Texans contributed some of the best music produced and released in 2017. From country to R&B to jazz, Texas musicians made an impact that resonated worldwide. Music journalist and commentator David Okamoto says these artists include an indie-rock visionary, a jazz virtuoso, and an El Paso prodigy who has reinvented R&B crooning as a vehicle for teenage angst. Here’s his list of the best albums by Texas-born or Texas-based artists:
10. “Trophy” by Sunny Sweeney
“Trophy” by Sunny Sweeney finds the Austin singer addressing prescription pill addiction, the inability to have children, and anger over a friend’s suicide. The result is a fierce, fearless album that Miranda Lambert would be proud of.
9. “Volume 1” by BNQT
BNQT is a supergroup featuring the frontmen from Grandaddy, Franz Ferdinand, Band of Horses, Travis, and Midlake. But despite the star power, these musicians checked their indie-rock credentials at the Denton studio door in order to celebrate their shared affection for Alan Parsons, glam rock, and ‘70s California pop. What it produced was great album titled “Volume 1” and I can’t wait to see what follow-up sounds like.
8. “We’re Not Going Anywhere” by David Ramirez
Austin songwriter David Ramirez rails against injustice and fear-mongering with the brooding intensity of “Joshua Tree”-era U2 in his 2017 album, “We’re Not Going Anywhere.” Throughout the album Ramirez carries a heavy heart, but he never sounds heavy-handed.
7. “Funky Movement” by Timothy McNealy
“Funky Movement” is a compilation of early ‘70s singles by Dallasite Timothy McNealy. The album was quietly released in November and was immediately celebrated by fans of funk music. But 11 days after the albums release, the 72-year-old died of cancer. McNealy was the former keyboardist for Bobby Patterson and crafted soulful classics like “Sagittarius Black” out of syrupy grooves, psychedelic guitars, and his own soulful Fender Rhodes solos.
6. “The Lonely, The Lonesome, and The Gone” by Lee Ann Womack
“The Lonely, The Lonesome, and The Gone” is the newest album by Houston singer Lee Ann Womack. Womack is probably most well-known for her 2000 hit “I Hope You Dance.” But her efforts in 2017, help to reinvent Womack as a soul-rattling country-blues chanteuse. The lyrics are meatier, the production is edgier, and her singing erupts from a deeper, darker place.
5. “TX Jelly” by The Texas Gentlemen
The Texas Gentlemen are musicians for hire and they’ve sort of become to Dallas what the Mar-Keys were to Memphis. They’re the go to backing band for studio artists like Ed Sheeran and guys legends like George Strait want on stage when he’s performing in North Texas. But despite the reputation they’ve created as session players, they guys have stepped into the spotlight with a new album that has them convincingly leapfrogging from psychedelic blues to baroque pop to barrel house boogie.
4. “A Social Call” by Jazzmeia Horn
Jazzmeia Horn is just 26, but the stunning vocalist has become the toast of the New York jazz scene. She caresses the notes as effortlessly as she scats and skyrockets around them on her album “A Social Call.” Not bad for a graduate of Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School.
3. “Bad Liar” by Selena Gomez
“Bad Liar” is exactly what Grand Prairie native Selena Gomez needed this year. The North Texan had plans to roll out a new album in 2017, but an illness and eventual kidney transplant slowed her down. Luckily, this summer single exploring doubt and desire, propelled by a sampled bass line from Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” easily stands on its own and left listeners begging for more.
2. “MASSEDUCTION” by St. Vincent
Annie Clark, a graduate of Lake Highlands High School, experiments with ambient textures and throbbing beats on the newest St. Vincent album. But it’s the quietest songs on “MASSEDUCTION” that are the most powerful. It’s through their stillness that Clark truly achieves a level of intimacy that is raw in its intensity and devastating in its beauty.
1. American Teen by Khalid
My favorite success story of 2017 was “American Teen” by Khalid. The R&B standout is a 19-year-old Army brat who moved from New York to El Paso in his senior year. He started making music in his bedroom as a coping mechanism to help him adjust to his new home. Songs like “Young, Dumb and Broke” and “8TEEN” emphasize melodies over beats, romance over bravado. But more important, they vent about the complexities of growing up without losing the thrill of being young.