Albums by Mike Flanigin and Sweet Spirit topped our respective lists of favorite records by Austin artists this year, but the well ran deep in 2015. Between our individual top-10s (with honorable mentions) and an extended roundup of other notable local albums and EPs that came out between January and December, we give notice to 67 releases in this year-end edition of Austin360 On The Record.
For more lists, including our favorite records beyond the local sphere and our top shows of 2015, check out the full story at mystatesman.com or in Friday’s American-Statesman.
Mike Flanigin, “The Drifter” (Black Betty). In many respects, it’s hard to call this a Mike Flanigin solo album, which is why the B3 organ player didn’t put his name on the cover. But his collaborations with Kat Edmonson, Jimmie Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr., Alejandro Escovedo and Billy Gibbons yielded the most distinctive and rewarding local album of 2015.
Joe Pug, “Windfall” (Lightning Rod). Pug has largely flown under the radar in Austin even as he sells out large Midwest and East Coast clubs. But he’s one of the city’s very best singer-songwriters, as evidenced especially by this album’s set-closing masterpiece “If Still It Can’t Be Found.”
Patty Griffin, “Servant of Love” (PGM/Thirty Tigers). Nominated for a Best Folk Album Grammy, Griffin’s latest is in fact hard to categorize in any one genre. Its many moods and textures are a big part of its allure, alongside the ageless radiance of her voice.
Joe Ely, “Panhandle Rambler” (Rack ’Em). Teed up to be 2016’s official Texas State Musician, Ely united the variety of directions his music has followed on this late-career gem. Several originals are long-view keepers, but it’s his exquisite cover of Guy Clark’s “Magdalene” that resonates most deeply.
James McMurtry, “Complicated Game” (Complicated Game Records). Seven years due for a new studio album, McMurtry delivered with a dozen tunes that measure up well against his considerable catalog. The personal and the political effortlessly intertwine in songs that lean acoustic but never sound soft.
Shinyribs, “Okra Candy.” The Gourds feel like a distant memory at this point, given the wide territory Kevin Russell has carved out with Shinyribs. As memorable as the funkier tracks “Red Quasar” and “Walt Disney” are, it’s pretty easy to get trapped for days in “Donut Taco Palace.”
Uncle Lucius, “The Light” (Boo Clap/Thirty Tigers). Set against one of the most contentious political campaigns in memory, Uncle Lucius’ illuminating “Age of Reason” deserves to be an anthem for these times. It’s the high point on an album of wide-ranging Americana sounds that spotlights frontman Kevin Galloway’s distinctive singing.
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie” (Legacy). It’s only half-local, granted, but Willie gets a pass on any and all rules, especially when he brings a fellow legend like Merle into the mix. Haggard certainly could have been a Highwayman, and the two play off each other with that kind of natural ease on a mix of old and new material.
Asleep at the Wheel, “Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys” (Bismeaux). Both Willie and Merle show up here, too, along with more than a dozen guests both local (Carrie Rodriguez, Robert Earl Keen) and non-local (Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show). But Ray Benson and the Wheel gang keep the focus on Wills in their third tribute to the king of western swing.
Friends of SIMS: “Celebrating 20 Years of Listening.” It’s rare for compilations to hang together as something more than an entertaining hodgepodge, but producer Kyle Ellison created something special on this covers collection, with considerable help from a wide range of locals both prominent (Charlie Sexton, Alejandro Escovedo) and lesser-known (Sally Allen, Jeremy Nail).
More local favorites: Casper Rawls, “Brave World”; Carson McHone, “Goodluck Man”; Rite Flyers, “Electromode”; Texas Horns, “Blues Gotta Holda Me”; Zoltars, self-titled; Lee Barber, “The Missing Pages”; Robert LaRoche, “Patient Man”; Jesse Sublett, “Eldorado”; Standing Waves, “Here Comes the Twist” EP; Aaron McDonnell, “Battle Bend” EP.
