by: Thomas D. Mooney
While I’m sure you could make an argument that other geographical regions, cities, music scenes, and clumps of artists have had a larger impact on the Texas music scene in 2015, I’m whole-heartedly positive that you’d be wrong.
If the proverbial Lubbock songwriter was the underrated artist in the Texas music room the last 60 years, it was this year that he unquestionably stood head and shoulders above the rest. For decades now, musicians from not just across the state, but globally, have taken nods and notes while giving admiration for the Lubbock musician. It’s been instant street cred. It’s undoubtedly been an easy way to get a beer or two bought in honky-tonks, juke joints, dives and what have you. That’s always been the case for the Lubbock musician–the credit from other musicians–but 2015 seems to be the year that the casual music fan too has taken notice–or more notice, if you will.
2015 could very well be the strongest year ever in Panhandle music. Ever. For those counting, it’s been some 50+ full-lengths, 25+ extended plays, and roughly 650 individual songs released. It’s not just quantity, but rather the quality that’s made the year.
Around the region, there’s been a constant buzz about the highly anticipated releases of material from cult singer-songwriters Red Shahan, Brandon Adams, and Charlie Stout–but that buzz transcended the Panhandle–primarily through social media by the way of insiders, blog posts and articles, music die-hards, and probably most importantly, the established (or more established) songwriters with Lubbock and Amarillo ties.
The rise of the new crop of Lubbock songwriter came in waves with solid debuts pieces by Benton Leachman, Dalton Domino, Flatland Cavalry, a whole bevy of emerging Amarillo bands like Strangetowne, Mount Ivy, Comanche Moon, and Playa Lake. For once, all these sprouting endeavors made their way into a studio before busting up and/or fading into oblivion.
Even for artists like William Clark Green, there’s not been a slump or a moment of being satisfied or settled. Four albums in, he’s still looking to defy whatever box we put him in or label we throw his way. Josh Abbott, who’d probably hope to forget, or at least get over, a rocky 2014, in many ways, reinvented himself on the fly. Perhaps 2015 is defined mostly by adversity and coming to the proverbial crossroads. Perhaps every year is.
Often, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the magnitude of the present. It’s not until years pass that you look back in hindsight, that you appreciate the given moment. It’s then when the aha lightbulb illuminates the crevices of memory. It’s here where those moments distinguish themselves from the rest of the clutter and you realize that they were shining that bright all along.
For the next week, we’ll be revealing the year in 2015 in Panhandle Music through a series Best of Lists, starting with the Top 100 Panhandle Songs of 2015. Today, we’ll be revealing those first 25 songs–No. 100 through No. 76. For No. 75-51, check back tomorrow.
Subscribe to the our constantly updated Top 100 Panhandle Songs of 2015 Spotify playlist here, or listen along below.
100. “Wildfire” Aaron Watson
Aaron Watson’s The Underdog stirred the pot just as much as any album in country music this past year. It built the narrative of being an under-appreciated artist nationally while being the king of the honky tonks down in Texas. Nestled two tracks in, is his cover of the John Mayer penned song, “Wildfire.” And as much as Mayer holds ownership of the song, the Amarillo native does his best to stake a claim as well. The down home country tinged banjo and fiddle bounce back and forth playing a musical game of tag. Watson’s clap-a-long inclusion gives it just right amount of fireworks to make it summer anthem staple. . –Thomas D. Mooney, New Slang
99. “Misty Waters” Ray Wilson
Amarillo songwriter Ray Wilson found a wishing well to pull from with the laid-back and soothing “Misty Waters” off his debut album, Troubadour. It’s a simple, but lush guitar melody that plays right below the surface of Wilson’s mellow vocal take. The harmonic chorus cascades like a small lagoon waterfall or a bevy of skipping stones on a lake. Like the majority of Wilson’s nine-track debut, “Misty Waters” finds itself nestled comfortably as a throwback of sorts to easy listening ’70s songwriters such as Gordon Lightfoot and Dan Fogelberg. It lends itself to the coffeehouse but is just enough West Texas to sooth the ears of “country” fans. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
98. “For My Mom” Hayden Pedigo
Do You Sing? Vol. 1
