WHAT: A slew of new albums by some of Texas’s best artists—all released within an eight-day window.
WHO: Willie Nelson, Leon Bridges, Shakey Graves, Post Malone, and Okkervil River.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: It’d be fair to describe 2018 as a good year for Texas music based solely on the masterpiece that is Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour. But we’ve had that in steady rotation since the end of March, which means that it’s time to shuffle things up—and if you’re looking for new music from Texas artists to do the shuffling, this is a golden week for new releases. Over the past eight days, we’ve seen albums by five heavy hitters in different genres all drop: Willie Nelson’s Last Man Standing, Fort Worth sensation Leon Bridges’ much-anticipated sophomore release Good Thing, Austin singer/songwriter Shakey Graves’ genre-defying Can’t Wake Up, Grapevine rapper Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys, and Texpat Austin indie rockers Okkervil River’s In the Rainbow Room.
All of those albums have notable qualities. Last Man Standing, which came out on April 27th, is Willie’s 67th studio release. It’s the sort of quiet standout that he seems to be able to put into the world seemingly without even trying too hard. (It’s one of two albums he’s announced for 2018, and will be one of five released in the past three years.) A song like “Something You Get Through” is a stone-cold classic of a Willie ballad on mortality, love, and survival, and even the quirky tracks (there’s one called “Bad Breath”) display the kind of wit and charm that makes Willie, well, Willie. Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys, released the same day, had the biggest opening week album success thus far in 2018 for any artist, receiving platinum certification in just three days and topping the album charts in five different countries. In the Rainbow Rain is a lovely piece of melancholy-yet-triumphant indie rock from Okkervil River, the sort of album that earns descriptors like “return to form” for a band on its ninth album. Singer Will Sheff—a longtime Austinite who pulled up stakes and moved to Brooklyn a few years back—channels Laurel Canyon vibes on the single “Don’t Move Back to L.A.” and sings convincingly about famous people who, like himself, received a tracheotomy at some point in their lives.
A week later, another pair of major Texas releases hit. Leon Bridges, the breakthrough act of 2015, finally released his sophomore album on Friday. Good Thing is another set of throwback-style jams, but one which advances Bridges’ sound beyond pastiche, bringing contemporary R&B and pop sensibilities into his aesthetic. It’s a thrill to hear his vintage voice in a setting that feels more relevant, and it bodes well for his career longevity. And he’s not the only Texan seeking some reinvention right now: Austin singer/songwriter Shakey Graves effectively sheds the blues-folk that he built his name on over four prior albums on Can’t Wake Up, delving into Beatles-esque melodies on “Dining Alone” and “Tin Man” and channeling the British Invasion on “Aibohphobia.”
All five albums will have strong year-end potential, and there’s more to look forward to. Travis Scott’s Astroworld should be out before the end of the year, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see new releases from Khalid or Maren Morris in the next eight months either. El Paso rockers The Chamanas released two singles last year, and are due for a follow-up to the 2015 album that earned them their first Latin Grammy nomination. And, of course, Beyoncé’s long whispered-about followup to Lemonade could come at any time. But even if 2018 ended tomorrow, it’d be one of the more memorable spells for Texas music in recent years.