Texas music in 2019 can be best described with one word: Refresh.
It is a year that has found new acts stealing the spotlight and established stars rebooting their sound – some have boldly roamed in new directions, others have gone so far as to disguise themselves with alter-egos.
Here are my 10 favorite albums by Texas-born or -based artists. You can click above to hear me discussing some of my picks with Art&Seek’s Anne Bothwell in a conversation that aired on KERA FM.
Black Pumas by Black Pumas
Who they are: The city’s buzziest act since Gary Clark Jr. broke out in 2011 and Billie Eilish’s stiffest competition for Best New Artist at next month’s Grammy Awards
Why they made the list: Black Pumas marshal the galvanizing grooves of psychedelic soul and the slow burn of the blues into a fiery live show and a breathtaking self-titled debut. Charismatic singer Eric Burton’s fluttering falsetto recalls Al Green at his most seductive, Curtis Mayfield at his most hopeful. Paired with former Grupo Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada’s searing fretwork, they forge a sound that is both familiar and revelatory.
Add these to your playlist: “Colors,” “Touch the Sky” and “Black Moon Rising.”
2. When I Get Home by Solange
Who she is: Beyoncé’s genre-bending, category-defying sister
Why she made the list: As intimate as it is indescribable, Solange’s fourth album draws inspiration from her birthplace’s historic Third Ward, but her vision is anything but nostalgic. This time, she doesn’t write songs so much as lushly layered mantras enveloped by ambient textures, jazz drifts, and hypnotic beats. Words and phrases are repeated, downshifted and stretched. This is not the type of album that you can sing along to – instead, you need to let it wash over you in all its hazy, mesmerizing swirl.
Add these to your playlist: “Almeda,” “Binz” and “Stay Flo”
3. This Land by Gary Clark Jr.
Who he is: Guitar slinger who has emerged from the towering shadows of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix
Why he made the list: Clark’s third and best studio album embraces a daring, more relevant form of the blues that relies less on solos and more on soulful outcries against racism and social injustice. It’s both his most political and personal album, showcasing influences ranging from Prince to the Ramones. He’s not abandoning his roots – he’s just graduating from them.
Add these to your playlist: “This Land,” “Pearl Cadillac” and the luscious “When I’m Gone”
4. Love and Liberation by Jazzmeia Horn
Who she is: A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School who has become the toast of the New York scene
Why she made the list: On her second album, Horn turns away from jazz standards in favor of her own deceptively playful, empowering compositions and contemporary covers of Erykah Badu and Rachelle Ferrell. But the performances still swing like a vintage Village Vanguard trio date, thanks to Horn’s rich, dynamic voice which scats and scampers around the notes with impressive poise and conviction.
Add these to your playlist: “When I Say,” “Legs and Arms,” and “Free Yourself”
5. Texas Piano Man by Robert Ellis
Who he is: A renowned alt-country singer-songwriter who has reinvented himself as the Lone Star answer to Honky Chateau-era Elton John
Why he made the list: At first, it’s hard to tell what’s more outrageous – the white tux and cowboy hat he wears on the cover and onstage, or his tongue-in-cheek odes to Topo Chico, cigarettes, and passive aggressiveness. “When did everybody get so self-aware?/What happened to the good old days?” Ellis sings, clearly enjoying the freedom of performing in character but being careful not to cross the line into a novelty act. While trading the guitar for a piano allows him to indulge in flamboyant flourishes that rival Queen, it also provokes some tender, deeper sentiments that are even more affecting because you don’t see them coming.
Add these to your playlist: “Topo Chico,” “Nobody Smokes Anymore,” “Father”
6. Cascades by Megan Storie
Who she is: The former leader of North Texas indie pop band Exit Glaciers
Why she made the list: Storie re-ignites her solo career armed with louder guitars and a palpable tenacity (“My plans to kill the messenger have faded/I have risen above my hatred”) that makes her sound defiant where she once was determined. The haunting nuances of her marvelous voice blended into the gauzy atmospherics of Exit Glaciers. But here it’s pushed higher in the mix and propels the harder-rocking arrangements, creating a captivating balance of warmth and intensity.
Add these to your playlist: “Coattails,” “Siren Song,” and “Another Sunrise”
7. Wildcard by Miranda Lambert
Who she is: Living, fire-breathing proof that the best Nashville music often is made by Texans
Why she made the list: If 2016’s self-examining The Weight of These Wings reflected Lambert’s post-divorce uphill battle, then Wildcard is the happily remarried singer’s victory lap. She trashes the tabloids, messes up a gated community, duets with the equally gutsy Maren Morris and cranks up the distortion and reverb even more than usual. “If love keeps giving me lemons/I’ll just mix ’em in my drink,” she declares, This is Miranda Lambert 2019, uninhibited and unfazed.
Add these to your playlist: “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” “Bluebird,” and “White Trash”
Secrecies by Secrecies
Who they are: Electronic pop duo featuring singer-keyboardist Shawn Magill, formerly of indie band Home by Hovercraft, and singer-guitarist Joey Noga
Why they made the list: Secrecies breathes new life into the most engaging elements of ‘80s British synth-pop by swapping its mopey postures for moody, melodic yearnings to feel safe, to find peace, and to believe in love. Magill and Noga sing in a hushed unison that floats above the pulsating rhythms and ethereal synthesizers, creating heartfelt triumphs that John Hughes would have been thrilled to feature on any of his movie soundtracks.
Add these to your playlist: “Hole in My Heart,” “Anything at All” and “Falling for You”.
9. Wish You Were Here by Joshua Ray Walker
Who he is: The owner of the most striking country music voice to emerge from Texas in years
Why he made the list: On his debut album, Walker displays a flair for writing riveting opening lines like “I laid in bed for an hour today/trying to die of natural causes” and treating narrators coping with poverty and loss with candor and compassion. Their stories are delivered with a twangy tenor that effortlessly flows from sobering heartache to rousing yodel in the same line, sometimes even the same breath.
Add these to your playlist: “Keep,” “Canyon,” and “Burn It”
10. To Each His Own by E.B. the Younger
Who he is: The alter-ego of Midlake frontman Eric Pulido, who gets help from Jonathan Tyler and members of The Texas Gentlemen
Why he made the list: While his band is on hiatus, Pulido has been gleefully hiding behind other names while revealing different sides of his musical personality. In 2017, he formed a hard-rocking supergroup called BNQT with members of Grandaddy, Franz Ferdinand, Band of Horses and Travis. This year, he re-emerges as E.B. the Younger to introduce a mellower, unapologetically sun-soaked side project that harkens to the glory days of Nilsson, ‘70s California rock, and AM radio.
Add these to your playlist: “Used to Be,” “When the Time Comes” and “Don’t Forget Me”
David Okamoto is a commentator for KERA-FM and Art & Seek whose work has previously appeared in Rolling Stone, Jazziz and The Dallas Morning News.