Amarillo guitarist Hayden Pedigo released his first album, 7 Years Late, back in 2013. The acoustic instrumental album didn’t gain much traction within the region, but from it, came Five Steps, the 11-track trek of calming guitar laden compositions with layers of experimental ambient drones. With it, came interviews with Vogue, The Fader, and a handful of others. It took the young fingerpicker outside of the Yellow City without ever leaving. Now, with the tongue-in-cheek titled compilation, Do You Sing? Vol. 1, we get a look back at those early pieces in and around 7 Years Late. “For My Mom” and others are a look in on how Pedigo developed those simple, yet intricate guitar compositions. It’s a soothing escape that often captures another, more subtle look at the Panhandle. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
97. “I’ll Wear You Down” Medicine Mound Duo
Where I Come From
There’s a wisp of crisp, refreshing air in Medicine Mound Duo–the married couple of vocalist Kay Neal Covarrubia and guitarist David Covarrubia–first EP, Where I Come From. Specifically, the second track, “I’ll Wear You Down” shows the duos’ clean sound off best. On the surface, the song feels simple and to the point–in the same way early folk pop balladeers The Weavers, The Kingston Trio, and the like meandered through during the folk boom of the ’50s–but beneath, deep within, there’s a complexity. For as airy as the song is musically, Kay’s lyrics are blunt, straightforward, and even a tad bit aggressive. There’s some honest truth to wearing down a partner to the point of exhaustion that the Covarrubia’s channel perfectly in this classic-style folk ballad. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
96. “Alone Tonight” Shotgun Rider
With their single, “Alone Tonight,” Shotgun Rider supplies listeners with easily digestible storytelling coupled with strong lyrical and instrumental hooks. The melody makes you want to sing along. You’ll find the guitar riff buzzing in your ears for days. They say when writing a song to never underestimate the power of the circle. The “circle” is referring to the instinctual path taken by dancers around the dance floor. Shotgun Rider has found a way to incorporate this principle with the use of pop melodies, and command of radio-style song structure. Look for them to be packing dance floors for years to come.–Justin Michael Bell, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter
95. “The Things I Do” Hayden Huse
With each album, singer-songwriter Hayden Huse has taken a country revivalist approach. Three albums in, this year’s Heartbeat, finds him at his strongest as a songwriter and thinker. “The Things I Do” is a testament to that. With it, he’s at his most introspective with lines like “we’re a long way from Sunday on a Saturday night.” Even though he’s surrounded by the crowd, a drinking habit, and his faithful band, Huse finds a way to give us that constant reminder that the road is often a lonely, isolated zone. Even though it’s 200 miles to the next honky-tonk gig, he may be even further away from the man he used to be–the one he doesn’t recognize in the mirror anymore. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
94. “Storm to Weather” Hunter Hutchinson
What Do You Say
Texas Country upstart Hunter Hutchinson let’s the flood gates open on “Storm to Weather.” Rather than just throwing out one or two weathering a broken heart line, he goes gung-ho on the analogy at hand. It’s lightning storms, floods, raining tears, and the search for a sunny day. For the most part, it works on this throwback country song that reminds you more of late ’80s or early ’90s country ballads than anything from the modern era. At this point of his early career, Hutchinson wears those early neo-traditional country radio influences on his sleeve–and for good reason. The constant pedal steel, hints of fiddle, and Hutchinson’s smooth country croon are all over What Do You Say, with “Storm to Weather” perhaps being the best of bunch. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
93. “Red Dime” Dix Hat Band
It can be difficult to recreate a live show atmosphere inside a studio. Harnessing the needed energy without that rowdy source of inspiration can be just downright impossible. It can feel flat, lazy, or counterfeit. Dix Hat Band’s “Red Dime,” the title track from their second release efforts, doesn’t necessarily try and be a live audience recreation within the confines of a padded studio wall. Rather, DHB relies on the stellar musicianship of their rhythm section of Casey Johns and Kelly Noles to push the song along while guitarist Sam Choate throws in a handful of tasteful licks on this southern deal with the devil retake. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
92. “Hummingbird II (The Storm)” Outlier
