January 6th, 2010
2009 Bestus Prospectus: Texas and Houston Albums of the Year
Don’t think that just because we published a “2009 Bestus Prospectus: Albums of the Year” list yesterday that we forgot about our roots. We surely haven’t. In fact, we owe all of our success to our roots in Texas and, more specifically, Houston. With that in mind we took a little different spin with this “Bestus Prospectus” and eliminated all the hoopla and hype from the national and world music scene. Let’s take a look at the best music from our home state and home city. We know we missed a couple, so remind us what we should be listening to in the comments section.
BEST TEXAS ALBUMS OF 2009
7] Lyle Lovett – Natural Forces
Before this album, I only knew of Lyle Lovett from two things, the juke box at Cheers Pub in Friendswood and the tabloid stories back when Julia Roberts decided to slum it as his wife. I’m ashamed to say I was unaware of his talent. It was only after delving further into Robert Earl Keen’s career that I came upon their blue-grass collaborations from the mid 70’s. Having listened to “Natural Forces” in its entirety multiple times since I purchased it in December, it’s safe to say I’m now a fan. While his voice can be somewhat grating if listened to repetitively, much in the same way as that of Bob Dylan’s vocals, on Natural Forces, it fits with the music, projecting the lyrics in such a way that only he can. Having only written two of the songs on the album, it’s fascinating to hear how Lovett makes each song his own. He even ends up coming full-circle by once again collaborating with Robert Earl Keen on the song It’s Rock and Roll. Lovett deftly manages to meld blue-grass, country-rock and folk into the welcoming sounds of “Natural Forces” in order to bring us a well-rounded batch of tunes.
6] Willie Nelson – American Classic
We don’t usually celebrate cover albums here at the Loop Scoop, but this is Willie Nelson. The man did it before, bringing us “Stardust” in 1978, and now, in 2009, he’s done it again with “American Classic.” Though his voice is not what it used to be, the soul and feeling with which he sings are more than enough to carry the songs when his range fails. His unique vocal style neatly melds with, and at times lifts up, the jazz and soul musicians accompanying him, which is never more evident than in The Nearness of You and Since I Fell For You. His collaborations with Dianna Krall and Norah Jones are just the latest testaments to his willingness to work with artists from any and all genres, bringing his music to yet another generation. While Willie’s renditions may not surpass their original counterparts, he definitely makes their creators proud. Once again, Willie Nelson surprises, not with a stylistic change in music, but with yet another consistently good record.
5] Riverboat Gamblers – Underneath the Owl
This Denton original has been on the scene since 1997, but has only recently reached national prominence. You might have caught Riverboat Gamblers on the Vans Warped Tour in 2005, or you could have been like me and waited until you started hearing them hourly on satellite radio before you went hunting for a record. Underneath the Owl has some of those familiar three-chord, progressions that defined 90’s alternative rock. It’s comforting to take one of these musical journeys back to when you first started caring about music and the record industry wasn’t the floundering mess it has turned into. Not just the music, but Mike Wiebe’s strained, almost screaming vocals remind me of Unwritten Law and harken back to when they was still one of those new, cool bands that 94.5 The Buzz was playing (back when they did that sort of thing).
4] Charlie Robison – Beautiful Day
My first impression of Charlie Robison was that he was another cookie cutter country bard, singing about bars and hometowns, but as I began to listen to his songs and lyrics further, I uncovered a unique insight that sets him apart from the typical Nashville troubadours. With Robison’s seventh release, “Beautiful Day,” he continues to distance himself from the slick country pop and hone his songwriting chops. Coming five years after his last release, “Good Times,” “Beautiful Day” is Robison’s “Blood on the Tracks,” Dylan’s venerated divorce album. While Charlie Robison will never be mistaken for Bob Dylan, there’s a wry wit and wisdom in his songwriting that transcends the typical Kenny Chesney song. Beautiful Day offers an intensely personal view into the vulnerability of Robison and rides the wave of his divorce. From the upbeat title track, Beautiful Day, to the no excuses, straight forward tone of Down Again, it’s no stretch to relate the characters in his songs to himself and ex-wife Emily Erwin, of the Dixie Chicks. Though they kept their divorce out of the headlines and very private, “Beautiful Day” is Robison’s public statement. The pain and honesty of that statement made it one of the best Texas Albums of 2009.
