From left to right: Little Mazarn, Jake Lloyd, Andrew Cashen
Literally hundreds of recordings are released every year in this fertile music city, and invariably, some fail to get the notice they deserve. Instead of our usual Best of 2019 list, we thought it would be fun to ask KUTXers what Austin recordings should have gotten more attention this year.
Host Mon-Thurs 5-8 pm, Fridays noon -4pm
Michael Fracasso – Big Top
Granted this 2019 album was recorded a few years back and then sat on the shelf, but it confirms that Fracasso is not only one of Austin’s most overlooked singer/songwriters but one of America’s. A collaboration with Charlie Sexton and the late George Reiff, “Big Top” should have catapulted Michael to the big time, but in a just world. any of his previous albums would also have done so.
Jesse Dayton – Mixtape Volume 1
Austin-based Dayton has worked with everyone from Waylon to Rob Zombie to Johnny Cash to X – and his covers on this release are just as eclectic. But don’t judge this disc by its, um, cover; yes he chose a Cars song but he sings it as George Jones might. And from Jackson Browne to the Clash to Gordon Lightfoot to AC/DC he puts his singular twist on all his choices.
Host Mon-Thurs 8-11 pm
Sadie & the Ladies- Let Us Make You Money EP
Infiltrating the underground scene this year, Sadie & the Ladies put out their early Strokes-emulating debut EP, putting a fresh spin on a beloved early 00’s rock sound. They may have snuck in at the end of this decade, but they’ll be stuck in everyone’s ears through the next one.
Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band- Nightmare Forever
Keeping the glory of Prog Rock alive and well (and dense with Tolkien lore) are the dozen-or-so members of Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band, whose instrumentation includes everything from guitars to chimes to Nolan’s flute(!). A lot of incredible music came out of Austin this year, to the point where I thought it would be impossible to pick a favorite, but Nightmare Forever swooped in last month like Gandalf on Gwaihir and gifted the world this true work of art.
Music editor, host Fridays 6-9 am
Little Mazarn – IO
There’s something mesmerizing about this duo’s bare-bones music. Treated, slow-picked banjo, saw, and other odd percussion are the only real instruments on their second album (though Will Johnson, Thor Harris and the Bad Liver’s Ralph White all put in guest appearances). Lindsey Verrill and Jeff Johnston write forlorn dark woods folk that hangs around inside your head. On songs like “Little Blue’, and “Peace Like A River”, Verrill’s vocals resonate with a haunting beauty. There are also covers of Country Willie Edwards’ “Marfa Lights” and, of all things, Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”, which excavates the pain hidden inside this MTV favorite. In terms of 2019 Austin albums I keep going back, IO is the one.
Wurve – “Blowout”
We captured a riveting live version of this song in Studio 1A back when this Austin psych outfit was calling themselves Teevee, but this studio version from Wurve’s Memory Bleach album is even better, It begins as if the band has already been playing the song for ten minutes and doesn’t really ever let up. Furious drumming, walls of guitars, and a baited melody buried way down in the mix. In short, a brilliant textbook example of MBV-inspired shoegaze. Play it again.
AARON ‘FRESH’ KNIGHT
Host, The Breaks, The Breaks podcast
Jake Lloyd – MoonLit Mornings
While we on The Breaks play songs from the album and support it, the rest of the Austin Music scene allowed the project to fall to the wayside. If you are into Black Pumas, Leon Bridges, Los Coast, etc then there is no reason you won’t like Jake Lloyd’s sophomore album. With the lead single, “Daily Interlude” being an ode to the Austin lifestyle, the rest of the album is a soulful showcase of Lloyd’s vocal and songwriting abilities.
Music director, host – Left of the Dial, Uptown Saturday night
Andrew Cashen – Back In Texas
I think Austin slept on this album, which is a shame because when Andrew is out in front, he’s just as engaging as Sabrina Ellis (his partner in Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog). “Paradise” is my favorite track on the record.
Speaking of Sabrina, I loved the three singles they released with Har Mar Superstar. There’s undeniable chemistry between the two and you can’t beat the ’80s-flavored cotton candy. I hope they continue to work together.
Will Johnson – Necessitarianism (Fred Merkel’s Blues)
Will’s voice has always captivated me and this song harkens back to his Centro-matic work. On first listen, this seemed one-note. Then I listened again. It rewards you with what I call sneaky layers; song elements you only get upon repeated listens.
Sanco Loop – Mars
I find this band fascinating because they merge elements that seemingly shouldn’t go together: an art-rock voice with dusty pedal steel. Frontman Peter Wagner’s voice is a howitzer that can hit numerous octaves. Cary Bowman’s pedal steel belongs to some distant, treeless mesa. When these sounds are brought together it creates an unexpected earworm.
