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Austin360 On The Record: Looking back at the half-year's best

Peter Blackstock
Both Willie Nelson and Gary Clark Jr. released new albums in the first half of 2019. [RODOLFO GONZALEZ FOR STATESMAN]

Austin360 On The Record is a weekly roundup of new, recent and upcoming releases by local and Austin-associated recording artists. This week, we mark the halfway point of 2019 by measuring up some of the best records to come out in the first six months of the year, with excerpts from our reviews.


Gary Clark Jr., “This Land” (Warner Bros.). A 16-track opus that builds upon his previous work but also rockets toward parts unknown, Clark’s third studio album for Warner Bros. is a grand statement. Feature story

Willie Nelson, “Ride Me Back Home” (Legacy). 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?” Full review

Black Pumas, self-titled (ATO). The debut from singer-songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada’s red-hot new outfit expands on last year’s attention-grabbing single for a full 10-track testament verifying their status as vanguards of a vibrant eclectic soul wave in Austin. Feature story

Bill Callahan, “Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest” (Drag City). His first studio release in five years is a big one, a 20-song double-album that covers a momentous period in his life. The 53-year-old lo-fi pioneer got married, had a child, and left Austin for California for 10 months before moving back. Full review

Missio, “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man” (RCA). Singer Matthew Brue and instrumentalist Andrew Butler up the ante on “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man,” which moves beyond the catchy but borderline-novelty appeal of the first album’s highlights with songs that suggest Missio is in this for the long haul. Feature story

Jimmie Vaughan, “Baby, Please Come Home” (Last). Classics from T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed, Lloyd Price and others flow from Vaughan’s guitar and voice like his lifeblood. A nice curveball is “No One to Talk to But the Blues” by Lefty Frizzell, a country legend who clearly could connect with R&B audiences as well. Feature story

Patty Griffin, self-titled (PGM/Thirty Tigers). Griffin’s 10th studio album is perhaps her most personal, following recovery from cancer that appears to have at partly sparked songs of self-examination and considerations of mortality. Full review

Grupo Fantasma, “American Music: Vol. VII” (Blue Corn). For the seventh album of its two-decade career, the Grammy-winning Latin funk ensemble used Miami-based Colombian producer Carlos ‘El Loco’ Bedoya. Tomar Williams of local band Tomar & the FCs is out front on “Let Me Be.” Feature story

Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, “Beautiful Lie” (Next Waltz). 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. Full review

Shinyribs, “Fog & Bling.” “Highway of Diamonds” instantly vaults into the count-on-one-hand ranks of the best songs Russell has ever written, with a bittersweet guitar hook that feels like painting the western horizon an impossible shade of blue-green-orange. Full review


Robert Ellis, “Texas Piano Man” (New West). 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. Feature story

Little Mazarn, “Io” (Self Sabotage). Minimalism is key here: There’s so much open space in “Marfa Lights” that you can almost feel the West Texas desert-sky panorama unfold as Verrill’s vocals cast their spell. The crowning jewel is “Vermont,” a shimmering reverie with a beautiful melody carrying the bittersweet realization that “you can’t stay everywhere you leave a piece of your heart.” Full review

Los Coast, “Samsara” (New West). It’s fitting that one of the standout tracks on “Samsara” is titled “(Everything But) the Kitchen Sink,” which brings hip-hop rhythms into a Los Coast spread that elsewhere draws on jazz, blues, folk, indie-pop and more. Like most of the best Austin bands across the decades, they’re more interested in breaking down genre boundaries than adhering to them. Full review

Jackie Venson, “Joy.” Venson spent much of last year releasing a half-dozen singles, which are gathered here along with seven fresh songs and a series of short interludes that serve as transitions between tracks. Taken together, they’re a sort of tour-de-force mission statement showing everything Venson can do. Feature story

Montopolis, “The Legend of Big Bend.” With resumes ranging from the Tosca String Quartet and the Austin Symphony to the Polyphonic Spree and Okkervil River, the ensemble exemplifies the merging of classical and contemporary indie realms at the core of composer Justin Sherburn’s vision. Full review


Hayes Carll, “What It Is” (Dualtone)

Bayonne, “Drastic Measures” (Mom+Pop)

Rosie Flores, “Simple Case of the Blues” (Last)

Moving Panoramas, “In Two” (Modern Outsider)

Jamestown Revival, “San Isabel” (Thirty Tigers)

Frederico7, “Exotico Americano”

Freedonia, “Firefly”

Altamesa, “Idol Frontier”

Bright Light Social Hour, “Jude Vol. 1” (Modern Outsider)

Kim Simpson, “The Comets Swish Their Tails”

Dale Watson, “Call Me Lucky” (Red House)

Gurf Morlix, “Impossible Blue” (Rootball)

Scrappy Jud Newcomb, “The Third Party”

Walker Lukens, “Adult” (Modern Outsider)

Jack Ingram, “Ridin’ High...Again” (Beat Up Ford)

Randy Rogers Band, “Hellbent” (Tommy Jackson/Thirty Tigers)

South Austin Moonlighters, “Travel Light” (Station House)

Hector Ward & the Big Time, “Smile Into Life” (Blackfinger)

Ray Prim, “Unconditional”

Rich Hopkins & Luminarios, “Back to the Garden” (San Jacinto).


Go Fever, “Daydream Hawker”

Magna Carda, “Ladee”

Kenny Williams, “Sings”

Christelle Bofale, “Swim Team”

Quiet Company, “On Corners & Shapes”

Beth // James, “Falling”


Michael Fracasso, “Big Top” (Lucky Hound)

Commandos, “The Lone Star Sessions” (Jungle)

Uncle Walt’s Band, self-titled (Omnivore)

“Live at Raul’s,” various artists (Steadyboy)

Shy Beast, “Shy ’Til You Die”


Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)" (Fantasy)

George Strait, “Honky Tonk Time Machine” (MCA Nashville)

Delines, “The Imperial” (Decor/El Cortez)

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