2020-2021Best Texas Recordings

Album of the Year
Jackie Venson, Vintage Machine

photo by David Brendan Hall

(Sponsored by Real Ale Brewing Co.)

Jackie Venson personifies perseverance by relentlessly ascending the music industry's creaky, overcrowded, and failing ladder.

The Northwest Austin native undoubtedly "Went Above & Beyond" during a year defined by despair and death. Unable to cast her trademark joy on physical audiences due to pandemic, the ever resourceful independent artist maintained a virtual presence at every juncture of 2020 (archived on Instagram @JackieVenson). This ray of light in a disaster area, presented free of charge, makes her the rightful and inaugural title holder of Best Livestreaming Artist.

Two volumes as Jackie the Robot zoom the former blues ensemble bandleader past even her pivot to a self-sampling solo multi-tasker and catapult the guitarist into future worlds, yet it's October's Vintage Machine that travels the farthest among a whopping five releases in 2020. Her third studio album delivers a batch of good vibrations creeping closer to pop without sacrificing instrumental virtuosity. Opener "Awake" explains its creator's commitment to fulfilling the dreams of her father Andrew Venson, former bassist of Austin R&B act Blue Mist.

Across 33 minutes, Vintage Machine journeys autobiographically, so musically that yields uplifting vibes in a downbeat year.

2020 feels like a seed for Austin's ever popularizing hometown hero. Rising star these past several years, her wicked guitar solos and radiating glow got everyone to take notice, but this contemporary era of stark division absolutely uncovered in Venson a palpable hunger to fight. Increasingly, she uses her voice for change – refusing to halt or conform.

"Instead of being silent, today I'm going to demand that my city, Austin, Texas, be better," Venson tweeted on June 2. "I hope you still believe Black lives matter when you're choosing lineups for the major Austin concert events and festivals, when you're picking out music and songs for your radio shows, when you're doing artist spotlights."

Strong billing greeted her on the livestream edition of ACL Radio's Blues on the Green, but she took a defiant stand for further diversity and wound up curating an all-Black Blues on the Screen herself in July. Venson performed only briefly during R&B singer Alesia Lani's set.

In November, she remedied that by debuting on PBS live concert long hauler Austin City Limits with an incredibly bold statement. A black dress stenciled with the names of 73 victims of police brutality reaffirmed the priorities of the only Black woman to win an Austin Music Award for Best Guitarist (2019). In the midst of actualizing a lifelong goal, she once again diverted attention to people in need.

Time to eliminate "rising" before "star." Jackie Venson is Austin's Musician of the Year. – Derek Udensi

RUNNERS-UP: Botany, End the Summertime F(or)ever, Deezie Brown & EC Mayne, Candy Blue Like Screw, Charley Crockett, Welcome to Hard Times, Eliza Gilkyson, 2020, Greyhounds, Primates, Ley Line, We Saw Blue, David Ramirez, My Love Is a Hurricane, Skeleton, Skeleton, Star Parks, The New Sounds of Late Capitalism, Sweet Spirit, Trinidad and The Teeta, The Quarantine

Song of the Year
Heartless Bastards, "Revolution"

photo by David Brendan Hall

(Sponsored by Real Ale Brewing Co.)

A triptych of wistful nostalgia, prophetic counsel, and a requiem for the modern age, "Revolution" triumphs into a six-minute spiritualist wonder. Marking the Heartless Bastards' return after six years following Restless Ones in 2015, the stand-alone single came out via Austin imprint Spaceflight Records on July 3, with a portion of proceeds going to ACLU. The downtempo rumination on greed and loss of innocence coupled with melancholic acoustics combust into a supernova as Lauren Gurgiolo's ricocheting six-string and Kevin Ratterman's palpating drums give into the hypnotic mantra, "The revolution is in your mind."

"'Revolution' is a reminder to myself to avoid playing the game as much as I can," revealed the Austinites' lead powerhouse and the song's author and oracle Erika Wennerstrom on Instagram. "I don't need this and I don't need that. The marathon everybody is running is exhausting."

In the dying moments of the song, Wennerstrom's central question – "Where are you going my friend, have you forgotten when there was a time filled with hope instead of fear that's in your heart?" – hangs in the air. Her answer is our answer. – Alejandra Ramirez

RUNNERS-UP: Tameca Jones, "IDK", Mobley, "James Crow", Adrian Quesada and various artists, "Walk With Me Austin" and Sun June, "Karen O"

Video of the Year
Annabelle Chairlegs, "Outside" [Dir. Vanessa Pla]

(Sponsored by Real Ale Brewing Co.)

Written years ago when singer Lindsey Mackin began performing in Austin, the ambient anxiety of Annabelle Chairlegs' sophomore LP Gotta Be In Love was predetermined long before the pandemic. Maybe the surfy, jittery set of forceful rock songs, particularly "Outside," held out for such isolated circumstances. As a Jetsons-ish cosmonaut sealed in a bubble helmet, Mackin opens ominously: "If you're gonna go outside, should I warn you? 'Cause if you're gonna go outside, they will harm you."

Known for diaphanous scenes, local director Vanessa Pla shared the short's extraterrestrial inspiration via Instagram: "[Lindsey] and I spent months talking about our weird surreal ideas. When COVID hit, the lyrics made more sense to us than ever and inspired us to create a world of our own."

Sci-fi styled in pastels, Mackin breaks through walls and peers out windows. Trekking through whimsical scenes of flowers and floating goldfish, the looming monster never appears. Bassist Derek Vaughan Nunez Strahan and drummer Billy Wong appear only as floating heads in jars, a clever coronavirus precaution.

The full "Outside" crew includes Zach Morrison, Mackenzie McMahon, Tiger Hill, Andy Hoffman, Jackson Montgomery Schwartz, Kevin Baker, Jordan Langmore, Noah Goodman, and Dave Wolfe. Enjoy more of Pla's work in a recent series for Tele Novella, as well as Chairlegs' "Candy Apple Red." – Rachel Rascoe

RUNNERS-UP: Being Dead, "Underworld" [Dir. Riley Engemoen, Juli Keller, Cody Dosier], Dossey, "Someone to Love" [Dir. Peter Longno], Caroline Rose, "Feel the Way I Want" [Dir. Caroline Rose] and Jonathan Tyler feat. Nikki Lane, "Old Friend" [Dir. Jonathan Tyler, Scott Wade, Chris Boosahda]

Best of the Year
Industry Awards
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