouraging to see traditional music being advanced by somebody so young.”
ED SWIENCKI, BUYER, FOREVER YOUNG RECORDS, GRAND PRAIRIE
Kirk Franklin, Hello Fear (GospoCentric Records)
In March, the Fort Worth native and Arlington resident’s eleventh album debuted at the top of Billboard’s Gospel sales chart. Earlier this week, the set was nominated for two Grammy Awards: Best Gospel Album and Best Gospel Song.
“Especially for a huge star, Kirk makes records remarkably free of ego,” Swiencki said. “It’s not about him, it’s about delivering the message. He comes at it from a very contemporary place, but he’s also respectful of the gospel tradition.”
Carl Marshall, Grown Folks Love to Dance! (CDS Records)
A journeyman soul singer and producer, Marshall cut his teeth in the New Orleans band Sam & the Soul Machine alongside Aaron Neville and Sam Henry. Building on the regional success of Grown Folks Love to Dance!, Marshall quickly followed with his second release of 2011, Songs People Love the Most Volume 2.
“I think people listen because he’s like talking to one of your friends,” Swiencki said. “It’s very straightforward and easy for people to connect to. It’s a very down-home kind of affair.”
THOMAS ESCALANTE, OWNER, SIG'S LAGOON, HOUSTON
Los Skarnales, Dále Shine! (self-released)
Although its name loosely translates to “brothers of ska,” this veteran Houston act has grown into a bilingual, horn-driven musical melting pot that rarely covers the same musical territory twice. On its first record in six years, the band integrates another influence into its repertory: New Orleans-style funk and rock.
“They’re meshing everything from ska to rockabilly and from cumbia to mambo, but by now it’s really their own sound,” Escalante said. “And because they’re a band known primarily for the craziness of their live show, capturing that spirit in a studio can be tough. But I think this time they really nailed it. It’s a party record that stands on its own but also has a certain undeniable live energy to it.”
Thunderado, All Time Gone (self-released)
Led by Hunter Perrin, whose day job, until recently, was playing guitar in John Fogerty’s touring band, this Houston trio plays so economically that its second album features eleven songs in just thirty minutes.
“They’re known primarily here in Houston, because Hunter’s gig with Fogerty made it tough to tour with Thunderado, but I feel like there’s something here capable of reaching a much wider audience,” Escalante said. “Like a lot of the bands that play at the club next door to our shop, the Continental Club, there’s a certain swampy Gulf Coast element to what they do, but there’s also bits of surf and rockabilly. When I put it on in the store, it’s an easy sell.”