Best of Austin Music, November 2016: Adele, Dan Penn and SOS Fest

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Much of the big news this month took place just outside of Austin rather than in the city limits. In McDade, east of Elgin, the first-ever Sound on Sound Fest got off to a strong start before torrential rains doused the final day with snafus. In New Braunfels, George Strait came out of retirement for a live-streamed concert at Gruene Hall. And in San Antonio, Black Sabbath played its last U.S. concert ever.

Heading inside the city limits, here’s our monthly look at Austin shows, records, songs and more that stood out for us in November:

ONE NIGHT IN NOVEMBER

In the eighth installment of our monthly series, we visited half-dozen local music hot spots on a single evening. For our first Saturday-night outing, we stayed entirely on the south side of town, below Ben White Boulevard, and came up with ample evidence that you need not go anywhere near downtown to sample a broad range of musical genres and interesting venues. — P.B.

BEST LIVE SHOWS

Nov. 4-5: Adele at the Erwin Center. Beyond her powerful pipes, the British soul singer’s greatest gift is her ability to create a true connection with her audience even in a massive arena. She might be the most down to earth superstar on the planet and she somehow made Austin’s least intimate music venue feel like a living room concert with a few close friends. — D.S.S.

Nov. 16: Dan Penn at Stateside at the Paramount. The legendary Southern singer-songwriter celebrated his 75th birthday by giving Austinites a tour-de-force run through his best-known songs and many other hidden gems from his storied life as a master of American roots music. — P.B.

Also: Sia at the Erwin Center, Nov. 6: Guy Clark Tribute at the Paramount, Nov. 6; Parker Millsap “Austin City Limits” taping, Nov. 9; Ray Wylie Hubbard’s 70th birthday at the Paramount, Nov. 12.

BEST NEW RECORDS

Mélat, “MeVen.” The new release from the young Ethiopian-American R&B singer is a gorgeous collection of silky love songs, laced with lush atmospherics, discordant electronics and a persistent melancholy ache. Over the past couple years, she’s been rising through the alt-R&B underground in Texas and beyond. The album, which dropped earlier this week, debuted at number 24 on the iTunes R&B chart. We’re predicting 2017 will be a very big year for Mélat. — D.S.S.

The Wind & the Wave, “Happiness Is Not a Place” (Island). The pop duo of Patricia Lynn and Dwight Baker have gone far in a short time, releasing a debut album on RCA in 2014 just a year after forming. They moved to another major label, Island, for this highly accessible record that sets Lynn’s melodic vocals to sophisticated but not overly slick arrangements. — P.B.

BEST NEW SONGS

Tomar and the FCs, “You’re Not Alone”.  Tomar Williams cut his musical teeth playing and singing with his family band as a child. In the late nineties, alongside brother Salih, he formed Carnival Beats, a hip-hop production powerhouse that helped define the Texas rap sound. “Heart Attack,” the debut full-length from his scorching soul project, is chock full of mean licks and head-whipping, hip-twitching grooves. But November 2016 was a very tough month, and the heavy helping of earnest heart he pours into this slow-burning soul stirrer helped ease the ache. — D.S.S.

Jonathan Terrell, “Faye.” Elements of both Terrell’s rock pursuits with Not in the Face and his more country-leaning solo material influence the material on his new EP, but this song and the others divine a balance that emphasizes the emotional pull of his vocals atop acoustic and pedal steel accents that are more about atmosphere than twang. — P.B.

AUSTIN360 ARTIST OF THE MONTH

Croy & the Boys. Frontman Corey Baum and his bandmates made their debut record with Adrian Quesada, one of Austin’s hottest producers. “Hey Come Back,” which the band released independently last week, is one of Austin’s best country records of the year, though it aims outside the center of the country target. — P.B.

ATX TOUR DIARY

Jordanian oud master player Tareq Al Jundi, gives Gina Chavez a test on her interpretation of Jordanian folk song, “Lamma Bada Yatathana.” Contributed by Kenneth Null
Jordanian oud master player Tareq Al Jundi, gives Gina Chavez a test on her interpretation of Jordanian folk song, “Lamma Bada Yatathana.” Contributed by Kenneth Null

Latin folk-pop artist Gina Chavez took us along for the ride as her band toured Jordan as cultural ambassadors as part of the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program.

