Every month we turn the spotlight on a new release from a Texas artist with a series of weekly features that give you a sneak peek at the new music and some insight into the artist behind it. Here’s a look back at our 2015 Artists of the Month.
Lukens had real success with his 2013 release Devoted, which got noticed by audiences, both local and otherwise, and by organizations like NPR Music. But despite what you might think, Walker is not a confessional singer/songwriter. “My name is Walker. I live in Texas. I’ve got a beard. I get it. I’ve got a song called The Night I Was Kissed By Patti Smith and people would ask me if I actually kissed a very famous woman who is 40+ years older than me or if this was my fantasy. (It’s neither, by the way.) I’m trying to do something with blues that won’t sound like listening to an SRV Pandora station. I’m trying to do something with R&B that won’t sound like a lost Stax track. I’ve never wanted to help people have a good time so much in my life.”
After a couple of years playing the material from Devoted, Walker knows which songs click. “I know what kind of songs are cigarette breaks and which make people lunge forward on the two and four.” And based on the song he’s sent us, Every Night (produced by local producer and Spoon drummer Jim Eno), from his new album-in-progress, Baked Goods, he’s definitely going for the latter.
In January, T Bird and the Breaks released their third studio album, Harmonizm, available for digital download, CD, and vinyl.
Since forming in 2007, T Bird & the Breaks hasn’t quite been classified as strictly throw-back, retro, funk/soul. They define “chunk music” as a form of twenty-first century American music consisting of equal parts funk, hip-hop, and rock and rollcharacterized by its rough sonic quality and energetic, visceral performance (commonly served hot with a side of girls and brass). It’s a melting-pot of funk but one that people of all ages, and across musical genres, can dig. The contemporary swagger of The Breaks’ live show especially pays homage to the creativity and positivity of early and golden-age hip-hop. In the last few years they’ve been invited to play shows with artists as eclectic as The Flaming Lips, The Funky Meters, Sting, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and Galactic.
In February, Quiet Company released their fourth studio album, Transgressor, which was recorded over a two week period at Orb Recording Studios.
Local band Quiet Company has been on the receiving end of numerous accolades and critical acclaim, including Austin Music Awards and winning Best Rock Band at SXSW 2014. The band has been steadily expanding their audience since they formed in 2005, and their sound has been described as a combination of the Beatles, Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, and Weezer. Although a nod to the rich indie rock of the early 2000’s remains a constant in their music, Quiet Company’s sound streches into the realm of melodic pop. The group’s songs boast a full and powerful backdrop, laden with warm keys, vibrant guitars, and sweeping strings, while remaining lyrically honest and powerful.
April: Abram Shook
In May, Abram Shook released his second studio album, Landscape Dream, recorded with some of Austin’s most elite engineers including Erik Wofford, Danny Reisch, Justin Douglas, Grant Johnson, and Christopher Cox. For Landscape Dream, Shook returned to writing only with vocals and guitar, and the effectiveness of this approach is clear from the 70’s rock of “Find It” and “Chelsea” to the African vibes of “Get Gone”, the dreamy Brazilian vibes on “5AM” and “Beach Glass”, and the slow-jam soul found on “Perfect”, “Jaw”, and “Vessel”.
After leaving Santa Cruz, California where he grew up and studied jazz, Shook spent several years in Portland and Boston playing in numerous bands, and wrestling with an unsettled spirit. Turning to traveling as a means to quell his existential dread, eventually landed him in Austin, TX, where he’s been part of the city’s rich creative community for over 8 years. Though the music community in Austin is no substitute for the briny air and patient West Coast beaches he still longs for, its vitality and creativity still manage to nourish the soul. In addition to working on his own music, Abram became a touring member of the Austin-based band Shearwater in 2014. As tiring as touring can be, escaping the noise of his everyday life provided him with intense periods of self-reflection. Like many of us, Shook dreads the exhausting sea of digital noise, which can be detrimental to our ability to foster meaningful human connections. As a result Landscape Dream features several songs that reference that precious time he spends communing with nature.
May: Sweet Spirit
Our May Artist of the Month here at KUTX is Austin’s Sweet Spirit. The band’s first record will be released this summer, and they are no strangers to showmanship. Some of the band members are well known to long-time Austinites for their work with A Giant Dog and Bobby Jealousy. From their first performance as a cover band for a homecoming dance, Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen have strengthened their partnership. By 2014 they needed a new way to channel their musical inspiration restrained by A Giant Dog’s garage-rock. They got together a few like-minded souls to produce a “throwback country soul group”. Through their first year as a band, Sweet Spirit quickly gained recognition as they delivered catchy harmonies infused with a diversity of influences and as many guitars as possible.
