OUT THIS WEEK
Fastball, “Step Into Light” (33-1/3). Of all the great Austin acts who get taken for granted — and there are many, from Americana heavyweights playing weekly at the Continental and Saxon, to blues heroes still gigging at Antone’s, to progressive-country lifers who helped Willie change the game in the 1970s — perhaps none are as deserving of attention and respect as the three guys in Fastball. On “Step Into Light,” their sixth album but first in eight years, the trio of Tony Scalzo, Miles Zuniga and Joey Shuffield once again deliver first-rate melodic rock ’n’ roll, recorded with masterful precision and creative spirit. Scalzo, who’s moonlighted lately with Wrenfro in residencies at Strange Brew and One-2-One Bar, has lost none of the sharp songwriting instincts that gave the band two late-’90s top-40 hits. (It’s worth noting that one of those hits rose high on the charts again this year when rapper Machine Gun Kelly and Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello repurposed the chorus of Scalzo’s “Out of My Head” into their top-5 smash “Bad Things.”) The Fastball single quick out of the gate this time is “I Will Never Let You Down,” dripping with catchy vocal hooks and guitar licks. Similarly infectious is “Just Another Dream,” darker in tone and spirit but bursting at the seams with an instantly connecting chorus. For all of Scalzo’s down-the-middle pop chops, Zuniga’s slightly left-of-center sensibilities are essential to what makes Fastball work. His exquisite acoustic interlude “Behind the Sun” shines like a lost two-minute John Lennon gem, while the title track shimmers and sways to a graceful waltz-time beat. And the album-closing “Frenchy and the Punk” transitions from what seems like a carnivalesque lark into a radiantly bittersweet finale that recalls Harry Nilsson. Throughout, drummer Shuffield assures that Fastball’s power drive is hard but never overwhelming, brisk but never outrunning the songs. This is Austin’s best rock band, and has been for two decades now. Playing June 23 at River Road Ice House in New Braunfels. Here’s the locally-shot video for “I Will Never Let You Down”:
Missio, “Loner” (RCA). Is this new duo’s debut album, released by a major label, Austin’s next electronica breakout on the heels of last year’s surprise Survive success story? The album’s lead single “Middle Fingers,” issued a few weeks ahead of the album, already has racked up nearly a million views on YouTube. The song is a bit of a novelty, but it’s an immediately accessible anthem. Singer Matthew Brue and instrumentalist/producer David Butler (who also worked with local group the Digital Wild on their recent EP) lean toward dark, dense arrangements on these 11 tracks, emphasizing heavy rhythms not only in the music but sometimes in the lyrics too: “KDV” boasts of “Killing Darth Vader with my (expletive) kick drum.” (Plenty of lyrics on “Loner” earn the parental-advisory sticker, even if they cleverly avoided that matter on “Middle Fingers.”) A recent sold-out show at the Parish was their local coming-out party (they’d not played here outside of South by Southwest); their energetic but not fully engaging performance suggested a young duo still working toward its full potential. Here’s an acoustic video for “Middle Fingers”:
Wendy Colonna, “No Moment But Now.” Following up her 2013 release “Nectar,” Colonna delivers a singer-songwriter record that doesn’t necessarily sound like one. “Girls Like Me,” the opening track, is an urgent rocker, suggesting Colonna could front a loud-and-hard band if she wanted. Elsewhere, she’s more nuanced and textured: “Every Second” is a tender ballad that spotlights the softer touch of her warm, expressive alto, while “The Seed” slows things down considerably to cast a bluesy torch-singer spell. The album’s best moment may be “I Will Take You In,” which melds the political with the personal through gentle, graceful verses and a resolute, anthem-like chorus. Working with local producer Mark Addison, Colonna beams with confidence here, fully realizing the vision of exactly the record she sought to make. Here’s the soulful track “I’m Satisfied”:
Ray Prim, “Live at Strange Brew Lounge Side” (Goose Creek). Notable in part for documenting the now-shuttered South Austin coffeehouse that fostered the development of many local musicians, this full-length live recording from last fall captures Prim and his sizable backing crew magically mixing up a variety of styles into a sound that can’t be pinned down to one genre. Multilayered vocals, well-placed string accents and polyrhythmic percussion grooves drive Prim’s songs toward enchanting peaks and valleys. Release show May 20 at One-2-One Bar. Here’s fan video of a 2015 gig by Prim and his band at Strange Brew:
Wild Now, “Afterglow” EP. Following up last year’s six-song “Tides” EP, this indie-pop outfit — formerly known as Taylor & the Wild Now — follows the melodic, groove-based instincts of singer Taylor Baker and guitarist Drew Walker. The resulting tracks are pleasantly danceable pop confections, but nothing stands out as especially distinctive. Release show May 19 at 3Ten. Here’s the video for “Run For Your Life”:
ALSO: Altin Sencalar, “Introducing Altin Sencalar,” debut album of mostly original jazz instrumental tunes by a young trombonist from the University of Texas. Release show May 18 at Elephant Room; Girling, “Side 1” EP, release show May 19 at Sidewinder; Born Again Virgins, EP, release show May 19 at Hole in the Wall; Ladyfang, “For Morgan,” release show May 20 at ABGB; Sunday: Kinky Machine, EP, release show Sunday at Spider House Ballroom; Bearote, “All You Get,” release show May 22 at One-2-One Bar;
Black Angels, “Death Song” (April 21). Black Angels, “Death Song.” American-Statesman freelancer Bryan Rolli observes: “Musically, ‘Death Song’ bears all the requisite psych-rock hallmarks: ethereal vocals, reverberant slabs of guitar feedback, militant marching tempos that owe themselves at least peripherally to Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit.’ Yet it also gently pushes the subgenre’s boundaries via blistering guitar leads on ‘Currency,’ the forceful waltz of ‘Comanche Moon’ and the seductive space-grooves of ‘I Dreamt.’ Lyrically, ‘Death Song’ offers vicious, paranoid ruminations on greed and corruption, as evidenced by the lyrics to ‘Currency’: ‘I can see currency, how it always sanctions us / All these paper lives you’ve sold / there’s no God in who you trust.’” Read Rolli’s interview with frontman Alex Maas on mystatesman.com. Playing May 20 at Stubb’s and May 25 at Waterloo Records. Here’s the song “Half Believing”:
- MAY 26: Sour Bridges, “Live at Stubb’s,” release show May 28 at Oskar Blues Brewery.
- MAY 27: Garner Sloan, “Liquid Sales and Bobcat Tales,” release show May 27 at Stay Gold.
- JUNE 2: Pure Luck, “Silver or Lead” (Heavy Feather).
- JUNE 9: Dani McDonnell, title TBA, release show June 9 at 3Ten.
- JUNE 16: Jon Wolfe, “Any Night in Texas.”
- JUNE 16: Abram Shook, “Love at Low Speed” (Western Vinyl).
- JUNE 16: Quin Galavis, “The Battery Line” (Super Secret).
- JUNE 23: Slaid Cleaves, “Ghost on the Car Radio.”
- JUNE 23: Eliot Lipp, “Skywave” (Young Heavy Souls).
- JUNE 30: Shakey Graves, “Nobody’s Fool/Donor Blues EP” reissue (Dualtone).
- MOVED TO SEPT. 22: Jimmie Vaughan Trio featuring Mike Flanigin, “Live at C-Boy’s” (Proper).