Panhandle Music 2015: Top Songs 25-01

Songs100by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

Over the last three days, we’ve counted down The Top 100 Panhandle Songs of the Year. With songs 100 through 26 revealed on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we conclude the countdown today with the Top 25. For yesterday’s songs (50-26) click here, for songs 75-51, click here, and for songs 100-76, click here. Subscribe to the master playlist of our Top 100 Songs on Spotify by clicking here. Listen along below.

Hold the Line25. “Stuck in the Middle” Jacob McCoy Burton
Hold the Line

Nashville by way of Amarillo singer-songwriter Jacob McCoy Burton recorded one of the most crisp, clear, and clean folk collections this year with his March release of Hold the Line. With “Stuck in the Middle” as an easy listening love song as its’ closer, it’s the perfect ending point. Vocally, the young songwriter has one of the best, wholesome voices in the region. Above all else, the three-minute ditty, is fun and engaging with its’ clap and stomp ready rhythm and beat. Burton practically begs you to join him on the chorus in same way The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” was undeniably contagious. –Thomas D. Mooney, New Slang

DRAGG24. “Waning Blood Moon” DRAGG
Over the Horizon

Doom metal three-piece may have had the largest leap between albums this year. While solid, their self-titled debut pales in comparison to their sophomore album, Over the Horizon–in terms of scale, magnitude, and expectations. While the three-piece is still searching out in finding a sound, Horizon has them expanding on what they once had. “Waning Blood Moon” has the band pounding–and not just for the hell of it–louder and more intense as than before. The baritone and bass guitar bleed into one another creating a wall of sound that’s as black as it is dense. It’s a skyscraper out on the plains reaching for the cosmos. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

mountivyalbumart23. “Space Camp” Mount Ivy
Wabi Sabi

The standout piece on Mount Ivy’s Wabi Sabi, is the garage rocking “Space Camp.” Vocalist Broderick Adams opens the song with “I baked my brains at space camp.” It sets the table for the entirety of the opening track. With those seven words, Adams opens up a wormhole that you travel through. The flow of the rhythm guitar and drums remind you of the same nostalgic rush bands like Surfer Blood and Smith Westerns sought years ago. While “Space Camp” finds the band pushing edgier, more aggressive guitars to the forefront, it still finds Adams exploring the lush landscapes of the dream pop world. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Daniel Payne22. “No Fear of Any Kind” Daniel Payne
Tales for Undesirables

Daniel Payne’s “No Fear of Any Kind” was one of Lubbock’s hidden gems this year. Payne’s the kind of songwriter who dived deep into cowboy campfire songs, humbling storytelling, and rugged country-folk struggles. With that, he tries (and often succeeds) to be as genuine to the lifestyle of the lonesome, drifting songwriter as possible. On Tales of Undesirables, he firmly roots himself in the shrinking world of sad bastard country tales. On the solemn folk song, Payne examines death and its’ impact on family, himself, and the concepts we’ve grown accustomed to. The lesson in the listen is that when death comes to someone close, you can’t fill your thoughts with fear and worry. In the end, both of you will be OK. Still, there’s a sadness in the strength Payne brings to the lyrics. It’s subtle, but still there as the pedal steel wails throughout. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

harmonyinhell21. “Augustus Sol Invictus” Daniel Markham & Claire Morales
Harmony in Hell

If you aren’t familiar with Augustus Sol Invictus, the Sparknotes version of his bio would read something like this: Invictus is a lawyer currently running for United States Senate as a Libertarian, who drew national attention due to criticism of his account of goat sacrifice he performed. He adopted his Roman name and is a practicing Thelemite. So with that in mind, it makes perfect sense that Lubbock’s Daniel Markham and Denton’s Claire Morales would write a song about him during the 30 days it took to write, record, and release Harmony in Hell. While there’s always a small dose of tongue-in-cheek in songs like this, it’s apparent that Markham and Morales didn’t write it as some sort of big joke (even if they did, it’s a hell of a song). Part of its’ charm is the simple quirkiness. The heavy harmonies of Markham and Morales leading the charge, they’re able to push the right amounts of nostalgia out like a Halloween obsessed Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Panhandle Rambler20. “Cold Black Hammer” Joe Ely
Panhandle Rambler

