The Austin Chronicle

We Have an Issue: Two Questions Inspired by BLK ODYSSY

By Kevin Curtin, August 13, 2021, Columns

When's the last time you got lost in an album?

I mean really got lost? Like the sound came on and the world stopped? July 7 for me. Sam Houston had reached out to me a couple days earlier, inviting me to Arlyn Studios for a listening party, previewing his BLK ODYSSY project's new album BLK VINTAGE. I accepted, but on the day of the party I remembered I had to play a gig so I was fixin' to no-show.

Then it occurred to me that his very on-point publicist had already dropped BLK VINTAGE in my inbox so I plugged some big fat stereo headphones into my phone, put them on my head, sat down in the grass, and pressed play. Typically, I can multitask when jamming new music. In fact, I do it every day: I jump rope, I drive around in my van, eat a bowl of food – that kind of stuff. In the case of these 25 minutes of recorded music, I was turned into a human antenna: sitting perfectly still, jaw hanging open, extremely present in the music, yet absent in my body.

I could hardly believe how great this record sounded and how potent it felt. I knew Houston's a talented vocalist, but I wasn't prepared for him to bowl me over with an album-of-the-year type sequence of sonic social art (out Aug. 27). To me, it sounded a lot like life: I heard resilience, pride, and regret – the highs and lows. Speaking of highs and lows: Houston's falsetto and those immaculate basslines. Ooh!

We talked on the phone the next day and I told him I felt BLK VINTAGE was the Austin 2020 equivalent of To Pimp a Butterfly. He told me that the album was partially engineered by MixedByAli, Kendrick Lamar's second set of ears. He also revealed his familial connections to Parliament-Funkadelic via being raised in Plainfield, N.J. That's when I knew I had to call Fawcett.

You see, I was about to become a section editor for this publication, which means I can call people and ask them to write stuff. Thomas Fawcett is one of my favorite writers in this city and his musical tastes fall somewhere near the intersection of P-Funk, Kendrick, and the world beat that Houston taps into on the track "MURDA." Fawcett picks his spots though, only averaging one feature a year, so I knew I had to capitalize. I sent him BLK VINTAGE and he quickly responded that it was "really fucking good, and incredibly ambitious." The story was on.

When was the last time you cried?

Me? When I read the eighth paragraph in fourth section of Fawcett's BLK ODYSSY profile. It's a long quote from Houston, detailing how members of his family reacted after police officers murdered his brother – 11 bullets in the back. Houston's got a story to tell: part American tragedy, part revolution.

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