RODNEY CROWELL, the talented Houston-born songwriter who began recording in the late seventies, has followed an uneven road to success. At times he’s sounded adrift or bored, trapped by the “progressive country” parameters he imposed on himself. But starting in 2001, something clicked. First came The Houston Kid, followed by
THE GREENCARDS—so named because they’re two Australians and one Brit—got together in 2002 in Austin, where their organic acoustic pop garnered instant acclaim. Recently they deserted their adopted hometown for Music City with an eye on the big time. A good idea? If you count touring with Bob Dylan and
Dense with smoke and sweating booze from its pores, the music on JEFF KLEIN’s THE HUSTLER (One Little Indian), his third album, completely inhabits New Orleans, the city of its inception. In reaction to his previous singer- songwriter-type efforts, Austin’s Klein has traveled to the Big Easy to make an
Now and then, a young artist arrives with such confidence that you wonder where he or she has been hiding. In Robyn Ludwick’s case, it was in Bandera, where she learned to play, then in the anonymity of Austin’s open-mike scene, where she cut her teeth. Admittedly, she had a
Who? MIKE JONES. Who? Mike Jones. It’s a mantra repeated on almost every song of this aptly named Houston rapper’s major-label debut, WHO IS MIKE JONES? (SwishaHouse/Asylum/Warner Bros.) None too shy about self-promotion, Jones even works his cell phone number into his music. Such incessant hype has earned Jones
In the eighties KATHY MCCARTY was co-leader of Glass Eye, a peerless Austin band that attracted a cultish national following. Her songs were awash in mysterious imagery and old-world melodies, and no one expected her music to stop along with her band. Yet McCarty delivered her acclaimed 1994 Daniel Johnston
Thanks to movies like The Rose and, okay, to JANIS JOPLIN herself, the Port Arthur native is remembered as a drug-addled mess. But as one of the great white blues singers of her generation, Joplin left significant work behind. What’s illuminating about PEARL: LEGACY EDITION (Columbia/Legacy) are the demos
On both of its albums, The Mars Volta—El Paso natives and former At the Drive-In bandmates Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala—has trod the well-worn path of concept albums and rock opera. But if you’re picturing sequined capes and rotating stages, think again. In Frances the Mute (GSL), the pair
Just fourteen days after the December 26 tsunami struck South Asia, a gargantuan benefit concert was staged in Austin. Its headliner, Willie Nelson, was among those instrumental in pulling the event together so quickly, so it’s no surprise that Willie’s label has also moved at light speed to release a
Most writers strive to pare their work down to the bare essentials, to speak with a voice both clear and concise. Spoon has the same approach to its music. Rarely has a group been so devoid of superfluous licks. For its fifth album, Gimme Fiction (Merge), the Austin band
Subtitled Charles Bukowski and a Ballad for Gone America, HOTWALKER (HighTone), from El Paso singer-songwriter TOM RUSSELL, is not an album of songs but rather an ambitious, historical audio collage of music and spoken word that pines for the heady days of Jack Kerouac, Dave Van Ronk, Woody Guthrie, Lenny
THE COMPLETE MERCURY RECORDINGS (Hip-O), from DOUG SAHM AND THE SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET, is a five-CD godsend that rescues many long-out-of-print albums and rarities from obscurity. Recorded just after Sahm’s initial Texas success, when he bolted for the more hospitable San Francisco, the six albums and one EP in this
Two talented guys, Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg, meet in Austin when Meiburg joins Sheff’s band, OKKERVIL RIVER. To display Meiburg’s songwriting talents, they form a second group, Shearwater. Now both top the list of the city’s best young bands. But while Shearwater, with Meiburg’s crystalline vocals, sounds dynamic and
So what do you make of a rock album that begins with “Ode to Isis,” an orchestral slow build that chants the names of mythological gods? Or the lecture-prone title track, the 5⁄4 meters, or even the pictures of Bach and Shakespeare inside? Are Austin’s . . . AND YOU
The conceit of the LOS SUPER SEVEN projects—which joined members of Los Lobos with the likes of Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, and Rick Treviño—was an all-inclusive vision of Latin music that included in its lineup Anglos Joe Ely and Doug Sahm. Ethnic music has been homogenized longer than milk has,