3] Bob Schneider – Lovely Creatures
This poppy collection of tunes is a break from previous studio albums created by Schneider. It’s over produced and clean, with pillow-soft edges, but it makes no apologies for that. While his previous albums have ranged from funk, folk, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, and jazz, it’s no surprise that he’s gotten around to the pop quadrant of the music universe. It’s unlikely that this will be his break-out album as even with the songs or “creatures” (as the album title suggests) refined sound, the lyrics still go against the acceptable trends, deeply poetic, often out of “the black of his mind,” they leave you trying to force the connections hours later. While I enjoy the album very much, the first 8 songs carry the weight of the last 4. Bombananza and and Tarantula have been live favorites for years, having no business on studio recordings, where they fall flat. The album’s title not only refers to the songs, but to human-kind as well, serving up a happy message in a time when so many are down. Thanks Mr. Schneider.
2] Robert Earl Keen – The Rose Hotel
Texans have long known about Robert Earl Keen. Since his first album, “No Kind ‘a Dancer” came out in 1984, he’s continued to craft intricate stories both auto biographical and fictional, through his vast volume of music, not limited to country alone. REK wanted this album to be, “really rhythmic…with plenty of singing and straight forward lyrically.” It definitely fits those criteria, with songs like On and On (remnant of a Waylon Jennings song), 10,000 Chinese Walk Into A Bar, Laughing River (the ever present bluegrass tint), and Wireless in Heaven he establishes a solid drum beat moving the song along with blunt lyrics. He manages to slip in bits of wisdom that warn against complicated lifestyles and encourage growth through change, common messages through out his lyrical library. This advice is most poignant in Something I Do, as he describes how he often manages to do more when he allows life to happen, simply taking a step back, tackling issues as they approach. I for one, might just take this advice as I start the new year.
1] Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears – Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is
I might seem like an uneducated nonce by saying this, but this album takes me back to my first foray in blues-driven rock n’ roll. In those years I was just a kid dancing around in a carpeted living room listening to my dad’s soundtrack of The Blues Brothers. The Wailing guitars, adamant bass, howling horns, and drums that drive the music, all work together with the gritty vocals of Black Joe to return me to that, more formative time. Life has changed much since then, but it’s a thing of beauty to see that music can still remain firmly entrenched in its roots. You give me a couple more songs on this album and it would blow every other album away, national or otherwise. It’s that good. It’s hard not to imagine the dark jazz clubs of the past with Black Joe Lewis on stage, wailing on his guitar, screaming into one of those vintage Shure 55SH microphones, and his ensemble of blaring horns behind him as you listen to “Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is.” In fact, every time I give it a listen, I choose to see it exactly that way.
BEST HOUSTON ALBUMS OF 2009
Wild Moccasins – Microscopic Metronomes
I made no secret of the fact that the Wild Moccasins knocked my socks off at Summer Fest in July. One of the glaring difficulties between live and recorded music is being able to translate the energy of a performance onto the vinyl digital copy in the studio. While the Wild Moccasins fall short of capturing that raw emotion of the festival on their first effort, the songs teem with potential. It’s more of an EP than a full-fledged record, so “Microscopic Metronomes” is but a taste of what the future holds. There’s no doubt that with an album that builds on the strong foundation that they set here that Wild Moccasins will be crashing our Overall Top Albums year in and year out.
The Tontons – The Tontons
The Houston music scene is overlooked all too often. It’s endearing that we get to keep some of these hidden gems all to our own, yet I’m sure that the bands want a bit more in the way of national exposure. It’s only a matter of time that the big break will come, especially for a band like The Tontons that released their self-titled debut this year. It doesn’t seem like they’re itching to get out of Houston anytime soon, especially with the Houston-themed video that accompanies their song Leon. The songs make swift temp changes from the waltzy 1, 2, 3 of the first track 1816 to the wild west flavor of Cocked Eyed Cowboys of Coeco County. If you own one Houston band’s album from 2009 The Tontons should be it.