by: Thomas D. Mooney
Six months in and by my count, there have been around 35 albums and EPs released by Panhandle bands and songwriters–with things really picking up in the months of April and May. A spring surge if you will. Two quarters in and we’ve received a nice mixture of pleasant surprises from upstarts and unknowns and standards from the established.
With July beginning, we share our favorite Lubbock and Amarillo releases so far in 2015. Look for albums from Brandon Adams, The Goners, Playa Lake, Pat Green, Strangetowne, Keegan McInroe, Dave Martinez, and more in the coming months.
Listen along with our Spotify playlist here or below.
16. Red Dime Dix Hat Band
Three years after their debut EP, Cliff Dance, the rowdy and romping Dix Hat Band turn in their full-length debut, Red Dime. One of the obvious challenges for a band as energetic and charged as DHB is to have that raw power that fills their live show translate and come across on a studio album. It’s a hell of a task and for the most part, they harness and control it. Still, it’s not just 45 minutes of the same thing rehashed. They do this by breaking up the album with slow, story driven ballads (“About You,” Zane Williams’ “Pablo & Maria”). During these moments, there’s still a punch, but it’s usually supplied by solemn fiddle and/or mandolin. Course, it’s at other times that these very instruments are less bluegrass and more Dropkick Murphys-style punk. It’s an interesting dynamic for the band. At times, it feels the lyrical storytelling takes a backseat to the actual music, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for DHB on Red Dime. With a song like “Pablo & Maria,” the band isn’t hesitant or afraid of tackling someone else’s song. Williams version is a stark and stripped down version. It’s something that DXB channels, but in a different way. There’s an eeriness that is there from the onset mainly by some simple acoustic guitar, and accordion. Roughly half way in, the rest of the band comes in and really creates tops it off. It’s a moment like that really show their full potential.
Key Tracks: “#Racquetball,” “Pablo & Maria,” “Red Dime”
15. Hey Y’all, It’s The Beaumonts
Keep Austin Weird? You must have never been to the plains. Central Lubbock’s Beaumonts are rude, crude, and probably better if you don’t play in front of your grandmother. On their third record, Hey Y’all It’s, The Beaumonts aren’t doing anything truly different from their previous two. They’ve already at this point decided exactly what they are: a loud, humorous honky tonkin’ country band–and they’re fucking good at it. They’re not doing anything groundbreaking–but they have refined it into a perfect art. In a way, it’s just a long exercise in how many dick jokes they can make in 30 minutes. But while they are crude, they’re clever for the most part. Take “Change My Name.” They poke fun at the Red Dirt/Texas country music scene throughout the album, but “Change My Name” has to be their magnum opus in which they use the name dropping machine out with lines like “I’m gonna change my name to Waylon Shaver Van Zandt Foley.” But it works.
Key Tracks: “San Antonio,” “Change My Name,” “Baby Tonight!”
14. Broken Marquee Jim Dixon
Singer-songwriter Jim Dixon is a bit of a late bloomer/late starter when it comes to music. He’s slightly older (a young 50 years-old in November) than the majority of his contemporaries in the Hub City. Broken Marquee is the first EP in his songwriting career. It’s undisputed fact that Dixon sounds like the mature elder statesmen in the area. There’s a confidence in his voice because, well, he knows what the hell he’s talking about. Armed with his gravelly, but refined vocals, he’s like a West Texas/Eastern New Mexico Eddie Vedder. The textures in his vocals are pure and authentic. As a storyteller, he shines brightest on the nostalgia-inducing “Tonto.” On “Blood of the Earth,” he makes a convincing prophet while casting light on the problems of the modern age.
Key Tracks: “Tonto,” “Blood of the Earth”
13. This Is For Nothing, This Is For No One Ivory & Ash
It’s been a handful of years since we heard new material from Lubbock punk rockers Ivory & Ash. In that time, a lot of their contemporaries called it quits and/or formed other projects. And despite being the same four, in many ways, This Is For Nothing, This Is For No One sounds like a different band. It’s their most refined and focused work to date. There’s still elements of pop-punk, but the whole thing is heavier. The piercing guitars. Clashing cymbals. There’s more fine points with each song. Lead vocalist Race Henry’s lyrics read like a confessional. There’s a healthy dose of brutal and genuine honesty throughout the EP that he narrates. There’s a proper amount of angst in his vocals—where there’s a squawking high tone that hovers near, but never crosses, the emotional crack in a voice.