Joe Ely creates more chills within the first 15 seconds of “Cold Black Hammer” than most have their entire career. The sharp guitar line from the start is a crisp, razor-fanged snake that slithers its’ entirety. It wraps you up with its cool, sleek groove. While most found Ely’s Panhandle Rambler a collection of storyteller songs Ely’s gathered from all the cracks, and crevices of West Texas, what Rambler is truly about is the guitar. Sure, Ely’s tales are as strong as you’d expect–especially on this tale of greed and exploitation–but it’s the guitar work of his stable of side-men that really drive the album into the regions of where cosmic country, Tex-Mex, and Spaghetti Western mix. The haunting pulses of “Cold Black Hammer” are a testament to that. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Benton Leachman19. “Desire” Benton Leachman
Bury the Hatchet

Benton Leachman’s guitar and harmonica-laden song “Desire” is a rocker. It feels good to listen to with the windows down, but the content of the song is much heavier: love, desire, regret, and fear. In the first line he reflects, “Back when we were younger, we were bold and we were brave, and we had a little faith in our hearts.” When you’re a kid, you’re fearless. You aren’t yet filled with self-doubt and are candid about what you love because you haven’t learned not to be. Somewhere, that changes. The protagonist grows up, experiences a loss of love, and fear follows. It’s an incredibly relatable experience. A driving guitar solo leads int the bridge where he sings the most vulnerable line of the song: “I don’t wanna be alone right now, but I don’t wanna show I care.” When you boil it down, the message is poignant–yet hopefully–you can be held back by fear, or dive in head first into life. In the end, Leachman chooses to drive on in after what he desires, which I think is a life well lived. –Zoe Carter, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter 

The Good Fight18. “In & Out of Light” Cory Morrow
The Good Fight

“The sun don’t rise in the morning and the sun don’t set at night. No, the world just turns in and out of light,” Cory Morrow sings in the chorus of “In & Out of Light” from his latest album, The Good Fight. The song, written by him and fellow Panhandle songwriter John Baumann, finds its’ beauty when discussing perception and awareness. Morrow presents a couple of short stories in which lending a helping hand goes a long way. And while the short lesson he’s teaching us all is how giving a damn about your neighbor can make a difference in both theirs and yours, the greater moral comes from the chorus: Understanding why being a kind soul is just as important as the act itself. It’s having the greater comprehension that’s just as vital. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

The Goners17. “On My Side” The Goners
On My Side

After being overlooked as a songwriter for the last few years, Jerry Serrano had a breakthrough in 2015–as one fifth of alt-country band, The Goners, one fourth of jazz band Alma Quartet, as a side man with various projects, and as a solo artist. The Goners’ “On My Side” was a major part in the rise of Serrano. The keyboard driven melody pushes the band into a smooth, but pulsing punk rhythm that punches as hard as Serrano’s lyrics where he plays the heartbroken victim of a poisoned relationship who’s had enough. Guitarist Brian Duhan adds segments of ’80s Tom Petty guitar jabs with tasteful accuracy. Serrano’s soft, velvety vocals are controlled and bold throughout, but it’s not until the final stages that he let’s his true confidence released on the charging chorus earworm. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Dalton Domino16. “Still Find You” Dalton Domino
1806

Dalton Domino’s 1806 is less about the venue it shares an address with and more about the collection of songs and heartbreak Domino gathered after a couple of years worth of Monday nights and living in Lubbock. While his staples–“Dallas,” “Killing Floor,” etc–are country rockers with the charismatic band leader rambling with a bravado and attitude the size of Texas, it’s when he thinks he’s alone when the real magic happens. “Still Find You” is the best of these forgotten letters who never made their destination. Instead of just blatantly saying he’s haunted by an ex’s ghost, he says it with lines about hating the rooms of his current house. He’s desperate in his search as he buries his face in old pillows searching for remnants of her old perfume. With lines like, “There’s just something about a goodbye that I never heard from you,” it’s revealed that closure is what he’s really seeking as he walks around his haunted house. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Ringling Road15. “Old Fashioned” William Clark Green
Ringling Road

