Austin360 On The Record is a weekly roundup of new, recent and upcoming releases by local and Austin-associated recording artists.


OUT THIS WEEK


Walker Lukens, "Red Headed Strangers." A fixture in Austin’s indie scene for years, Lukens played a remarkable solo-piano version of the Willie Nelson classic "Funny How Time Slips Away" from shuttered East Austin venue Scoot Inn as part of last month’s HAAM Day benefit livestream series. Turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg: Lukens recently recorded nine songs written or recorded by Nelson for this album he’s selling via his website, with all proceeds going to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. It helps to start with great material, of course, but the key here is how much Lukens reimagines and reinvents these songs. Lukens and co-producer James Wesltey Essary laid down most of the instrumental tracks, with help from bassists Grant Himmler and Jack O’Brien, drummer Zac Catanzaro and backing vocalist McKenzie Griffin (plus Mickey Rose in a spacey duet version of "I Can Get Off on You"). "Hello Walls" feel almost tropical with its jaunty piano-and-percussion arrangement, and "Gotta Get Drunk" has a similar vibe that brings to mind Harry Nilsson’s "Coconut." An eerie, echoing loneliness pervades Lukens’ reading of "Always on My Mind," reconnecting the song with its initial emotional impulse. A dance-oriented take on Willie’s forlorn ballad "Pretend I Never Happened" feels jarring at first, but it’s rhythmically alluring enough to justify the sharp left turn. Handclaps and synth-like keyboards push "The Party’s Over" into a sweet groove that still carries the late-night/early-morning embers of the original. The set closes with a run through "On the Road Again" that stresses train-like drum machine sounds (on the rails again?), with two mid-song pauses that offer stark contrast to the chugging beats. Lukens humorously notes on a preview streaming link to the record that "no Telecasters, acoustic guitars or weed was used to make this record." Here’s the version of "Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away" from HAAM Day 2020:


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Johnny Nicholas, "Mistaken Identity" (Valcour). A regular performer at the Saxon Pub for many years, Hill Country resident Nicholas digs deep into a Texas-styled combo of blues, country, folk, R&B and soul on his first album of new material in four years. If the country-folk-Tex-Mex roots of Nicholas’s current home base near Fredericksburg give way to deep Louisiana R&B, blues and swamp grooves here, that’s no surprise; Nicholas cut his teeth as a musician there, and Valcour Records co-founder Joel Savoy produced the album at his Louisiana studio. The musicianship leans toward Texas, with Resentments aces Scrappy Jud Newcomb and John Chipman joining bassist Chris Maresh in Nicholas’s core backing crew. Los Texmaniacs members Max Baca (bajo sexto) and Josh Baca (accordion) also contribute, while the cast of backing vocalists includes Shinyribs Soul Sisters Alice Spencer and Kelley Mickwee. Here’s the title track:


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Bonnie Whitmore, "Last Will and Testament." Midway through "Last Will & Testament," the fifth album from Austin singer-songwriter and bass player Bonnie Whitmore, "Time to Shoot" feels like a mission statement, even as it’s partly asking questions. That’s fitting for an album that Whitmore says is intended to open up dialogues. Questions pop up often in the record’s songs. "Who’s pulling all the strings?" she sings in "None of My Business," which challenges listeners to reconsider the impact of things that maybe should be their business. "Are you OK, honey/ Or are you looking for the exit sign?" is the key couplet on "Fine," which lets a lover down easy even as the narrator’s heart is breaking, too. And then there’s "Right/Wrong," an existential manifesto with three key questions: "Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What do you want to say?" It’s heavy stuff, even as the music is full of heart and soul and spirit, with memorable melodies and propulsive rhythms. That’s just as Whitmore intends it to be. "What I’m really wanting to do," she says, "is give people a reason to start having these hard conversations, because we can’t keep ignoring them. We can’t pretend that they don’t exist. My goal with this new record is to create a space to get those conversations started." Read our full Austin360 Artist of the Month interview with Whitmore from June 2020 at austin360.com. Here’s the video for the track "Fine":


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Zoltars, "Mystery Kids" (Rock Tumbler). This new 13-song release, recorded with engineer Dan Duszynski, follows last year’s album "Telling Stories" in further establishing the Zoltars as one of Austin’s most engaging bands. The garage-pop trio — guitarist Jared Leibowich, bassist Miranda Fisher and drummer Donald Gallaspy — excels at keeping things simple and concise. All but two of these tracks clock in at less than three minutes, but the music is no less engaging for its brevity. The band consistently delivers memorable pop melodies, with vocal harmonies that enhance the often mystical moods of the material. Though they’re longtime fixtures of Austin’s indie scene, the Zoltars stand out as something different, with music that feels less like 21st-century exploration and more a celebration of classic 1960s underground pop; indeed, most everything on "Mystery Kids" feels like it would feel at home on one of that era’s renowned "Nuggets" compilations. Here’s the title track:


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RECENTLY RELEASED


Jackie Venson, "Live in Texas." Recorded at New Braunfels’ legendary Gruene Hall in August 2018 with keyboardist John Deas, bassist Nick Clark and drummer Rodney Hyder, this two-disc set features 22 songs that reflect the broad range of Venson’s musical explorations. Despite the pandemic, 2020 has been a big year for Venson, who taped "Austin City Limits" on Oct. 1 (for an episode that will air on Nov. 14) and released two volumes of "Jackie the Robot" EPs in the spring and summer. Next up is the Oct. 30 full-length studio album "Vintage Machine." In the meantime, "Live in Texas" offers a revealing look at Venson as she was gradually making her way toward bigger things. Here’s footage from the show of the track "Nice and Warm":


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COMING SOON


OCT. 9: Matt Giles, "Year of the Dog"


OCT. 9: Various artists, "To the People of the Land: Estok’ Gna Solidarity Compilation" with Molly Burch, Will Johnson, Christelle Bofale, more (Keeled Scales)


OCT. 16: Sir Woman, "The Bitch" EP


OCT. 16: Giulia Millanta, "Tomorrow Is a Bird"


OCT. 16: Wilson Marks, "True Beauty Is in the Random"


OCT. 16: Jerry David DeCicca, "The Unlikely Optimist and His Domestic Adventures"


OCT. 23: Missio, "Can You Feel the Sun" (2B/BMG)


OCT. 30: Jackie Venson, "Vintage Machine"


OCT. 30: Sideshow Tragedy, "After the Fall"


NOV. 6: Alan Moe Monsarrat, "Agriculture"


NOV. 13: Nane, self-titled


DEC. 4: Mark Willenborg, "Cold Beer and Country Music"