12. What If We Are Ghosts Ronnie Eaton & The Cold Hard Truth
With each album, it feels as though Ronnie Eaton has more to say–and not just in that songwriters write about more subjects the longer they write logic either–but rather in the way of getting closer to subjects that are closer to the bone and more personal. It’s the layers of an onion. On What If We Are Ghosts, Eaton begins tackling larger themes about life that go beyond the monotonous day-to-day routine. It’s the struggles of life and the reoccurring question of why we end up remembering specific events more than others. What do they signify? Why? And even when the subject matter gets dark, Eaton can deliver a hearty hook and chorus–his best so far on two and a half albums worth of music. The Cold Hard Truth stay true what they are: a solid garage rock band that knows their strengths and weaknesses. They don’t go too far out of their comfort zone on Ghosts, but that’s one of the strengths of the record, continuity.
Key Tracks: “Clean,” “City Lights,” “Nursery Rhymes and Neon Signs”
For more on Eaton and What If We Are Ghosts, click here.
11. The Wilted Day: B-Sides Mount Ivy
The immediate takeaway from Mount Ivy’s The Wilted Day, is that they are either underselling this set of four songs and writing them off as “B-Sides” or that they have a whole hell of a lot left up their sleeve. In only about 15 minutes, the Amarillo four-piece does a lot. Instantly, they create a spacey landscape with just a few chords on opener “So Is the World” in which they channel a strange combination of Jesus & the Mary Chain and Santigold’s “Lights Out.” Their guitars evoke the dream pop comparisons while vocally, you feel like these could be early outtakes by The Arcade Fire’s Win Butler. And while there’s definitely a bedroom indie pop vibe, the EP doesn’t suffer sonically at any points. What may eventually set the band apart from local contemporaries is the lyrical content of The Wilted Day. These songs aren’t just rough sketches. While there is a definite wall of sound, they aren’t hiding behind it.
Key Tracks: “The Wasp,” “Turning”
10. Just City Will Shake
City Will Shake is another four-piece band from Amarillo’s indie world. Lead vocalists Matt Culpepper and Nolan Burr trade songs on the five-song debut Just. In a way, they’re the ying to one another’s yang. One is a bit more set in the melodic world of indie rock (think Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire) while the other relies more on the rough exteriors of roots rock (think rougher Fleet Foxes, Frightened Rabbit). It’s a good mix. On “The City Will Shake,” they take us down to the river with a rootsy foot stomping groove that’s about as good as it gets. In a lot of ways, it’s just a country song through an alt-rock lens. It’s just the nature of an EP, but Just leaves you wanting more than just the five songs City Will Shake supplies.
Key Tracks: “The City Will Shake,” “Glue It in a Song”
09. Tangled in the Light voltREvolt
voltREvolt is somewhat a forgotten band around Lubbock these days—mainly because they’re currently in Denton–and in part, because it’s been a good five years since they released their promising “demo” self-titled debut back in 2010. All good things come to those who wait I guess. This time around, lead revolter Matthew Long focuses more on those ambient and building experimental tones to build the landscape for the 10 tracks on Tangled in the Light. While voltREvolt Demo was naturally a little more rough and raw, Tangled in the Light finds itself refined and smooth in the best ways possible. Long still has his signature quivering vocals that help set voltREvolt apart. At times, they’re on the edge of breakdown. Others, they’re hiccupy in a way that’d make Buddy Holly proud. In a lot of ways, Tangled is a guitar record. There are Cars-esque moments here. There, they’re a little more laid back and dreamy.
Key Tracks: “Tangled in the Light,” “J.C. and Andy Warhol,” “The Great Dictator”
08. Howlin’ Room Union Specific
Union Specific consists of Tyler Wallace (The one true Panhandler), Gregg Maher, Kim Taruc, and an ever revolving door of drummers. The three mainstays form some what of a three-man frontman monster as well; they share the vocal and songwriting vocals. With that, it feels as though each is writing songs that fit their individual favorite bands. You hear a Wilco ballad, an Old 97’s rambler, and a Son Volt country tune–all through a Gram Parsons lens of course. For the most part, it works well on Howlin’ Room. They’re not afraid to embrace their influences. On the brilliant country rock tune “Oops Ma (We Taught the Boy),” the trio take turns on individual verses apologizing teaching the ways of the world. Like most alt-country outfits, they’re not singing about getting wasted on dirt roads, but rather on old sad bastard country tunes and the honky tonkers they encounter.
