Texas country has always been hard to define, but at the end of 2015, the task seems harder than ever. As Texas artists start to see more success in Nashville, other music scenes are bleeding into the genre. The lines between Americana, Texas country and Nashville country aren’t as neatly drawn as they used to be, but perhaps that’s a good thing. It's been exciting to watch the genres swirl together.
2015 was a pretty good year for Texas country, with a host of unexpected successes on both regional and national levels and impressive bodies of work from some of the genre’s most beloved artists, like Aaron Watson and Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen. We’ve singled out the year’s biggest winners and losers, and for once, it seems like the good might have outweighed the bad this year — at least where Texas country music is concerned.
Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen
For years, these two marquee buddies have packed clubs and dance halls around the Lone Star State with their annual summer acoustic tour. For many fans of Texas country, catching one of the Hold My Beer and Watch This shows is a highlight of their concert calendar, and for good reason. The rapport between the two is spot-on perfect for a night of drinking and singing. Those shows inspired the release of Hold My Beer, Vol I. It’s a joyous collection of stone-cold country duets released independently of either artists' record labels, and it’s become the most critically acclaimed work of either's career. There’s not a legit year-end list around that's excluding this album. Kelly Dearmore
This young Arlington native cut her teeth in Nashville, but she’s still a Texas girl. The Texas music scene gave birth to Maren Morris the artist, and being in Music City has only refined her abilities as both a songwriter and performer. The 2015 release of Morris’ self-titled EP is an incredibly impressive start, and Morris has already been featured by Spotify, NPR and Rolling Stone Country as part of the genre’s revitalization and bright future. Put simply, watch out for Maren Morris – she’s going to be huge this time next year. Amy McCarthy
In a year when Texas country has seen several fantastic albums released by an exciting new generation of female artists, Bri Bagwell has arguably made the flashiest splash. Her latest record, When a Heart Breaks, is great from beginning to end, but her wildly catchy single, “My Boots,” isn’t only a high-point of her always on-point live show, it was also her first No. 1 single on the Texas radio charts, where it's still riding high. There aren’t many women ascending the regional charts, but artists like Bagwell and Sunny Sweeney are doing all they can to turn that longstanding, depressing trend around. KD
Who would have thought that after more than 15 years of making music and being out on the road, Texas country mainstay Aaron Watson would finally make it to the big time. The fiercely independent artist’s The Underdog shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country chart without any major label support in what seems to be a real trend for Texas country. Watson’s album, arguably one of his best in these past 15 years, is indicative of something that’s always been true: When it is able to wrench away the spotlight from Nashville, Texas country shows its best self. AM
William Clark Green
Just a couple of years ago, raspy-throated songwriter William Clark Green was merely a promising talent with an ability to straddle the tenuous line of commercial slickness and distinctive grit. And even before the release of Ringling Road earlier this year, Green was already demonstrating his ability to pack out a well-sized room with his own new flock of fans. Ringling Road, a diverse, thoroughly entertaining record, has proven to not only be a killer follow-up to the stellar Rose Queen, but also proof that there are young guns out there willing to nobly assume the risk of bringing new sounds and styles to the table. KD
In 2015, Josh Abbott finally grew up. The release Front Row Seat is easily Abbott’s best effort, both sonically and as a songwriter. He’s attempted to slick it up and find his way to Nashville in the past, but this album has its roots in Texas music, and that means good things for the future of Abbott’s sound. It’s a shame that it took a painful divorce to push Abbott to do the best work of his career, but we’re grateful nonetheless. AM
Eli Young Band
We’re not here to call the men of the Eli Young Band losers, by any stretch, as the Denton-born outfit is the most commercially successful group to ever emerge from the Texas country scene. But such a lofty position comes with understandably high expectations, and when compared to the past couple of years, EYB didn’t have the 2015 many of us hoped they would. Without even one Top 10 hit single, the band’s 2014 album, 10,000 Towns, didn’t come close to smashing the charts in a manner befitting a true modern country heavy hitter. There’s no mistaking EYB is a group full of winners, but 2015 wasn’t always so victorious. KD
It was a tough year for Stoney LaRue, what with all the personal drama and the arrest for domestic violence. Musically, it wasn't great either. After two relatively impressive releases in 2011 and 2014, LaRue decided to make a nostalgic play with Us Time, an album of fan favorites and songs from the road. Unfortunately, the 2015 reboots of “Oklahoma Breakdown” and “Feet Don’t Touch the Ground,” LaRue’s two best-known tracks, just don’t quite live up to the twangy versions that he’s been playing on the road for more than a decade. To be sure, the Texas country world could’ve gone a whole ‘nother lifetime without listening to LaRue try to cover Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” AM
Where have you gone, Jack? While Ingram — one of the true trailblazing greats of Texas country, and perhaps the artist who finally helped Nashville realize it could make a few bucks off of Texas country rockers — has been visible through television spots and concerts in 2015, another year went by without a new album. Rumor had it 2015 might see two new records from the former SMU student and Adair’s Saloon regular, but here we are about to ring in 2016 and nothing further has been heard. Fellow old school Texas country kingpins Cory Morrow and Pat Green finally released respectable albums after years away, but we have to admit there’s still a Jack Ingram-shaped hole in our country-loving hearts. KD
As usual, women in country music always get the short end of the stick. It was a solid year for Texas country, and women were able to make more waves this year than in the past, but this genre’s still leaving a lot to be desired where female representation is concerned. Because Texas country is such a miserable place for women, it quickly loses its best female artists to Nashville. The success of Bri Bagwell, who has long been a favorite in the Texas music scene, should not have taken so ridiculously long. As hopeful as we are for the future of Texas country, this genre still has a long way to go before it can call itself anything even remotely resembling equitable. AM