As the bluebonnets proliferate madly alongside our highways, so, too, do the albums from area musicians. From rock to rap and everything in between, North Texas artists are keeping the new tunes coming at an admirably brisk clip. Here are five recent records worth spending time and money on, giving you a great taste of the eclectic music scene blossoming in plain sight.
Mills & Co., 'Don't Ever Look Back Twice'
There's a beautiful exhaustion to Fort Worth singer-songwriter Taylor Craig Mills' full-length debut that invites listeners closer. Released under the moniker Mills & Co. (his bandmates include Kris Knight, Jeremy Hull and Damien Stewart), Don't Ever Look Back Twice is nominally folk, fueled by Mills' expressive, faintly anguished voice and music with plenty of space in it. In concert, Mills and his collaborators can work up a righteous fury, but here the songs are often exquisite slow burns, like the early highlight Shut Up & Ship Out or The Miles We Bend. An accomplished freshman effort and another feather in Cowtown's creative cap.
Dru B Shinin', 'All-American'
The man born Andrew McCullough roars out of the gate on this, his first full-length since 2010's Dirty Money Painting (although there's also been a steady torrent of EPs and singles in the interim). Dru B Shinin' -- working with producer EyeJay the Boy -- blends live instrumentation alongside smart samples (opening track American Rap Verses makes effective use of Madonna's Frozen), demonstrating his knack for appealing hooks and blisteringly fast rhymes. The inaugural effort from the recently opened SMG Sound in the Stockyards, All-American is the latest salvo from Fort Worth's burgeoning hip-hop scene, which is fast becoming one of the state's most vibrant.
Salim Nourallah, 'Hit Parade'
It's all too easy to take someone like Salim Nourallah for granted in an area so densely packed with talent. The Dallas-based singer, songwriter and producer's newest LP (his fifth solo effort overall, and first since 2009's Ciphers From Snowing) is larded with breezy pop gems, brought to lush life by Nourallah's first full band effort in 10 years (he drafted John Dufilho, Buttercup's Joe Reyes, Shibboleth's Richard Martin and the Polyphonic Spree's Jason Garner). Hit Parade is precisely that: 14 irresistible tracks that, in a just world, would take up permanent residence in heavy rotation.
The Phuss, self-titled
Fort Worth garage rock trio the Phuss landed an impressive endorsement for its second, self-titled full-length LP: the Toadies' Vaden Todd Lewis, who produced this nine-track, 30-minute blast (and whose band's simmer-explode aesthetic is a clear influence). Loud, clean rock 'n' roll laced with melody, distortion and frontman Josh Fleming's live-wire yowl, the Phuss has crafted an album that's going to sound life-changing with the top down this summer. Rather than stacking the record with one pile driver after another, the group wisely lets tension coil beneath even the most innocuous tracks (the scorching The Romantic; Answer Me). The Phuss is seriously thrilling and a calling card for Fort Worth's still-vital rock scene.
Fortnox, 'L.O.T.O. (Last of the Originals)'
It's been four long years since Fortnox's last LP (2008's debut effort Next Sound), but the delay has more to do with life than a desire to make music. The Fort Worth trio of MCs comprising Fortnox (Complete, Solid and Dez) haven't missed a beat, delivering an entirely self-funded sophomore album that manages to sound current while taking care to pay respect to the past. Produced by Kirk Franklin's touring DJ Ernie G., L.O.T.O. (Last of the Originals) is a defiant, engaging document of hip-hop having shaped lives, reminding the young guns of those who laid the foundations.