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Austin360 On The Record: Ruthie Foster Big Band, Israel Nash, more

Peter Blackstock,
Ruthie Foster recorded her new big-band album live at Austin’s storied Paramount Theatre last year. [Scott Moore for Statesman]

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


Ruthie Foster Big Band, “Live at the Paramount” (Blue Corn). Near the end of this concert recorded at Austin’s historic Paramount Theatre in January 2019, Foster asked the wildly cheering audience, “Maybe we can do this next year, huh?” Clearly that’s not going to happen, but just hearing the sounds of a big band interacting with an appreciative audience on this 14-song collection now triggers a wave of nostalgic bliss that Foster could never have imagined last year. Live albums sometimes feel extraneous, the kinds of projects artists tend to release when they’re filling gaps between studio projects. But this was naturally a good idea for Foster, whose explosive talent as a singer always has been best experienced in a live setting. A three-time Grammy nominee who seems destined to win one eventually, Foster organized something special for her ninth release on the Houston-based Blue Corn label, taking the stage with 18 musicians drawn largely from Austin’s richly talented jazz scene. The “big” in her Big Band refers mostly to the 10-piece horn section, with Elephant Room regulars such as Michael Mordecai, Adrian Ruiz and Jon Blondell delivering a heavy brass punch to a mix of originals (“Brand New Day,” “Stone Love,” “Runaway Soul”) and standards (“Fly Me to the Moon,” “Mack the Knife,” “Ring of Fire”). The song selection aptly reflects the breadth of genres Foster commingles, from blues to jazz to gospel to country and beyond, with lush arrangements from renowned producer-bandleader John Beasley and Austin’s own John Mills. Alongside the horns, a core band featuring guitarist Mitch Watkins, pianist Jeff Hellmer, bassist John Fremgen and drummer Tom Brechtlein gives this music its backbone, while backing singers Tamara Mack, Torri Baker and Sheree Smith complement Foster’s powerhouse voice as she reaches for the stars Here’s footage from that concert of the track “Phenomenal Woman”:


Israel Nash, “Topaz” EP. The Dripping Springs indie singer-songwriter initially slated these five songs to be the first side of a full album, but the pandemic spurred him to get them out early. A surprise mid-April release, “Topaz” is an immediately enchanting EP, featuring lush, mostly acoustic arrangements that follow the mystical aesthetic Nash has established through a half-dozen previous releases. In a press statement accompanying the record, Nash offered up the following thoughts: "If these songs could either inspire, chill ya a bit, or even just help pass the day, I’m here for ya. I’ve been making more new music than ever over the last year and I wanna release more stuff than ever too. Been trying to figure out how to best do that but these weird times made it clear to me.“ Nash will inaugurate Austin nightclub 3Ten’s new “Stream Come True” series with a performance at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 14, via the venue’s Facebook page. Here’s the opening track, “Canyonheart”:

Strahan & the Good Neighbors, “Sadie.” The fourth album from longtime Austin singer-songwriter Doug Strahan and his band features 10 tracks of solid barroom roots-rock, balancing both acoustic and electric arrangements. Guitarist Strahan and bassist Dave Wesselowski co-produced for a crew featuring fellow Good Neighbors Jonathan Grossman on keyboards and Michael Lefkowitz on drums and percussion, plus guest appearances from guitarist Dave Biller, fiddler Beth Chrisman and pedal steel player Nathan Fleming. Strahan’s solo-acoustic livestream release show on May 11 remains viewable as an archived stream on his website. Here’s the track “World Full of Strangers”:

Jefferson Brown, “The French King Was Decapitated” EP. Originally from Pennsylvania, Brown is most prominent on the Austin scene as the bassist for Shinyribs, but he’s also been active lately with the Savage Poor, which he co-fronts with his brother Ben Brown. On his first release under his own name, Brown is joined by his brother as well as drummer Mick Flowers, who co-produced. The guitar-and-piano-based music leans toward richly layered indie-pop, especially on “Blind By Choice,” the strongest of these six tracks. “Lyrically this record is trying to capture the inward emotions that one feels looking out at the larger culture,” Brown said in press materials accompanying the album. “So much of the culture is absurd and grotesque. I’m always asking myself, ‘Are we in the middle of a comedy or an opera?’” Other contributors are Shinyribs trumpeter Tiger Anaya, guitarists Randy Weeks and Jeff Loeb, and backing vocalists Kathy McCarty, Barbara Nesbitt and Mary Banjoma. Here’s the track “Mutiny on the Bounty”:


MAY 22: Reckless Kelly, “American Girls” and “American Jackpot” (Thirty Tigers).

MAY 29: Sweet Spirit, “Trinidad” (Merge).

JUNE 5: John Baumann, “Country Shade.”

JUNE 19: Monte Warden & the Dangerous Few, self-titled.

JUNE 19: Diana Burgess, “You Run.”

JULY 3: Willie Nelson, “First Rose of Spring” (Legacy), moved from April 24.

JULY 10: Nobody’s Girl (self-titled).

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