I could spout off some weary cliché about how the unrelenting heat outside correlates with the persistent sizzle in the local music scene, but you're probably starting to sense it for yourself. Call it critical mass, call it an exceptionally strong year, call it something in the North Texas water supply, but local musicians, from Fort Worth to Dallas to Denton and all points in between, aren't slowing their output a bit as 2011 rockets past the halfway point.
The bands are wonderfully varied, and the albums present an almost kaleidoscopic take on the world around the musicians. Here are five new efforts well worth your time and trouble (although I'd recommend cranking them up somewhere air-conditioned with a tall, cool beverage in hand).
Fox and the Bird
Nominally folk yet wholly engaging, Dallas collective Fox and the Bird has its roots in the sprawling Dallas Family Band cooperative, which has also birthed the Beaten Sea, Spooky Folk, lalagray and Jacob Metcalf. Led by husband and wife Dan and Kelsey Bowman, whose arresting vocal harmonies are the thread uniting these 11 tracks, Floating Feather is a striking, dust-blown debut that roams freely among the neighboring pastures of American music, grazing a little in roots, nibbling a bit in country, sampling folk. Painstakingly recorded over a period of two years, the rustic, ethereal veneer of songs like Ghost or the slyly comic Women in the Kitchen belies the earthy, kinetic energy evident in the band's musicianship. These works bloom most fully in concert, where the full-throated, multipart harmonies can reach full roar and the intoxicating clatter behind them blows forth like a summer wind.
Objects of My Affection
The sextet spread out between Dallas and Fort Worth continues to demonstrate its scary knack for delivering a series of songs that would feel right at home in heavy rotation. Anchored by TCU grad Julie Lange's warm, lovely voice and the interlocking rhythm section (bassist Miguel Fair and drummer Robert Yahne), these sleek tunes sound as though they cost about 20 times what they did. There are undercurrents of angst (Deep Fall) and flickers of '80s guitar pop evident (the gloriously retro 10 Hearts might be one of my favorite songs of the year) throughout the record, which, in a just world, would catapult this outfit to a high-profile career.
It doesn't take long for Dog's Light, the debut LP from Dallas-based Bravo, Max!, to make you smile. These sounds are quite familiar to the local scene: a sprawling band with a rich, eclectic style that pulls freely from country, pop, jazz and folk, with the faintest hint of close harmonies flickering in the background. But Bravo, Max! isn't particularly enamored with nostalgia -- witness the urgency of a track like Hotel Denalian, which kicks off the 11-song, Oz Fritz-produced collection -- and is more interested in stirring up an intoxicating musical frenzy. A few minutes watching this quintet attack any one of the local stages it plays regularly seals the deal: This is a band worth keeping close tabs on.
Dru B Shinin'
This Fort Worth MC embraces the notion of music without boundaries. It's a notion reinforced by the guest list on this eight-track EP, meant as a palate cleanser after last year's Dirty Money Painting. The man born Andrew McCollough recruited from the pop-rock corner of town, enlisting singer-songwriter Luke Wade and Phantom Caste's Paul Cooksey to pitch in on a few tracks here, but the focus wisely remains on McCullough's laid-back flow and the smart, stylish production overseen by EyeJay the Boy. Throw this in your car and good luck prying it loose from the stereo.
Darlin, Here's to You
Dallas singer-songwriter Madison King's brand of rock lurks in a dark alley, barely holding its rockabilly impulses in check. Put it another way: Miranda Lambert would listen to this LP with a big, knowing grin. Gifted with a sultry voice that slides from a purr to a roar, King wastes little time capturing your attention: The title track, which opens her 11-track debut, is a five-minute ode to finding solace in a bottle, rather than giving in to a destructive relationship. Backed by bassist Jacob Greenan and drummer Chris Carmichael, King keeps her stylistically diverse tunes spare, relying on her vocals and her facility with melodies. This hard-livin' batch of songs (titles include Tough as Nails and Whiskey in the Mornin') will have you hitting repeat frequently.