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Blk Odyssy's debut is 'one of the best albums of the year, in Austin or anywhere'

Sam Houston emerges as one of Austin's fastest rising stars on Blk Odyssy's debut album, "Blk Vintage."

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

New releases

Blk Odyssy, “Blk Vintage.” This stunning debut album is a perilous hero’s journey, rich with musical depth and aching with raw emotion. Shades of Fela Kuti, Parliament, 2Pac, D’Angelo and Bob Marley swirl in and out of an adventurous sonic palette that invites comparisons to grand modern works like Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Kamasi Washington’s “The Epic.” Bringing together a potent cast of Black Austin talent that includes rapper Harry Edohoukwa, R&B singer Eimaral Sol and powerful Trouble in the Streets leader Nnedi Agbaroji, the album paints a portrait of a Black America that is alternately defiant, sensuous and devastating.

The title track leads the listener in with uneasy strains of a cascading flute, a muted trumpet and a lonely guitar. They mingle with plaintive calls for “sweet Jesus” and establish a sense of looming danger that remains pervasive throughout the album. Singer and composer Sam Houston evokes the book of Exodus, Moses’ calling to free the Israelites; then his falsetto turns breathless while he outlines poisonous social traps that haunt Black men in America.    

It’s a stark departure from the rock & roll screaming he employed in his early work in Austin. In March, Houston told the American-Statesman that the pandemic shutdown, while initially devastating to his rising band, actually became the “best thing that has happened to us musically." It gave the band a chance to "really rekindle who we were as artists,” he said. 

They “scrapped the album that we were working on before,” which Houston said “was very much a move for us to become more popular in Austin,” and leaned hard into the musical influences that made them. 

MORE:Our 2020 interview with Blk Odyssy's Sam Houston

“Funkentology” flips sexy soul into a modern take on an old-school funk groove, and “Hang Low” is a steamy invocation of intoxicating love. Houston takes a back seat on the groovy interlude “Ya No Podía Salir,” driven by the melancholy Spanish spoken word of Daniela Vargas. He shares the spotlight on several tracks, including the fiery “Blk Revolution,” which begins with an urgent sermon from Agbaroji, who calls on her people to embrace “a full spectrum of greatness/ No longer complacent with surviving.” 

The menacing specter of early death, the incessant anxiety around police brutality and the toll those things take on a Black man’s mental health emerge as recurring themes that manifest on tracks such as the aural exorcism “Big Bad Wolf/Sober” and the Afro-beat odyssey “Murda.”

When Houston was 13, his oldest brother died in an altercation with the police, casting a pall on his adolescence. The event “defined my purpose and what I wanted to speak about as a musician,” he told the Statesman in 2020. 

The story plays out most explicitly on “Drinking Good,” a visceral bloodletting that unfolds in several movements. The pain morphs into unflinching wisdom as the song emerges as a powerful meditation on pervasive inequality, trauma recovery and the way misperceptions kill black men in America. It’s a powerful coda to one of the best albums of the year, in Austin or anywhere. Playing Oct. 10 at ACL Fest. — D.S.S.

Here’s the video for “Murda”:

Shinyribs, “Late Night TV Gold.” Initially, the name Shinyribs was basically an alias for Kevin Russell while he was still with the Gourds. Then it became a band name, and then the band got big, expanding to an eight-member lineup. "Late Night TV Gold" is in some ways a return to Shinyribs' origins, as Russell made this record largely on his own during the pandemic.

It's also a fairly distinct left turn from the band's recent work. There are elements of Beaumont-born Russell's Bayou-inspired "swamp pop" here, but this record feels more introspective on the whole, as opposed to the kind of dance-party vibe that has become the stock-and-trade of Shinyribs' live shows (the track “Party While You Still Can” notwithstanding).

Russell riffs off of Leonard Cohen’s line, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” (from “Anthem”) in the first verse of opening track “How the Light Knows,” before getting even more metaphysical: “You should have seen Einstein kissing’s Van Gogh’s face.” The next track, “Sweetening,” is more grounded in Russell’s Southern roots, referencing magnolias, peaches and honeysuckle.

MORE:Shinyribs grew from the little band that could to the big band that is

“Rhythm of the Night” lives up to its name, grooving to a steady drumbeat credited to Morf Nebbish. A Google search of that name turns up nothing, suggesting it’s an alias for someone; curiously, Shinyribs drummer Keith Langford is nowhere to be found on this album.

Other members do appear, but only sparingly: backing vocalist Alice Spencer, trumpeter Marc Franklin, and recent addition Marty Muse (formerly of Robert Earl Keen’s band) on pedal steel. Arkansas musician Jason Weinheimer provides bass on most tracks, but Russell handles the bulk of the instrumentation, including electric and acoustic guitar, keyboards, ukulele and banjolele.

My favorite song here is, fittingly, titled “Favorite Song,” which bounces along to a keyboard riff and melody that recalls 1970s AM radio fare. It’s followed by the title track, an instrumental that closes the album with a mix of strange noises and syncopated beats, reflecting the unusual detour of the record as a whole. Release show Aug. 27 at Paramount Theatre— P.B.

Here’s the video for “Sweetening”:

Suzanne Santo, “Yard Sale.” Even during the pandemic, musicians continued moving to Austin. A prominent one is this distinctive singer-songwriter, formerly of Los Angeles duo HoneyHoney. Santo released her solo debut, “Ruby Red,” in 2017, but she raises the bar with this new record, which features guest contributions from A-list Austin artists Gary Clark Jr. and Shakey Graves.