“Hummingbird II (The Storm)” is a lovely classically-inspired instrumental piece, consisting of piano and violin, found on Outlier’s latest and aptly-named album PianoViolin. It is a slight departure from what many listeners might know as Outlier’s sound, which often mixes folk, country, blues, rock, jazz, various Latin sub-genres, and even Celtic music in one evening. Having said that, maybe it’s no departure at all, considering the duo, consisting of Anthony Garcia and Melanie Lenau, have such an ability to effortlessly flow through multiple genres with efficacious continuity and skill. “Hummingbird II (The Storm)” brings visions of classical greats and possibly gypsy folk music, as it builds tension, swirls, softens and breathes with hypnotizing, intertwined melody. Garcia’s masterful piano and Lenau’s at times haunting violin dance through each crescendo, climactic high and resolve. The musicianship from both is as precise as it is visceral, and certainly impressive. This is an exciting chapter in not only Oulier’s sound, but for the more eclectic side of local music and art. –Nic Shute, Lubbock Musician
91. “J&J” The Diamond Center
Crystals For the Brass Empire
90. “Charlie” Daniel Davis
Daniel Davis, former keyboardist for Amarillo dust bowl soul band Zac Wilkerson & The Wayward Souls, put out “Charlie,” roughly three months back on his Soundcloud. On one level, the acoustic number is about Davis’ good timing dog, Charlie. On another, it’s about dealing with anxiety and the fear of change that all humanity knows. The idea of wishing you were more like someone or something else isn’t a new one. That includes wishing you had the redeeming qualities–or perhaps the fortune of being ignorant to the ways of the world outside your bubble–of your trusty companion. “Charlie” isn’t just about the wish. It’s about friendship. It’s the sincerity and unquestionable loyalty you find in within a relationship between dog and owner. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
89. “The Wasp” Mount Ivy
The Wilted Day: B-Sides
“It’s much clearer now, we were toxic youth.” Through the layers of reverb, choppy guitar strums, and abstract analogies, one thing is crystal clear in “The Wasp,” hindsight is 20-20. Troublesome young love go from fuzzy and complex to simple and understandable with as time passes. Broderick Adams’ velvet soft vocals come across as seasoned by the messy break. The dream-pop soundscape become intertwined with Adams vocal approach as the song bounces along to the warm and lush earworm melody. It’s something they’d increasingly repeat throughout their debut EP tease, the 14-minute The Wilted Day: B-Sides, and continue to reimagine and reinvent on their full length, Wabi Sabi. Still, “The Wasp” will undoubtedly remain their early days hidden gem. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
88. “West” Fellow American
From Me to Shore
Reminiscent of the Avett Brothers, Band of Horses and the Beach Boys, “West” by Fellow American is an earthy acoustic-driven pop tune that will have you singing along before the end of the first chorus. New to the Lubbock scene, Fellow American is an indie rock band with incredible pop sensibilities. The song, written by Clint Scott, captures a fire and energy rarely seen in the region. While most singers record their parts in a small booth over and over again in a vain attempt at perfection, Scott and second vocalist Aaron Parrish chose to record their vocals together in the same room. Energy? Passion? Fun? It’s all here on Fellow American’s debut. It’ll make you want to hop in a car and head west to see what you can find too. –Scott Faris, Amusement Park Studios
87. “Something in the Dark” JD Souther
Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, George Strait, The Dixie Chicks…the list goes on and on. Amarillo, Texas’ own, JD Souther’s catalogue reads more like a greatest hits track listing. If his name isn’t familiar to you, there’s a good chance you’ve heard at least one of his songs. He’s also a hell of an artist and has been putting out records for over 40 years. His new album, Tenderness, was released earlier this year and quickly garnered national praise. Among the gems, the song, “Something In The Dark” stands out. A steady groove, laced with strings and mood, provides a perfect backdrop for the lyrics. It’s a song about a constant battle with isolation. Being and feeling alone. Almost noir-esque. If Rondstadt or The Eagles would’ve tracked it, I doubt the production would’ve been much different. Catchy and hooky chorus, “Something in the dark will get you everytime”. Classic cool all day. –Ross Cooper, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter
86. “Resurrection Day” Charlie Stout
Dust & Wind: Flatland Murder Ballads and High Plains Hymns
