With the 27th annual Dallas Observer Music Awards just around the corner — in fact, voting is open right now at 2015musicawardspoll.dallasobserver.com — we will spend the next several weeks highlighting some of the nominees for this year’s awards. And when we say these artists are the “Best,” don’t just take our word for it: We polled 200 local music experts to pull together the nominees this year, so they come on pretty good authority.
Dallas and country music just sound like they belong hand-in-beer-soaked-hand. And they do, which is clear because there's never a shortage of crazy talent when it comes to choosing the best country acts for the annual Dallas Observer Music Awards. Many of the roots-oriented categories of the DOMAs seem to be busting with veteran artists who have won plenty of noms and trophies over the years, but refreshingly, things are a bit different this year in the Best Country Music Artist category.
Should you find yourself stumbling around in the vicinity of Adair's Saloon, looking for a bite near Love and War in Texas or even way out west in Fort Worth, and any of the following artists are playing, you'll do yourself a massive favor if you stop, have a beer and take in their stellar tunes.
You can bet that anyone who says there's a better straight-up country and mother-freaking Western band residing in or around Dallas has never seen 1100 perform before. But lead singer Matt Hillyer’s solo breakthrough last year resulted in a slimmer-than-normal docket of shows with the full band. With no new release to promote, 2015 might have been the quietest year we’ve seen from 1100 in a very long time. Hopefully that means we'll hear more fiddle and steel greatness from them in 2016. You'd be hard-pressed to catch a better local country concert anywhere.
In 2015, a younger crop of country artists has made a larger splash than the veteran acts that have long dominated the DOMAs and regularly packed area clubs and honky tonks. Fort Worth’s Jake Paleschic literally took to the streets to make sure his word was heard, and he offered up one of our favorite albums of the year before July even rolled around. The former Patriot lead singer’s literate, folk-tinged style isn’t necessarily going to burn the barn down, but it will sure as hell put a tear in your beer and make that shot glass empty itself super quick.
Everyone’s favorite Deep Ellum bartender is also the reigning queen of Dallas country music. As killer as her 2011 LP was, last year’s Onward and Upwards was even more so, and her voice, style and performances have grown immensely. Her duet with Rhett Miller, “Feel Like Falling in Love," and its companion video make it clear King’s undeniable brilliance is something any local country fan can be proud of — and look forward to for more greatness in the years ahead.
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It’s no secret that Dallas hasn’t dominated the lucrative, stronger-than-ever Texas country market in recent years. But Troy Cartwright’s much-deserved success this year is all the encouragement us proud North Texans need. His self-titled album was one we knew we would like as the year began, and it turns out we were right. We’re not the only ones either, as both “My Girl (She's All Mine)” and “Next Flight Home" have made impressive dents in the influential regional radio airplay charts, which report that Cartwright isn’t just hooking audiences near home, but across the state. People are seeing and hearing what we’ve had the pleasure of having to ourselves the past couple of years.
As much as Fort Worth is known for being a western type of town (and for Billy Bob’s Texas), we’re seeing its country colors fly in a more exciting way than ever before. Emerson, another Panther City artist, released East Texas Blues earlier this year and, simply put, it’s a stunner from beginning to end. Carrying a strong retro vibe that’s authentic and fresh, not kitschy, tunes such as “Hesitation Blues” seem like the work of a dude twice his age. Emerson mixes jumping juke-joint numbers with noir sounds and a sincere folk sensibility to make an album that will have anyone listening hit the “repeat” button, well, repeatedly.