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Somewhere Trouble Don't Go

The best Texas albums of 2009...or what we could squeeze in.

Remember how Noise was bitching and moaning last week about the lack of solid front-to-back albums released in 2009? Add the following 15 rec­ords to the haystack-size pile of reasons we thank our lucky stars every day that we live in Texas.

Born Liars, Ragged Island: This Houston quartet's songs combine the streetwise switchblade blues of Exile on Main Street-era Stones with some of the Replacements' boozy entropic tendencies, and their live shows usually result in bloodshed, bail bonds or both. Luckily, they released this vinyl-only LP back in March for those of us who sometimes have a little trouble remembering.

Nick Gaitan & The Umbrella Man, Nick Gaitan & The Umbrella Man: When he's not thumping for honky-tonk icon Billy Joe Shaver or local rockabilly gasses the Octanes, Nick Gaitan leads The Umbrella Man, whose self-titled debut is a walking-bass Gulf Coast tour of zydeco, conjunto, swamp pop, country-soul and even dub. Features Gaitan's ode to his (and Noise's) beloved home "The Island" at 3700 Main, "I've Found My Weakness in You" — twice — but no discernible weaknesses.

Robert Glasper, Double Booked: Only Nick Gaitan may have more trouble balancing his datebook than this Missouri City-born, NYC-based pianist, who had quite a homecoming as leader of Maxwell's super-suave touring band in October. Whether nimble piano-trio jazz or gritty downtown neo-soul (featuring Mos Def and Bilal), Double Booked leaves little doubt why Glasper is in such demand — we're just glad we don't have to pay his BlackBerry bill.

The Gourds, Haymaker!: A decade and a half after they crawled out of the swamp, the Gourds are still born to boogie. They're still South Austin to the bone — something they capture to great effect on the hilarious "Tex-Mex Mile" — but from "Shreveport" all the way to Jericho, the Gourds channel the Band and cover R. Kelly like none other. May they never shave.

Heartless Bastards, The Mountain: Every mountain worth its geological designation as such has a corresponding network of caves deep within, and the caves of these Austin transplants' rootsy Mountain are front woman Erika Wennerstrom's doubts and insecurities. As the other three Bastards alternately whisper and roar behind her, Wennerstrom is never less than forthright as she proves she's more than a match for her own anxieties and anything else the big, bad world wants to throw at her.

Robert Earl Keen, The Rose Hotel: That road that goes on forever for the fiftysomething Aggie just seems to lead to better and better songs. His sense of humor is looser ("10,000 Chinese Walk Into a Bar," "Wireless in Heaven"), his painter's eye for landscapes is sharper ("Laughing River"), and on the title cut, "On and On," and "The Village Inn," the former journalism student is just downright literary.

Miranda Lambert, Revolution: This Tyler spitfire looks like an angel, but she's been sleeping in the devil's bed, or so she tells us on a down-and-dirty cover of Julie Miller's "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go." The odd radio-friendly single aside ("Dead Flowers"), Revolution is a whiskey-shooting, shotgun-toting kick in mainstream country's crotch that every so often pauses to play nice ("Only Prettier").

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!: Look out! Aided by Booker T. Jr. — oops, that's actually ex-Houstonian Ian Varley on keyboards — Austin shouter Black Joe Lewis summons the spirits of James Brown, Sam & Dave and Joe Tex as he sweats out 40 years of R&B history in just over half an hour. The only thing he didn't do was recruit Archie Bell for a remake of "I Just Can't Stop Dancing," but maybe he's saving that for the sequel.

Peekaboo Theory, Sy~3nc3-&-Pr[]gr@m5: The siliconized Houston Afro-rockers' full-length debut doesn't paint a pretty picture of the future — it's stark and unsettling, with an unshakable groove...like Funkadelic, Aphex Twin and Radiohead had a three-headed, three-eyed baby. An album bands from Houston — and everywhere else — will still be catching up to at the turn of the next decade.

Phosphorescent, To Willie: A record by an Athens, Georgia, native now residing in Brooklyn would normally have no business on a Texas-albums list, save for one minor detail. Patterning To Willie after Willie Nelson's 1977 Lefty Frizzell tribute To Lefty From Willie, Matthew Houck covers 11 of Nelson's (undeservedly) lesser-known songs — "Reasons to Quit," "Too Sick to Pray," "Pick Up the Tempo" — with understatement and grace. In the process, he's made a better Willie Nelson album than the Red-Headed Stranger's own half-dozen or so 2009 releases.

Spain Coloured Orange, Sneaky Like a Villain: Spooky psychedelic pop spurred by Eric Jackson's trumpet and Gilbert Alfaro's electric keys, the local five-piece have the best lasers this side of the Houston Museum of Natural Science's "Laser Floyd" in their live show. But with an album like Villain, they're not even necessary.

George Strait, Twang: One thing you really don't expect from a new George Strait album at this point — his 30th, not counting greatest-hits and such — is to be surprised. You do expect steely two-steppers like the title track and heart-melting ballads such as "He's Got That Something Special"; rest assured, the Grammy-nominated Twang has plenty. Then he closes out with a mariachi-fied cover of traditional ranchera "El Rey" (sung in flawless Spanish) and your jaw is left open like a rodeo chute. If King George's status as the Sinatra of South Texas wasn't secure before, it is now.

Various Artists, Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm: It's hard to believe it's been a decade since Sir Doug passed away, but the son of San Antonio still hasn't gone anywhere. This compilation rallies everyone from peers (Delbert McClinton, Terry Allen), family members (sons Shawn and Shandon), former bandmates (Flaco Jimenez, Augie Meyers) and admirers (Los Lobos, The Gourds) for this trip back to groover's paradise. Choice cuts include L.A. garage-rock vato Little Willie G's raspy "She's About a Mover," Dave Alvin's explosive "Dynamite Woman" and Alejandro Escovedo little-heard Sahm co-write "Too Little Too Late." Keep Your Soul, meanwhile, is neither.

Little Joe Washington, Texas Fire Line: Whether you've seen him 100 times or only once, it's always amazing that Little Joe Washington can make such a big sound come out of such a small frame. Texas Fire Line expertly translates the bluesman's live dynamism — if you haven't been to Tuesdays at Boondocks yet, what the hell are you waiting for? — onto disc, setting up the softer side he reveals on Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" to get blown away by the guitar maelstroms of "I'll Go Crazy" and "Ike."

Young Mammals, Carrots: Loaded with wide-eyed wonder and psychedelic whimsy, the Houston indie-rockers' long-awaited debut full-length didn't disappoint. In fact, it probably could have been a little bit longer. Poppy but rocking, its ten songs only grew more impressive the bigger the stage, which the Mammals proved with a command performance at Free Press Houston's August Summerfest.

Honorable Mention

Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie and the Wheel; Steve Earle, Townes; Guy Clark, Some Days the Song Writes You; Wild Moccasins, Microscopic Metronomes; Tody Castillo, Windhorse; Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis; Betty Soo, heat sin water skin; Runaway Sun, The Bridge; Randy Weeks, Going My Way; Houston Symphony, Zemlinsky: "Lyric Symphony"; Lyle Lovett, Natural Forces; The Krayolas, Long Leaf Pine (No Smack Gum); Gene Watson, A Taste of the Truth; The Tontons, The Tontons; Crossing Togo, Of Love, Scorn & Insecurity; listenlisten, Hymns from Rhodesia; Hell City Kings, Road to Damnation; Something Fierce, There Are No Answers; Springfield Riots, Say When EP; Leela James, Let's Do It Again CHRIS GRAY

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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