Making a top 10 list isn’t easy, with the amount of music that is released every year. It’s impossible to hear everything that comes out, and these lists are very subjective. I made this list anyway. these are the favorite cds that I listened to over the last year. The only requirements were that they had to have been released in 2011, and they had to be from an artist living in Texas. I know this list will raise a lot of eyebrows, but there are some great records that more people need to listen to. They are in no particular order, just cutting the list down to 10 was tough enough. All of these are country/americana albums.
1. Mike Ethan Messick (www.mikeethanmessick.net) “The Only Easy Day was Yesterday”- If you asked every Central Texas songwriter for the name of their favorite writer, Mike Ethan Messick would be on most lists. His second cd, which was produced by Adam Odor, is pure genius. Accompanied by a list of great musicians, and featuring guest vocals from the Trishas and Meagan Jones, every song is a winner. My favorite is “Oldsmobile”, and “Walking into Walls”, “Must Be Time”, and “Miss you like Crazy” are other standouts.
2. Rodney Parker and 50 Peso Reward (www.rodneyparker.com) “Live In the Living Room” – The new standard for live albums, this was recorded in front of a group of family and friends in a living room. The entire show is a great performance by one of the top bands in Texas. These guys know how to put on a show, and the acoustic intimate performance is captured brilliantly. My favorite song is “Guitars”, and “I’m Never Getting Married”, “Firefight”, “Just Tell Me What it Is”, and the Springsteen cover “Atlantic City” are other standouts.
3.Sons of Fathers (www.sonsoffathers.net) “Sons of Fathers”- Originally named Beck and Cauthen, they had to change their name after a cease and desist letter from Beck “Loser”, The cd has tight harmonies, great musicianship, and amazing songwriting. This is the future of Texas music- The Beatles meet Texas Country. Sure to be one of the blowup acts of 2012, this is one of the finest unknown bands in the state. “The Country”, “Weather Balloons”, “Sons of Fathers”, “Ruthless”, amd “Flatland” are the top songs.
4. HalleyAnna (www.halleyanna.com) “The Country” – I’ve waited a long time for this debut album, as I’ve been watching HalleyAnna perform live for years. She grew up around songwriters, and the years of learning at their feet have paid off. The title cut was co-written with David Beck (of Sons of Fathers) and his version is on their cd. I prefer HalleyAnna’s version of the song better. “Fast Train”, “Peace is Lonely, Love is War”, “So Heavy” and “I’m on my way to get you off my mind” are the standout tracks.
5. Midnight River Choir (www.midnightriverchoir.com) “Welcome to Delirium?” – Midnight River Choir is a true collective band, with songs on this cd written or co-written by all of the band memebers, and some of the top names in Red Dirt music. “Welcome to Delirium?”” is the second cd from this young band, and their maturity shows. They are best known by their live shows, but this cd doesn’t have to take a back seat to those shows. Produced by Cody Canada and Adam Odor, this record finally shows what this talented young band can do. My favorites iclude the track “Soul Food”, “Arms of a Stranger”, “Mile Marker”, and “Three Shades of Blue”.
6. Ruthie Foster (www.ruthiefoster.com) “Live at Antones” – Ruthie Foster is one of the best singers I’ve ever heard, and anyone who has heard her knows a live cd/dvd combination just has to be amazing. It’s Ruthie Foster, live, what more do you have to say? Foster assembled a great band for the performance, and the audio and video have been beautifully captured. Beware, if you put this cd in your player, you may never take it out. There are too many great tracks to pick a favorite, I just pop in the cd or dvd and make believe I’m at one of her shows.
7. Slaid Cleaves (www.slaid.com) “Sorrow and Smoke:Live at the Horseshoe Lounge” – Slaid Cleaves is arguably the best songwriter in Texas today, and this cd captures his briiliant writing and performances. Austin’s Horseshoe Lounge became an Austin icon when Cleaves wrote a song about it. This is a double cd, 2 discs for the price of one. My favorite Cleaves song, “Drinkin’ Days” is included, as are some of his popular tunes like “Hard To Believe”, “Horseshoe Lounge”, “Wishbones”, “Broke Down”, “New Years Day”, and “One Good Year”. A 2 disc recording of the best songwriter in a crowded field of Austin songwriters, anyone who loves music will love this cd.
8. Hayes Carll (www.hayescarll.com) “KMAG YOYO and other American Stories” Hayes Carll has been known around Texas as a fine songwriter for years, but it took the release of “Trouble in Mind” and it’s hit single “She Left Me For Jesus” to propel him onto the national stage. It was voted Song of the Year by the Americana Music Association, and the rush to listen to Hayes was on. “KMAG YOYO” continues his run of brilliance. “Another Like You” a duet with Cary Ann Hearst, is loosely based on the James Carville-Mary Matalin romance. The title song “KMAG YOYO”, “Stomp and Hollar”, “Hard Out Here”, and “Grateful for Christmas” are other standouts.
9. Band of Heathens (www.bandofheathens.com) “Top Hat Crown and the Clapmaster’s Son” – My favorite live band released another cd this year, and it’s another great one. Their third studio cd continues their tradition of sharing songs from the 3 frontmen/songwriters. Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi, and Gordy Twist are three of the finest songwriters in Texas, and they’ve combined their efforts on this cd. “Medicine Man”, “Gravity”, “Should Have Known”, and “Polaroid” are just a few of the great tracks on this cd.
10. Jason Boland and the Stragglers (www.thestragglers.com) “Rancho Alto” – This cd is country music, the way it should be. It’s mostly throwback style country, with a bit of folk music to modernize it. Produced by Lloyd Maines, this cd is Boland’s best. Songs like “False Accuser’s Lament”, “Mary Ellen’s Greenhouse”, and “Farmer’s Luck” are the best of a bunch of great songs. Boland just continues to grow as a writer, and it seems each song is deeper than the last.
I know I’ve left off a lot of great cds, as this was a banner year for new music in Texas and the area. Any one of the above albums would make a great Christmas gift, and any fan of Texas music would love to have the entire list in their collection.