It’s been another great year for music all around. Here’s our version of a year end, best of list. These are the records, songs, acts and scenes (presented in no particular order) that shaped our 2016.
Paul Cauthen – My Gospel
Cauthen breaks free from his duo laden past to front a solo project so broad, sweeping and grand that it’s hard to believe one voice is responsible for this record. It’s got the scale of a Broadway play about Sam Houston, the grit of a Ray Wylie Hubbard b-side and the soul of Muscle Shoals. A genre hopping tour de force.
Jack Ingram – Midnight Motel
Ingram has been cultivating this collection for over a decade. He saw the mountain top and came back down relatively unscathed. Before he was a chart topping radio favorite, his Lone Star songwriting chops were bonafide. Jack rediscovers them here and surrounds them with the vibe of Kent Finaly’s songwriter workshop.
Sturgill Simpson – Sailor’s Guide to Earth
First record was a throwback country shot across the bow. Second record broke down walls and made him a household name. Third record gets personal, explorative and weird in the best ways possible. Written and produced, at times, just to see what he could get away with. Part cautionary tale, part memoir, part love letter to his son. It’s captivating and odd…but always cool. Plus, it never hurts to have the Dap Kings adding horns to anything.
Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks
Lubbock’s latest band of the moment, FC made national waves when this indepdent release spent some time at the top of the iTunes chart seemingly out of nowhere. They employed a tried and true formula of personal songs backed with bouncy fiddle, melodic acoustic guitars and just the right mix of sincerity to create one of the best albums of the year.
Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
Perhaps no album this year houses a collection of songs this strong. A songwriters record that has major label appeal. Clark may just be the best songwriter putting out records at the moment.
Cody Jinks – I’m Not the Devil
Former headbanger has been beating down the doors of country dancehalls and dive bars for some time. His previous album set the table and he pushed himself over the top with this collection.
Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon
At this point, the RRB are a machine. They crank out solid albums and songs, seemingly effortlessly. Their genius lies in the fact that quite a bit of work goes into making it sound so easy.
Margo Price – Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter
Released on Jack White’s retro indie label, Price announces her presences on the scene with a wistful, nostalgic, free style that recalls the best of Loretta and Tammy with the attitude of a Miranda and the nuance of Patty G.
Ryan Beaver – Rx
Texas expat in Nashville engrosses himself in the east Nashville and songwriter scene up there and refines a new style that supplements his smooth singing voice and unique songwriting world view.
Quaker City Nighthawks – El Astronauta
Once described as ZZ Top on an acid trip, these Fort Worth rockers returned with an expansive, trippy album that has guitar hooks for day.
BJ Barham – Rockingham
The American Aquarium frontman releases his first solo work that listens as a road diary set to music.
Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Day
Cousin of Dave and songwriter to the stars releases a solo record that encompasses all that is good about both of their works.
Paul Cauthen – “I’ll Be the One”
Cauthen’s haunting ode to unrequited love features bombastic vocals which echo at various times Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Bono from U2 and Chris Isaak…all on the same song, by the same dude. It’s a truly incredile and awe inspiring piece of work.
Jackie Darlene – “Diamond in the Rough”
This central Texas gem has music in the blood as the granddaughter of legendary songwriter Whitey Shafer, but it’s not just her pen that’s garnering buzz…it’s her engaging, raspy vocals that evoke Stevie Nicks. On this track she puts a rough, female sheen on the musician on the road experience.
Randy Rogers Band – “San Antone”
Throughout their career, the RRB had yet to release a “Texas” song until this Keith Gattis penned instant classic.
Whiskey Myers – “Lightning Bugs and Rain”
Dave Cobb is the producer of the moment and he was able to coax somthing nearly funky, albeit swampy, out of these east Texas southern rock veterans.
Ryan Beaver – “Dark”
A song about quite literally waiting in the dark until you’re no longer scared to come out of the frightening shadows that life can put you in. The fact that Beaver wrote this song after the death of his grandfather and a close friend drives the point home even more sharply.
Robert Ellis – “Drivin'”
Songs about the open road have been an American staple as long as the Ford Motor Co. has been producing automobiles. Ellis provides a refreshing spin on this classic tale about outdriving your problems with the wind in your hair and the tunes blasting.
Hayes Carll – “Good While It Lasted”
Off the de facto concept divorce record Lovers and Leavers, this song finds the songwriting master Carll in a reflective mood comiserating over vices conquered, heartaches survived and the challenges ahead.
Margo Price – “Hurtin'”
The biggest honky-tonk hell-raising song of the year came from a Midwestern girl who enjoys knocking back domestic brew almost as much as she enjoys writing one hell of a hooky, cool song.
Flatland Cavalry – “One I Want”
Opening with a rolling fiddle melody, Cleto Cordero delivers a simple, straightforward sentiment about the one he wants (and loves). Some unique phrasing on the back end make this a truly special song that became one of the, if not the, most played songs on Texas Country radio this past calendar year.
Kylie Rae Harris – “Missouri”
KRH returned with a revealing song about yearning for a time in Missouri when things were better. Being in Texas doesn’t make the Missouri of her memory any easier to leave behind.
Austin Meade – “Born With a Broken Heart”
Meade’s tune reminds of vintage Ragweed. Big guitars, emotive lyrics and a sing along chorus that will last.
(our version of Best New Artist)
Rose from west Texas darlings to regional headliners on the back of good songs and doing things the right way…one fan at a time.