If you told me that Charlie Stout played a night of poker with Jesus, woke up the next morning on a bender, and wrote this song, I’d believe you. Stout is such a talented musician, singer, and songwriter. I absolutely adore this album–Dust And Wind: Flatland Murder Ballads And High Plains Hymns. “Resurrection Day” is a hauntingly beautiful tune on regret, absolution, and atonement fittingly recorded in the abandoned Presbyterian church in Taiban, New Mexico. Stout and his guitar are a brand of stark heartbreakingly beautiful loneliness, performing to a congregation of desert ghosts and crickets. It is magical and pure. –Jessica Robinson, Sugarwitch
85. “Missing You” Flatland Cavalry
Even while Flatland Cavalry’s Come May has a heavy dose of light summer time love throughout the 18-minutes of action, there’s still a few candid moments. “Missing You” is chalk full of lines that could either be drunk confessions and tongue-in-cheek one liners. It’s that late night phone calls or letters in the mail that serve as a last-ditch effort to win the girl back. The muse moved on. Cordero on the other hand, he’s still living in the recent past and just making it day-to-day–typically, with whatever vice he can get a hold of. And even though “Missing You” falls somewhere closer dusk than dawn, there’s an airy crispness to it. Here, that’s led by guitarist Reid Dillon and fiddler Laura Houle simple, but distinguished play add the cool late night breeze. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
84. “Blue” Heavens Final War
Lubbock thrash metal outfit Heavens Final War is just as their name implies. It’s a combative precision between the four members. It’s aggressive and bellicose in the way you’d expect from a group raised on Pantera and Slayer. “Blue” from their six-track debut Demo 2015, is an in your face anthem for the band. The soaring vocals of Phil Graham are clean enough to decipher and appreciate. In a way, his approach is more reminiscent of an ’80s hardcore punk band than that of a your run of the mill metal band. With that in mind, there’s not a loss in translation to the quality. It doesn’t sound muffled or as if the band thought they’d be “harder” if they just turned the dials all as right as possible. The bass pops in unison with the thuds of drums while the chugging guitar wallops as though you were at a live performance.
. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
83. “Don’t Wait” No Dry County
The Night Before
In so much of No Dry County’s rambling full-length debut, The Night Before, vocalist and chief songwriter is confident within the confines of a van, behind an electric guitar, and the idea of staying up all night just to drive all day. There’s some exhaustion within that world, but for the most part, Langford plays a calming narrator in the eye of the hurricane. But it’s “Don’t Wait,” where we see him drop the veil and really expose the hesitation, second guessing, and anxiousness. It’s here where we see that too plays a part in keeping him up at night. It’s as simple and straightforward as the repetitive verse starter “I’m scared as hell.” –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
82. “Pablo & Maria” Dix Hat Band
At the halfway point of Dix Hat Band’s sophomore album Red Dime, the Lubbock five-piece tackle Texas troubadour Zane Williams’ “Pablo & Maria.” It’s a soft zig to DHB’s prototypical rocking zag we’ve come accustomed to over the last half decade. They channel that stark and stripped down sound that makes the original so solemn and sincere. There’s an eeriness that creeps throughout the song–the same you get on a winter nights when moon and street lamp glow bounces their light off silent, low-moving clouds. Here, former lead vocalist Adam Inmon calmly delivers the heartbreaking tale for the majority of the song. A couple of minutes move by with just his soaring vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar and soothing accordion. Slowly, but surely the rest of the band joins in creating one of their most dynamic moments on the album. It’s one that shows the band’s talent doesn’t just lie in throwing a cannon of energetic punches, but also, with precise, well-placed jabs. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS
81. “Better Than This” Dan Johnson
Dan Johnson & The Salt Cedar Rebels
This song should come with a warning: If you listen to it once, you’ll listen to it a hundred times. Note, this song will make you wiggle. Dan Johnson and the Cedar Creek Rebels’ “Better Than This” is an earworm. But unlike some other modern-day songs with the label “country music,” I’m not one bit mad when this song gets stuck in my head for days. Johnson’s entire catalog is like a step back in time to when country was country. “Better Than This” feels like a mainstream radio hit from 20 years ago and should come with a music video on GAC complete with a bar scene with line dancers decked out in fringe, Rocky Mountain jeans, and color-blocked button-down shirts. It’s a fun, fast-paced love song with smart lyrics that will have even the most cynical of singles tapping his foot and grinning before he realizes what’s happening. I’m just going to call it now, “Better Than This” is going to make its way into many a Texas wedding celebration in the coming years, as it should.. –Hallie Bertrand, NS