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH
Sweet Spirit, “Cokomo” (Nine Mile). The debut full-length from Sabrina Ellis’ pop powerhouse opens with the buoyant breakup track “Take Me To A Party” and closes with the triple-guitar issued directive“Stop Trippin’.” Both songs capture the balls to the wall embrace of life — good, bad and complicated — that drives the album. Through tightly woven harmonies, upbeat rhythms and implausible crescendos that teeter on the exhilarating edge of pure chaos, the album captures the ecstatic energy of Sweet Spirit’s live shows and in doing so emerges as the clear winner for Austin album of the year.
Moving Panoramas, “One” (Modern Outsider). The debut from Leslie Sisson, Rosie Castoe and Karen Kloss’ trio is an engrossing collection of gorgeously textured pop songs. Poignant emotion bubbles through swirling watery filters in a beautiful hazy daydream.
Kiko Villamizar, “La Remolacha” (Discos Peligrosa). The first album to be released on the new label helmed by Peligrosa’s DJ Orion is an excellent fusion of Latin American and Caribbean sounds with ample jazz and a few hints of hip-hop. Villamizar’s voice, rich and deep, carries the album’s powerful emotions, lamenting violence he witnessed as a youth in Colombia and decrying injustice everywhere.
Crew 54, “Wyld Gentlemen.” A solid platter of the best kind of grown folk hip-hop, soulful grooves and sharp rhymes loaded with real substance. Of course, they represent for Black Lives Matter, but they also proudly declare themselves advocates for women, opponents of transphobia, community organizers and generally the best possible dudes to lead the ATX hip-hop scene to the next level.
Abram Shook, “Landscape Dream” (Western Vinyl). The album’s title perfectly captures its essence. Building on the same trippy blend of tropicalia and garage rock he explored in last year’s “Sun Marquee,” Shook creates a psychedelic aural dreamscape to explore.
Gary Clark Jr., “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim” (Warner Bros.). Clark is still exploring his musical voice, and consequently, this album as a whole is uneven, stylistically moving in a few too many directions. But I stand by Clark’s refusal to be pigeon-holed, and the unbelievable warmth and love that resound from “Our Love” and “Church” and the conscious power of “Hold On” and “The Healing” make it a keeper.
Sweet Talk, “Double Perfect” (12XU). Muscular classic rock riffs collide with ‘80s power pop flash and an occasional hints of honky tonk in one of the year’s best rock ‘n’ roll albums.
LNS Crew, “LNS Crew Vol. 2.” Kydd Jones’ relocation to Atlanta was ATX hip-hop’s biggest loss this year. Rapper Cory Kendrix is now based in Denver and producer Haris Qureshi in San Francisco. “We all visualize LNS Crew as more of a music label then a rap group so us being in different cities doesn’t hurt too much,” Qureshi says. At least the group left us with a fantastic mixtape, and they’ll be back for South by Southwest 2016.
Wild Child, “Fools” (Dualtone). The new album strays from the uke-slinging big band’s folksy roots into a sublime world of lush indie pop without losing the emotional honesty and vulnerability fans adore.
Tomar and the FCs, “Day by Day” EP. (Distrokid.com) In the late ’90s, Tomar Williams and his brother, Salih formed the ace production team Carnival Beats and dominated Southern hip-hop for the better part of a decade. More recently, the Williams brothers led the backup band for local soul maven Lastasha Lee. In his new solo project, Williams shows his own soul chops with searing vocals that drip with blood, sweat and tears.
Shoutouts to a few other great Austin releases: Melat, “It Happens So Fast” EP; El Tule, “Cuatro”; Click-Clack, “untitled”; Ringo Deathstarr, “Pure Mood”; Goldschool, “2015 Goldschool Mixtape”; KB the Boobonic, “Farrah Flossit”; Keeper, “Moonhigh.”
Other prominent local releases
Heartless Bastards, “Restless Ones” (Partisan). The latest from the Cinncinati ex-pats was recorded at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, and the studio’s expansive, pastoral landscape informs a recording that finds the band wandering from garage-rock to alt-country, through loopy psychedelia to a more refined rock sound. — D.S.S.
Mother Falcon, “Good Luck Have Fun” (Universal Music Classics). The oversized collective delved deeply into both sides of its indie-classical identity on a record that got picked up for major-label release. — P.B.
Shawn Colvin, “Uncovered” (Fantasy). Revisiting the theme from her much-loved 1994 album, Colvin put her distinctive mark on favorites by everyone from Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon to Crowded House and Creedence Clearwater Revival. — P.B.