“They’re all laughing, I’m old fashioned.” William Clark Green hit the mark with his album Ringling Road. It’s hard to pick a favorite song on this record because there’s not really a bad song. “Old Fashioned” however, is one of my favorites. Green’s delivery is spot on. You feel the distress in his voice as he sings about the changing times and lack of respect in the world. Go watch people at a restaurant eating together or attending a live show–“And no one else knows cause they’re staring at their phones the whole worlds going to hell”–it paints the scene perfectly. It’d be a shame to watch your life pass by on a 4 inch screen. Still, I can’t see Green changing anytime soon. He’ll long be doing his part and keeping it old fashioned.” –Casey Johns, Dix Hat Band 

Ryan Culwell14. “Horses” Ryan Culwell
Flatlands

“I still don’t know just what the hell that means.” I suppose that’s a decent way to describe my feelings about the song itself. I don’t know what Ryan Culwell is singing about but I know it’s something important and heartfelt. It makes me listen. Over and over. There’s a deep sense of unnecessary loss that haunts its entirety. Culwell perfectly captures a simultaneous feeling of anger and mourning that comes with that type of loss. But, maybe I’m projecting my life into his song. Isn’t that what you do with a well written song? A good song is a mirror and that reflects the image of the listener. I’m just glad he wrote it.–Charlie Shafter, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter

On Through the Night13. “Baby Birds” Brandon Adams
On Through the Night

I’ve long been an admirer of Brandon Adams’ songwriting and storytelling. When I first moved back to Lubbock, it was his acoustic nights at Bash’s and The Blue Light that opened my eyes to the vast array of talented wordsmiths that called the Hub City home. From his long-awaited solo release, On Through The Night, the haunting track, “Baby Birds” again highlights Adams’ ability to take you within a painstakingly, honest story. However, it is the tune’s soothing, melodic vulnerability that separates this record for me. When I first heard the song, it was the combination of harmony and seemingly depressing truth that impacted me in the same way Nic Cester’s “Look What You’ve Done” and Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” did as a younger man. The song could have easily stacked track upon track and become an almost orchestral piece, but it remained beautifully simplistic throughout, using Josh Serrato’s ability to pull eerie tones from the keys and guitar building into a final false crescendo that puts the bow on my favorite piece of the album. One could sum up the song in BA’s line “so soft and tender, like the bruises I remember.” –Trent Langford, No Dry County

Beaumonts12. “Change My Name” The Beaumonts
Hey Y’all It’s

“Change My Name,” is The Beaumonts’ unrepentant critique of the evolution of red dirt celebrity. The song’s fictional bozo fancies himself in the swaggering image of the legendary Texas songslingers: “I’m gonna change my name to Waylon Shaver Van Zandt Foley,” he boasts–eager and encouraged to scandalize our heroes behind the public’s ignorance and the tacit consent of the music community. Delco’s dull dignitary is representative of a shameless culture of spotlight whores–the loathsome apostates of the artistic creed. Delco aims his sarcastic onslaught at an entitled class of rakes and posers to expose a blight on the music scene’s plagued subconsciousness. The song conjures the image of a horrifying circus of painted jezebels groveling for acceptance and recognition when status replaces art as an end in itself. Featuring tight vocal harmonies and honky-tonk pedal steel on the number, the band effortlessly achieves what it sets out to do: Delco and his merciless arbiters of justice bring the hammer down on the auto-tune warriors and stoned cheerleaders while encouraging listeners to distinguish banal bullshit from tense tearjerkers.–Daniel Payne, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter

No Dry County11. “Tupelo” No Dry County
The Night Before

The underrated quality in No Dry County’s sound is their taste of pop music. Sure, there’s rock, country, folk, and the usual in their hodge-podge sound. But on songs like The Night Before standout “Tupelo,” it’s the pop lens that really works the song. It’s the steady popping of snare from drummer Matt Newsom that opens the tune, guitarist Jonathan Dunlap’s guitar crunch that rides throughout, and the catchy jangle of a tambourine. As a whole, The Night Before deals with the bands’ worries, hard times, anxiety, lonesomeness, and the like of being a band that’s making an honest go of it. A lot of times, it’s in part, about the shit that keeps them awake at night. But on “Tupelo,” it’s about enduring the flat tires and detours and just enjoying the ride. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Flatland Cavalry10. “Ain’t Over You Yet” Flatland Cavalry
Come May

