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Austin360 On The Record: Blue Water Highway, David Ramirez, Charley Crockett

Blue Water Highway's new album is titled "Paper Airplanes."

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

Out this week

Blue Water Highway, “Paper Airplanes.” Sometimes I realize that as much as I try to keep up with all the music being made by local acts, I’m inevitably missing things. Case in point: When did Blue Water Highway get this good?

They’ve been putting out records for nearly a decade, and appeared to be growing gradually in both quality and stature as they rose from humble San Marcos origins. But one listen to their third full-length album was all it took to confirm that they’re now easily one of Austin’s best Americana acts, and that they have legitimate national potential.

“Paper Airplanes” finds the band gravitating more toward the pop end of the Americana spectrum, with a sound that may be slightly less rootsy but ultimately is more compelling for it. Lead singer-guitarist and primary songwriter Zack Kibodeaux seems to reel off strong melodies with ease. His rich tenor voice combines with harmonies from co-founding guitarist Greg Essington (a friend since the pair’s high school days in the Texas coastal town of Lake Jackson) and keyboardist Catherine Clarke to make magic out of the songs’ melodicism.

The band traveled to Nashville for the “Paper Airplanes” sessions, working with producer Cason Cooley (Ingrid Michaelson, American Authors) on a record that’s exquisitely arranged. String-section accents deepen the emotional impact of several tracks. Lyrically, Kibodeaux says in press materials accompanying the release that the band “wanted to explore the contrasts of childhood and adulthood: What is it like for you to stand in your childhood room as an adult, or look up at the stars, and how do you have dreams as a realistic, maybe jaded grown-up?”

Highlights include the soaring, atmospheric title track; the rhythmic groove of “Dog Days”; Kibodeaux’s lovely falsetto reaches on the brooding “Alchemist”; and the uplifting closer “All Will Be Well.” But all 13 of these tracks earned their place on this album. And if I’m late to the party, I’m just glad to finally be here. Release shows Friday, March 12, at Gruene Hall and Saturday, March 13, at Antone’s. Here’s the video for the title track:

David Ramirez, “Backslider” EP. One of the finest pure singers ever to call Austin home, Ramirez has become one of the city’s most accomplished and respected singer-songwriters since his 2009 debut album. Whereas last year’s dramatic “My Love Is a Hurricane” built upon the strong foundation of his four previous releases, this one’s a bit of a left turn, a collection of mostly traditional gospel hymns. Minimal arrangements feature subtle instrumental support from Brian Douglas Phillips, who engineered at his Austin studio Rattle Trap Audio, plus backing vocals from Natalie Price and Kalu James. Playing Saturday, March 20, at Empire Garage.

Recently released

Charley Crockett, “10 for Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand.” The death last year at age 67 of Hand, a country troubadour from Tokio, Texas, who played frequently at Austin honky-tonks, clearly hit home for Crockett, whose own music is modeled largely on the old-school sounds that Hand embodied. This labor of love pays well-deserved respects to 10 of the many songs songs Hand left behind. There’s also a minute-long intro, set to gentle fiddle and pedal steel backing, that features a sincere spoken-word recitation from Crockett: “I can see him now, on a big stage in Memphis, Tennessee, or Austin, Texas, singing with tears in his eyes. He changed my life forever.” Here’s the video for “Lesson in Depression”:

READ MORE:Texas country great James Hand dies at 67

Coming soon

MARCH 19: Midland, “The Sonic Ranch” documentary soundtrack (Big Machine).

MARCH 19: Nuevo, self-titled (Nine Mile)

MARCH 19: Mandy Rowden, “Parachute”

MARCH 24: Leti Garza, “Borderland” EP

MARCH 26: Armadillo Paradox, “Out of Gas in Oil Country”

APRIL 2: Zach Person, self-titled (Blackdenim)

APRIL 2: Joe Barksdale, “Omari”

APRIL 2: Shakey Graves, “Roll the Bones X” 10th-anniversary reissue edition (Dualtone)

APRIL 9: Balmorhea, “The Wind” (Deutsche Grammophon)

APRIL 16: Amigo the Devil, “Born Against”

APRIL 23: Danny Golden, “Changes” EP

JULY 30: Nobody’s Girl, self-titled (Lucky Hound)

OTHER RECENT AUSTIN360 ON THE RECORD ROUNDUPS:

MARCH 5:Graham Wilkinson, Jaimee Harris, more

FEB. 26:Willie Nelson salutes Frank Sinatra with 'That's Life'

FEB. 19:Riders Against the Storm, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, more