Confidence. That’s the common thread running through my 10 favorite 2015 albums with Texas ties. Not bravado so much as the quiet conviction that comes from artists who realize that standing your ground can be just as fulfilling as blazing new trails.
Slobberbone leader Brent Best’s solo debut, “Your Dog, Champ,” ranks No.10. It’s a compelling collection of dark, remarkably moving narratives like “Career Day” and the heartbreaking concert staple “Robert Cole” narrated by stoic survivors of dashed dreams and dysfunctional families.
At No. 9 is the charming “I Don’t Want to Be Alone” by two teenage siblings from Austin who perform as Charlie Belle. Sister Jendayi Bonds’ warm, delicate voice evokes such ‘80s British bands as Everything But the Girl and The Sundays. But she spikes their yearning introspection with a dash of R&B swagger.
Grand Prairie-born Selena Gomez finds her voice on my No. 8 choice, “Revival”. Now 23, she adopts sophisticated, state-of-the-chart electronic textures on empowering standouts like “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” and the title track. She isn’t abandoning her teen-pop past so much as treating maturity as a process, rather than a career move.
The Oh Hellos land at No. 7 with “Dear Wormwood”. San Marcos siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath infuse their soaring folk-rock anthems with a remarkable command of dynamics that allows them to zigzag from church-mouse quiet to church-choir jubilant.
My No. 6 pick is “All These Dreams” by Andrew Combs, a Dallas Jesuit College Prep graduate now living in Nashville. Songs like “Long Gone Lately” and “Foolin’” combine the grandeur of Roy Orbison with the elegance of the Jayhawks, creating a luscious, laidback sound that aims to sweep you off your feet rather than bowl you over.
At No.5 is “Pageant Material” by Mineola native Kacey Musgraves. Although the line between campy and clever isn’t as well defined as it was on her sparkling 2013 debut, the country star continues to relish elbowing small-town conservatism and tweaking Nashville conventions.
“Cass County,” Don Henley’s first solo album in 15 years, takes the No. 4 spot. Inspired by his Linden, Texas upbringing, the 68-year-old Eagles co-founder delivers heartfelt originals and inspired covers of Jesse Lee Kincaid and Louvin Brothers classics with unflinching grit and amazing grace.
Erykah Badu’s “But You Caint Use My Phone,” at No. 3, was recorded in her East Dallas home as a mixtape. But it’s actually a cool concept album about cell phone culture built around reworkings of New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man” and Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” and a sultry original that makes “I can make you put your phone down” sound like both a flirtation, and a promise.
Austin’s James McMurtry comes in at No. 2 with “Complicated Game,” which lightens the heavy mood of recent efforts by channeling his anger into richly detailed stories like “Copper Canteen” and some genuinely upbeat love songs. He’s also singing more than grousing, pushing his upper register and sounding more inviting – and invigorated – than ever.
My favorite Texas album of the year is “Coming Home” by Leon Bridges. Sounding like Sam Cooke stepped out of a time machine, the 26-year-old Fort Worth singer nails not just the finger-popping sound of ‘60s rhythm and blues, but also the relentless spirit that provided solace in an era of turbulence. Songs like “Lisa Sawyer” and the stunning “River” may be reverent, but they are also relevant
David Okamoto is a content production manager at Yahoo in Dallas. He’s a former music critic whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, ICE Magazine and the Dallas Morning News.