SEASONAL SERENADES

Folk Uke in the Austin American-Statesman studio for our Holiday music series. The band performed their tune,"All I Christmas." Kelly West/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Folk Uke in the Austin American-Statesman studio for our Holiday music series. The band performed their tune,”All I Christmas.”
Kelly West/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas artists Old 97’s, Jackie Venson, Folk Uke and Jeff Lofton stopped by our studio to play holiday songs for us.

Country Music Roundup: Dolly Parton’s ‘My People’ fund announced to help victims of Smoky Mountain fires

This Week’s News

3:47 p.m. Thursday UPDATE: A Tennessee mayor says that the death toll from wildfires earlier this week has increased to 10.

12:40 p.m. Thursday UPDATE: Dolly Parton has created a fund to donate to the people who lost their homes in the Smoky Mountain wildfires.

In a news release, Parton said the new “My People Fund” will donate $1,000 each month to Sevier County families who have lost their homes.

“We want to provide a hand up to those families who have lost everything in the fires,” Parton said. “I know it has been a trying time for my people and this assistance will help get them back on their feet.”

To donate to the “My People Fund,” go here.

As of Thursday morning, the wildfires have killed seven people and thousands have been evacuated from the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge regions.

More information about the charity will become available on Dec. 2, according to the news release. Watch Parton explain more about the charity below.

Earlier:

3:28 p.m. UPDATE: According to Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, seven people have now died in the East Tennessee wildfires.

Original Post:

According to spokespeople from Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park resort in Pigeon Forge, TN, the recent wildfires in the Smoky Mountains and East Tennessee area have not affected the park itself, but more than a dozen cabins managed through Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins were damaged or destroyed in the fires.

APTOPIX Deep South Severe Weather
Smoke surrounds a home as seen from aboard a National Guard helicopter near Gatlinburg, Tenn., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Thousands of people have fled deadly wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and a resort in the Great Smoky Mountains. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

Dollywood has suspended park operations as of today. The park will reopen on Friday, Dec. 2. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort will be open on a limited basis.

The wildfire started late Sunday night after a small fire that began on Chimney Top Mountain spread from 50 acres to well over 500 acres, with some help from extreme drought conditions that are the worst the region has experienced in almost a decade.

Pigeon Forge and nearby city Gatlinburg are tourist hotspots in Tennessee, especially in the fall and winter, when many cabin lodges are rented out for the holidays. So far, thousands have been evacuated from the Smoky Mountain region, four people have died from the fires and thunderstorms over Tuesday night finally poured some coveted rain on the region, WRAL reports.

Dolly Parton issued a statement Tuesday about the wildfires:

“I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken.  I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared.”

Read more: Dolly Parton gets back to basics with ‘Pure & Simple’ album

The National Guard has been deployed to the area to help with emergency evacuations and to assist firefighters.

With the thunderstorm Tuesday night and more storms scheduled to hit the area throughout the week, the worst of the fires looks to be over.

This Week’s Best New Song

Faith Hill has been touring consistently since her return to the country music spotlight in 2005, but she hasn’t released a new album since that year’s “Fireflies.” A new album with producer Brendan O’Brien was rumored in 2011, but was never released. This month saw the release of “Deep Tracks,” a compilation album of material Hill recorded for other albums but never released as singles, or never released at all.

“Why,” which would eventually go on to become a Rascal Flatts song on their 2009 album “Unstoppable,” was written by  Rob Mathes and Allen Shablin and produced by Dan Huff. Hill recorded it in 2004 for “Fireflies,” but ultimately chose not to include it.

The song itself is about someone whose friend has just committed suicide. It’s heavy, painful subject matter. Hill sings it with reverence and pain, the point of view of someone trying to understand what just happened. Unlike other country songs that try to tackle important subject matter like this, “Why” doesn’t offer answers or solutions, just grief.

This Week’s Worst New Song (NSFW)

outlaw
YouTube screenshot.