Key Tracks: “Patty’s Record,” “Oops Ma( We Taught the Boy),” “Pay at the Door”
07. 1806 Dalton Domino
Dalton Domino has been championed as the next big voice coming out of Lubbock for the better part of a year now. It’s not just hype or fluff either. There’s a definite rough and ruggedness to his songwriting, but for the most part, he’s not just throwing words against the wall and hoping they somehow fit around the chorus. There’s a few moments on 1806 that feel contrived–or at least cheesy–“Jesus and Handbags” for example. But for the majority, Domino is a willing storyteller. There’s still a good deal of experimenting and exploring that Domino is doing on his debut. He goes from Texas radio gold on “Dallas” to Lumineers worthy folk pop on “William’s Song.” It’s towards the end of the album that Domino lets down his charismatic charm and guard and gets personal and forthright. “Still Finds You” and “7 Years” are easily the highlights of a solid debut. It’s not him singing for us, but rather the one whose phone he’s down blowing up and letting run his thoughts and actions.
Key Tracks: “Dallas,” “Still Find You,” “7 Years”
For More on Domino and 1806, read here.
06. Bury the Hatchet Benton Leachman
Even though he only has one album under his belt, Benton Leachman has gone through a bit of a transformation as a songwriter. There’s been a few phases and stages. That comes across on Bury the Hatchet. It’s not really Leachman than having fleeting inspiration to write a song like Ryan Adams (“Desire”), Randy Rogers (“I’d Rather Burn”), and Jason Isbell (“Bury the Hatchet”). But rather, it’s the best song that came through those moments in which Southeastern, Cold Roses, or Rollercoaster dominated his car stereo. Possibly more than any other Blue Light songwriter disciple, Leachman may be the most influenced by his contemporaries thoughts, views, advice, and songwriting preferences. Because of that, you get the most diverse set of songs on a Panhandle album this year. He’s still feeling out what exactly he wants to be (there’s nothing wrong with that). It builds a solid foundation that could go off in plenty of directions for the young songwriter.
Key Tracks: “Desire,” “Pride,” “Cross to Bear”
For more on Leachman and Bury the Hatchet, read here.
05. Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
In the grand scheme, Hold My Beer may be the most important album from Texas artists all year. Arguably, you’re pairing the top two voices in “ Texas Country” with Bowen and Rogers. Throw in the Godfather of Texas music producers Lloyd Maines, and you have something special. You’re seeing the Bowen and Rogers bromance go from just being touring buddies to collaborators. Don’t take that jump for granted. By all means, Hold My Beer could have been something that could have fell flat. It could have been mailed in. Bowen and Rogers go back and forth with songs that, in a way, poke fun at each other and one another. Musically, there’s a cool casualness that flows throughout. For the most part, it’s good afternoon songs that rely on humorous storytelling to make its’ point. In many ways, it’s a generational bridge for those who love classic Willie Nelson and [insert country icon name here] albums and the modern Texas songwriter.
Key Tracks: “I Had My Hopes Up High,” “‘Til It Does,” “Standards”
For more on Bowen, Rogers, and Hold My Beer, Vol. 1, click here.
04. The Night Before No Dry County
Easily the best quality of The Night Before is the fact that Trent Langford and company finally figured out (at least for now) what they wanted to sound like and be as a band. Yeah, any and every band will throw out a smorgasbord of artists they’re influenced by, but in reality, they’re really banking on only a handful of them to truly shape what they’re going for. NDC decided to make a rock and roll album with only nods to country and folk rather than full-on tributes. With the likes of Jay Saldana (William Clark Green, Wade Bowen, Ross Cooper), Josh Serrato (Six Market Blvd, William Clark Green), and Alan Crossland (Route 1 Acuff Studios) in the producer and engineering seats, the shape of the album came into realization. There’s not a true story arc within TNB, but it’s obvious when you throw the 12 tracks together. It’s a love-hate relationship that NDC has with the road and those who keep you coming back home. There’s a smart pop sensibility throughout. You don’t just see the maturation of a band’s sound, but the maturation of a lyricist in Langford. You hear the bolstering of his folky ballads and songs with a huge punch of guitar riffs supplied by Jonathan Dunlap (and at times, accompanied by Serrato). There’s an edge and sharpness to them that shine bright throughout. At times, they’re Aha Shake Heartbreak-era Kings of Leon. Others, they’re shimmering like Band of Horses riffs.
Key Tracks: “Tupelo,” “Crazed Young Love,” “Then We Left Town”
Read more on No Dry County and The Night Before here.