Another artist from the 806 who is becoming the most buzzed about of the moment. 2016 got his name on the map, 2017 should be the year more folks get familiar with him.
Natural talent in spades, a drive to outwork other artists and that inexplicable “it” quality.
Another young talent that is putting things together and is poised to keep it going for a while.
Grady Spencer and the Work
Not new by any stretch, but 2016 seemed to be the year they put it all together. Big things in the rearview, bigger things ahead.
Favorite Live Acts
Have you ever felt something spiritual and downright tribal and primitively evocative at a live show? You most definitely have if you’ve attended an AA gig. These North Carolina cats are conquering Texas heroes for good reason. Intense, real and rowdy.
William Clark Green
WCG’s live record from Gruene Hall was the year’s best live album. The engineers get credit for making it sound so good, but it was the blood, sweat and tears from the stage that make a WCG live show the barroom equivalent of a Stones arena show.
A ballsy swagger, a rock n’ roll attitude and a poet’s heart combine to make DD shows special.
What makes moments of his albums and songs cheesy contribute to what makes his live show brilliant. It’s a honky-tonk piano bar. Turn it up, tune out from the world and sing along in two languages for the night.
Drummer turnover didn’t slow this juggernaut down. Bowen’s twin guitar attack with Will Knaak and Todd Laningham is formidable and awesome.
Jamie Lin Wilson
Listening room or full band (or even front porch), Wilson has the ability to own the stage with an effervescent grace, humilty and talent that is undeniably cool.
Guitarist, songwriter, vocalist…and he’s great (and powerful) at all 3.
Whitey Morgan and the 78s
A honky-tonk outfit criss-crossing the entire lower 48. They have a rabid following for a reason…that reason is a hard charging live show that sounds like Waylon in ’75…or ’78.
Justin Cogneato, drums
Drummer for Brandon Rhyder that branches out and plays for as many folks as he can. Trained by music college and refined in the bars.
Josh Barnard, guitar
Smoothest tele player around. His playing stature reminds of Don Rich with Buck Owens…but Easy B is more vesatile than that.
Geoffrey Hill, guitar
RRB’s lead guitar player continues to evolve and grow. His pure singing voice has been shown throughout the year on several videos of him jamming out in his living room. All are worth your time for this underrated Texas/Red Dirt hero.
Laura Jane, fiddle
Chances are if you attend a Flatland Cavalry show, Jane is the one you notice first and most.
Josh Serrato, guitar
Known for his work with 6MB and WCG, Serrato pushed himself into new creative spaces by taking on production projects and guitar parts that challenged him.
Ben Hussey, bassist
Hussey opened up a recording studio in Stephenville with the aforementioned Serrato and provided his solid low end grooves to all that asked him.
Live Oak – Fort Worth
Perhaps the best listening room environment in the state at the moment. Apologies to Bugle Boy, Mucky Duck and others.
Magnolia Motor Lounge – Fort Worth
Continuing to feature the best booked line-up in the state. Eclectic isn’t just what you find on the calendar. As likely to catch Leon Bridges in the crowd as on the stage.
Blue Light – Lubbock
Lubbock mainstay has been the launching pad for so many and continues to provide a place for songwriters to learn, grow and share.
Cheatham Street – San Marcos
CSW is in a period of transition following the death of Kent Finlay, but it’s coming out the other side just fine thanks to the foundations laid by its owner and a committment to the song.
The Backyard – Waco
The owners include a musician who has traveled the state for 20 years. They took what they liked about their favorite venues across the state and built their own. It’s still a work in progress in the shadow of Chip and JoJo’s Silos, but the Backyard is evolving into the coolest place in the state.
(our version of Entertainer of the Year)
Jack is a legend. If he had never put out another record he’d go down in history as one of this scene’s modern founding fathers and one of the greatest to ever do it. He knocked down walls of red tape and BS when most of the current scene headliners were still in grade school. The fact that he returned with his best album in 17 years combined with the fact that he’s still as engaging in a live setting as ever, makes him an easy choice for one of our favorite artists of the year.
Possessing a thunderous, multi-faceted voice allowed Cauthen the freedom to create the album he heard his head. We should all be thankful that he did. A bold, unforgiving artistic force like this doesn’t come along very often.
Randy Rogers Band
The scene’s top dogs keep chugging along.
Carll added more elments to his art this year. While retaining the snarky, wise, humorous, insightfulness he’s always had, Carll added a depth, maturity and reflection that can only come with time, heartache and recovery.
Another indpendent success story rising to the top of the heap on the strength of burgeoning radio play and a relentless touring grind, 2016 was the year Jinks hit headliner status.
She wrote the biggest mainstream country song of the year and released her own record…all while still co-writing and touring with folks like Drew Kennedy. Humble and kind indeed.
CoJo became a national phenomenon as the rest of the nation found out why we’ve been calling him Chris LeDoux 2.0 for five years.
Cleto Cordero and the gang had a year for the ages. They released one of the year’s biggest records, biggest songs and went from relatively unknown to widely known in the span of months.
William Clark Green
Of the generation that has come post RRB/Wade, WCG seems to possess lead dog status. He’s open, affable and supportive to new acts all while selling out venues across the region.
The greatest champion of independent music and f-you attitude regardless of genre. Sturgill made 2016 about establishing himself as a true artist that does things his own way, industry wishes be damned. He speaks his mind and creates music for an audience of one: himself.