Review: Texas Music (Summer Edition)

Don’t know about you, but here in the Lone Star state the weather is telling us summer’s here.  Time to clean the pool, dust off the barbecue grill and pop a few tops (of Lone Star Beer, naturally).  We understand gasoline is 4 bucks a gallon so we won’t be too offended if you don’t visit over the Memorial Day weekend.  So here’s some freshly minted music from Texas, as a little holiday gift to you.

Caroline Herring has for years been a vital part of the Austin music scene even though she now lives in Atlanta.  Lantana, her third album, was recorded in Austin with Rich Brotherton and it’s her best effort yet.  Herring has an ear for simple, memorable songs that get under your skin before you realize it.  “Lay My Burden Down” sounds like it could have been handed down from the Carter Family or Woody Guthrie.  “Paper Gown” is the highlight here, a withering portrait of a cold-blooded killer (the mom who drove her car into a lake with her two babies strapped in their car seats).  Chilling and invigorating.

James McMurtry still writes and sings about political topics, and his tirades are among the best protest music (the only protest music?) being produced today.  On Just Us Kids he has the courtesy, though, to place clues in the titles for the wary (“Cheney’s Toy,” “The Governor,” “God Bless America”) but anyone who skips over these are missing some of the best tunes on the album.  McMurtry cranks up the electrics and delivers another set of hard-boiled observations on life in these dark and dirty times.

Tift Merritt, a Houston-born singer/songwriter, gives her heartbreak a blue country tint on Another Country.  She’s somewhat evasive on the details but songs like “Broken” and “Something To Me” show more emotion and compassion than past efforts.  It’s apparently liberating, because Merritt tackles a Stax-style “Tell Me Something True” and closes the album with “Mille Tendresses” sung in French.  Charming.

Ryan Bingham released his debut Mendocito late last year but it’s now making an impression nationally (catch Ryan on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” on Friday, May 23).  He rolls his blues, country and rock influences into a big musical burrito that would go down fine in a Texas roadhouse on a Saturday night.  Bingham’s a Texas storyteller and he is going to be around a while.  This is a keeper!

We reviewed Blame It On Gravity by the Old 97s earlier this week but thought we’d use this opportunity to share another tune from this great album.  We’re eagerly awaiting Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal in mid-June, especially after hearing some of its tunes live recently (including a surprise appearance with Bruce Springsteen in Houston).  Carrie Rodriguez takes her fiddle solo for She Ain’t Me on August 5.  And San Angelo’s Los Lonely Boys will light the fuse on Forgiven, a new studio effort, just three days before the Fourth of July.  It’s going to be a rockin’ summer!

MP3: Lay My Burden Down by Caroline Herring

MP3: Hurricane Party by James McMurtry

MP3: Broken by Tift Merritt

MP3: Bread And Water by Ryan Bingham

MP3: My Two Feet by the Old 97s

MP3: Wasn’t I Always A Friend To You (live) by Alejandro Escovedo

MP3: She Ain’t Me by Carrie Rodriguez

MP3: Friday Night (live) by Los Lonely Boys

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