In 2011, we witnessed a refreshing surge of new talent blend in with some of the scene's long-time favorites. Sure, 1100 Springs offered up yet another blissfully classic album, but Madison King and Gaston Light (aka Jason Corcoran) made their presence known with personal twists on the traditional country sound. Acts such as The O's and Rodney Parker & the 50 Peso Reward aren't exactly grizzled veterans, nor are they the honky-tonk newbies that King and Corcoran are. Regardless, both respected groups used 2011 to showcase an evolution from their previous work. The O's developed a more dynamic sound, while the typically rocking Parker and crew stripped things down for an acoustic evening in their own living room, to wonderful effect.
Perhaps the unifying thread to the songs on this list is that, outside of regional proximity, there really isn't a unifying thread that ties all 10 tunes together. Such stylistic diversity is what confuses some, but excites others.
".44" - Madison King King's excellent Darlin', Here's To You is perhaps the best debut of any local act, regardless of genre. The last few words of the song say it all for King's overall charm: "Don't ever sell a .44 to a girl with tears in her eyes."
"Skin & Bones" - Rodney Parker & the 50 Peso Reward Following up 2010's fantastically bombastic EP, The Apology, the band offered up a killer set of acoustic versions of previously released songs while throwing in this new tune, which stole the show.
"Wrecking Ball" - The O's What can be said about The O's that hasn't been said before? Say what you want about how much ink John Pedigo and Taylor Young have received in the last couple of years, but the release of Between The Two proved a sophomore slump wasn't really much of a concern for them.
"Burn It Down" - Darryl Lee Rush After a somewhat lengthy wait, the original Shiner Rising Star winner came back with a self-titled that was the best storytelling country record of the year. Leaning heavily on the folk-rock that some would call Americana, Rush provides this blow-by-blow tale of a relationship in trouble with painful believability and zero need for sugar-coating the hard truth.
"You Gonna Miss Me" - Bonnie Whitmore Whitmore actually penned this tune as a farewell note to her older sister, and to the special times they had shared over the years. That unique twist gives the tune far more weight than if it had been just another kiss-off.
"Frank" - Nate Kipp Recalling a time when a pun in country music could be humorous and effective without being a schlocky attempt at radio airplay, Kipp blends sincerity and wordplay as well as anyone.
"Little Silver Cross" - Danny Balis We love it when someone goes the extra step beyond rehashing tired holiday standards and digs even deeper to unearth the less-than -joyous realities of the season.The King Buck's Balis did this superbly.
"We're From Texas" - 1100 Springs The title of the song and band name should be enough to warrant placement on this list, even though new "songs about Texas" have become somewhat cliché. This tune from the reigning kings of Dallas dancehalls has just the right amount of pride and attitude to be another worthy addition to the band's marathon set lists.
"Half Awake" - Gaston Light Living on the singer/songwriter side of the country realm, Gaston Light's Idol records debut, Peel, revealed a young artist who writes as though he's felt the ebbs and flows of a man twice his age. The emotive pedal steel on this track seems to embody the title and lifts the song.
"Save the Smiles" - Earthquake Country When we reviewed this album a while back, we noted the intimate feel of Diaspora. This Ft. Worth-based group features members of Telegraph Canyon, but that's not the most appealing aspect here. This is another song that has well-crafted but rustic textures of folk and roots, and is still very country to the core.