I love a good parody song as much as anybody. Every time I hear “American Pie” I still have to fight the urge to sing “My, my, this here Anakin guy” because of “Weird Al” Yankovic. And who could forget country music’s preeminent parody man, Cledus T. Judd (real name Barry Poole) from the early aughts?

But those singers, much like any movie that effectively crafted a parody/homage (think “Scream,” “Airplane!,” the “Austin Powers” franchise) succeeded because they successfully imitated the art form they were deriding and commented on the art form’s shortcomings at the same time. An inferior parody, like the later “Scary Movies” or “Meet the Spartans” fails because the jokes oftentimes resort to shock tactics to be “funny.”

This week’s worst song, “Sag In Her Boobs,” is a parody of Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots” performed by YouTube comedian Outlaw (real name Jared Outlaw). He keeps Pardi’s hard-edged country/rock instrumentation, but turns the song into an unfunny ode to hooking up with a big woman at the bar. Rampant f-bombs abound simply for the sake of swearing, and oh, the woman Outlaw is hitting on is really a dude! Hilarious!

The novelty song managed to claw its way to No. 59 on the iTunes country charts on Nov. 25, according to Outlaw’s Twitter account. A day later, the video hit 100,000 YouTube views in 24 hours.

I’m no prude; I just lauded Wheeler Walker, Jr.’s album as one of the best of the year. But where “Redneck S—” succeeds in lampooning country tropes while paying tribute to them at the same time, Outlaw seems content to just throw on some tired jokes about overweight women, add a dash of profanity and call it a day. There’s no commentary about the record-label fight that made “Dirt on My Boots” a single in the first place, or about how every country singer now has to have a “goin’ out in my boots” song. It’s shock comedy for shock comedy’s sake.

Also, maybe don’t open that video at work. Or ever. But hey, if you’re a glutton for punishment, be my guest.

This Week’s Best Country Show in Austin

Michael Martin Murphey by Joe Owenby copy
Michael Martin Murphey / Photo by Joe Owenby

Friday, Dec. 2 will see native Texan Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas show at One World Theatre. Tickets range from $25-$65. An early show starts at 7 p.m. and a late show starts at 9:30 p.m. His latest album, “High Stakes,” examines life from his western-focused lens.

This is the Country Music Roundup, a weekly blog where we’ll give you the latest news in country music releases and local country shows. For a more in-depth analysis of the genre and where it’s headed, check back with our weekly Gone Country blog every week.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Let me know on Twitter @jakeharris4 or by email: jharris@statesman.com.

Sounds of the season from Austin and beyond

For the second year in a row, we invited Austin artists to drop by our studio to perform their favorite holiday tunes. Jackie Venson, hot off a big year of high profile performances, including her network television debut, sitting in with Stephen Colbert’s band to back red hot rap artists Anderson.Paak and Mac Miller, graced us with this medley of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Angels We Have Heard On High.”

» WATCH: Seasonal Serenades from Austin artists

“These two songs have always been special to me, but I mainly love how beautiful the melodies are,” the 27-year-old said. “They truly stand out.”

Our “Seasonal Serenades” package also includes tunes from the Old 97s, Folk Uke and Jeff Lofton.

TOP HOLIDAY RELEASES

kaceyOn the national front there have been a slew of high profile Christmas album drops over the past several weeks. We’ve created this Spotify playlist  of some of the best new tunes with a few curiosities thrown in just for fun. Highlights including a thoroughly charming duet between Kacey Musgraves and Willie Nelson off  “A Very Kacey Christmas”, a timely and poignant rendition of “Someday at Christmas” from Andra Day and Stevie Wonder off “Merry Christmas from Andra Day” and “Hamilton” star Lamar Odom’s haunting take on “Winter Song” off his lovely collection “Simply Christmas.”

We also threw in the gut-wrenching cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” from Texas a Capella group Pentatonix off  “A Pentatonix Christmas”, She and Him’s “Marshmallow World off “Christmas Party” and Brett Eldredge and Meghan Trainor’s take on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” off “Glow”, despite our misgivings about that song.

No, we didn’t include anything from R. Kelly’s “12 Nights of Christmas” (because, no…). And even though we’ve warmed to Juggalos considerably over the past month or so Insane Clown Posse’s “Carnival Christmas” didn’t make the cut (think of the children!)