80. “End of an Era” Mount Ivy
“End of an Era”, the closing track off of Mount Ivy’s first full length release, Wabi Sabi, sums up their dreamy garage-pop album in a wistfully succinct three-and-three-quarters of a minute. Jangly guitars weave a reflective atmosphere driven powerfully by a bassline that lays the foundation for Broderick Adams’ emotive vocals as he “enters the storm” and falls from introspective verse to soaring chorus. Lyric-less, the chorus’ melody of Ooo’s and Ahh’s drips with with nostalgia and begs to be sang along to. The track is thoughtfully produced throughout and fits well sonically with the rest of the album. Small touches help add depth and a sense of polish as the song progresses. With a rhythm section that swells and crashes like the sea, and a tight, well produced feel, “End of an Era” is an anthem of youthful experience and hope for, as Adams sings, “a new day.” –Austin Bagwell, Playa Lake
79. “William’s Song” Dalton Domino
If you’ve ever seen Dalton Domino & the Front Porch Family band in concert, you know that they like to party–the rowdier it is, the better. They play to the energy of the crowd as well as anyone in Texas. Somewhere in the middle of it all, something unexpected happens. Domino goes in to a tune that he wrote with the purpose of giving some guidance to his little brother. “William’s Song” takes the audience in to a deep moment that doesn’t happen often at a rowdy bar. The lyrics, the melody–and even Domino’s voice in the song–they change from the usual rasp, twang, and grittiness that Domino has become known for. At this point, Domino’s songwriter chops often rely on impromptu decisions and in the heat of the moment emotions. It’s that raw emotion that drives Domino’s other songs. Here though in “William’s Song,” he’s cool, calm, and collected with his thoughts. He’s not the singer of Front Porch or the songwriter of break-up ballads, he’s the older brother giving worldly advice, that sometimes, we all need. –Tanner Castle, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter
78. “Don’t Let Go of Me” Strangetowne
Hard Earned Love
Strangetowne is no stranger to a broken heart. “Don’t Let Go of Me” reassures us of that. The song starts off as a slow ballad to the brokenhearted, but halfway through picks up, not only in emotion, but also in speed and drive. The song itself reflects the stages of vocalist Tyler Horning’s pain: starting off slow, transitioning smoothly into the darker and louder built up feelings of hurt and betrayal, yet still ends on a softer, almost bittersweet, feeling. “Don’t Let Go of Me” has a way of bringing back those old feelings from the relationship you know you should have worked harder on. –Sarah Wilson, NS
77. “Clean” Ronnie Eaton & The Cold Hard Truth
What If We Are Ghosts
What If We Are Ghosts was the highly anticipated follow-up to Ronnie Eaton’s 2013 solo album The Moth Complex. With “Clean” as a staple, it presents an obvious level of advancement in production and seasoned musicianship. Ronnie and company have become well-respected in Lubbock over the past few years. “Clean” not only emotionally grips you from the first haunting chord from the organ to the final fade, but the powerful lyrical content is something that is both relatable and all too real. The harmonies are pure perfection. They’re absolutely one of the guy’s strong suits. The solo work by guitarist Derek Guthrie flows quite nicely in and out of the tune. –Michael Lambert, Slow Relics
76. “Pay at the Door” Union Specific
On “Pay at the Door,” Union Specific highlights the difficulties of the working musician. In a world where many listeners have come to believe that music is something that should be freely and instantly available, the primary source of income for so many has remained the live performance. Tyler Wallace, a native of Gail, Texas, and the son of a former touring musician, channels a Gram Parsons vibe on this track as he details the tribulations of the life of a working musician. That is, the balance of trying to be an artist, while at the same time having to run the business side of things, getting people out to shows (beyond the friends who ask for a guest list spot), paying for recording, and of course, answering those questions from family and friends about why he hasn’t tried out for The Voice (OK, I embellished a little on the last one, but might have seen this on Wallace’s Facebook). This reflective track closes out Howlin’ Room, an album that demonstrates a strong artistic step for what is developing into a very solid Americana band. –Jeff Dennis, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter
For songs 75-51, click here.