Slaid Cleaves at the Paramount Theatre during a concert honoring the life and music of beloved Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave on May 18, 2017. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)


Slaid Cleaves, “Ghost on the Car Radio.” Though he sometimes gets lost between elder statesmen such as Joe Ely and younger guns like Hayes Carll, no assessment of Austin’s finest troubadours would be complete without Cleaves. A dozen records into a quarter-century career, the Maine-born singer-songwriter stays relevant because he’s gotten better all the time. He’s now a master, as these 12 songs attest. “Already Gone” opens the album with a rush; a straight-ahead rocker with an instantly memorable melody, it’s a perfect song for that car radio in the album’s title. Its triumphant sound hides the downtrodden state of its narrator, and that’s a common theme here, though Cleaves often paints his bleak pictures with different shades of beautiful music. “If I Had a Heart” is an exquisite acoustic confessional from a would-be lover lamenting “the man I used to be,” while the closing “Junkyard” uses hushed tones to achingly convey the final days of a long-loved car. Cleaves often champions the working class, as on the mom-and-pop protagonist of “Little Guys” and the laborer aging out of a job on “Take Home Pay.” Writing frequently with his longtime collaborator Rod Picott as well as Austinites Graham Weber, Karen Poston and Nathan Hamilton, Cleaves makes songs that are built to last. In-store July 10 at Waterloo Records, release show July 16 at Stateside at the Paramount. Here’s the leadoff track, “Already Gone”:


Sam Baker, “Land of Doubt.” In some ways more a poet than a musician, Baker paints vivid pictures with often simple phrases, leaving plenty of room for supporting players to fill in the colors between the lines. As a singer, Baker somehow simultaneously sounds both tough as nails and fragile as glass; mellifluous he’s not, but the character of his voice is essential to getting the point across. On tracks such as “Margaret,” “Love Is Patient” and “Peace Out,” brevity is paramount: Few words are needed to reveal the narrator’s deepest emotions. Elsewhere, “The Feast of St. Valentine” reaches for something bigger and grander, with a majestic melody that belies the bittersweetness of its chorus, while “Moses in the Reeds,” written with Mary Gauthier, is a dark and desperate character study cast against almost carnivalesque tune. Scattered amid 10 songs are five instrumental interludes that help set the tone, relying upon the sharp instincts of producer Neilson Hubbard plus versatile musicians Will Kimbrough, Dan Mitchell, David Henry and Eamon McLoughlin. “Land of Doubt” builds upon Baker’s four previous albums, further establishing his presence as a unique artist in Austin’s storied singer-songwriter community. Here’s the opening track, “Summer Wind”:


Eliot Lipp, “Skywave” (Young Heavy Souls). Further evidence of Austin’s growing electronica scene is that Lipp, who built a solid career as a DJ and producer over a decade in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Chicago, recently relocated here. “Skywave” features largely low-key but intriguingly arranged and layered soundscapes, sometimes relying as much on string swells as on rhythmic backbeats. Release show June 23 at Empire. Here’s the track “Not Quite Awake,” remixed by Portland ambient artist Emancipator:


Robert Kraft Trio, “North Bishop Ave.” With a longstanding Friday residency at the Continental Gallery, the trio of vocalist Kraft, guitarist JD Pendley and upright bassist Lindsay Greene is known for tasteful renditions of 20th-century popular-songbook standards. But they also write original rhythm and blues tunes, which are the focus of this CD. Release show June 24 at C-Boy’s. Here’s the track “Wonder”:

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Jon Wolfe, “Any Night in Texas.” Though he cites our state’s name in the title track and his tour itinerary is dominated by Texas dates, it’s not hard to imagine Wolfe making it big in Nashville. Thankfully, he doesn’t play into that city’s recent bro-country fad, but he’s an ace at the smooth, catchy pop sound that has long dominated commercial country radio, as these 14 tracks attest. In-store June 22 at Waterloo Records; playing June 25 at Willie’s Joint in Buda, and June 30 at Wagner’s Backyard in Pflugerville. Here’s “Drink for Two,” a duet with fellow Austinite Sunny Sweeney:


Super Thief, “Stuck.” Eleven cuts of needle-in-the-red noise-punk following up on last year’s “Dump Sink.” Release show June 28 at Beerland. Here’s the song “Mrs. Wakefield”:

Hard Riffs, “Stand Alone” EP. Five guitar-based rock tunes featuring bandleader Michael Mancuso plus drummer Harrell Williams and keyboardist Sam Powell. Release show July 1 at Barracuda. Here’s the title track:


JUNE 30: Nakia & His Southern Cousins, “Wine to Wine: The Water to Wine Outtakes,” release show June 29 at Antone’s. JUNE 30: Shakey Graves, “Nobody’s Fool/Donor Blues EP” reissue (Dualtone), playing Sept. 15 at ACL Live. JULY 1: Mount Pressmore, “The Masked Battle,” release show July 1 at One-2-One Bar. JULY 1: Horti, “Corpus Callosum,” release show July 1 at Empire. JULY 21: Whiskey Shivers, “Some Part of Something,” in-store July 13 at Waterloo Records, release show July 22 at Mohawk. JULY 28: Rachel Reese, “Siren” EP, release show July 25 at One-2-One Bar. AUG. 18: Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can” (Bordello). AUG. 23: Jean Caffeine, “Sadie Saturday Night.” AUG. 25: Fairbanks & the Lonesome Light, “Nothing to Escape.” SEPT. 1: Johnny Dango, “Recluse in Plain Sight.” NOV. 3: Jackie Venson, “Transcends” EP. ]]