Host, Saturdays 7am – 10am
Eimaral Sol – Sol Soliloques
Eimaral Sol’s album, Sol Soliloques fills you with love and purpose and takes you on a journey to your higher self. Not only is she aware of the universal consciousness, but she also shares her knowledge of the universe with the listener while her lyrics send them positive vibes. Her sound reminds you of the greats such as Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse, with songs like “Sunflower” and “Systematic Transcenda,” she keeps the listener moved by her soulful vocals and beautiful energy! Sol Soliloques is not just an album, it is a spiritual guide through this thing we call life.
Torre Blake – ”Summertime Fine”
Torre Blake’s single “Summertime Fine,” pays homage to the beauty of her hometown (Austin). Her sultry vibes convince you that there is no better place to be on a perfect summer day than at the local hot spot, Barton Springs. In “Summertime Fine,” she expresses what her idea of relaxation is at one of Austin’s local crown jewels. In the end, Torre’s captivating lyrics illustrate her admiration for the Summer days in Austin, Texas; in only a way that a fellow Austinite can truly understand.
Host, Elektikos, Mon-Thurs 7-9am
Elias Haslanger & Church on Monday – For Being There
What a wonderful recording this is. Recorded right here in Austin at the Continental Club where Haslanger and his Church on Monday band are regulars. Mixed and mastered by well-known jazz pianist and master of many things, Eddie Hobizal. Released on Cherrywood Records, what else! The band features Elias on tenor sax, James Polk, organ, Daniel Durham, bass, Tommy Howard, guitar, and Scott Laningham, drums. Intimate to expansive, some worthy tracks!
Graham Reynolds – Marfa A Country & Western Big Band Suite
Lots of big band sounds, jazz, country, rock, pop, and just about whatever you can imagine. Featuring Ricky Davis and Red Volkaert. Talent oozes. This is the first part of THE MARFA TRYPTYCH, Graham Reynold’s three musical portraits of west Texas, inspired by his interest in the Texas-Mexico border population and the Chihuahuan desert landscape.
Producer – My KUTX, host Sundays 10 am- 2 pm
The Infinites – The Infinites
The Infinites are the product of dozens of small details interacting in surprising ways. On the band’s self-titled debut, Dan Le Vine’s bubbly guitar bounces off the nervy rhythm section, propelling singer Jared Leibowich’s intimate storytelling. Each song is framed like a snapshot, establishing a character and a scene before abruptly ending. There’s something subversive and honest in the way their songs glitter and die so quickly. In the Infinites’ universe, zero and infinity are bandmates.
Erika Wennerstrom – “Be Here To Love Me”
There’s a stark beauty to a lot of Townes Van Zandt’s music. The best versions of his songs tend to be acoustic and live, allowing his words to slowly unfurl and haunt the room. His pitchy singing is also part of the appeal; too much polish obscures the rough-hewn magic of the songs. Erika Wennerstrom’s version of “Be Here To Love Me” is reverent to all this, but it’s not a museum piece. She takes the desperate, darkly-funny pleading of Van Zandt’s original and blows it up to cosmic country proportions. It makes you hope Wennerstrom has more of these covers in her back pocket. It also makes you wonder what Van Zandt could’ve done with this kind of color palette.
RF Shannon – Rain On Dust
Shane Renfro, RF Shannon songwriter, was born in the Texas Panhandle and raised in the pines of East Texas. This stark contrast of scenery would eventually come to inform the minimalist brand of hazy pastoral music that he and the band creates.
Ley Line – “Oxum”
The women of Ley Line transcend language and genres to create a sound that seems to emerge from deep within the earth. Dynamic harmonies run like a current through textures of stand up bass, guitar, ukulele and percussion. Ley Line creates a global soundscape; blending rhythms and influences from Brazil, Latin America and West Africa.
Host, Saturday 2-6 pm
Gold Leather – Churl
Sometimes life is one big fat shit sandwich that takes forever to chew and even longer to digest. When it feels like this, I like to remind myself that not everything is elegant or neat, it’s absurd and chaotic–and Austin’s Gold Leather channels that liberating nihilism in its most raw form. Gold Leather are like a hellspawn formed from METZ and King Crimson and it’s just as beautiful as one can imagine.
Will Maxwell – Calm a Painter
You may know Will Maxwell from the Austin trio the Oysters, you may not know he released the most honest, unpretentious, and beautiful solo record of 2019. With the Oysters, Maxwell can obscure his tender and heartbreaking lyrics beneath sometimes ridiculous live shows (I once saw him perform in a diaper at the Hole in the Wall for chrissake), but he has nowhere to hide on his solo album Calm a Painter. Similar to writers like Raymond Carver, Maxwell’s storytelling imparts the ordinary with magic and significance in such a way that you may find yourself crying about a couch by the end of the album.
