Thirty years, 30 recordings
Joe ElyMusta Notta Gotta Lotta (1981)
Joe Ely wasn't punk, but his West Texas mojo skewed that way on this rip-roaring collection fueled by guitarist Jesse Taylor with fiery roots fare including Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Dallas" and Butch Hancock's "Road Hawg." Even the Clash had to ask if they should stay or go. Welcome to the 1980s.
Lou Ann BartonOld Enough (1982)
What should have been her shot at stardom aboard the Atlantic label remains a fine, soulful recording, with Lavelle White's "Stop These Teardrops" as a jewel. The Lou Ann we know lights fires with her Fort Worth twang, and on Old Enough, she merely smoldered, but who's complaining?
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double TroubleTexas Flood (1983)
From the opening chords of "Love Struck Baby," it was clear this album would change as much about Texas music as it would bring blues back in style. That it did so before the end of the next decade was unthinkable. Nearly 20 years on, Texas Flood is still zeitgeist and electrifying.
Ten From TexasHerd It Through the Grapevine (1984)
Producer Liam Sternberg tried to capture lightning in a bottle, but the talent flickered unevenly. Nevertheless, TFT tells on mid-1980s Texas music, post-punk, and pre-New Sincerity with a dose of homegrown world beat. Worth revisiting: the Commandos, "Tell It on the Line"; Random Culture, "Fame"; and David Bean, "My Imagination."
Charlie SextonPictures for Pleasure (1985)
Another major-label transformation, this one turned a ward of the scene into a full-fledged teen idol, at least in Japan. Fueled by synth king Keith Forsey and mousse, Pictures had little to do with Charlie Sexton's love of blues but a lot in common with MTV.
Timbuk3Greetings From Timbuk3 (1986)
Midwest DIY duo Pat McDonald and Barbara Kooyman relocated to Texas in the mid-1980s, bringing with them a fresh, folky sound to Austin's already broad sensibility. Within a year, "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" redrew them onto the modern music map.
Omar & the HowlersHard Times in the Land of Plenty (1987)
If the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan were literally double trouble, Omar & the Howlers' deep Delta blues were the triple threat out of Austin. Dark, relentless beats more threatening than SRV's electric style, Omar was king of the jungle blues.
Wild SeedsMud, Lies & Shame (1988)
One of the truly unsung recordings of the 1980s, Mud, Lies & Shame personified Michael Hall and the Seeds' sheer 1980s abandon and jangly post-New Wave exuberance. And not for one moment do we believe "rock" was the original word in "I'm Sorry, I Can't Rock You All Night Long."
Lucinda Williams lived up to her earliest promises on this self-titled record and delivered everything she was ever going to be in this package, including the first of her Grammy winners in the glorious "Passionate Kisses."
The Vaughan BrothersFamily Style (1990)
What should have been the Vaughan Brothers' first triumph turned out to be their only one, a vinyl epitaph of what might have been. The song selection bears Jimmie's earmarks, wistfully leaving reminders of the moment both brothers were preparing to scale the universe.
Jimmie Dale GilmoreAfter Awhile (1991)
Austin C&W, defined not by instrumentation/arrangement, and as produced by Stephen Bruton, but by high plains existentialism. Jump-starting the 1990s roots revival, Elektra Nonesuch's American Explorer series starred Gilmore's ethereal voice and Butch Hancock's "My Mind's Got a Mind of Its Own," the only song JDG didn't write.
Alejandro EscovedoGravity (1992)
Day of the Dead debut, opening in "Paradise" at a public hanging with Escovedo aching blood and loss. Stonesian rockers ("One More Time") – "By Eleven" could be a Sticky Fingers piano kicker – mariachi beat poetry ("Bury Me"), rapture ("Five Hearts Breaking"), and salve ("Last To Know"). Produced by Stephen Bruton.
Toni PriceSwim Away (1993)
Big Doyle Bramhall on drums, DB II on guitar, Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon, and Clifford Antone's favorite guitarist, Derek O'Brien, plus Junior Brown, David Grissom, Rich Brotherton, Barry "Frosty" Smith, and Champ Hood. Austin roots brigade channels a country-blues Joplin. "Just To Hear Your Voice" – Lucinda territory.
Kathy McCartyDead Dog's Eyeball: Songs of Daniel Johnston (1994)
Lotte Lenya for Bertolt Brecht? Dionne Warwick by Burt Bacharach? Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond! Pop savant Daniel Johnston contributes DDE's 19 off-Broadway heartbreakers, but his failure to appear only heightens McCarty's love affair with their "Living Life": "People say we're an unlikely couple/Doris Day and Mott the Hopple."
Don Walser & the Pure Texas BandThe Archive Series Vol. 1/The Archive Series Vol. 2 (1995)
Yodel took on a new meaning under Don Walser. Texas birthed outlaws from Abbott to Littlefield, but Yodelin' Donnie Walser (1934-2006) cries uniquely. Expanding the all-star Pure Texas Band's Texas Souvenir, Archive's first yodel 40 seconds into Vol. 1 sells these two hours all the way to the Smithsonian.