If you listen all the way through to the end, you’ll be treated to the weirdest duet of the season with Kylie Minogue and Iggy Pop singing “Christmas Wrapping” off “Kylie Christmas” which is quite possibly a bigger deal in Australia than it is here.

Alesso, Pretty Lights, Young Thug, Wiz Khalifa to play Euphoria Fest 2017

Kyser Lough/For American-Statesman
Kyser Lough/For American-Statesman

Euphoria Fest, the electronic music and dance festival that has been steadily growing at Carson Creek Ranch over the last several years, has revealed the first 50 artists for next year’s event. Swedish DJ Alesso leads a lineup that also includes electronic composer Pretty Lights, electro-jam act the Disco Biscuits and popular Canadian electro duo Zeds Dead. Rapper Wiz Khalifa and Young Thug, who recently thrilled an audience of SOS Festers, will also perform at the 2017 festival, scheduled to go down from April 6-9, 2017.

Other artists playing the fest include Vancouver duo Bob Moses, Jamaican reggae artist Chronixx and Zincfence Redemption and avant jazz outfit Badbadnotgood.

Three day passes to the festival are $149 (plus tax and fees) and camping passes are available. More information.

Weekend music picks: Sordid confessions and fond farewells

 

for 12-2-16: Sara Hickman's final Austin show is at El Mercado Backstage on Friday. Erika Rich for American-Statesman Sara Hickman leads a musical reflection at an interfaith vigil held in remembrance of the Orlando, Fl., shooting victims, at St. James' Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 16, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Saturday: Sara Hickman at El Mercado Backstage. Though this is being billed as the longtime local singer-songwriter’s “final Austin performance,” it’s not the ultimate arrival of the retirement she announced earlier this year, as dates in Arlington and Houston remain on her itinerary for early 2017. And somehow we expect that Hickman will still pop up now and again. But for her most devoted fans, this clearly is a night not to miss. $20. 8 p.m. 1302 S. First St. elmercadorestaurant.com. — P.B.

 

Saturday: “Heart of the City” SIMS Foundation benefit at Emo’s. The full title of this event is “True stories, sordid confessions, and music from the heart of the city,” which means the musicians will not just be playing songs, but also sharing tales about them. This could get interesting. Participants include Charlie Sexton, Erika Wennerstrom, Israel Nash, Nakia, Kathy Valentine, Riders Against the Storm, the Grupo Fantasma Horns and the Jones Family Singers. Proceeds benefit the SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health services for Austin musicians and music industry professionals. $50. 8:30 p.m. 2015 Riverside Drive. simsfoundation.org. — P.B.

ALSO PLAYING

Friday-Saturday

Good Vibrations III at Barracuda and Hotel Vegas

Weary Boys at Continental Club (with Leo Rondeau Friday, Croy & the Boys Saturday)

Friday

Steve Vai at the Paramount

Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas at One World Theatre

Yelawolf at Empire

George Porter Jr. & the Runnin’ Pardners, Conjunto Los Pinkys at Antone’s

Bonnie Bishop, Graham Wilkinson at 3Ten (plus Bonnie Bishop 5 p.m. in-store at Waterloo Records)

Metalachi at Stubb’s

Ooze Fest 2K16 with Ringo Deathstarr, Troller at Beerland

Dubfire at Kingdom

Dale Watson, Rosie Flores at White Horse

Joe King Carrasco at El Mercado Backstage

Tomar & the FC’s at ABGB

Greezy Wheels at Cactus Cafe

Eve & the Exiles at Evangeline Cafe

Saturday

Keb’ Mo’ at the Paramount

David Halley CD release at Townsend

David Wax Museum at Cactus Cafe

Kabaka Pyramid at Flamingo

Broncho at the Sidewinder

Moving Panoramas, Lowin at ABGB

Atash, Bonnie Whitmore at One-2-One Bar

Deadhorse, Black Thorn Halo at Grizzly Hall

Mike Stinson at Little Longhorn Saloon

Sunday-Tuesday

Gary Clark Jr. at the Paramount (Sunday-Monday sold out, limited availability Tuesday)

