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Austin360 On The Record: Hayes Carll, Robert Ellis, Dale Watson, more

Peter Blackstock
Hayes Carll plays a string of Austin shows next week to mark the release of "What It Is," which comes out Friday, February 15. [Contributed/David McClister]

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


Hayes Carll, “What It Is” (Dualtone). At or near the peak of the contemporary Texas troubadour crowd, Carll moved to hot Nashville indie label Dualtone for his sixth album, which follows the trail of his previous work but sharpens his writing to an even finer point. Up-front, the swaying country-folk of “None’ya” and honky-tonk swagger of “Times Like These” ground the record squarely in Americana territory, while the story-song “Jesus and Elvis” is a nice ode to North Austin’s renowned Christmas-every-day bar Lala’s. But it’s the second half of the record where things get really intersting. Swells of strings add a touch of grace to “American Dream” and “Be There,” pushing Carll toward a gorgeous melodicism that suits his music well. And he gets political near the end with two tracks that are the album’s lyrical high points. “Wild Pointy Finger” features classic Carll humor zeroing in on intolerance: “It points at anybody who thinks different than me.” Even better is “Fragile Men,” maybe the best song yet written about the Me Too era. Its faux-sympathy for those who’d see themselves as victims is a perfect takedown: “It must make you so damn angry, they’re expecting you to change.” Release shows Feb. 20 at Saxon Pub, Feb. 21 at Continental Club, Feb. 22 at 3Ten and Feb. 23 at Antone’s; in-store Feb. 21 at Waterloo Records. Here’s a front-porch version of the track “None’ya” with Alison Moorer, who co-wrote six songs and co-produced the record with engineer Brad Jones:

Robert Ellis, “Texas Piano Man” (New West). The Elton John-ization of Ellis, a Houston-area native who now calls Austin home after a stretch in Nashville, is clear as day in both the music and the imagery: The cover photo shows Ellis decked out in flamboyant white tux, complete with yellow rose boutonniere, seated at a grand piano overlooking the West Texas desert. It’s a brilliant move, really, and one that suits his talents well: Previously more of a standard guitar-strumming troubadour, Ellis proves to have the vocal chops for this kind of transformation on the rhythmically infectious “Passive Aggressive,” the lower-key but no less affecting love ballad “When You’re Away,” and the most obviously Elton-esque pop spectacle “Nobody Smokes Anymore.” Ellis recorded and co-produced the album with the same Niles City Sound crew that pushed Leon Bridges into the spotlight. Will this be the record that breaks Ellis through to the masses? Who knows. But it should be. In-store Feb. 14 at Waterloo Records; playing April 12 at Old Settler’s Music Festival. Here’s “When You’re Away”:

Dale Watson, “Call Me Lucky” (Red House). Given his recent part-time relocation to Memphis, it’s no surprise Watson recorded his new album at that city’s legendary studio Sam Phillips Recording. It didn’t change the honky-tonk archetype’s music much, of course; he’s still old-school country to the core. On “Call Me Lucky,” he keeps the hits coming short and quick: Nine of the 13 songs here are under 3 minutes, and the others are under 4 minutes. Best of the bunch is “The Dumb Song,” which borders on novelty but succeeds on the cleverness of its self-deprecating premise: Watson sings “I’m gonna keep doin’ all these things I shouldn’t do,” answered by a chorus of voices bouncing along with a “dum-dum-dum” refrain. The sweet ballad “Johnny and June” puts the spotlight on Watson’s classic country croon, set in perfect contrast to duet partner Celine Lee. Watson used musicians from both his own longtime Lone Stars band and Tennessee aces including drummer W.S. Holland, whose integral history dates back to the Sun Records sessions of Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Release shows Feb. 14 at Gruene Hall, Feb. 15 at Luckenbach Dance Hall, Feb. 16 at Broken Spoke and Feb. 18 at Continental Club. Here’s the track “David Buxkemper,” a true-life tale written for a “truckin’ farmer” fan who’d emailed him:

Emily Wolfe, self-titled. Produced by Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes, singer-songwriter-guitarist Wolfe’s full-length debut “is raucous rumble, rich with muscular riffs and soaring solos aplenty,” observes American-Statesman/Austin360’s Deborah Sengupta Stith. “Wolfe’s incongruously silky vocals glide on top, adding melodic clarity and sing-along hooks to the furious distortion that drives the album.” Release show Feb. 15 at Mohawk. Here’s the track “Rules to Bend”:

Harlem, “Oh Boy.” The duo of Michael Coomers and Curtis O’Mara, who moved to Austin from Tucson after the band initially formed in Nashville, returns with their first album since 2010’s “Hippies.” Its dozen tracks traffic in the sort of slacker-vibe indie-rock that makes Austin seem a pretty ideal fit for their music. Release show Feb. 16 at Antone’s. Here’s the song “Swervin’”:

Quin Galavis, “Victim/Nonvictim, Part 1” (Super Secret). First in a trilogy of records expected this year from the indie singer-songwriter. Here’s the track “Burn the Room”:

Leche, “Trickle Down My Ass” EP (Digital Hotdogs). Six songs from hardcore punkers who with no sacred cows; see the lead track, a one-minute ditty titled “” In-store Feb. 15 at Waterloo Records. Here’s the track “I Musta Lost It”:


“Live at Raul’s,” various artists (Steadyboy). Limited vinyl reissue of a 1980 LP that was among the most important documentary artifacts of the nascent Austin punk scene centered on University of Texas campus-area club Raul’s. Many members of participating bands the Skunks, Standing Waves, the Next, the Explosives and Terminal Mind are still leaving their marks on Austin music today. Release show Feb. 16 at South Austin Popular Culture Center with Raul’s Royal Foot. Here’s the Next with “Teen Challenge”:


FEB. 22: Gary Clark Jr., “This Land” (Warner Bros.), performing Feb. 16 on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," and taping "Austin City Limits" March 5 at ACL Live.

FEB. 22: Bayonne, “Drastic Measures,” release show Feb. 15 at Mohawk.

FEB. 22: Moving Panoramas, “In Two” (Modern Outsider), in-store Feb. 22 at Waterloo Records.

FEB. 22: William Harries Graham, “Jakes,” in-store March 3 at Waterloo Records.

FEB. 22: Joey McGee, “El Camino Real,” release show Feb. 21 at Saxon Pub.

FEB. 22: Dave Scher Trio, “Live at Austin City Jams,” release show Feb. 22 at 04 Center.

FEB. 22: Frederico7, “Exotico Americano,” release show Feb. 23 at Empire.

FEB. 22: Kelly Hafner, “If It’s Love.”

MARCH 1: Croom, “Belladonna.”

MARCH 1: Austin Meade, “Waves.”

MARCH 8: Patty Griffin, self-titled (PGM/Thirty Tigers).

MARCH 8: Danny Schmidt, “Standard Deviation.”

MARCH 22: Tia Carrera, “Visitors/Early Purple” (Small Stone), playing March 13 at Lamberts during SXSW.

MARCH 29: White Denim, “Side Effects” (City Slang).

APRIL 5: Rod Melancon, “Pinkville.”

APRIL 5: Brandon Wayne DeMaris, “Brave Bones,” release show April 10 at Antone’s.

APRIL 26: Randy Rogers Band, “Hellbent.”