Austin musicians of all types released many, many albums over the past few months. Below, a look at some of those — a new LP from Church Shoes, a rock band with roots in Indiana; new material from country duo (and sisters) the Rankin Twins; evolving rock group Frank Smith; honky tonk master Wayne “the Train” Hancock; and soul singer Nakia.
Rock band Church Shoes — Nick Allison, Mitch Frazier (who also plays guitar in Sweet Talk), Gabe Pastura and Max Forbing — originally hail from Fort Wayne, Ind., and lived together in a treehouse near Smithville before the 2011 wildfire led them to Austin. Once here, they proceeded to gain fans on various stages in town with their live set and wound up recording with former Austin resident Mike Vasquez at Sweatbox Studio. The result is on par with many of the other solid albums that have come out of that shop. “Lady Love Me Lousy” begins under wraps with low-key vocals and an organ that opens up mid-song. Background vocals elevate “The It’s My Own Damn Fault Again Blues,” which besides having a perfectly long title, wraps up with a few bars of a laid-back guitar solo. “Yea Right” drives forward, slightly off-kilter; “Fort Wayne Woman” again fires with soaring guitar solo and rock-and-roll-on-the-road blues. “Amy, Just Relax” flies along with quick, choppy vocals; “Boot” moves slower, with hazy lyrics and hand claps. Then there’s “Ok,” which moves on from a relationship with boogie-woogie rock ‘n’ roll — kind of hoarse, in-your-face vocals and a rhythm section that demands dancing, and, like the rest of the album, a listen.
“Moonshine & Maybes”
The full-length debut from the identical country duo Rankin Twins covers plenty of ground: budding romance, romance on hold, ex-lovers, people behaving badly, not putting up with said people. They do so by sampling the sounds of old country, new country, country rock and pop. Amy and April Rankin grew up near Corpus Christi in Portland, singing as children; after attending Texas A&M and Amy being diagnosed with a brain tumor (which was removed) they set out to pursue a music career. It’s unclear whether moving from East Texas to College Station to Austin helped them develop their musical versatility, but it’s certainly there. The sisters sing together, crisp and quick beside a fiddle on the stomper “Jezebel.” Drew Womack guests on “Holdin Pattern,” which asks of our national moment, “How long can we run on fumes” and has already enjoyed some radio time. They slow down on “As the Music Plays,” which references “Wonderful Tonight” and captures a similar sentiment as the Clapton original. The speedy picking and banjo-filled “Hit and Run” feels destined for backyard BBQ soundtracks, as does hell-raising “Swagger,” which could be their theme song: “We got the fire/we’ll show you boys we ain’t messin’ around.” Rankin Twins play May 5 at the Lone Star Jam on the LBJ Library lawn at the University of Texas (www.lonestarjam.com).
Aaron Sinclair, lead singer/songwriter for Frank Smith (no members of the band are named Frank Smith), sings, or maybe fights, his way through songs like a guy that just peeled himself off a chair in the corner at 4 a.m. after a party. There’s a bit of anger, even when he’s describing one of the small moments that populate some of his songs. There’s a bit of country, though the band, which moved down from Boston a few years back and has been releasing consistently strong music since, has mostly moved away from that on “Nineties” (it’s the first album that doesn’t feature Sinclair on an acoustic guitar). Instead, there is more of Sinclair’s penchant for writing big rock songs that seem designed to be sung by large crowds. He repeats lyrics as he describes a scene on “Beaten Sacks of Death”: “It’s a one way ride/It’s a one way ride.” Here, the band takes a song about an extended bender and makes it feel like a life-or-death situation via Sinclair’s semi-strung out delivery and the way the band crashes down around him. “Dinosaur Song” screeches about day after day in the life of a band on Red River Street, asking for drink tickets. Finally, “Chewin Glass” relents under a similar set of pressure, “holding on, letting go, looking back, juggling knives and chewing glass, giving in way too fast.” It’s rock ‘n’ roll about rock ‘n’ roll.
“Ride,” Wayne “the Train” Hancock’s first album in four years (and eighth total) feels like you might expect — like it’s coming from a dark stage in a dank honky tonk. Hancock has said of the new album, which was produced by Lloyd Maines, that these are not “sad songs.” Lyrically, however, they’re not exactly happy, with plenty of trips into darkness, loneliness, death and the like. Sonically, the album feels good, a mellow celebration of blues and honky tonk sounds. The title track chugs along with dueling guitars. “I feel like dyin’,” he sings on “Low Down Blues” (not to be confused with the slower yet similar “Get the Blues Low Down”), which creeps with a slow groove and sparse instrumentation. “Best To Be Alone” sings sweet with pedal steel. “Deal Gone Down” digs into a drunken tale of cheatin’ hearts; “Home With My Baby” stays in on a Saturday night. “Cappuccino Boogie” swings, slightly caffeinated, and on “Any Old Time,” he beckons an old lover back home. Like the rest of the collection, it’s uplifting sorrow.
“Drown in the Crimson Tide”
“I’ve been searchin’/I can’t get it right” Nakia sings on “Tight,” the opening song on his new EP. That song finds a mid-tempo groove, complete with horns and backup singers, that recalls the R&B of the 1960s. That’s just one look that Nakia offers on “Drown in the Crimson Tide,” where “The Voice” semifinalist works on collaborations with several different music business pros, including Barry Goldberg, who has played with Percy Sledge and the Flying Burrito Brothers. “Make Up With a Gun” couldn’t be any different, bringing Lee Hazelwood and Ennio Morricone weirdness, complete with pistol-fire sound effects. “Dream Big,” which includes the title lyrics, changes direction again, with a bluesy electric guitar. “Pieces and Castles” goes for bigger rock-and-soul, while “When I Found You” slow dances with a touch of horns and “Walking on a Slant” recounts a liquor cabinet full of cocktails alongside a saxaphone. For fans, a sample of some of the many different places where Nakia and his powerful voice are in their element.
Nakia has shows scheduled at Saxon Pub and Antone’s on Saturday (nakia.net/tour-dates).