EISLEY, a group of four siblings (and a neighbor) who began performing seven years ago in their parents’ Tyler coffee shop, might seem the most improbable of success stories. The youngest DuPree sister was just eight when she and her sisters, shunning cable and video games, sat in their room
Like the singer Gillian Welch, Austinite DAO STROM’s stark and lonesome music seems to hail from the Appalachians, though both she and Welch were raised in California. The similarities end there, however. Strom was born in Saigon (she fled the country in her mother’s arms) and is a graduate of
When word arrived that Dallas-reared Redneck Mother RAY WYLIE HUBBARD was releasing an album made up almost entirely of covers, anticipation set in. Hearing artists break from their modus operandi to creatively interpret the works of others can be an unexpected treat. But to paraphrase Groucho Marx: I had a
Texas lost a founding father of tejano when Bishop native ISIDRO LOPEZ passed away last August. López, whose half-Apache blood earned him the nickname El Indio, was a born star; his chiseled good looks, seductively warm sax sound, and impossibly mellifluous voice destined him for fame. Starting on the saxophone
No one’s more of a populist than JAMES MCMURTRY, whose tales put a human face on the downtrodden. The only thing surprising about his entry into protest music is that it took him so long. WE CAN’T MAKE IT HERE is a seven-minute state-of-the-union mantra that looks at the Bush
Michael Ramos used to be a coveted player in the Austin scene; now he’s sought out by the likes of Paul Simon and John Mellencamp. Ramos spent years as a member of the BoDeans, but it’s his current employer, Patty Griffin, who encouraged him to explore his own unique fusion
Like the blues, jazz is steeped in such tradition that players can spend decades finding their own voice. Many never do. Which makes what JASON MORAN has accomplished in just over five years of recording even more remarkable. Same Mother (Blue Note) is simply the latest in a series of—there’s
Jeff Mccord Those around Austin in the eighties heyday of what came to be cynically labeled the “New Sincerity” movement probably recall an omnipresent gawky kid thrusting his cassettes into their hands. If you got through the amateurish musical skills on DANIEL JOHNSTON’s homemade recordings, your patience was
Not a blues, reggae, alternative rock, or children’s CD, not a TV-special soundtrack of endless hackneyed duets nor a just-another-night-on-the-road live tape but an honest-to-god WILLIE NELSON recording. You’d have to go back to 1998’s Daniel Lanois—produced Teatro or, better yet, 1996’s Spirit to find a time when Nelson
BLAZE FOLEY, the itinerant Austin songwriter immortalized by Lucinda Williams (“Drunken Angel”) and Townes Van Zandt (“Blaze’s Blues”), was a caring soul whose spare and simple songs drilled to the core of human emotions. He was also, um, colorful, from his unusual lodging habits (the BFI logo on city
The tragedy of ELLIOTT SMITH’s 2003 suicide underscores every note of FROM A BASEMENT ON THE HILL (Anti). Smith made a trio of smart, overlooked indie releases prior to his Oscar-nominated song in the film Good Will Hunting, which launched the career of the Dallas-raised pop singer into the
The Texas roots of hypnotic singer-songwriter RICHARD BUCKNER date back to 1994, when his acclaimed debut, Bloomed, was released by a San Marcos label. Eventually, Buckner, a restless wanderer, wound up in Austin, where he spent a good chunk of this past year. He recruited some locals (Butthole Surfers drummer
Musicians often disparage board tapes, the live recordings made through a concert PA system. It’s what they don’t capture—stage volume, energy, charisma—that somehow makes them less-than-perfect artifacts. So it goes with GOURDS albums. The Austin group is unquestionably one of Texas’s best, but things can get lost in translation
Long before The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, there was “La Grange,” a blues shuffle that rolled onto radio in brazen celebration of the state’s unofficial rest stop. ZZ Top already boasted a string of minor successes, but “La Grange” recruited an armada of beer drinkers and hell-raisers and launched
Being labeled a pioneer in modern jazz is the musical equivalent of making the cover of Sports Illustrated; you almost never live up to anyone’s expectations. Yet after his third stunning album in a row (and fifth overall), Jason Moran is looking more and more like he’s beaten the curse.
