At this point, hopefully you know what the Texas 30 is and why Rocks Off is counting down to the Top 30 Texas albums of the past 30 years, as determined by a statewide panel of professional music writers. The short answer is, of course, because we can, and because it was a great excuse to listen to a lot of great music during a stressful time of year.
As a good friend of ours likes to say, it's all over but the shouting. There isn't much else to say about it at this point, except that because the author was getting short on time this morning, here you can also read about the ten albums that just missed the cut, Nos. 40-31.
You can read all about the actual Top 30 in this week's cover story, and because we love album covers, we put together a slideshow of the Top 30 covers as well (coming soon). This has been a lot of fun, and a lot of work, and we hope all of our readers enjoy it.
40. The Vaughan Brothers, Family Style (1990) Even from their earliest days in Dallas, Stevie Ray Vaughan and older brother Jimmie had always plowed parallel furrows in the Texas musical landscape. Jimmie showed up when Stevie was musical guest on a 1985 episode of Saturday Night Live, but Family Style was the first time the brothers teamed up in the studio. Chic's Nile Rodgers produced, polishing the set beyond either Double Trouble or the Fabulous Thunderbirds' usual fare, and the selections run the blues gauntlet from boogie-woogie to the gospel-soul of "Tick Tock," which sadly became an anthem around Austin after Stevie's helicopter crash.
39. Various Artists, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson (1990) This album, hard to find today, helped get the ball rolling on the '90s tribute/compilation trend and is the work former Houston musician and Austin Sun music writer Bill Bentley. Then working for Sire Records, Bentley saw Erickson had fallen on hard times (again) and started going through his Texas-heavy address book for Pyramid, starting off with a bang on ZZ Top's "Reverberation (Doubt)." The 19 tracks amount to a generous sampling of both Erickson's 13th Floor Elevators and punkish "horror film" years, and it's hard to imagine one single other person being an influence on a spectrum of musicians this broad: From Primal Scream, Jesus & Mary Chain, R.E.M. and the Butthole Surfers to Poi Dog Pondering, Julian Cope, Bongwater, T-Bone Burnett, Lou Ann Barton and Sister Double Happiness. For Roky, of course, it makes total sense.
38. Steve Earle, El Corazon (1997) Steve Earle's horrific battle with addiction became heroic when he returned with the 1995 acoustic set Train a-Comin', but El Corazon is where he plugged back in. Corazon is a bit more of a mixed bag than Earle's usual albums, veering from hard rockers like "Taneytown" and the Supersuckers-assisted "N.Y.C." to the nice Texas tributes to Houston ("Telephone Road") and mentor Townes Van Zandt ("Ft. Worth Blues")
37 & 36. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight/Gimme Fiction (2002/2005) Before "The Underdog," Spoon's fourth and fifth albums put their underdog days behind them. Both Moonlight and especially Fiction placed them in the first rank of indie-rock groups coast to coast and established them for good as a music-festival favorite. As Britt Daniel flirted with punk ("Johnathan Fisk") and R&B ("I Turn My Camera On"), his own voice grew ever more unique, and drummer Jim Eno's hands ever steadier. Even today, two albums later, these records still account for at least half of Spoon's average set list.
35. Hayes Carll, Trouble In Mind (2008) Trouble In Mind, written after Hayes Carll took a working vacation to Galveston's Crystal Beach, is one of the better beautiful-loser albums to come along in a while. Carll and his other characters can't ever seem to catch a break, but the situations they find themselves in make for some poignant stories and a couple of rousing country-rockers, chiefly "She Left Me for Jesus." After listening to Trouble In Mind, you either want to give Carll a hug or buy him a beer.
34. Eric Johnson, Ah Via Musicom (1990) You know this is a Texas list if there's an album composed primarily (but not exclusively) of electric-guitar instrumentals. To these ears, Ah Via Musicom sounds slick and overproduced, emphasazing technique above everything else (especially emotion) and furthering a metaphor of the guitar as an extension of a cowboy's six-shooter that was already outdated in 1990. On the other hand, "Righteous" is pretty rousing. Albums like this are the raison d'etre of Grammy categories like Best Rock Instrumental Performance, which in fact "Cliffs of Dover" - all of you would recognize it if you heard it - won in 1991.
33. Joe Ely, Letter to Laredo (1995) Besides producing a personal Ely favorite in Springsteenian opener "All Just to Get to You" -- where the Boss actually sings backup -- Letter to Laredo effectively left behind his lord-of-the-highway past in favor of acoustic-tinged reflections on the Southwestern landscape colored by Teye's flamenco guitar. Add in his Flatlander buddies Butch Hancock (via "She Finally Spoke Spanish to Me") and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Laredo makes a solid case as the Ultimate (Mature) Joe Ely Album.
32. St. Vincent, Marry Me (2007) A personal pick for the most peculiar album in this entire project, Marry Me is as different as its Texas 30 brethren as chocolate and cheese. Those records are sweaty and full of furrowed brows, but Marry Me is austere and artful, without a scratch on it. It's the sort of album that keeps a vise grip on its emotions, making it an ideal for a cocktail party where the guests resent each other enough that the whole thing could become a chair-flipping, glass-shattering free-for-all. But it's very pretty too.
31. Lyle Lovett, The Road to Ensenada (1996) After a few albums of big-band swing and gospel, Lovett returned to country music with no hard feelings and a hatful of great songs like, well, "Don't Touch My Hat." He can do sophisticated honky-tonk ("Private Conversation") or playful Western Swing "(That's Right) You're Not From Texas"), or be typically eccentric ("FIona"), but Ensenada is consistently excellent and one of Lovett's finest albums.
Yep, that's all there is... here. See Nos. 30-1 in this week's cover story. Thanks for reading.