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Austin360 On The Record: Mike & the Moonpies, Sweet Spirit

Peter Blackstock,
Mike & the Moonpies, from left: Zachary Moulton, Mike Harmeier, Omar Oyoque, Catlin Rutherford and Kyle Ponder. [Contributed by Benjamin Yanto]

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


Mike & the Moonpies, “Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart.” Released on what would have been Stewart’s 76th birthday, the seventh album from this renowned Austin country band is something special, featuring 10 songs the late honky-tonk master wrote but never recorded. Moonpies leader Mike Harmeier worked with Stewart’s family and close friends to rescue these songs from the archives and bring them to life. The Moonpies’ classic-country-twang style is a perfect match for Stewart’s songs; indeed, Harmeier said in a press release announcing the new album that Stewart’s music “has been the driving influence of our band from the first notes we played together.” Stewart wrote these songs in the 1970s and ’80s; he released 11 albums during those two decades, but these tracks are so strong that it’s hard to fathom how they never got released. Harmeier’s richly melodic voice is the key element here, but the entire band makes this work as well as it does, from Zachary Moulton’s showcase steel guitar runs to the electric-guitar coloring of Catlin Rutherford to the rock-steady rhythm section of bassist Omar Oyoque and drummer Kyle Ponder. A ringer of a special guest is Midland singer Mark Wystrach, whose voice blends beautifully with Harmeier’s on the standout track “Smooth Shot of Whiskey.” Producer Adam Odor, who also helmed last year’s stellar Moonpies album “Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold” that was recorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios, gives these songs precisely the right warm tone to fit the strengths of both the band’s musicianship and Stewart’s songwriting. Have Mike & the Moonpies pulled off the impressive feat of releasing Austin’s best country album for two years in a row? It’s still early in 2020, but for now, we’d say yes. Here’s the opening track, “Bottom of the Pile”:

Sweet Spirit, “Trinidad” (Merge). In an American-Statesman feature story about the Austin indie band’s new album — its first for renowned North Carolina label Merge Records — writer Deborah Sengupta Stith noted that the record “is darker in tone and more introspective than Sweet Spirit’s earlier work. It feels eerily appropriate for this strange moment in time.” She also spoke to band leaders Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen about the making of the album. “It’s very scaled back,” Ellis said. “It’s not a big bombastic rock performance. So in that way, it’s darker. And also a lot of the lyrics are very focused on loneliness.” Cashen added: “This time we really tried to strip it back and, like, get down to what the feeling of each song was and try to hunt it down.” Here’s the official video for the track “No Dancing”:


JUNE 5: Night Glitter, self-titled (Nine Mile).

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).

JULY 17: David Ramirez, “My Love Is a Hurricane” (Sweetworld/Thirty Tigers).

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