Host, This Song podcast, Saturdays 10 am-2 pm
Jackie Venson — Joy
Jackie Venson is an Austin artist who is not afraid to evolve. Venson started her musical life as a classical pianist, but switched to blues guitar after a particularly soul-crushing interaction with a teacher at the Berkley School of music. Though she started off playing the blues, she hasn’t stayed stuck in the genre. Every release has shown her add more and more influences into her work. Her 2019 record Joy is a major leap forward for the artist. You can hear some blues, yes, but she also blends pop, reggae, rock and electronic music to create a sound tha makes me excited about the artist she’s become and interested to see what the next step in her evolution will be.
Melát — After All: Episode One
I’m sure you’ve noticed that Austin R&B is on the rise, and Melát is one of the vanguards of the scene. Here July release, After All: Episode One is a collection slow burning grooves that will get even the stodgiest listener in the mood for love. And her video for “After All” is one of the most delightful visual celebrations of both Austin and the black creatives who are making some of the most interesting work the city has to offer.
Host, Mon-Thurs 12 pm – 2 pm
Church On Monday – For Being There
We don’t play much jazz during our regular programming but this album, recorded live at the intimate Continental Club Gallery, captures the excitement of eight of the band’s best recent performances from their Monday night Gallery residency which, incidentally, is now in its eighth year. Saxophonist/leader Elias Haslanger along with B-3 organist/Austin legend James Polk and guitar wiz Tommy Howard are the inspired soloists, all at the top of their game. My favorite Austin jazz album of the year.
Grupo Fantasma – American Music Vol. VII
This is perhaps my favorite Austin album of the year, overall, from this Grammy-winning juggernaut. Although we’ve played the song ”Cuidado” extensively this year, there are several other tracks that deserve your attention. My favorites include “The Wall”, a politically timely tune that features members of Ozomotli and Locos Por Juana, “Nubes” with its tropical vibe, “Let It Be” featuring Austin’s Tomar Williams and the appropriately titled scorcher, “Hot Sauce”. Caliente y muy picoso!
Host Mon-Thurs 2 pm – 5 pm
Will Cope – Denial River
From his 2010 debut Sunset Craves, to this year’s fantastically recorded and produced LP Denial River, Wil Cope has consistently manifested some of the most haunted noir-folk ennui that a wayward soul could bleed from his darkest recesses – and perhaps from a few drug-addled journeys on desert landscapes. As I’ve obsessed over before in several Austin Music Minutes, Cope pens all the heartache, broken connections and broken dreams into superbly spooky, moody odes to a lost highway of no return. And Denial River, arguably his strongest work to date, carries the magic of longtime collaborator and producer Doug Walseth at the helm, helping bring to life those otherworldly shadows inhabiting Cope’s dusky world.
The Ghost Wolves – Crooked Cop EP
Another longtime favorite of mine goes and unleashes three dirty-wicked tracks invoking the spirit of The Cramps with minimalist garage-rock/dark-punk fever, and it even gets the attention of Third Man Records. So much so that TMR releases The Ghost Wolves’ Crooked Cop EP on 7-inch vinyl – yet it’s still mystifyingly under the radar. Dynamic duo Carley and Johnny Wolf are some of the hardest-working musicians around, touring constantly throughout the world to get the word out, so there’s a growing momentum for sure. Meanwhile, sink your fangs into “Crooked Cop,” “Fist” and “Day Will Follow The Dawn” to experience the killer vibe. These Wolves are worth your while.
Host Mon-Fri 9am -12pm
Little Mazarn – IO
They fancy themselves as hillbilly psychedelia, but the Austin duo of vocalist, banjo-player Lindsey Verrill and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Johnston are partisans of the primitive folk revival but with dreamier, more atmospheric modern touches. His saw bowing, and her subtle banjoing and plaintive singing create quite a mood and it really draws you in. Makes this jaded music fan wanna go out on a Tuesday night (!) and see them at Hole in the Wall, especially when Ralph White joins them. Check out their cover of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” from their second album IO released this past May and recorded at Ramble Creek Studios here in Austin.
Live Music Booker/Producer
I’m a sucker for harmonies and this five-piece band has some Dirty Projectoresque harms. Earlier this year, the band put out several singles (including my favorite “Someone Who Can Do Both”) but took time off from playing to outfit a new recording studio. Here’s hoping a full length is coming in 2020!
Flora & Fawna – “Slow Burn”
Sometimes you wanna eat mushrooms and listen to a song over and over on repeat. Flora & Fawna’s “Slow Burn” is good for that.