Autumn has brought the usual onslaught of new releases from Austin musical artists, both high-profile and under-the-radar. Here’s a look at some of our favorites so far.
Willie, Lukas & Micah Nelson, “Willie and the Boys: Willie’s Stash, Vol. 2” (Legacy). The first volume in this loosely structured “Willie’s Stash” series of archival recordings, 2014’s “December Day,” featured siblings Willie & Bobbie Nelson on songs that placed Bobbie’s piano playing front-and-center with Willie’s singing. Now comes another family affair, as Willie’s youngest sons Lukas and Micah join him for a dozen tracks that emphasize their vocal interplay.
Initially recorded at Pedernales Recording Studio in Spicewood as part of the sessions for Willie’s 2011 “Heroes” album with producer Buddy Cannon, these tracks featured a cast of Austin and Nashville musicians backing Willie and Lukas, with Micah’s vocals added later. All three of them are fine singers; if Willie remains the most distinctive, Lukas isn’t far off, often sounding eerily like a younger version of his father. Micah’s voice is slightly less twangy and more plainspoken, but pleasant and effective in its own way.
When they join in three-part harmony, there’s the kind of natural magic that has long been ingrained in classic country music history, dating back to the Carter Family and beyond. It’s fitting, then, that almost all the material here is decades old, coming mostly from the pens of four Hanks: Williams, Cochran, Locklin and Snow.
They might sound best of all on “Healing Hands of Time,” the lone Willie original in the batch. As the lead vocal passes from Willie to Lukas to Micah, it’s as if those hands of time are being passed into the future, more than a half-century after the song was written. Live in Austin: Willie Nelson & Family, along with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, play Dec. 29-31 at ACL Live.
Whitney Rose, “Rule 62” (Six Shooter). The Canadian country singer-songwriter who moved to Austin last fall and released an EP in January follows with a full-length release that ups the ante on her promising future. Recorded in Nashville with Mavericks leader Raul Malo and Niko Bolas co-producing, “Rule 62” features an A-list cast of musicians including guitarist Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams) and keyboardist Jen Gunderman (Sheryl Crow, Jayhawks).
It’s the songs that are the focus here, though, from the classic-sounding heartbreak ballad “You Never Cross My Mind” to the R&B-inspired swing of “Can’t Stop Shakin’” to a brilliantly conceived twist in the story-song “Trucker’s Funeral.” Nine songs here are Rose originals, and the two covers of songs by lesser-known artists are gems that show her eye for good material: Joseph K. New’s “Tied to the Wheel,” recorded in 2001 by Austin guitar great Bill Kirchen, is a gorgeously melodic lonesome-trucker tune, and Ontario songwriter Carol MacQuarrie’s “You’re a Mess” recalls the pure-pop appeal of the ’60s girl-group era. Live in Austin: At the Continental Club on Nov. 16, Nov. 23 and Nov. 30.
Bill Carter, self-titled (Forty Below). Not your typical new-material release, this 10-song collection is more akin to a songwriter’s resume, featuring fresh readings of high points from Carter’s long and prolific writing career. It’s also a true solo album: Carter played and sang every single thing on the record, working at E.A.R. Studios in East Austin with engineer James Stevens.
The arrangements mostly are stripped down to basics of acoustic guitar and vocals, with occasional accents of rhythm and harmonica. That puts the spotlight squarely on the songwriting, and the results are a compelling reminder that Carter is one of the best American-roots tunesmiths Austin has ever produced. The versions here of “Crossfire” (a Stevie Ray Vaughan hit), “Why Get Up?” (a Fabulous Thunderbirds staple) and “Richest Man” (rendered wondrously by Toni Price on her first album) bring each of those songs back to their core.
Other tunes appeared on previous Carter solo albums and collaborative or one-off projects. All but two were co-written with his wife, Ruth Ellsworth Carter; native-Texan Nashville ace Gary Nicholson and roots-rock mainstay Randy Weeks also turn up in the writing credits. Live in Austin: At Antone’s on Nov. 8, Nov. 15 and Nov. 22.
Matt Hubbard, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Hubbard, a keyboardist whose trio plays most Wednesdays at South Congress nightclub C-Boy’s, recorded most of these songs in his home studio for a lovely purpose. “My dad was sick in the hospital earlier this year and asked me to record some songs that I play at my hometown church in Michigan,” Hubbard says.
Bassist Brad Houser (with whom Hubbard plays occasionally in Edie Brickell & New Bohemians) and ace Austin drummer Chris Searles accompany him on seven public-domain tunes, with additional contributions from guitarists Adam Ahrens and Josh Perdue. It’s as charming and unassuming a record as its motive might suggest; there’s no pretense here, as Hubbard’s understated vocal delivery and relatively minimal arrangements let the songs shine.
At the end is a ringer of a bonus track: “Lift Me Up,” a Hubbard original that fits well within the record’s theme, was recorded in 2003 at Willie Nelson’s studio in Spicewood and features a chorus of backing vocalists that includes Willie himself. Live in Austin: At C-Boy’s Heart & Soul every Wednesday in November.
Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, “Don’t Go Baby, It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You” (Cornelius Chapel). Songwriter/guitarist Chris Porter, bassist Mitchell Vandenburg and drummer Adam Nurre had finished recording this album in 2016 shortly before Porter and Vandenburg were killed and Nurre was seriously injured in a North Carolina highway crash while the band was on tour in October 2016.
With the help of friends, family and fellow musicians who played on the sessions — including Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson, the Mastersons’ Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, and former Drive-By Truckers bassist Shonna Tucker — the album has been completed and released in memory of Porter and Vandenburg. Mixing rootsy country-folk and hard-driving rock ’n’ roll, Porter and his bandmates deliver 11 unflinchingly honest and emotionally riveting songs, from the desolate vignette of “Your Hometown” to the lover’s lament of “Go on and Leave Me” to unhinged abandon of “East December.”