Our annual tour through the songs, albums, artists and live performances that made our year. In no particular order…
Accompanying Spotify Playlist --------> HERE
Courtney Patton - Electrostatic
Songs about grief are tricky. They can be maudlin or morbid and just downright sad. But, when done right, these types of songs can be emotionally charged, powerful and revealing. Courtney Patton’s “Electrostatic” traces her living through her sister’s death and reaching through the ether to feel her presence. It’s raw, real, melancholy and surprisingly hopeful all at once. Patton’s live vocal take aches and cracks in just the right spots
Mason Lively - Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing
Lively turns a phrase on its ear and comes up with a fresh way to share a sentiment that has been sung about in country music for over 100 years. Love hurts sometimes, but it’s never sounded this good when it’s painful. That acoustic guitar and harmonica riff will haunt you in a good way for days.
Bri Bagwell - Trenches
Perhaps Bagwell’s most personal song to date. An honest look at the hills and valleys of making a relationship work despite all odds, including a worldwide pandemic. She pairs the heartworn lyrics with a bouncy melody that will get this ode to hard won love stuck in your head.
The Great Divide - Good Side
Mike McClure has always had a knack for writing about the human condition through his own lens. This is another pandemic survival song about coming out on the good side of things. Not since when Jason Isbell proclaimed “last year was a SOB” has surviving a s-storm sounded so uplifting.
Randy Rogers Band - Fast Car
In a career of strong songs about relationships, hook-ups, kiss-offs and barrooms, “Fast Car” slides into the top echelon of the RRB canon This one is not from his own pen, but Rogers and his bandmates pour their entire heart and soul into the whiskey soaked melody.
John Dempsy - Whiskey Rocks and Grenadine
Dempsy is perhaps the most underrated musician in Texas. An incredibly thoughtful songwriter, a virtuoso musician and a heart on his sleeve performer, Dempsey pours all that into this love song. This is the ear wormiest song of the year and if it were to be cut by one of the Parker McCollum’s of the world it would be blasting out of radios nationwide. If I was a large scale artist looking for my next hit, I’d stop the search here.
Wade Bowen - Everything Has Your Memory
Bowen just seems to get better with each successive release. He’s always been a melder of melody and lyrics in equal measure with mixing country and rock influences. This song encapsulates all that and drives it home with a piercing vocal performance that showcases Bowen’s chops.
Adam Hood - The Harder Stuff
Getting sober and having young kids at middle age after having already lived several lifetimes can be quite the adjustment for anyone. If you make your living singing in honky-tonks and bars, that adjustment is not for the faint of heart. Luckily. Adam Hood has discovered an artistic renaissance to coincide with his personal boosts. The twanging tele, the telling words, the subdued Miranda Lambert backing vocals all lead credence to Hood’s message here.
Drew Kennedy - So Far To Go
Kennedy has been closing his sets with this song for the last couple years, but it finally gets the recorded treatment here. Living life as a troubadour is exciting, but it can also be a draining beating involving lots of miles and time lost at home. Kennedy recounts his journey in this song and frames in it in the notion of human’s chase for belonging. He brings it all home with an emotional vocal performance where the tears come right through from his vocal cords to your speakers.
JD Clayton - Beauty Queen
Clayton burst into the Texas scene from Arkansas on the strength of bouncing country-rockers like this one that’s an ode to a girl sweeter than Nana’s chocolate pie. What could sound hokey in the wrong hands comes out of the speakers with an unshakable groove.
Ian Noe - River Fool
Noe has drawn comparisons to John Prine for years and with good reason. Like so many others who have had to live up to that mantle, Noe just seems to shrug it off and keep singing spirited Appalachian tales filled with clever, descriptive lyrics and a wry vocal delivery.
Shaker Hymns - Thrift Store Chair
A song that namechecks John Prine and was written by 90’s alt rock legend Art Alexakis for his band Everclear may not scream Texas Country hit single, but in the able hands of Nyles Robacewicz and the Shaker Hymns guys, it reaches its full potential and is one of the rare covers that is better than the original.