Bob Schneider, “The King Kong Suite” EPs, Vol. 1-3 (Shockorama). Schneider has always had a knack for creative distribution, and this year he released a series of limited edition EPs. Each has a distinct sound and accompanying art from Schneider. Vol. 1 covers moody singer songwriter fare, Vol. 2 is pop and Vol. 3 includes rap. The EPs are available individually or as a package deal. — D.S.S.
Grupo Fantasma, “Problemas” (Blue Corn). In its 15-year existence, Grupo Fantasma has grown from a group of scrappy border funk specialists from Laredo who dabbled in cumbia into one of the finest Latin music ensembles in the world. Their first album since the Grammy Award-winning “El Existential,”produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, finds the band refining their contemporary take on traditional Latin sounds with maturity and polish. — D.S.S.
Robert Earl Keen, “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions” (Dualtone). Long one of Austin’s top songwriters, Keen turned from Americana toward more traditional bluegrass, a genre that has long influenced him. — P.B.
Dale Watson, “Call Me Insane” (Red House/Ameripolitan). Though Watson has pointedly abandoned contemporary country by establishing the Ameripolitan genre for the traditional-based sounds he favors, the irony is that his last two records are his first to actually turn up on the country charts. — P.B.
Ray Wylie Hubbard, “The Ruffian’s Misfortune” (Bordello/Thirty Tigers). In his late 60s but nowhere near done, Hubbard had a big year, releasing this new collection of his trademark folk-blues-country-rock songwriting and publishing the memoir “A Life, Well, Lived.” — P.B.
Bright Light Social Hour, “Space Is Still the Place” (Frenchkiss). Scraps of wistful emotion float through free ranging jams laced with ample reverb and spacey effects in the highly anticipated follow up to the band’s 2010 debut. — D.S.S.
Quiet Company, “Trangressor” (Modern Outsider). With their first studio album in four years, the indie-rockers firmly re-established themselves as one of Austin’s marquee bands, garnering significant local radio airplay. — P.B.
East Cameron Folkcore, “Kingdom of Fear” (Nine Mile). The powerful live ensemble issued an ambitious song-cycle that addresses economic challenges and urban transformations (both within Austin and beyond it). — P.B.
The Sword, “High Country” (Razor & Tie). The band boldly moves away from standard stoner metal riffs in this sonically adventurous platter of heavy rock produced by Adrian Quesada. Some of the experiments work better than others, but the spirit is strong throughout. — D.S.S.
Max Frost “Intoxication” EP (Atlantic). Two years after his whirlwind signing, Frost dropped the follow-up to his breakout EP “Low High Low.” Working with a cast of top-notch NYC pop-makers, his standard R&B-inflected pop is infused with bluesy breaks and hints of woozy psychedelia. — D.S.S.
Israel Nash, “Silver Season” (Loose/Thirty Tigers). Perhaps because he lives outside Austin in Dripping Springs, Nash brings a more open and airy touch to the psychedelic-tinged indie rock on his fourth album. — P.B.
Mike & the Moonpies, “Mockingbird” (Smith). The Moonpies’ gritty country turned up in Rolling Stone’s best country albums list, a nice acknowledgment for a band that has helped to bridge Austin’s indie and country scenes by playing both downtown clubs and rural honky-tonks. —P.B.
Also: Gurf Morlix, “Eatin’ at Me” (Rootball); Jimmy LaFave, “The Night Tribe” (Music Road); MilkDrive, “Places You’ve Not Been” (Bismeaux); Wood & Wire, “The Coast”; Big Cat, self-titled (Mark One); Bop English, “Constant Bop”; David Ramirez, “Fables” (Thirty Tigers); Peterson Brothers, self-titled (Blue Point); William Clark Green, “Ringling Road” (Bill Grease/Thirty Tigers); T-Bird & the Breaks, “Harmonizm”; Eve & the Exiles, “You Know She Did”; Jonathan Terrell, “Past the Lights of Town”; John Wesley Coleman III, “Greatest Hits”; William Harries Graham & the Painted Redstarts, “Foreign Fields”; Various artists, “All ATX: All Along the Moontower.”