It’s a sad commentary on the state of rock music when an angry young man gets treated as something of a novelty. Steve Earle is one of the few artists willing and—more important—able to translate his passion into great music. Just an American Boy: The Audio Documentary (Artemis), a live
With the record business in the doldrums, what's a talented, ambitious band to do? If you're Austin's Grupo Fantasma, you make it on your own.
At eighty, most of us would be off our feet, not out on stage. But Illinois Jacquet, the great Texas tenor, keeps blowing his saxand tooting his own horn.
FAMED TEXAS TENOR ILLINOIS JACQUET’S very first session, with Lionel Hampton in May 1942, yielded “Flying Home” (heard on Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings[Decca]). It was his most famous record, but it was only the beginning of a long and impressive recording career. His 1946 work with Count Basie (“Mutton
After pursuing solo careers, the members of the Flatlanders have reunited and released the long-anticipated CD Now Again. Was it worth the wait?
Twenty years ago the Butthole Surfersthose unspeakably named punk rockersfirst turned up their amps in San Antonio. What keeps them going? Chalk it up to, er, clean living.
Jeff McCord on Lucinda Williams
Being a corporate lawyer pays Dean Blackwood's bills, but running an obscure record label keeps him in tune with his true passion.
Jeff McCord on Charlie Robison
Jeff McCord on Alejandro Escovedo
Right away, the tone is set. “Come on over to my yard, sit around and let your troubles all disappear,” beckons Jeb Loy Nichols on the lead track of his new CD. His songs never break a sweat, and their comforts are as inviting as an empty hammock on a
Twenty essential recordings by Texas' best jazz musicians.
Although Texans from Scott Joplin to Jack Teagarden have made noteworthy contributions to the history of jazz, a music form that may be our country's greatest artistic achievement, they are all but forgotten now. It's high time Texas did something about that.
A bible thumper, a blues belter, an R&B shouter, a smooth lounge-lizard crooner, Johnnie Taylor played his many roles with gusto. He served up his sanctified soul from his mid-fifties gospel beginnings all the way through 1976’s “Disco Lady,” yet his long career was rife with contradictions. Idolizing singers Sam
You could drive by Austin’s East Side Lounge a dozen times without noticing it’s nondescript exterior, yet faithful hordes find their way to this tiny juke joint when the house band takes the stage. The East Side Band plays an all but forgotten style of rhythm and blues: sweet, soulful,
As a female jazz percussionist and bandleader, Susie Ibarra remains a rarity in the male-dominated world of jazz instrumentalists. Raised in Houston’s small Filipino community, Ibarra found the strength to overcome inequities and used that determination to become a fixture in New York’s Downtown jazz scene. The propulsive fury displayed
Since art is by nature a solo endeavor, it’s the rare musical collaboration that doesn’t end in compromise. Yet Bolsa de Agua, the fifth and best album in the Gourds’ catalog, captures the Austin group locked in on practically every level. Half a decade has made survivors of the new
Ronald Shannon Jackson makes a loud and messy brand of music; overabundant notes gush like an uncapped fire hydrant. Like his mentor Ornette Coleman, the Fort Worth drummer is first and foremost a composer. His music, while superficially linked to forgettable jazz-rock fusion creations, pulls a memorable sense of purpose
Their voices ring with raw defiance. Recorded by John and Alan Lomax between 1933 and 1934, these work songs find beauty in the worst of horrors and preserve what is an all but forgotten musical heritage. The prison camps of the Brazos and Trinity river bottoms existed purely for exploitation,
After disbanding his precedent-setting quartet in 1961, Ornette Coleman spent the decade releasing sporadic and stylistically varied recordings. Hamstrung by low budgets and an apparent artistic funk, the Fort Worth native’s work rarely achieved its earlier brilliance. In 1971, when Tony Orlando ruled the airwaves, Coleman signed with Columbia Records