Traditional country still abounds, but many acts are approaching the tried-and-true from new and interesting angles, ensuring the Lone Star style doesnt become fossilized. Here are three recent releases, all of which approach the sonic limits of country music.
Band of Heathens, Sunday Morning Record
An Austin fixture for the better part of the last decade, this foursome now has a little Fort Worth mixed in: Richard Millsap, son of legendary guitarist Dave Millsap, joined the band last year and appears on his first studio effort with the band here. Joined by bandmates Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist and Trevor Nealon. The follow-up to 2011s Top Hat Crown & the Clapmasters Son was produced by George Reiff and Steve Christensen at Austins Finishing School and Estuary Studios, these 11 songs meander between rock, blues, soul and country ( Ricky Ray Jackson contributes some beautiful pedal steel to One More Trip) without choosing one side over the others. Its a subtly polished piece of work.
John David Kent, Before the Sun Comes Up
The Celeste singer-songwriter took a roundabout route to country music, as he first came to prominence as a member of alt-rockers Radish (fellow North Texan Ben Kwellers old band). Since then, Kent has built his own studio, enjoyed success on the Texas music charts and crafted this, his sophomore album, with producer Dwight Baker at Austins Matchbook Studios. Kent favors a mode of country immediately familiar to anyone whos spent any time spinning the latest Luke Bryan or Dierks Bentley records, but Kents slick style is inviting instead of insufferable. From the appropriately titled Country Twang through to the surging title track, Kent stirs plenty of rock attitude into gritty country songs to winning effect.
Phil Hamilton, Live at the Whiskey Girl Saloon
Live albums have been a staple in North Texas country circles, where bands live and die on the strength of their on-stage performances. Billy Bobs Texas has long recorded acts on its famous stage, and now fellow Stockyards watering hole Whiskey Girl Saloon has followed suit. One of its first offerings is this crisply recorded, hourlong effort from Burleson singer-songwriter Phil Hamilton. Hamilton has enjoyed state and regional success on the back of albums like Renegade Rock N Roll, which was produced by Beau Bedford, who also helmed this live set. You can practically taste the beer and feel the cigarette smoke stinging your eyes, as Hamilton ably rips into tracks like Nine Mile.