The closing number on Flatland Cavalry’s Come May is also their strongest. On “Ain’t Over You Yet, songwriter Cleto Cordero compares a broken heart with an addiction that rival his drinking problem, cigarette habit, and Adderall kick. Like Turnpike Troubadours’ “7 & 7,” Cordero runs in his old flame in a public place and just doesn’t know what to do. While Turnpike’s Evan Felker just turns his shopping cart around and walks the other way, Cordero runs through a series of scenarios that’ll get her attention–from running her down to suavely calling her by her middle name. In the end, he stands pat and just let’s her go knowing that while, some additions, you just can’t quit, he’s better in the long run than having a relapse. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Josh Abbott Band09. “Ghosts” Josh Abbott Band
Front Row Seat

Josh Abbott Band’s Front Row Seat–particularly the latter half–finds the Texas Country songwriter reaching a level of maturation and capability as an artist that few thought was possible. This isn’t meant as a full on dig at the Post native, but with Front Row Seat, Abbott has seemingly moved past the college country party songs that gave him notoriety six albums and EPs ago. With “Ghost,” Abbott presents the most personal song of his career. It’s no secret that as a whole, the album was largely influenced by his very public divorce. Saying that you’ll own your share of the blame–in the case of “Ghost,” a large majority of it–in song (and album) is one thing, but carrying it out as honest as possible takes a long, cold stare in the mirror that most of us couldn’t handle. Am I saying that’s courageous? No, but it’s something Abbott would probably agree with. But it does take growth, self-observation, and most importantly, admission. While it’s incredibly simple, the repetitive “You say you already know” of the chorus drives home the point in Abbott’s remorse. Sometimes, it’s that simple. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Strangetowne08. “We’ll Get What We Want” Strangetowne
Hard Earned Love

On “We’ll Get What We Want,” vocalist Lincoln Youree of Strangetowne delivers some of the most emotionally strained vocals this year. He doesn’t just sing a song; he pours his soul out and into the microphone. His words become weighty and intense as you hold on to every syllable. The climax of the song comes a little half way into the gallant piano-driven ballad. It’s a going to church moment when Strangetowne friends join in like a choir on the chorus shouting “By god, we’ll get what we want” as guitarist Ben Cargo’s heated guitar solo zips on pass them. It’s soars into the ether as the rest of the band and singalong echoes far below in the canyons surrounding Amarillo. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Departures07. “Bay City Blues” John Baumann
Departures

John Baumann is possibly the cleverest songwriter going in Texas at the moment. He’s always had the most diverse vocabulary in the room, but at times, was too wordy. Sometimes, his Texan draw would become stumbling as he tried to fit as many syllables in lines like a “Blinded By the Light”-era Bruce Springsteen. But with his latest EP, Departures, everything seemed to fit right into place. On standout “Bay City Blues,” his identifiable country croon goes into howls at times that are only matched by the moaning guitar lines. Through it all, he still presents bright, descriptive lines like “I got no money and no friends. I ain’t hip to the trends” and “the rent calls for ransom and the job just don’t equate,” as he carves a storyline loosely based on a friends’ time living in San Francisco. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Wade Bowen06. “Standards” Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
Hold My Beer, Vol. 1

Standards. Where to begin. There probably isn’t a song out there that could best describe the state of country music in the most country way possible than “Standards” by two of Texas’ best music ambassadors, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers–though, you could say that about the whole Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 experience. Though they’ve said it was mostly tongue-in-cheek and making fun of themselves, there’s still that aspect of them giving a nice middle finger to the establishment. With Lloyd Maines at the helm and some of the best players involved, there really wasn’t a way to fuck up this Rogers and Brian Keane written song. There’s a reason why this album has made a ton of 2015 “best of” lists. It’s good–plain and simple. It has standards (See what I did there?). –Dalton Domino, Lubbock Singer-Songwriter

Men & Coyotes05. “Men & Coyotes Red Shahan
Men & Coyotes

If “Long Way to Fall” was Red Shahan’s ode to his rodeo buddies traveling around the country, “Men & Coyotes” was his anthem for contemporaries in music. It’s the struggle of a songwriter and man fracturing the wall between him and the listener. The gut-wrenching piece pierces you in unsettling ways that you’ve only known when inside that isolated room in the dark crevices of your head. You have the odd realization that the fan and crowd is the double-edged sword and will sadly, a part of your downfall. It’s not necessarily their fault either, but just the way it ends up going. Textured guitars and sharp drums are the landscape in which Shahan’s lyrics are able to take shape and form. There’s a story the music tells simultaneously to Shahan’s howls. It begins filling the crevices with subtle Spaghetti Western guitar, keyboards, and drums that expand to the horizon in a late-‘70s Fleetwood Mac kind of way. It’s anthemic and grand. Yet, makes you feel so small due to its’ vast size. You’re the one walking with a desert engulfing you. Shahan’s voice guides you like a looming ghost and reminder. He’s the howl of the moon and the roaring sun. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Ringling Road04. “Ringling Road” William Clark Green
Ringling Road

