Just because we handed out some trophies last week doesn't mean we're done celebrating the best music that came out of our area this year. As a historical matter of fact, North Texas has long enjoyed a rich abundance of country music talent. In 2014, we've seen that many beloved vets of the Dallas and Fort Worth honky tonks have just as much creative power as some of the brightest younger talents do.
For those with hearing that extends beyond mainstream radio and the ability to step into a club that may not be inside the hipster-safe confines of Dallas proper, country music in all of its myriad forms are well-represented between Grand Prairie and Denton. Twangy songs inflected with blues, folk and rock have been a part of the country stew for generations, and north Texas in 2014 has certainly been no exception to that. Here's our Top Five North Texas Country Albums for 2014.
Ronnie Fauss - Built to Break
The tall, lanky family man has gone from a dude that offere up free EPs of primarily acoustic material to a full-blown songwriting powerhouse. His second release from the strong New West imprint, Normaltown Records, Built to Break, is packed with addictive storytelling and catchy folk-rock arrangements. Though there are plenty of songs that hook the listener through keen detail, such as "A Place Out in the Country," its two attention grabbing tracks that give this record it's signature. A low-key cover of Phosphorescents already lo-fi stunner "Song for Zula" is perfect for a writer that decides to tell someone else's tale and Fauss's duet with Rhet Miller of the Old 97s, "18 Wheels" is just a windows-down country rock anthem that Fauss delivers with infectiously energetic joy.
Justin Pickard - A High Price For the Low Life
The king of the Saturday afternoon brewery tour show, Pickard, along with producer and fellow area artist Andrew Delaney prove they know their way around vintage recording methods and sounds. Recorded live to two-track reel-to-reel tape in Garland, Pickard proffers earthy-feeling honky-tonk, punk, singer-songwriter ballads, soul and even a sea-faring tune authentically. Pickard's warm vocal works well in so many ways, giving him chameleon-like flexibility. Offered primarily on colored vinyl, Pickard really commits to the vintage aesthetic this album embodies. Regardless of styles or equipment, though, this album is a satisfyingly complete record that never feels predictable.
Crystal Yates - I Believe
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This EP, produced by super-producer Charlie Peacock (Civil Wars), is a beautiful vehicle for Yates dark, entrancing vocals, and, lest we forget, the guitar chops of her husband, Will. Crystal and Will, Florida-natives residing in McKinney since 2009, won the prestigious, nationally-held Texaco Country Showcase in January, and now, a full-length album is in the works. It's almost torture for us to think of the possibility of an album twice this EP's size possibly being twice as good.
Madison King - Onward and Upward
It's been a good year for the energetic fireball known as Madison King. Not only has she released a stellar new album, she's traversed the country as an opening act on the Old 97's national tour. For Onward and Upward, King purposely set out to make a more focused set of tunes in order to display her growth as an artist since the release of her fiery debut LP from a couple of years ago. The album's opening and closing tracks represent bookends that amply demonstrate that artistic ascendance. In "You and Me," a dobro and her beautifully robust voice gallop over a song of simple but profound desire. In "Saved by a Son of a Gun," King proceeds to raise hell with a romping tune that forces even the heaviest, most leaden foot to tap with a giddy bounce.
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Matt Hillyer - If These Old Bones Could Talk
Some were surprised it took so long for Hillyer, the inked-up leader of Eleven Hundred Springs (this area's best honky-tonk band) to release a solo record. There are also some that are a bit surprised that he chose to not simply go all-acoustic or simply repeat the proven dancehall formula of his main band. What no one is shocked by, however, is that this is a hell of a country record. Indeed, there's some Elevend Hundred flavor on here for a dash of familiarity ("Home is Where the Heartbreak Is"), but there's ample evidence to suggest this isn't simply Hillyer doing the same thing with different players. The title track is a folk song that's about more than the title suggests, while Hillyer gets straight-up sexy with the whispery, country slow-jam of "Dancing with the Moon." After all of these years as the face of a fantastic group, it's awesome to see an older, wiser Hillyer shine as an individual.
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