KERA commentator David Okamoto runs through the year’s best albums made by Texas musicians. He saves his highest praise for Miranda Lambert’s Revolution, which he deems the best of the best. Click the audio player to hear his commentary, along with samples from some of the albums:
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Even with some of our heaviest hitters on the sidelines, the state of Texas music in 2009 was solid, and sometimes superb. Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett released long-awaited albums that expanded their rich legacies, while Dallas-raised Annie Clark, who records under the name St. Vincent, emerged as the darling of the blogosphere. And then there were my 10 favorite releases, all never more than a shuffle-play away from my consciousness all year long:
Coming in at No. 10 is The Tide and the Current by Telegraph Canyon, a pigeonhole-defying Fort Worth band that fuses brooding urgency with an ethereal intimacy reminiscent of the Flaming Lips.
Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! by Austin’s Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears is my No. 9 choice, a raucous, funk-fortified throwback to the glory days of the Stax/Volt soul era.
Sultry-voiced chanteuses channeling Billie Holiday are easy to find, but few are as charming as Austin newcomer Kat Edmonson, whose No. 8-ranked Take to the Sky CD blends standards with bossa-nova re-inventions of John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” and the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”
In my 7th slot is The Mountain, the first made-in-Austin disc by a transplanted Ohio band called Heartless Bastards, which deftly injects pedal steel guitars into their thundering, blues-drenched ruckus.
Three glorious singles by a Denton duo known as Fergus & Geronimo make up my sixth favorite entry of the year. Their fuzz-coated, garage-fidelity racket can’t disguise their affection for Motown and the Beach Boys – but then, maybe they aren’t trying to.
Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller bounces back from 2006’s timid The Instigator with a starkly personal self-titled solo album that earns the No. 5 spot on my list, thanks to such bouncy, bittersweet rockers as “Like Love” and “Happy Birthday Don’t Die.”
At No. 4 is Norah Jones’ The Fall, which finds the Booker T. Washington alumnus embracing an earthy urgency without sacrificing the sublime soul that has made her one of this century’s most admirable stars.
No. 3 is Willie and Wheel, the first full-length collaboration between Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel. Their lively tributes to Bob Wills and other Western swing trailblazers sound familiar but never phoned in.
Austin ensemble Balmorhea’s All Is Wild, All Is Silent is my No. 2 choice – it’s an ambitious blurring of classical, jazz and ambient music that comes across both majestic and magical.
But it was Lindale native Miranda Lambert who left the most indelible impression on me in 2009 with the aptly titled Revolution. Texas artists signed to Nashville labels often get defanged for radio appeal. But like Steve Earle, Lambert refuses to blend in – listen to the way she tosses off a verse like “My brother got the brains of the family/ so I thought I’d learn to sing” without irony, and bombards her ramshackle cover of John Prine’s “That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round” with shards of feedback, and you’ll realize that Lambert isn’t just irreverent – she’s fearless.