Next month, the music industry will descend on our fair city for South by Southwest, putting us in a national spotlight, but those of us who live here know Austin’s music scene thrives all through the year. In 2016, we’ll be celebrating the best of Austin music each month with a roundup of our favorite shows, releases and moments.
BEST THING TO HAPPEN
Antone’s reopening. Two years without Austin’s Home of the Blues was plenty long enough. Fortunate revelers rang in the new year at the new downtown location on East Fifth Street, and the club quickly hit the ground running with shows six nights a week. January’s highlights included co-owner Gary Clark Jr. sitting in with fellow guitarists Derek O’Brien, Denny Freeman and Eve Monsees on Jan. 15; the evening also served as an informal memorial for friends and fans of longtime local blues/R&B DJ and musician Paul Ray, who died earlier that day. The club quickly added early shows as well, with residencies including O’Brien’s beloved Blue Monday residency and Freeman leading an ace band on Tuesdays. Check out videographer Kelly West’s feature above. — P.B.
BEST NEW SONGS
Lench, “What Happened to Austin? (My Beautiful City).” Largely unknown Austin rapper Lench Martinez succinctly nails all the anxiety about gentrification in East Austin, from the razed piñata shop to the multi-million dollar condos cropping up on every corner in this banger that dropped at the beginning of the year. “The subject really hits home,” Martinez said about the song as the video dropped over the weekend. “My grandmother grew up on Rainey street…It just boggles my mind how a group of people that fought so hard for equality are now being shown the door….now that they’re too old to do something about it. So I decided to carry the torch.”— D.S.S.
Harvest Thieves, “Lancelot’s Blade.” Our inaugural Austin360 Artist of the Month stocked its debut album “Rival” with plenty of high-energy alt-country tunes, but we’ve grown particularly fond of the closing track, which strikes a magic mood with subtle guitar fills and keyboard atmospherics. — P.B.
Jan 9: Dave Rawlings Machine at Paramount. Americana luminary Gillian Welch handed the keys to her longtime partner Rawlings, which led the set list down different avenues but resulted in an equally memorable show. Stressing songs from their new album “Nashville Obsolete,” the couple and their three supporting musicians wove together long and winding originals with brilliantly chosen covers for an exquisite two-set evening of acoustic revelation. — P.B.
Jan 13: Oshun at the Sahara Lounge. “It’s no mistake that power is coming to the surface right now, because we need it. We need that healing energy right now.” Qi Dada, half of the husband-wife hip-hop group Riders Against the Storm, was talking about New York neo-soul outfit Oshun’s sudden rise, but also a broader movement toward uplift in hip-hop and soul music that’s steadily gaining force. That energy was alive and well in Austin during the Sahara Lounge showcase RAS hosted that paired Oshun with excellent Austin acts Alesia Lani and Blackchyl. “They call this the underground, but we are coming up,” Chaka from RAS said at the end of the night. Indeed they are. — D.S.S.
Jan. 16: Weird City Hip-Hop Festival reboot at Spiderhouse: It’s been a rocky road for Weird City. The event was canceled twice last year, and on the surface this reboot felt thrown together. But on the ground, the tightly structured showcase was a beautiful illustration of the role its parent organization, Austin Mic Exchange, has played in incubating local hip-hop talent. Organizers are working to secure sponsors to bring the festival back this fall with national headliners and the same jubilant block party feel it had first time around. More power to them. If they make it happen I’ll be there. But personally, I feel like my fall is too fest-heavy already. I’d be more excited about regular “best of Austin Mic Exchange-style” showcases, where the stakes are lower but the payoff, watching ATX hip-hop shine bright, is incredible. — D.S.S.
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It's been a rocky road for @weirdcityfest what with last year's two cancellations. On the surface, tonight's hasty reboot felt thrown together, but on the ground it was a beautiful thing. So much raw underground talent in this city and the @austinmicexchange is doing a beautiful job incubating it. Tonight's tightly structured best of showcase was straight up inspirational. 2016 is going to be a very good year for #atxhiphop. That's @anyaoffical destroying the mic. #austinmusic #atxmusic #atxhiphop #austin360nights
Jan. 20: Kelly Willis & Radio Ranch at Cactus Cafe. A quarter-century after Willis and her rockin’ country band recorded her debut album “Well Travelled Love,” they reunited to celebrate the occasion with a few shows, starting on this night at the University of Texas campus venue. Playing most of that album plus other selections from across Willis’ career, they sounded like they could have been playing together all this time. Subsequent shows followed on Jan. 30 and 31 at the Continental Club and Strange Brew, respectively. — P.B.
Also: Alejandro Escovedo’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep: The Leonard Cohen Influence” at ACL Live, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at Bass Concert Hall, Christopher Cross & Friends at ACL Live
BEST NEW ALBUMS
Shearwater, “Jet Plane and Oxbow” (Sub Pop). From our Austin360 On The Record review: “Jonathan Meiburg’s adventurous indie-rock ensemble has long been one of Austin’s most intriguing bands, and they sound energized coming off of 2013’s covers album “Fellow Travelers,” with a full slate of original material that’s both inventive and accessible.” Catch their record-release show Feb. 3 at North Door. Here’s one of the album’s standout tracks, “Only Child”:
Tank Washington, “Pain”: The rest of Austin’s LNS Crew has scattered around the country, but Tank Washington is still holding it down for the ATX. This is a fully realized platter, loaded with thoughtful, mid-tempo meditations on the struggles of a young artist ready to break out. Read an interview with Tank Washington. – D.S.S.
Are you an Austin artist with new music we should hear and/or videos we should see? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.