Sunday

Seu Jorge (“The Life Aquatic” Bowie Tribute) at ACL Live

A Gospel According to Jazz Christmas with Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown and Keiko Matsui at One World Theatre

Sect, Body Pressure at Mohawk indoor

Ian Moore acoustic duo at Strange Brew

Soul of a Musician series with Daisy O’Connor & Shawnee Kilgore at Iron Cactus North

Josh Fulero, Miss Lavelle White at Antone’s

Sophia Johnson Band at ABGB

Timberos del Norte at One-2-One Bar

Michael Koppy at Opa Coffee & Wine Bar

Austin musician Phoebe Hunt launches ‘Songs for Standing Rock’ series

songsforstandingrockalbumcoverAustin musicians Phoebe Hunt, Dawn & Hawkes, Wendy Colonna, Daisy O’Connor and Samuel Grey Horse are among the artists who appear on “Songs for Standing Rock, Vol. 1,” the first in a series of downloadable compilations created to raise funds for protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Native American Reservation in North Dakota.

Hunt, formerly of local group the Belleville Outfit, launched the series in an effort to assist protestors who are trying to remain on-site through the winter months. The goal, according to a statement issued by series publicist Katie Keller, is to create “permanent, sustainable winterized geodesic domes” at Standing Rock, as well as providing wood stoves and supplies of firewood.

READ MORE: Downtown march protests Dakota Access oil pipeline

The albums are being sold on a name-your-price basis via the Songs For Standing Rock website. The first volume, which contains 15 songs, was released on Thanksgiving Day. A second volume is due to be issued on Dec. 1, with a third volume set for Dec. 8. More than 70 artists worldwide have contributed songs for the series, according to Keller, who added that sales of Vol. 1 have raised “close to $2,000” so far.

READ MORE: Jimmy LaFave, other artists address pipeline controversies

Hunt, the project’s director, said, “We are working directly with Pacific Domes, Karl LaDue WoDakota Foundation, and the Medic Healer Council on site at Standing Rock to ensure that our efforts are streamlined with the current needs and vision of the elders of the tribes that have gathered on the land.  It is their wish to put up structures that will benefit future generations beyond this current conflict.”

READ MORE: Why Austinites should care about Standing Rock

Another Standing Rock-related endeavor takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the Mohawk. “Austin Stands with Standing Rock” will collect both supplies to be driven to the site and donations to help with expenses. Full details, including a full list of items most in need, are on a Facebook event page. The event runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with music from Molybden and Jesse Wooten & Friends. Donated items also can be dropped off from 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday and Wednesday at Frank, 407 Colorado St.

Three emerging black female Austin artists who you should know

Anya at SOS Fest. Robert Hein/For American-Statesman.
Anya at SOS Fest. Robert Hein/For American-Statesman.

Controversy erupted on Austin music scene Facebook pages over the weekend when a band full of white dudes with an inflammatory name that references black women’s genitalia had their show at Hotel Vegas cancelled following a social media backlash related to the band’s name. This post is not about that. Instead, we’re dedicating the brain space we could use analyzing whether it’s ironic or sexist for male artists to use mis-gendered band names and whether it’s really worth fighting for the right to upset black women to celebrate some of the fine black female talent rising through the ranks of the Austin music scene.

Anastasia. On her new mixtape “Kale & Yoga” this Austin-born and raised emcee spits rugged rhymes about perseverance, resilience and soul power. Backed by a live band, she set the stage on fire in her early afternoon set at Sound on Sound Festival. Then she dropped by to mix it up with us on the Statesman Shots podcast. She’s a force to be reckoned with on her own, but her squad also goes deep. As part of the black female powerhouse collective C.A.K.E. she strives to empower young women and girls through music and performing arts. You can catch her Friday night at Flamingo Cantina for “Tha Get Down,” and Saturday night at the Gatsby for “Austin’s Very Own.”

Alesia Lani. Sliding her silky tones over steamy, baby-making grooves from her killer backup band Keyz Street, this sultry singer invites you to pull a loved one close, snuggle in and feel the heat. Experience it live every Friday in December, as she kicks the weekend off right with a happy hour set from 7 to 9 p.m. at Stay Gold.