Nothing challenged the status quo of radio in Texas like William Clark Green’s “Ringling Road.” It’s that simple. Will it be considered a revolutionary statement a decade from now? Who the hell the knows. But in 2015, Green pushed a radio single that was firmly outside their box. It didn’t check off any of the norms–drinking because I love you song, song about Texas, Texan pride song, break-up song, drinking because I used to love you song, you get the point. Course, that wouldn’t mean a damn if it was well written. The Ross Cooper, Randall Clay, and Green written song was something that Green declares as being something Cooper and Clay ran with once he laid out the story and basis. Still, Green’s gritty delivery is what sells the piece as he plays ringmaster for the dysfunctional group of outcasts.  –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Ryan Culwell03. “Red River” Ryan Culwell
Flatlands

“I need a land where I can lay,” songwriter Ryan Culwell belts out time and again on the desolate and sparse “Red River.” He’s a man in search for something–rest. Just a break in the action. The first time I spoke with Culwell, we were on the phone essentially all afternoon talking the ins and outs of his latest album, Flatlands. It’s here where we discussed the basics of the human condition. After oxygen, water, and food, it’s shelter that we seek–specifically, rest. Culwell intertwines this with a heartfelt description of an aunt and one-time uncle (though, like Shafter pointed out on “Horses,” that’s not the most important part). The struggles his aunt goes through are as harsh as the dust bowl conditions she lives in. Still, she’s as resilient as she is diligent. Throughout Flatlands, he examines the sociology and economic impact of the hard Panhandle, and none better than with “Red River.” –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

On Through the Night02. “Then We Left Town” Brandon Adams
On Through the Night

The corridor at the far right of The Blue Light is a narrow one. On one side, there’s an old brick wall with a giant Coca-Cola ad with the opposite being covered with an assorted array of show posters. The ones near the ceiling, you’re not even able to make out. If you’ve ever been to The Blue Light, you know exactly who, what, and when Brandon Adams is speaking about on “Then We Left Town.” When Adams delivers “I see the same faces, they’re all pinned like tattoos on the wall,” you go to that wall. While the song itself probably could have been written by Adams and co-author, Trent Langford of No Dry County (The song is also the closing statement on NDC’s The Night Before) anytime in the last half decade, its’ importance becomes more significant in 2015. It’s a culmination of not just their experiences within the Lubbock music scene, but one that describes every Lubbock musician and songwriter who has step foot in the famed institution. It defines an era and proves that The Blue Light doesn’t always win. –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

Men & Coyotes01. “Long Way to Fall” Red Shahan
Men & Coyotes

The obvious choice for song of the year would probably go to different Red Shahan song: “Men & Coyotes” But it wouldn’t be the right one. While “Men & Coyotes” has a certain anthem quality to it that draws the crowd, it’s “Long Way to Fall” where Shahan’s songwriting prowess shines brightest. “Wherever I lay my head down tonight won’t be as far as we need to be” pops up multiple times on the cowboy tune. There’s a strange combination brewing within the song and line. On one hand, it’s a bleak account of a cowboy’s–in this specific case, the life of a rodeo man–that feels honest, yet grim. But within that same breath, there’s this reassuring comfort that Shahan let’s out here and there. Above all, it’s not fraudulent or glamorous in the way Garth Brooks’ “Rodeo” was. But rather, it strikes a chord closer to the heart in a way that George Strait’s (by way of Amarillo native Terry Stafford) “Amarillo By Morning” had a subtle way of captivating the listener with simple truths. Partly why Shahan is able to relay these moments so genuinely is because, at the end of the day, songwriters aren’t that different from rodeo men and women. His life on the road is filled with the same highs, lows, and in-between that his counterparts share.  –Thomas D. Mooney, NS

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One response to “Panhandle Music 2015: Top Songs 25-01

  1. Pingback: Panhandle Music 2015: Best of | New Slang·

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