Suzanne Santo's new album is titled "Yard Sale."

Cameo star power aside, what makes “Yard Sale” shine is the dramatic power of Santo’s vocal delivery and her emotionally resonant lyrics. A news release accompanying the album describes her sound as falling “in the grey area between Americana, Southern-gothic soul, and forward-thinking rock & roll,” and that’s a fair assessment of these dozen original tracks.

Written a couple of years ago while Santo was on tour with Hozier (both as an opening act and as a member of his band), “Yard Sale” was recorded in Los Angeles with producer John Spiker, known for his work with Tenacious D. Highlights include “Mercy,” an early single with a compelling melody set to an adventurous indie-folk arrangement; the soul-stirring ballads “Common Sense” and “Island”; and the intensely bluesy “Fall for That,” which Clark takes to another level with a wicked guitar solo.

“This record is about the things I've left behind and the things I've held onto,” Santo says in promotional materials. “I was broken up with while writing the record. I fell in love again while writing the record. And I learned to fearlessly follow my gut, in all places of my life.” — P.B.

Here’s the track “Mercy”:

Alejandro Escovedo, “La Cruzada.” After earning Escovedo his first-ever appearance on Billboard’s Latin Pop Album charts when it was released on vinyl last year as a Record Store Day exclusive, “La Cruzada” gets a full digital release this week. It’s an ingenious Spanish-language recast of Escovedo’s 2018 album “The Crossing,” a concept album about immigrants from Mexico and Italy that Escovedo wrote and recorded with Italian band Don Antonio. 

"La Cruzada“ was recorded last fall, with lead vocals from Alex Ruiz of Austin band Del Castillo overlaid on the original album’s instrumental tracks. Escovedo added backing vocals on some songs, along with singers Patricia Vonne and Vanessa Del Fierro. "Having a voice like Alex’s, especially with this material and this story and these songs, really takes it to a totally different level than my voice did,“ Escovedo told us last year. — P.B.

Here’s the track “Algo Azul”:

Bob Schneider, “In a Room Full of Blood With a Sleeping Tiger.” Perhaps Austin’s most prolific recording artist of the past two decades, Schneider serves up a dozen new tracks on his first full-length release since 2018’s “Blood and Bones.” Renowned for venturing all over the map musically, from funk to bluegrass to the NSFW-lyrics of his band the Scabs, Schneider zeroes in on what he does best here, the pop-oriented singer-songwriter fare that fueled his 2000 breakthrough “Lonelyland.”

Highlights include “Lord of the Flies,” a “Rocket Man”-type tune that draws from recent headlines (“I’m in the Space Force now, I’m on my way back home”); the sunny and bright “I Love This Life,” which, like several songs on the record, delivers the goods in less than three minutes; and “Small Dreams,” which celebrates the little things (“I’ll take your small dreams and put them with mine, and we’ll be fine”). Release show Aug. 27 at Antone’s. — P.B.

Here’s the title track:

Altin Sencalar, “Reconnected” (Next Level). The second full-length release from the graduate of music programs at Texas State University and the University of Texas features eight instrumental tunes centered on Sencalar’s fluid trombone playing. Release show Aug. 27 at East Austin Piano Shop.— P.B.

Here’s where to watch the livestream of his release show:

Recently released

Sailor Poon, “An Album by Sailor Poon.” Issued last year, this full-length debut from the all-female punk outfit documents the group’s penchant for quick-hitting songs: All but one of its 13 tracks clock in at under three minutes, with many of them under two minutes (including a half-minute romp through Fear’s 1982 classic “New York’s All Right if You Like Saxophones”). The song titles provide a clue as to Sailor Poon’s aesthetic: “She Farts Like a Motorcycle,” “Too Many Boyfriends,” “The Post Penetration Appreciation Society.” Release show Aug. 28 at Kinda Tropical parking lot. — P.B.

Here’s the video for the opening track, “Be My Dog”:

Coming soon

SEPT. 3: Joe King Carrasco y Colectivo Chihuahua, “Beers, Bars & Guitars”

SEPT. 3: Terri Hendrix, “Pilgrim's Progress Project 5.5”

SEPT. 3: David Beck, “Good Nature,” release show Sept. 4 at Saxon Pub

SEPT. 3: Parker Woodland, “Live From Love Hill”

SEPT. 10: Heartless Bastards, “A Beautiful Life” (Unknown/Thirty Tigers), playing Fridays at C-Boy’s and Saturdays at Continental Club throughout August

SEPT. 10: Chris Beall, “Abilene,” release show Sept. 10 at Saxon Pub

SEPT. 17: Rod Gator, “For Louisiana” (Blue Elan), release show Sept. 17 at Far Out Lounge

SEPT. 24: Jackie Venson, “Love Transcends,” playing Oct. 22 at Old Settler’s Music Festival

SEPT. 24: Tony Kamel, “Back Down Home” (Next Waltz)

OCT. 8: Carolyn Wonderland, “Tempting Fate” (Alligator)

OCT. 15: Buffalo Nichols, self-titled (Fat Possum)

OCT. 22: Sue Foley, “Pinky’s Blues”

More from Austin360 On The Record:

AUG. 20:James McMurtry, William Harries Graham, Belle Sounds

AUG. 13:Jade Bird, Mike & the Moonpies

JULY 30:Nobody's Girl, Paul Oakenfold, Jesse Daniel, Max Rios & the Waysiders