Austin360 On The Record is a weekly roundup of new, recent and upcoming releases by local and Austin-associated recording artists. This week, we take a look back at the most notable records by Austin acts in 2018.
Throughout the year, we reviewed or noted nearly 200 local releases. Check our On The Record archive for more about the releases included here, and many others. My personal picks are up top, followed by an extended list of other high-profile albums plus noteworthy EPs, compilations, archival compilations, and records by artists from the greater Austin area or with distinct Austin ties.
1. Jaimee Harris, “Red Rescue.” The long-awaited debut from this rising-star singer-songwriter lived up to expectations. From radiant melodic pop to exquisite acoustic balladry to deeply affecting atmospherics, Harris and producer Craig Ross created a record that will stand tall decades from now.
2. Asleep at the Wheel, “New Routes.” Leader Ray Benson may be in his senior years, but he’s nowhere near done. His latest Wheel crew is the strongest he’s had in a long time — particularly fiddler/singer Katie Shore, who’s front-and-center on many “New Routes” tracks.
3. Marcia Ball, “Shine Bright.” The official 2018 Texas State Musician proved her worth with a gloriously joyous and at times pointedly outspoken set of her trademark R&B, soul, boogie-woogie, swamp and blues. The anthemic title track was Austin music’s best song of 2018.
4. Andrew Nolte, "Tied to a String." Out of nowhere came this attention-grabbing debut by a longtime local sideman with rare musical vision and a cast of instrumentalists who helped him realize it. Strings, horns, winds, harmonies and more — but, significantly, no guitars — breathe wondrous life into Nolte’s often daring and inventive melodies.
5. Western Youth, self-titled. They’d been around for half a decade, but Taylor Williams’ band was energized with the addition of local fixture Graham Weber. The result was an overdue full-length debut that’s a burning fastball of Americana-based rock & roll, full of memorable original songs.
6. Kelly Willis, “Back Being Blue.” After a couple of sterling duet records with her husband Bruce Robison, Willis made her first solo album in more than a decade and reminded why she’s been one of Austin’s best country artists for three decades. Her exquisite vocals enliven a handful of originals and smartly-picked gems from Rodney Crowell, Randy Weeks and others.
7. Israel Nash, “Lifted.” Austin was lucky to get this NYC refugee, who’s been making gloriously trippy yet tuneful psychedelic music in his Dripping Springs home base for almost a decade now. “Lifted,” his best record yet, is perfectly titled: It’s easy to get lost in these songs and be lifted to another plane.
8. Jesse Dayton, “The Outsider.” Dayton’s as likely to be a touring guitarist for aces like Ryan Bingham or John Doe as he is to be out playing his own material, but he’s gradually become a master of the hard-twang, rockin’-country style that’s in his blood. “The Outsider” brims with well-earned confidence, raw swagger and Texas spirit.
9. Willie Nelson, “My Way.” We’ll concur with the Grammys and choose this one over Willie’s other 2018 release, the all-new-originals set “Last Man Standing.” Not just anyone should take on songs associated with Frank Sinatra, but Nelson has the pedigree and personality to make a splendid record of it.
10. Jimmy LaFave, “Peace Town.” The late Austin-via-Oklahoma troubadour, who died of cancer in 2017, left behind a lasting testament to his influence on American music. The 20 songs he (and his friends and bandmates) finished from his final recording project included a few originals and a lot of LaFave faves from the likes of Bob Dylan, Butch Hancock and Woody Guthrie; together, they give us a lovely long goodbye.
Here's a YouTube playlist featuring a song from each of these Top Ten records:
TWENTY HONORABLE MENTIONS
Wood & Wire, “North of Despair”
Eliza Gilkyson, “Secularia”
Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing”
Jerry Jeff Walker, “It’s About Time”
Kevin Galloway, “The Change”
Erika Wennerstrom, “Sweet Unknown”
Malford Milligan & the Southern Aces, “Life Will Humble You”
Ed Miller & Rich Brotherton, “Follow the Music”
Belle Sounds, “The Sea Within”
Christy Hays, “River Swimmer”
Jeff Plankenhorn, “Sleeping Dogs”
John Mills Times Ten, “Flying Blind”
Sydney Wright, “Seiche”
Chris Sensat, “Rye”
Patricia Vonne, “Top of the Mountain”
Curtis Roush, “Cosmic Campfire Music”
Caroline Says, “No Fool Like an Old Fool”
Floyd Domino’s All-Stars, self-titled
Reputations, “Electric Power”
Shinyribs, “The Kringle Tingle”
TWENTY MORE HIGH-PROFILE RELEASES
Shakey Graves, “Can’t Wake Up”
Wild Child, “Expectations”
Shawn Colvin, “The Starlighter”
Max Frost, “Gold Rush”
Ghostland Observatory, “See You Later Simulator”
Golden Dawn Arkestra, “Children of the Sun”
The Sword, “Used Future”
Brownout, “Fear of a Brown Planet”
Bob Schneider, “Blood & Bones”
Molly Burch, “First Flower”
Melat, “Move Me II: The Present”
Holy Wave, “Adult Fear”
Carson McHone, “Carousel”
Nakia, “Blues Grifter”
Ume, “Other Nature”
Greyhounds, “Cheyenne Valley Drive”
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, "The Difference Between Me and You"
Band of Heathens, “A Message From the People Revisited”
White Denim, “Performance”
TEN EP RELEASES
Bright Light Social Hour, “Missing Something”
Sarah Sharp, “Sway”/“Dream”/“Wake” EP series
Altamesa, “From the Idol Frontier” EP series
Gina Chavez, “Lightbeam”
Lesly Reynaga, “Dual Passport”
Nobody’s Girl, “Waterline”
Night Glitter, “Hangin’ on a Dream”
Shy Beast, “Leave Me/Let Me”
The Mrs., “Five Minutes”
“Look at My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul”
“All ATX Vol. 6: I Want My All ATX, Austin Artists Revisit the ’80s”
“The Next Waltz, Vol. 1”
“Austin City Limits Radio Broadcasts, Vol. 26”
“Blaze” Original Cast Recording soundtrack
THREE ARCHIVAL RELEASES
Uncle Walt’s Band, “Anthology: Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Could Sing”
Joe Ely, “The Lubbock Tapes: Full Circle”
Terminal Mind, “Recordings”
FIVE FROM THE GREATER AUSTIN AREA
Jamie Lin Wilson, “Jumping Over Rocks”
Blue October, “I Hope You’re Happy”
Kevin Welch, “Dust Devil”
Lisa Morales, “Luna Negra and the Daughter of the Sun”
Cody Canada & the Departed, “3”
TEN ACTS WITH STRONG AUSTIN CONNECTIONS
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, “Downey to Lubbock”
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “Rocket”
Alejandro Escovedo, “The Crossing”
Michael Martin Murphey, “Austinology: Alleys of Austin”
Kat Edmonson, “Old Fashioned Gal”
Sue Foley, “The Ice Queen”
Jason Boland & the Stragglers, “Hard Times Are Relative”
Tim Rutili & Craig Ross, “10 Seconds to Collapse”
Vince Bell, “Ojo”
Ben Dickey, “It’s All Different” EP