This past June, we provided a list of the 10 best Texas Country/Red Dirt/Whatever tunes in 2013 up to that point of the year. With 2014 looming, we're still not sure what the nebulous terms slapped onto the songs and bands that made up that list really mean. With an entire year of music to listen back upon, we do know it's been a great year, regardless of which brainless box one tries to shove these fine acts into.
A few of the songs from our June list made it onto this one. Those tunes were great then, and seem greater now as we've had months to let them seep deeper into our skin. The ones that didn't make the cut on this go 'round are still noteworthy, but were caught in the end by some other songs that hit us a bit harder down the home-stretch. Of course, those numbers are still fine examples of Red-Texas-Dirt-Country, none the less.
Perhaps more than any recent year, 2013 has shown itself to be a time when younger acts could make larger splashes than before while many respected vets have had to continue producing quality records instead of resting on their previous successes (except for the pandering Kevin Fowler -- "How Country Are 'Ya?" Really?). With more festivals, television shows, websites and record labels supporting this style of music continually popping up, it's exciting to see a slight clash of the grizzled and fresh. Make no mistake, such a meshing is a fantastic thing for fans who thirst for more on a weekly basis.
It's not a stretch to say the mix of generations, sounds and styles represented on the list below would likely be impossible a decade ago. There's much to celebrate in a variety of ways. Please enjoy.
10. Zane Williams - "Sure Felt Like Goodbye" The star of Troubadour, TX saw his kitschy "Overnight Success" (the title track to this 2013 album) go higher on the Texas charts than any other song of his had before. But it's the lead single from that album which best represents Williams ability to successfully offer a polished tune ready for mass consumption while still keeping the spotlight on his earnest, heart-tugging writing.
9. - Cody Canada - "17" From the Departed front-man's first solo album, this acoustic take on the breakout hit from Cross Canadian Ragweed is kind of a big deal. While Canada became one of the region's biggest names while fronting Ragweed, this is far from the best vocal performance of his career. In fact, Canada admits to having a relatively roughed-up voice for this recording, and it shows, but that's also part of the magic. The symbolic nature of including beloved Ragweed tunes on his album is significant, as it represents the falling of a bitter veil Canada has been holding since the acrimonious break-up of his first band. The 11 minute, 22 second track contains not only a raw-boned version of the song, but Canada's own story behind the song and what it has meant to him personally. He sings "You're always 17 in your hometown," and for Canada, he'll always be the voice behind the songs that made Ragweed a national draw. And it's great that he's totally cool with that.
8. Dirty River Boys - "Desert Wind" While we wait for the band's next full-length record, the El Paso-born quartet released a single that should tide us over rather well. The studio version of the song boasts a Springsteen power vibe, that may (or may not) represent a new twist to the band's deliscious roots-punk blend.
7. Jason Boland - "Dark and Dirty Mile" The title track from Boland's Shooter Jennings co-produced album is classic Boland, and ultimately, classic, period.
6. JB & The Moonshine Band - "The Only Drug" This Tyler-based group just might be the best young band in Texas. This group can fill a room with rowdy folks and has cranked-out sing-along numbers that don't sacrficie thoughtful lyrics for vapid cliches. This song, from Beer for Breakfast, is a prime example of believably mixing the breeziness of a love-dittie with talk of pills and cocaine. Plus, the band has a Tennessee moonshine sponsor, so that's fitting and awesome.
5. Chapter 11 featuring Aubrey Lynn England - "Whiskey & You" This Chris Stapleton-penned song is the out-of-nowhere success story of the year. Chapter 11 didn't even begin as a real band. As a collective of artists simply looking to kick out some killer tunes, the outfit, helmed by producer Dustin Hendricks, concocted an addictive performance. The combo of Sean Franks' baritone and England's stellar, sweet-but-scarred vocal turn give hurt and hopelessness voices we could hear and not simply have to imagine.
4. Sam Riggs & The Night People - "Angola's Lament" The dark, low drum and banjo combo that opens this tune menacingly sets the table for a tale set in Louisiana's Angola Prison. Hailing from Austin, Riggs and crew followed-up their solid Lighthouse record with an album that will produce radio fovorites throughout 2014.
3. Randy Rogers Band - "Trouble Knows My Name" Even with superb 2013 efforts from marquee-acts such as Boland, Canada, Charlie Robsion and Reckless Kelly, RRB's Trouble is the best example of a veteran band that's been to the top of the mountain and have no plans to vacate anytime soon. The album that most reminds fans of the group's beloved, breakthrough record, Rollercoaster, has half-a-dozen songs that would fit into a top 30 list for the year, but since this one discusses wild times on the road and Wilie Nelson's vocal assistance, this tune is hard to top.
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2. Sons of Fathers - "Roots and Vine" Austin's Paul Cauthen and David Beck lead an insanely talented group whose live show is as good as any other band in the Red-Texas-Dirt-Country realm. While they can offer up blazing blues and rock, it's when they get down to floor-stomping and bass-thumping their skills shine the brightest. Their latest record, Burning Days, is as hard to categorize as it is pointless to even try. The confident harmonies and the masterful musicianship on this song, and entire album, is pure genius and they've only just begun.
1. William Clark Green - "She Likes the Beatles" Green, a Tyler-raised, Austin-residing troubadour writes literate folk songs with a rocker's swagger. From this year's immaculate The Rose Queen, this is the best tune to sing-along with in a year that's offered tons of barroom shout-along numbers. Also, it's purity as a well-crafted song is evident as it's just as impressive when acoustically performed as it is when Green is in full-band mode. The inventive use of seemingly silly subjects such as the Beatles, the Stones and Indiana Jones makes this song simultaneously fun and insightful. The story of a couple that, on the surface, has little in common, before we find out they indeed share a love and concern for one another could simply be forgettably tepid. But this blue collar poem, delivered with Green's raspy vocal conviction is, more than any other song this year, impossible to get out of your head once it's crawled its way in through your ears.