June: The Grassy Knoll
Our June Artist of the Month here at KUTX is Austin’s The Grassy Knoll. Imagine hard funk in a latter day Miles Davis mode, slathered with a swipe of psychedelic rock, and it might give you some idea of the futuristic sound of The Grassy Knoll. Led by Nolan “Bob” Green, the Grassy Knoll have been making music since 1994. Following a difficult period for Green, the reconstituted version of the band released Electric Verdeland Vol. 1 in 2014, their first recording in a dozen years. The Knoll lineup is made up of Living Colour’s Vernon Reid and trumpeter Chris Grady, as well as Adam Sultan, Brad Houser, Laura Scarborough, Jeff Johnston and Jon Dee Graham. Green’s music is almost impossible to define – or to resist.
Ever since Willie first united the hippies and the rednecks in 1972, his spirit has reverberated through Austin. From Doug Sahm to the Gourds, local country music has been spiked with different flavors, and Crooks are the latest outfit to carry that peculiar flame. Formed by Josh Mazour in 2007, Crooks started as a two-piece dive bar staple, but over the years the band has grown in size and sound. 2012’s The Rain Will Come put the band on the map with a hard-charging set of murder ballads and honky-tonk heroism. With their new album Wildfire, Crooks’ blend of Tex-Mex, country, and rock sounds even bigger and more self-assured. And as anyone who’s ever seen them live can attest, “wildfire” might be the perfect descriptor.
Much has been made of the romance of the road. But for those who really experience it, driving thousands of miles weekly to get from one place to another, it can really be more akin to drudgery. Just ask Austin singer/songwriter David Ramirez, who has toured for years entirely on his own. “You know, when you travel around alone for months at a time, the world revolves around you. There’s no one else in the equation. And I’m ready to move on from that.”
Fables, his new album, lays Ramirez’s newfound emotional maturity on the table. Full of personal, stark tales that seem to yearn to connect to the world in a deeper sense, this also marks the beginning of a new chapter for the singer. He’s putting a full-time band together, and not just his band. “I’m trying to build a family of people who create together.”
September: Moving Panoramas
Though longtime friends (they met in film school), as these things often go, both guitarist Leslie Sisson and drum Karen Skloss went on to develop their own distinct rock pedigrees. Karen joined forces with the Austin band Black Forest Fire, while Leslie was a member of the Wooden Birds (led by Andrew Kinney of the American Analog Set). It took happenstance (Black Forest Fire needing a last minute fill-in) for Karen and Leslie to discover they were compatible musically as well.
As their mutual projects reached an end run, they decided it was time to make things official. Bolstered by bassist Rozie Castoe (who Leslie met when she directed a show at the School Of Rock), the trio found common ground in driving, gauzy pop atmospherics. Taking the name Moving Panoramas, they signed to Modern Outsider Records, and release their debut album, One this past October.
October: Grupo Fantasma
Swirling together elements of cumbia, funk, jazz, and Cuban music, this nine-piece Latin groove collective has created a singular sound that’s unmatched by any other Latin rock band. The orchestral arrangements and spicy beats spiral into a colorful display of bright storytelling. Even while playing alongside guest musicians, they maintain the crisp balance between brass, percussion, and vocals.
In addition to gracing festivals as prominent as Bonnaroo, Wakarusa and the North Sea Jazz Festival, Grupo Fantasma has played with Prince, Spoon and GZA of Wu-Tang Clan. Their 2011 album, El Existential, won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album.
This folk-pop tribe has charmed indie music lovers since their 2011 album Pillow Talk, and they’re not slowing down. Their latest release, Fools, spins heart-rending lyrics with infectiously catchy melodies. Written during Kelsey Wilson’s harsh breakup, Fools vulnerably explores the facets of letting go. Despite the album’s subject, the songs still ring with their signature ray of bubbling optimism.
Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins composed most the songs, but the album’s title track was a collaborative effort. With Evan Magers on keyboards, Sadie Wolfe on cello, Chris D’Annunzio on bass, Drew Brunetti on drums, and Matt Bradshaw on trumpet, Wild Child continually captivates listeners with their rich sound.