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Austin360 On The Record: Willie Nelson, Black Pumas, Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, more

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Willie Nelson's new album "Ride Me Back Home" comes out Friday, June 21. [Suzanne Cordeiro for Statesman]

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


Willie Nelson, “Ride Me Back Home” (Legacy). The Texas icon’s run with Sony’s august Legacy imprint has now passed a dozen releases in seven years. These records tend to fall into distinctly different categories. Tributes (to Sinatra, Ray Price, George & Ira Gershwin) and historically themed sets (two “Willie’s Stash” volumes with his sister and his sons) fill gaps between more formal albums mixing new material with carefully chosen works from other songwriters. “Ride Me Back Home,” the latest of these formal records, is the third in the last three years dealing at least partially with Nelson’s consideration of life’s finity. Never much for looking back or slowing down when out on the road — at 86, he’s still playing more than 100 dates a year — Nelson has been surprisingly reflective on record ever since “Django & Jimmie,” a collaboration with Merle Haggard released less than a year before Haggard’s death in 2016. From the whimsical “Still Not Dead” on 2017’s masterful “God’s Problem Child” to the more still-clever yet more serious title track of 2018’s “Last Man Standing,” Willie seems increasingly inclined to explore how things look from the view of nearly nine decades on Earth. Taking the lead in that respect here is “Come On Time,” a co-write with his longtime producer Buddy Cannon. Admitting the clock will win eventually — “You’re something I can’t kill” — Willie still challenges, ready to take its best shot: “Come on time, what have you got for me this time?” Songs from others on “Ride Me Back Home” extend the theme, including Sonny Throckmorton’s title track, inspired by dozens of horses Nelson has rescued that roam his ranchland just west of Austin. Most notable of the outside songwriters is the late Guy Clark, represented by both “My Favorite Picture of You” (written with Gordie Sampson) and “Immigrant Eyes” (with Roger Murrah). The former, arguably Clark’s last great masterpiece, fully warrants the timeless treatment Nelson and Cannon give it here. “Timely” is more the word for the latter tune; even though it was written three decades ago, Nelson’s moving rendition underscores the humanity at stake in the politics of immigration. Elsewhere, “Ride Me Back Home” feels a bit scattershot. Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah join him on a light-hearted run at the Mac Davis chestnut “It’s Hard to Be Humble” that brings an easy smile, but a slightly jazzy reading of the Billy Joel classic “Just the Way You Are” feels out-of-place. And “Seven Year Itch,” another Nelson/Cannon co-write, feels like an old joke (“scratched it out in three”) that didn’t need retelling. But the two friends deliver in spades on “One More Song to Write,” which brilliantly extends the march-of-time theme into a potentially infinite horizon. The legend lives on, as long as Willie still has one more song to write. Playing July 4 at Circuit of the Americas. Here’s Nelson playing “My Favorite Picture of You” on “The Tonight Show” earlier this week:

Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, “Beautiful Lie” (Next Waltz). After back-to-back duo records in 2013 and 2014, Austin’s country music power couple went back to separate projects for a few years, including Robison’s 2017 album with his Back Porch Band and last year’s “Back Being Blue” record from Willis. Their music is reliably worth hearing in any configuration, but they’re especially engaging together, with sensibilities both vocally and stylistically that mesh together so naturally as to feel interwoven. The instant hit here is “Astrodome,” a Robison/Jack Ingram co-write that brilliantly uses the dormant but still-standing Houston marvel as a metaphor for the faded memories of a relationship. Three songs here come from country songwriter Adam Wright (one with his wife Shannon Wright). Other standouts include the title track, rescued from the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ 1975 debut album, and David Ball’s achingly mournful ballad “Lost My Best,” which highlights the brilliant instrumental contributions of Trevor Nealon on piano and Geoff Queen on pedal steel guitar. Three more Robison originals round things out, including the bittersweet album closer “Heartache to Houston.” Release show June 22 at Continental Club. Here’s the video for “Astrodome”:

Black Pumas, self-titled (ATO). The much-anticipated debut album from charismatic singer-songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada’s red-hot new outfit expands on last year’s attention-grabbing single “Black Moon Rising” for a full 10-track testament verifying their status as vanguards of a vibrant eclectic soul wave in Austin. In a feature story and interview with the band this week, American-Statesman writer Deborah Sengupta Stith called it “a potent collection of modern soul classics with a cinematic production sensibility that owes as much to the golden era of hip-hop as it does to Motown or Stax. … Most of the record is imbued with the sweeping, vinyl-crackle production that is Quesada’s signature, but the album takes a quiet bow at the end with ‘Sweet Conversation.’ … The new album deftly captures the exhilarating energy of Black Pumas live, but for the stage show that’s been thrilling audiences around the world, Burton pulls out all the stops.” Release show June 21 at Antone’s. Here’s the band performing the album track “Know You Better” in the Austin360/American-Statesman studios:

Hector Ward & the Big Time, “Smile Into Life” (Blackfinger). Funk, soul, blues, country, rock & roll and more work their way into the Big Time’s big-tent approach that features guitarist and lead singer Ward out front. “Smile Into Life” follows two previous studio albums plus a live album and features a core band of bassist Scott Beardsley, drummer Mike McGurk, trombonist Ben Taylor and backing vocalist Cari Hutson. Many more local musicians flesh out the group’s powerhouse sound, most notably a lively horn section that includes trumpeter Stephen Farmer and saxophonists Mark Wilson and Oscar Ornelas. Release show June 20 at Antone’s. Here’s the video for the opening track, “Life & Livin’”:

Reckless Kelly, “Bulletproof Live” (Thirty Tigers). The veteran Austin country-rockers celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their pivotal 2008 album “Bulletproof” last year by playing it in full at shows last summer in the Northwest, where the band began. “Bulletproof Live” documents those performances, capturing some of Reckless Kelly’s best work in the live environment that has always been central to their appeal. Playing July 13 at Antone’s. Here’s a lyric video for the track “You Don’t Have to Stay Forever”:

Eric Tessmer, “EP 2.” These half-dozen tracks from the blues-rock guitar firebrand follow a four-song first volume issued in 2016, with a third installment planned to follow. Following four Tessmer originals are a track written with bandmates Marc Redix (drums), Jason Rathman (bass) and Sammy Powell (keys), plus a cover of Anders Osborne’s ‘Love Is Taking Its Toll.” In-store June 20 at Waterloo Records, release show June 21 at Scoot Inn. Here’s an extended live version of the track “Good So Bad” recorded at Stubb’s last year:

Nakia, “Real.Live.Blues” EP. A six-song set from the celebrated soulful singer and songwriter, co-produced by Mac McNabb, documents a recent show at Austin’s One-2-One Bar and leans toward the material he’s been revisiting with his recently reconvened group the Blues Grifters. Release show June 22 at Saxon Pub.


JUNE 28: Flower Graves, “Living in Disguise,” release show June 28 at Barracuda.

JUNE 30: Disowned, release show June 30 at Hotel Vegas.

JULY 12: Welsh Avenue, “New Ways” EP, release show July 20 at Butterfly Bar.

JULY 26: Guy Forsyth & Jeska Bailey, “Conspirators.”

AUG. 9: Jesse Dayton, “Mixtape, Vol. 1.”

AUG. 16: Hanna Barakat, “Siren,” release show Aug. 30 at Come & Take It Live.

AUG. 23: Midland, "Let It Roll" (Big Machine).

AUG. 23: Croy & the Boys, “Howdy High-Rise,” release show Aug. 24 at Sam’s Town Point.

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