When you live in Texas, you tend to see things through Lone Star tinted glasses. I know that can be annoying to non-Texans, but we just can’t help it. That said, Texas does produce its fair share of top notch roots music, and 2017 was no exception. This top 5 list features a collection of artists who show that strong, inventive songwriting still matters. From the veterans to the up and comers, their take on the most fundamental songwriting aspect – storytelling – tells me that, here in Texas at least, we’re in good hands going forward.
David Ramirez: ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’ (Sweetworld)
David Ramirez is an amazing songwriter who knows how to turn heartache into beauty. There are no half measures here. I feel like I’ve been through his break-ups and they’re HIS break-ups. That’s some good writing. “Watching From A Distance” is a confessional song about something most people won’t confess to. iTunes
Ray Wylie Hubbard: ‘Tell The Devil That I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can’ (Bordello Records)
From the man who brought you “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”, this a dense, wordy record that paints a vivid picture with each song. His songs have become more stories that verse, chorus, verse affairs but this rewards repeated listeners. It’s also refreshing to listen to an artist who is keenly aware of his mortality – with tongue firmly in cheek. iTunes
Shinyribs: ‘I Got Your Medicine’ (Mustard Lid)
While not yet an American treasure, former Gourds leader, Kevin Russell, is quickly becoming a Central Texas one. The songwriting is more clear that the Gourds material and the songs have a soulful swampiness to them thanks to the horns and backing vocals. Check out “Don’t Leave It a Lie” to get a taste of the musical gumbo. Also, if Shinyribs comes to your town, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, proceed directly to the show. You will become part of the Shinyribs family whether you like it or not. I think you’ll like it though. iTunes
Slaid Cleaves: ‘Ghost On the Car Radio’ (Candy House Media)
It’s been a few years since we got a record from Slaid. The time spent apart has been interesting: his everyman vocal delivery is even more welcome in these days of chaos and uncertainty. “Drunken Barber’s Hand” is a particularly good metaphor for what’s happening in the world. You’ll also learn about old timey measurin’.
The Sanco Loop: ‘The Sanco Loop’ (Victim Records)
Led by Peter Wagner, this sounds like Peter Gabriel with pedal steel. The songs have a dusty, plaintive quality that makes the words within even more striking. These are clearly very personal stories Wagner is telling us, and the unfussy productions brings the words front and center. Check out “Hot Year”. It’s an unlikely earworm. iTunes