A Sound Salvation
Austin's Class of 2000
IntroductionTired of hearing about how bad 1999 was for local music? Tired of hearing about closed clubs, comptrollers, and memorial services? Well, unless your name is Kelly Willis or Ray Benson, there's one more reason to wish 1999 didn't happen: record sales. From the Chronicle's "Class of 1999," the crop of local acts that released new albums on major labels or large indies, only Willis' What I Deserve and Asleep at the Wheel's Grammy-nominated Ride With Bob lived up to commercial expectations.
The rest, including albums from Damnations TX, Monte Warden, Meg Hentges, Wayne Hancock, and the Derailers, couldn't find a way to translate critical raves into ringing cash registers. In fact, the only local artists with a notable, multi-format radio hit were "Class of 1998" valedictorians Fastball, with their song "Out of My Head." In other words -- and to borrow a phrase from this same publication -- 1999 was the year it all went wrong.
Fortunately, there may be more than two dozen reasons to forget last year -- everyone in the "Class of 2000." Seems like we say this every year, but of all the Chronicle's annual "Class of" previews, never has a crop seemed more focused and hungry than this year's. Really. Never has it been easier for even the most jaded of Austin's music fans to look over this list and say, "Surely, a couple of these have to break." With few exceptions, this year's class is obsessed with the prospect of radio play, and are thus committed to touring and shaking as many hands as it takes to earn it. This is also a class in touch with history: Not only have they learned from their own past mistakes, they've studied those made by the Class of 1999.
Here, then, is an early peek at 16 Austin acts who believe 2000 will see them graduate to bigger and better music industry success. This year's roll call includes not just high-pressure follow-ups from Fastball and Abra Moore, but also long-awaited returns from the Meat Puppets and Butthole Surfers. There are familiar names taking new paths in Jimmie Dale Gilmore leaving Elektra to self-release an album, Double Trouble stepping out in front of an album brimming with guests, and Vallejo attempting a Spanish/English double play. Others, most notably Arista's Pushmonkey and Atlantic's Kacy Crowley and Davíd Garza, are counting on groundwork they laid with 1997-1998 releases to pay off this year. Relative newcomers Dexter Freebish, Wan Santo Condo, and a local institution that already looks like South by Southwest's biggest signing frenzy-to-be, Bob Schneider, are here as well.
While the vast majority of albums in question aren't even recorded yet, let alone set for any kind of definitive release, it's encouraging that the first of this year's major releases, Sister 7's Wrestling Over Tiny Matters and Goudie's Elektra debut, Peep Show, absolutely reek of radio-readiness. Equally encouraging for name value alone are Class of 2000 enrollees you won't find in this section: Bad Livers, Ian Moore, Damnations TX, Sixteen Deluxe, Podunk, Chris Duarte, Monte Warden, Silver Scooter, Ana Egge, Dynamite Hack, Terri Hendrix, Soulhat, Kitty Gordon, Joe Ely, Willie Nelson, and Bruce and Charlie Robison (live).
Of course, it's far too early to say whether the dreaded "Austin Curse" will kick in or whether the weight of this class' great expectations will get pushed on to the class of 2001. As is always the case, some of these albums will get shelved, while another half-dozen artists not named here will ink deals no one saw coming. Either way, here's a glimpse at some of the artists that will be living in touring vans, playing in-stores, and maybe, just maybe, making us forget all about 1999.