Upper Reality. Smoky-voiced Afro-futurist Jessica Bathea is a 21-year-old economics student at the University of Texas who’s also making waves on the local hip-hop and R&B scenes. Her new EP “Silver” swirls dreamy electro-soul together with pointed spoken word. She spent this spring studying abroad in South Africa where she conceptualized “Silver” to reflect the fear of going all in and coming up just short of gold. “When I came back from South Africa, I vowed to never take that destiny,” she said earlier this month, right before the EP dropped. The video above is from her release party.

A few more black female ATX artists we love

Tameca Jones

Jackie Venson

Magna Carda’s Megz Kelli

Mindz of a Different Kind’s Te’aunna ‘Blakchyl’ Moore

Riders Against’s the Storm’s Qi Dada

 

 

 

This week’s music picks: Savannah Welch benefit, Wood Brothers and more

Monday: “Eye Love Savannah Jam” at Monkey Nest Coffee. Local photographer Todd V. Wolfson hosts an informal show on the last Monday of every month at his neighborhood coffee shop, bringing in folks he’s photographed over the years ranging from well-known figures to under-the-radar talents. The bar is set pretty high on this 64th edition, largely because it’s a benefit for Wimberley singer-songwriter Savannah Welch, who lost a leg in an accident earlier this month. Suzanna Choffel, Kelly Mickwee, and Jeremy Nail with Kyle Ellison will join Wolfson for this any-donations-accepted event, with contributions also welcomed at a crowdfunding site for Welch. 8 p.m. 5353 Burnet Road. Check the Facebook event page for more details.

Wednesday: Will Taylor & Strings Attached at El Mercado Backstage. A longtime presence on the Austin acoustic music scene who explores the roots between jazz, folk, classical and other forms, Taylor is celebrating his birthday at this show with classic music from the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Paul Simon catalogs, as well as his own work. Guests include Bob Livingston, Leeann Atherton, Grace Pettis and members of Taylor’s family. 7 p.m. 1302 S. First St. elmercadorestaurant.com.

Thursday: Wood Brothers, Ben Sollee at Emo’s. Siblings Oliver and Chris Wood, along with multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, have risen to the fore of acoustic folk-blues music over the past decade, releasing a half-dozen studio albums and working with renowned producers such as Buddy Miller. But don’t arrive late, as the opening act is a top draw in his own right: Cellist Ben Sollee, who once did a national tour by bicycle with his cello in tow, has released a few great indie-folk solo albums as well as collaborating with banjo wunderkind Abigail Washburn in her Sparrow Quartet. $22-$25. 7 p.m. 2015 Riverside Drive. emosaustin.com.

ALSO PLAYING

Jackie Venson. Photo by Gene Chavez.
Jackie Venson plays Wednesday at Geraldine’s. Contributed/Gene Chavez

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Gone Country: 7 things country fans can be thankful for this year

So far, the year has been full of surprises for country music fans. Some, like Loretta Lynn’s first album in more than a decade, were pleasantly welcome. Others, like Ronnie Dunn covering an Ariana Grande song, not so much.

But, as much as the naysayers and prognosticators like to bemoan the loss of “real country,” whatever that means, 2016 still had plenty of moments for country fans to be thankful for, no matter if you’re a staunch traditionalist or a pop-country crossover fan.

YouTube screenshot.
William Michael Morgan. YouTube screenshot.

Here’s a narrowed down list of things country fans can give thanks for this weekend.

7. Young up-and-comers proved they belonged 

This past year has been great for young country artists trying to make it in the industry. Jon Pardi and William Michael Morgan finally scored the recognition they deserve, in “California Sunrise” and “Vinyl,” respectively. Cody Johnson, a Texas act whose album almost went No. 1 before Blake Shelton sold his latest album for a discount, proved you don’t need the support of a record label if you make good music and you have dedicated fans.

On the other side of the spectrum, Maren Morris exploded onto the scene with a No. 1 hit. Cam, whose album dropped late last year, finally got some traction and touring recognition this year, as well as being nominated for two CMAs. Traditional and  well-done pop crossover country are being kept alive and well in the work of the above artists and many more.

