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The 30 Best Texas Albums

Ranking the 30 best Texas albums of the past 30 years seemed like an impossible task. We did it anyway.

27.
Butthole Surfers,
Locust Abortion Technician
Touch and Go
1987

"Daddy, what does regret mean?" a young boy asks to open this album. Don't ask the Butthole Surfers. Heavily distorted and often at half-speed, until everything clicks into place on the visceral but oddly touching "Human Cannonball," Side 1 of this synapse-frying album sounds like a twisted joke. Side 2 is more like a protracted freakout, with the Russian-tinged "Kuntz," a troubling phone call to a women's crisis center and plenty more amp-abusing noise. That's what makes it brilliant.

26.
George Strait,
Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
MCA
1984

King George was just one more rising country star when this album came out, but not for long. With "The Cowboy Rides Away," Fort Worth gave Strait his second signature ballad (after "Amarillo by Morning") and remains arguably his strongest record start to finish. Between easygoing shuffles like the title track, Haggardesque turns such as "Love Comes From the Other Side of Town," and Western swing kicks like "Any Old Time" and "The Fireman," Fort Worth really is Strait's total package.

25.
True Believers, True Believers
EMI Music Distribution
1986

True Believers couldn't catch a break, which only added to their myth. A golden reputation in Austin and an opening spot on a Los Lobos tour helped Alejandro Escovedo, brother Javier and Jon Dee Graham's three-guitar army win a sizable regional audience, but their label wanted to go "urban" and left the Believers with little more than a legend as one of the great lost electric-roots bands of the '80s. Rykodisc reissued True Believers with its unreleased (and better) follow-up on 1994's Hard Road, but the original is almost impossible to find, even online.

24.
Alejandro Escovedo,
Gravity
Watermelon
1992

Today he's one of Texas's most revered songwriters, but Gravity marks Alejandro Escovedo's first recording outside a band. Made while he was coping with his ex-wife's suicide around the time he turned 40 ("Bury Me" sounds like he doesn't expect to live much longer himself), Gravity finds a survivor's grit underneath Escovedo's bereavement, aided by the late Stephen Bruton's expert production. Standouts, to name just two, include the Townshend-esque swells of "Paradise" and the proto-alt-country of "Oxford."

23.
Norah Jones,
Come Away With Me
Blue Note/Capitol
2002

As with Adele almost a decade later, Come Away With Me was proof that all you need to build a multiplatinum Grammy-sweeping blockbuster is a spotless set of pop songs and one very bewitching vocalist. With a touch of Vince Guaraldi and a little Diana Krall, Come Away With Me is a rainy-day album that radiates warmth no matter how wistful Jones's voice gets. As a bonus, it contains perhaps the most playful version of Hank Williams Sr.'s "Cold Cold Heart" ever recorded.

22.
Roky Erickson & Okkervil River,
True Love Cast Out All Evil
Anti-
2010

This dream-come-true pairing on paper might not have worked in reality. Erickson, legendary in psych-rock circles for his work in the 13th Floor Elevators, had not cut an original album since recovering from decades of serious mental problems in the early '00s. Okkervil River had released a string of nigh-adored indie-folk albums and was nobody's "backing band." But Erickson and Okkervil leader Will Sheff (who produced) hit it off famously. True Love is rich with reflection and melancholy, with enough fire that it's still a rock and roll album. (Easily.) On second thought, there's no way this wouldn't have worked, just a small wonder it works as well as it does. A triumph.

21.
Willie Nelson,
Across the Borderline
Columbia
1993

Across the Borderline was Willie Nelson's last for Columbia Records, his home since Red Headed Stranger, and his first to see him covering younger songwriters rather than heroes and peers (though neither Lyle Lovett nor John Hiatt was exactly a newcomer in 1993). He looked to rock and pop as much as country, in highlights including Paul Simon's "Graceland" and the Bob Dylan duet "Heartland." Most significantly, Borderline is the first album by the ever-youthful Nelson that feels truly autumnal, never more so than on a stunning duet with Sinéad O'Connor on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up."

20.
Robert Earl Keen,
Gringo Honeymoon
Sugar Hill
1994

These days all anyone remembers is "Merry Christmas From the Family," which is hardly Gringo Honeymoon's best song. No. 1 may be closer "Dreadful Selfish Crime," which sprawls past seven self-loathing minutes like something off Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Here also are jilted-lover ballad "Lynnville Train" and Steve Earle's outlaw tale "Tom Ames' Prayer," all polished to a rich mahogany by Keen's mostly acoustic combo. His saucy beatnik-jazz take on Texas's favorite food, "Barbeque," is in a lighter humor, but even "Merry Christmas" is no deck-the-halls carol.

19.
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead,
Source Tags & Codes
Interscope
2002

At their best, Jason Reese and Conrad Keely's dark Austin art-rock crew pile moments of sublime beauty and blinding rage on top of each other with Zeppelin-like agility. Source Tags is their shining moment, sprinkling splenetic depth charges ("Homage," "Days of Being Wild") with serene pop contemplation ("Relative Ways"). One of the first albums to earn Pitchfork's coveted 10.0 rating, which for once was not far off the mark.

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8 comments
Jake.
Jake.

All White Boy bullshit. Who cares?

marimar568one
marimar568one

Great article, no matter the situation SPM is a great Artist and his Free SPM movement is bigger then all the "intelligent" individuals who are always telling other people how to be,'and where to go. I define Ignorance by assuming ones opionion is fact.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

The fact that ArcAngels (formed after your #1 passed by Sexton and Bramhall) didn't even make the top 30 shows that you kids don't have a clue what you're talking about.

Simply pathetic that so many would forget such an obvious omission, and it's also very telling that SRV is simply a pity vote by voters who didn't actually listen back in the day.

Eric Walters
Eric Walters

Black Angels- Passover, nowhere in the top 60, but plenty o' Dixie Chicks? WTF ever.......

Houston Press Rocks Off
Houston Press Rocks Off

It's No. 42, impressive considering most people have probably never heard of Zeitgeist or the Reivers.

Caleb Fraid
Caleb Fraid

Zeitgeist/The Reivers * Translate Slowly is a gem.

 
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