03. Come May Flatland Cavalry
In reality, Flatland Cavalry’s emergence as a band in Lubbock has been the largest fresh of breath air this past year. With debuts by fellow Lubbock songwriters Benton Leachman and Dalton Domino (and by being billed as a band), Cavalry frontman Cleto Cordero can sometimes be lost in the mix when mentioning the breaking songwriters. But pound for pound, Cordero may have the best mix as a songwriter. Each of the five tracks from Come May could easily make it’s way onto regional radio. There’s an undeniable likability when it comes to how FC sounds. But they aren’t just cookie cutter radio cuts. Cordero’s serious lyrics often have tongue-in-cheek word play that keep a playful balance. There’s an airy crispness that is easy on the ears and lends itself to summer listening. That’s typically led by guitarist Reid Dillon and/or fiddler Laura Houle playing. In a way, they set the tone for the entire extended play. It’s the flatland cousin to Oklahoma’s Turnpike Troubadours. And while Come May is more than appreciated, you can’t help but feel that it’s just a stepping stone for whatever album project that comes next.
Key Tracks: “No Shade of Green,” “Ain’t Over You Yet”
Read more on Flatland Cavalry and Come May here.
02. Ringling Road William Clark Green
It’s easy to say that WCG isn’t waiting in line any more. He’s not the “next big thing,” but rather, just the “big thing.” Hell, one could argue he was poised for that title after Rose Queen and Ringling Road just solidifies the argument. I wouldn’t say Green has a chip on his shoulder or is constantly looking to prove the naysayers, but he certainly has worked as though everything could be taken away tomorrow (Something that’s probably more true than anyone would care to admit). That’s in essence what makes RR an instant classic. There’s a craftsmen mentality with the album. It’s hard work and respect of the craft. With producer Rachel Loy back at the helm, Green and company went into with a confidence and familiarity that they hadn’t found before. They relied on a combination of natural instincts and experience to create an album of singalong anthems (“Sticks & Stones,” “Sympathy”, incredibly intimate and harrowing ballads (“Final This Time,” “Still Think About You”), and a healthy dose of weird eccentric (“Ringling Road”) that just may break down barriers in Texas radio if given the chance. All the while, Green reminds us that he’s not just the good drinking buddy, but can also rip your heart out just a few moments later.
01. Flatlands Ryan Culwell
In short, Culwell’s Flatlands is the perfect album from and about the Panhandle in quite some years. There’s lonesome and lonely. There’s longing and the blues. He scrapes away at the day-to-day, the cultural norms of the Panhandle, and the rough rural landscape to reveal the rugged, yet strong people who are scattered on the plains. Culwell shows their courage under fire. Being a Perryton, Texas native, he knows exactly what it feels like to live on the edge of the world. Still, it’s never a love letter–nor is it a poisoned pen of loathing. It’s a genuine description and recollection. He speaks of the Panhandle in the same way Bruce Springsteen does Jersey and Jason Isbell does Northern Alabama. With songs like “Never Gonna Cry,” “Won’t Come Home,” and “Red River,” Culwell let’s you into his world with intimate ballads that are sang with a purpose. They’re specific to Culwell–and in turn, makes them specific to you as well. You believe in these characters because they’re based in a reality not all too different from your own. Songs like “Amarillo” and “Flatlands” he shows that Flatlands isn’t just a Panhandle Nebraska, but also has the pop sense of Born in the USA as well.
We couldn’t make this list without highlighting a few other songs/releases that didn’t fit the parameters of being an album or extended play.
Sea Songs Amanda Shires & Jason Isbell
Everyone gets excited when either Shires or Isbell release something. In this case, it’s just an two-song single consisting of covers, Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer” and Lykke Li “I Follow Rivers.” It’s obvious that the wedded couple have on-stage chemistry for days. Both songs are kind of left field choices, but they make them work.
“Dripping Blues” Shandy Bandits
Holy fuck. THIS very well could be my favorite moment from the past six months in Panhandle music. It’s a promising slow burning Doors-esque blues song from yet another Amarillo rock band, Shandy Bandits. It sounds both new and vintage all at once. There’s a suave eeriness that creeps in like a slow moving fog. At 11-minutes, it has all these little moments of greatness that you discover with each additional listen.
Texas Union Ballroom. Austin, TX Bob Schneider and Terry Allen
Bob Schneider is the type of songwriter who records nearly every show he does. Lucky for us, the recorder was rolling when he had a song swap with legendary Lubbock songwriter/artist Terry Allen in Austin this spring. Schneider and Allen are both songwriters who don’t just write great songs, but the kind who go off into weird areas at times. It’s a necessary and refreshing weirdness. What this live show captures is the interactions between the two Texas songwriters while they play some of their best (and worst) songs.
“While I Was Away” Pat Green
Pat Green’s “While I Was Away” is a transcending song. It’s not just a song about the children of musicians who are constantly on the never ending tour. It’s for those who all have children–no matter how often their parents travel. It’s obvious that Green is speaking from first hand experience–even when it’s a Zane Williams penned tune. Regardless, that’s really what makes the song believable and genuine.