6. Netflix’s “The Ranch” championed country music and its fans

If you haven’t seen “The Ranch,” Ashton Kutcher’s Netflix comedy about a down-on-his-luck ex-NFL quarterback named Colt (Kutcher) who makes his way back home to Colorado to tend to the family farm with his dim-witted brother Rooster (Danny Masterson), stern father (Sam Elliot) and bar-owning mother (Debra Winger)…I’m not saying you should watch it, but if you’re looking for easygoing Red State laughs, you could do a lot worse. The punch lines are predictable from a mile off, and some of the stereotypes get old after a few episodes, but the show kept me watching through the first part of its two-half season for two reasons:

  • It’s a sitcom filmed in front of a live audience, but it’s aired on Netflix, which means you’ll get a normal three-cam setup on a streaming service and you’ll hear audience laughter after a joke where a character drops an f-bomb. The novelty of that juxtaposition never quite goes away.
  • There’s a ton of references to country music in this show, for artists of all stripes. All of the episode titles from the first half of the season come from Kenny Chesney songs, and the second half titles cull from the catalog of none other than George Strait. The theme song is a “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” cover from Lukas Nelson and Shooter Jennings. Other artists like Turnpike Troubadours, Corb Lund, American Aquarium, Justin Townes Earle, Brandi Carlile, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Ashley Monroe, Chesney and Luke Bryan also appear throughout the show. And there’s a lot of jokes that revolve around country music, too. If you’re a country fan who’s willing to endure the occasional terrible joke about herpes to hear the music you love get some exposure on a national platform, then “The Ranch” is for you.

5. Wheeler Walker, Jr. inverted country music tropes

Wheeler Walker, Jr. is the comic country creation of comedian Ben Hoffman. His debut album “Redneck S—” was released in February and hit No. 9 on the U.S. country charts, No. 6 on the independent albums chart and No. 1 in the U.S. comedy charts. Including such songs as “Beer, Weed, Cooches” and “F— You Bitch,” the album is decidedly NSFW. But it sounds like an outlaw country record from the 70s and 80s. The only difference is that instead of, say, using metaphors to express his pain over a breakup, Walker just tells his ex what he feels in the moment, with all the profanity and explicitness one could imagine. Hoffman modifies his voice juuust enough to sound country, and keeping traditional instrumentation makes the parodies hit harder. That he has a huge following only adds to his legitimacy as an act and further blurs the line between what’s real and what’s comedy.

4. The Brothers Osborne won Best Vocal Duo at the CMAs

The Brothers Osborne have had a hell of a year. The January release of their debut album “Pawn Shop” yielded three hit singles and earned the duo two CMA nominations and a Grammy nomination. Their win for one of those CMA nominations, “Best Vocal Duo,” was one of the biggest upsets of the night at the CMAs earlier in November. Florida Georgia Line was poised to win the award four years in a row. This may not mean anything to you if you’re not a fan of country music awards shows or what they represent (and I don’t blame you; at my last unofficial count there was, like, 500 of them), but it signals a tide change in bro-country. Florida Georgia Line lost a prestigious award to an up-and-coming group with a more traditional sound. Bro-country might finally be on its way out, and that’s something we can all give thanks for.

3. The Dixie Chicks ran off into Wide Open Spaces again

In case you didn’t hear, the Dixie Chicks made an appearance at the CMAs with Beyoncé. That moment was important for country music and the awards show it was featured in, but that stop was one of the last on the Chicks’ tour, a tour where they routinely covered Bey’s “Daddy Lessons” on stage. The MMXVI World Tour tour was only their second full-length tour since 2007, after the band toured to promote “Taking the Long Way” in the wake of lead singer Natalie Maines’ comments about then-President George W. Bush.