Other notable favorite songs from the past 12 months: Dalton Domino - Wannabe, Jacob Stelly/Slade Coulter - Burnout, Tanner Usrey - Take Me Home, Mayeux & Broussard - Lowdown Shake, Lyle Lovett - 12th of June, American Aquarium - Chicamacomico, Bobby Duncan - Down on the Avenue
49 Winchester - Fortune Favors the Bold
These Virginia lads announced their national presence in 2022 on the strength of this magnificent album that features frontman Isaac Gibson’s take on country music. It’s all here folks. The good times, the heartaches, the triumphs and struggles. Each song builds on the last and the whole thing paints a picture. You’re riding shotgun through Gibson’s psyche. At home, on the road, on stage, in a bar. Pictures are painted.
Courtney Patton - Electrostatic
Nothing short of an artistic triumph. Patton headed into the studio with a crack team of musicians, a notebook full of fully developed songs and the masterful touch of Gordy Quist (Band of Heathens) calling the shots from the producer’s chair. Patton had yet to deliver a recorded product that matched her bombastic personality or sincere live show. That is no longer the case. Electrostatic is a masterpiece.
The Wilder Blue - self-titled
Super groups tend to not work. The Wilder Blue are working. After a halting false start with the generic name Hill Country, this Zane Williams fronted group returns with an impressive cast of songs. Williams and Paul Eason lead with pen and voice, but this is an entire group effort that distills harmonies, melodies, lyrics and overall musicality into a pleasant listen that makes you keep pressing repeat.
Drew Kennedy - Marathon
Marathon is a rumination on life, love and the human experience through the lens of west Texas. Kennedy has always been at his best when telling stories, and the minimalist adobe house recordings rendered here find him accentuating those strengths to an expert level.
John Fullbright - The Liar
John Fullbright is a musical genius and it’s sometimes hard to capture that on a record. The Liar comes pretty close to doing so. Fulbright’s calling card has always been evocative and engaging songwriting that he pairs with the perfectly placed instrumentation to get his point across. This group of songs is no different.
Bri Bagwell - Corazón y Cabeza
Bagwell is one of the hardest working artists in Texas, or anywhere for that matter. Titling her latest album the heart and the head, but in Spanish is a proper encapsulation of this New Mexican firecracker and all the slices of her musical personality. She writes songs from both perspectives and delivers them with a passionate intensity that makes you believe whatever she’s selling.
Whiskey Myers - Tornillo
The east Texas southern rock stalwarts returned with a self-produced album that pushes them in new sonic directions. Horns joined the party this time and it sounds like an unearthed gem from 1977.
Randy Rogers Band - Homecoming
The RRB got the band back together in a literal sense by bringing Radney Foster back into the producer’s chair. A back to basics approach is found in the songs, the performance and the title. RRB came home, but they were never really lost. Stack this one in the ranks of Randy Rogers Band albums and put it near the top. The consistent hit makers and headliners keep it rolling.
Kaitlin Butts - What Else Can She Do
Sonically somewhere between Kacey Musgraves, Billie Eilish and outer space, yet lyrically firmly entrenched in Oklahoma, Texas and reality, Butts displays strong artistic growth, conviction and direction. She’s managed to create a movement and a brand from the strength of well-crafted and supremely produced songs.
The Great Divide - Providence
The Great Divide returned to the fold and picked up like they’d never left. McClure sings it. JJ plays it. The groove and feel are all there. The songs mean something. The Red Dirt engineers came back and sat atop the throne they built all those years ago like it was home.
Adam Hood - Bad Days Better
Hood found some inner peace while creating this album and it’s evident in the output. He sounds more confident and smooth. Those are two qualities he’s always exemplified on record, but they’re truly at the forefront of this effort.
Wade Bowen - Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth
Wade Bowen is a content machine. He’s always on the road, writing, producing, seeking, guesting, gigging. His amiable personality and gift for song are found in spades with this album. Anytime an artist can get Vince Gill to provide a guest vocal to their project and it’s just one of the many cool things on the album and not the sole highlight, you know it’s a landmark.
These guys just exploded this year. National TV, Red Rocks, venues packed from coast to coast, growing fanbase. They’ve risen to the challenges their strong songs have caused for them.
BJ Barham and company dropped another banger of a record and then toured it like the pro he is. Then, he proceeded to showcase why he’s one of the best advocates for songs, the arts and artists anywhere through his tireless promotion of others and his battles against venue merch pirates. Plus, he remains one of the best social media follows anywhere.
2022 found the Cleto Cordero crew rising in stature and status. They joined major arena tours, sold out just about every show they booked, released an album and developed one of the most entertaining live shows around.
Bagwell never stops working. She tours relentlessly, slings the merch, backs the trailer, performs like a superstar and just happened to release the best album of her career while juggling it all.