Butthole SurfersElectriclarryland (1996)
How revolutionary was the indie revolution? The B-u-t-t-h-o-l-e Surfers went Top 40. Buzzing cicada rap "Pepper" usurped both the hard rock leftovers of the trio's Independent Worm Saloon and a back-end sonic montage that's aged gracefully along with rather sweet ditties like "Jingle of a Dog's Collar" and "TV Star."
Jon Dee GrahamEscape From Monster Island (1997)
Embers don't always die. They reignite. Just as former bandmate Alejandro Escovedo's post-True Believers debut inflamed his songcraft, Graham's Monster was quietly sardonic, elegiac ("When a Woman Cries"), a brutal beauty ("Faithless") laced with hope, skepticism, fatherhood ("Soonday"), and Malboros. The real Monster? His six-string incisions.
SpoonA Series of Sneaks (1998)
The 33:14 that made Spoon. The indie notoriety from making a stiletto-sharp major label debut and then getting dropped by Elektra made the band's music-business bones. Staccato riffs, doorstop percussion (Jim Eno), and Britt Daniel's nefarious songs cut back this thorny rose bush complete with a ready-made "Car Radio."
Stephen BrutonNothing but the Truth (1999)
Producing three 1990s albums on this list, Nothing but the Truth included, puts Bruton on the short list for Austinites of the decade. The third of five solo LPs grooves guru spiritualism ("When Love Finds You") to one of this town's funkiest rhythm sections ever, Brannen Temple and Yoggie Musgrove.
Doug SahmThe Return of Wayne Douglas (2000)
Austin's 1970s embodiment reaches back from the honky-tonk hereafter for a portentous encore ("This may be the last song I'll ever write for you") after his death the week before Thanksgiving 1999. "Abetted by Augie Meyers ... he cut 12 tracks over two weeks in July and August of 1999," revealed the Chronicle.
SpoonGirls Can Tell (2001)
Ushering in a run of classic indie rock albums, Girls Can Tell crowned Britt Daniel the new Jesus of suburban cool. A polished collection of jaded pop and business-casual soul that produced greatest hits "Me and the Bean," "Everything Hits at Once," and "Believing Is Art."
... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of DeadSource Tags and Codes (2002)
A near-decade of destruction and karmic youth culminated in this watershed moment. Trail of Dead reached critical mass with its Interscope debut, a torrential combination of Conrad Keely's grandiose ambition and Jason Reece's post-hardcore intensity. Certified classics: "Another Morning Stoner" and "Relative Ways."
Explosions in the SkyThe Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
From the grand awakening of "First Breath After Coma" to the majestic resolve of "Your Hand in Mine," Explosions in the Sky's heroic third album scores a singular and deeply personal triumph. The five-part guitar symphony is flawless in execution, boundless in emotional depth, and seamless in its narrative sequencing.
Daniel JohnstonThe Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered (2004)
A greatest hits collection and tribute album spread across corresponding discs, Discovered Covered chronicles the lasting influence and shattered brilliance of Johnston's manic songcraft. Eighteen early cassette staples are mirrored and magnified by the likes of TV on the Radio, Beck, Tom Waits, and Sparklehorse with the Flaming Lips.
Okkervil RiverBlack Sheep Boy (2005)
Inspired by Tim Hardin's title song, Black Sheep Boy is Okkervil River's dark opus – chaotic, cathartic, and at times frighteningly beautiful (see "A Stone" and "A Glow"). In his most conceptually complete work to date, songwriter Will Sheff delivered detailed first-person ruminations on prodigality, devastating love, and private revenge.
The SwordAge of Winters (2006)
One of Austin's few metal essentials, the Sword's maiden voyage remains a testament to all that is heavy – Nordic mythology, Black Sabbath riffage, and "Barael's Blade." Guitarist/singer J.D. Cronise scripted his own galloping Game of Thrones with visceral epics like "Winter's Wolves" and "Freya."
White DenimLet's Talk About It (2007)
Pressed on red-and-white vinyl, Let's Talk About It might be the most noteworthy Texas 7-inch since Roky Erickson's "Don't Slander Me" b/w "Starry Eyes." Sprawling and spastic, the four-song EP captures the best of the power trio: garage-soul, fun-house experimentation, and neo-disco funk on par with LCD Soundsystem.
James McMurtryJust Us Kids (2008)
The election year and Katrina's wrath ("Hurricane Party") bring out some of McMurtry's strongest political commentary in "God Bless America (Pat Macdonald Must Die)" and "Cheney's Toy." Just Us Kids offers far more protest music though, with menacing and memorable character sketches ("The Governor," "Bayou Tortous") and the nostalgic title track.
The FlatlandersHills and Valleys (2009)
Once More a Legend Than a Band, the Flatlanders' third post-millennial reunion pushes the Lubbock dignitaries – Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock – to their individual and collective best. En route, Hills and Valleys addresses the political and environmental disasters of the previous years with profound compassion and contemplation.
Roky Erickson With Okkervil RiverTrue Love Cast Out All Evil (2010)
A transcendent postscript to Erickson's bleak documentary, this restorative collaboration brings Texas psych full circle as the 13th Floor Elevators frontman reappraises his near-mystic field recordings within the context of Okkervil River's orchestral indie rock. The ultimate comeback album, with a reverence for the past and eagerness for the future.