Many country stars are Democrats, but few express those views openly. In 2016, it’s easy for a country star to fire off an opinion on Twitter or go on a Facebook rant. Technology plays a huge part in that, no doubt, but no matter what side of the political aisle you fall on, if you’re a country star and you have an opinion, the Chicks helped pave the way for you to express it within the industry. For the best-selling country group in the world at the time to spout an opinion contrary to many of their fans’ was a watershed moment for country music in 2003. The Chicks’ return to the touring stage this year is a sign of how much the times have changed, and how much they’ve stayed the same. Speaking of which…

2. It was a big year for the ‘tomatoes’ of country music

Last year, radio programming consultant Keith Hill compared women in country music to tomatoes in a salad, implying that they exist only to complement the more “lettuce”-like stars of the genre (AKA the men) who make more money and are more successful. Unfortunate fruit and greens metaphors aside, the comment was shortsighted, misogynistic and further drove a wedge between female country artists and the radio system that helps promote them. Later in the year, it became public that in interviews, Maddie & Tae were instructed to laugh off the rebuttal of sexist tropes in the song that made them famous, and Florida Georgia Line took enough issue with “Girl in a Country Song” that they said they didn’t know any girls who didn’t want to be in the country songs they described.

Fast forward to 2016. Loretta Lynn, Margo Price, Brandy Clark, Lori McKenna, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton, Reba, Martina McBride and Cam either released stellar new albums, were nominated for several awards, were honored for a lifetime of achievement or all of the above, oftentimes with more radio play than female artists received in 2015. We still have a long way to go—  a recent study revealed that country music has slowly become more misogynistic— but this year was decidedly better than the last for women in the industry. Hopefully 2017 will get even better.

1. A lot of great albums came out this year

I was just as surprised as the next viewer when Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood” won “Album of the Year” at the CMAs. Unceremoniously released a year ago to no fanfare, the album doesn’t lend itself well to radio singles, and it’s best experienced in a full listen to get the full effect of the album. And that wasn’t the only great album released within the last year that bears repeated listening to.

In today’s country music radio format, it’s rare when an album that’s not just a collection of singles arrives, ready to take you on a thematic journey. In no particular order, some of those album this year that were more than the sum of their single parts are:

  • “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” Margo Price
  • “Lovers and Leavers,” Hayes Carll
  • “California Sunrise,” Jon Pardi
  • “Vinyl,” William Michael Morgan
  •  “The Weight of These Wings,” Miranda Lambert
  • “The Bird and the Rifle,” Lori McKenna
  • “Big Day in a Small Town,” Brandy Clark
  • “American Band,” Drive-By Truckers
  • “Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” Sturgill Simpson
  • “Rockingham,” BJ Barham
  • “Black,” Dierks Bentley
  • “Shine on Rainy Day,” Brent Cobb
  • “Southern Family,” produced by Dave Cobb
  • “I’m Not the Devil,” Cody Jinks
  • “Full Circle,” Loretta Lynn

 

Gone Country aims to thoughtfully explore the country music genre and where it’s headed, with a focus on national trends and buzzworthy news of the week. For info about album releases and concerts, check out this week’s Country Music Roundup.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Let me know on Twitter @jakeharris4 or through email at jharris@statesman.com.

Austin360 On The Record: KGSR Broadcasts, Thieves

OUT THIS WEEK

kgsrbroadcastsvol24coverKGSR Broadcasts Vol. 24. This annual compilation of in-studio performances from the local radio station, benefiting the SIMS Foundation and the Seton Fund, features tracks from 33 artists, including Austin acts White Denim, Hayes Carll, Bob Schneider and Shakey Graves, plus Texans Leon Bridges and the Oh Hellos. Big names among non-locals include Jason Isbell, the Avett Brothers, Andra Day and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. There’s no digital download version this year, but the CD is available at most local record stores and all Austin-area HEB/Central Market locations, plus a few other places; full details at kgsr.com.

Thieves, “No Motive” (Revival). The second full-length album from this hard-edged but melodic rock foursome shows big-league potential. The guitars hit hard, the vocals ring out clear, and the production captures the band’s considerable energy without pushing too far into overdrive. Release show Nov. 25 at Sidewinder. Here’s an album-sampler video:

COMING SOON

DEC. 6: David Halley, “A Month of Somedays,” release show Dec. 3 at the Townsend.

DEC. 7: B. Harold Benton, “Poems for This World,” release show Dec. 7 at Guero’s.

JAN. 13, 2017: Band of Heathens, “Duende.”

JAN. 20, 2017: Matthew Squires, “Tambaleo.”