2022 is the year of CP. Her artistic potential has been fully realized with the release of Electrostatic and its accompanying tour dates Her Supper Club shows have become true events and she continues to set the example for what it means to balance career and life.
Hood drips with southern soul. He’s always been able to take the best elements of soul, country, rock and blues and make it something entirely his own Alabama groove. This year was one of his most triumphant.
Kaitlin Butts carved out her own niche on the backs of some well-earned songs. She went through hell to write these songs and she knows how to expertly deliver them. She has become a brand unto herself by mixing Marfa mysticism with California sizzle…all wrapped up with an Oklahoma bow that is delivered from Tennessee. It’s an intoxication combination of wit, humor, emotion and personality.
The songwriter’s songwriter, Kennedy has long pulled from the well of west Texas and cranked out some of the most literate, thoughtful songs of the past 15 years. 2022 found him running festivals, side projects and delivering another masterful opus to Texas and life.
Wade Bowen is like the fun uncle of the Texas scene. He’s everyone’s best friend, first call for a good time. He’s also a rising tide that lifts other boats. He showcases new talent and old friends. Whether he’s collaborating with Randy Rogers, playing the Opry solo or headlining a dancehall with his band, Bowen is at the top of the game right now.
Usrey jumped up several rungs in 2022. His streams increased exponentially alongside his fanbase. His gigs have become must see events that are often hard to find a ticket to. Usrey has a unique take on music and adeptly uses collaborators such as Graycie York to say what others can’t.
We didn’t latch onto this dude before Joe Rogan, but after seeing him open for The Damn Quails one night we became believers. We initially described it as Sturgll meets Moonpies, and that’s still the best way to say it. It’s never apparent whether this is a Midland style bit or the real deal. Either way it’s entertaining as all get out and worthy of your time. Check this cat out.
Red Clay Strays
These Bama boys blew up after Mile 0 22 despite debuting at the fest alongside fellow scene stealer 49 Winchester. This band delivers plenty of soul infused in their country and have a dynamic live show that is buzzed about across the south.
This guitar slinger from the Houston area has obviously spent time in the woodshed getting those tele chops up to snuff, but he has other tricks up his sleeve too.
Miss York made this list last year, so she’s not completely new to us; but coming off two knockout River Jam performances, millions of streams and some killer bookings leading into 2023 she’s a name you should all be aware of.
Sun Valley Station
Energy. That’s the first word that comes to mind about these cats. Just straight up hill country musical heathens with a sound all their own and the live show to match.
Cauthen’s Big Velvet bravado is only rivaled by the hip hop artists of the day for swag. He takes his Caddy pimp daddy persona to new heights onstage and blazes through his catalog in a way that makes you groove all night long.
Honey dripping rock n’ roll. There’s not a performer around that brings more intensity and passion to the stage than John Dempsy. If you don’t feel it, he will make you feel it.
You never quite know which direction a Shaker Hymns show will go at any given moment. Originals, covers, guitar solos, drunken rowdiness, somber remembrances. It’s all happening at a Shaker show. It’s loud and live and in your face. And you’re guaranteed to boogie.
Shane Smith & the Saints
Epic harmonies. Epic songs. Epic as in grand, monumental, legendary.
Jade Marie Patek
Patek started playing band shows for the first time in 2022 and proved why she belongs at the A-list table. Her strong, malleable voice lends itself to fronting a band and her joyous personality onstage leads you to wanting more.
Hood has always employed the Chuck Berry live routine to a degree. You never know if he’s going to have a bass player, a drummer, a keys player, all 3, playing solo, special guests or a backup singer…but you always know it’s going to be memorable and really good.
The big Arizona teddy bear with the gruff singing voice and the musical chops to make you pay attention continues to ingratiate himself to audiences beyond his home base on the strength of his live performances.
Flatland has gone from a band that merely plays Cleto’s songs to a cohesive unit that is putting on a show. From the dueling guitar/fiddle bits to just having a damn good time together onstage, the Cavalry is running on all cylinders at the moment.
Bowen’s band has gone through some changes in 2022, but alongside longtime bassist Caleb Jones, they just keep delivering night after night. They are effortless at transitioning from an original to a cover they’ve never played before to backing everyone in a jam.
As apt to be found on a metal festival bill as a Texas Country one, Meade has carved out a niche for himself by being uniquely original. His live show is unlike any other.