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Review: Texas Top 10 CD's of 2004

By David Okamoto, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

Track 1: Sorta - "Sweet Little Bay"

The biggest Texas CD of 2004 actually was an album that came out in 2003: the self-titled debut by Los Lonely Boys, a trio of San Angelo brothers blessed with blistering blues chops and luscious harmonies, got re-released on a major label, sold a million copies and earned four Grammy nods.

But it was literally Lonely at the top, as few Texas acts mustered any semblance of nationwide momentum. Who knows how many copies of "Together We're Heavy" the Polyphonic Spree might have sold if Lollapalooza hadn't been canceled? What if Lucinda Williams had put out the much-anticipated two-CD document of her stunning stand at San Francisco's Fillmore?

There were many false starts - but there were also 10 albums that rang true for me in 2004.

At No. 10 is "Mouthful of Love" by Austin quintet Young Heart Attack, which makes snarling AC/DC guitar riffs and the squalling unison vocals of Chris Hodge and Jennifer Stephens sound not just ferocious but downright fashionable.

Track 2: Young Heart Attack - "Misty Rowe"

In at No. 9 is "The Art of Removing Wallpaper" by San Marcos singer Terri Hendrix, who rails against corporate greed and violence committed in the name of God but still keeps a white-knuckled grasp on her dreams. James McMurtry takes the No. 8 slot with "Live in Aught-Three," a riveting reminder that with the right band, he can rock as convincingly as he writes. At No. 7 is "Oval Room," a collection of unissued 1988 live recordings by the late Blaze Foley. Fleshed out with overdubs by producer Gurf Morlix, these performances capture the scruffy charm and cutting wit that made Foley an inspiration to Austin songwriters like Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams, who wrote the song "Drunken Angel" in his honor.

Track 3: Blaze Foley - "Oval Room"

"Por Vida," a two-CD tribute to the stark, soul-bearing narratives of Hepatitis C-stricken Alejandro Escovedo, takes No. 6. "Movimiento Popular" by Austin's Grupo Fantasma, a dance-inducing blend of cumbia rhythms, hip-hop hooks and rock energy, is my No. 5 choice, while No. 4 belongs to "Now Here is Nowhere" by The Secret Machines. These former members of Dallas bands Captain Audio and Tripping Daisy update progressive-rock for the 21st century with all of the clout and none of the bombast. And then there's Dallas roots-rock quartet Sorta, ranking No. 3, which earned a shout-out from Liz Phair for Sweet Little Bay, a captivating combo of pop simplicity and tortured twang.

Willie Nelson's "It Always Will Be," my No. 2 choice, is everything 2002's "The Great Divide" was not - graceful, inspired and nuanced. But when it came to grace and inspiration, no Texas-raised artist could match Norah Jones, whose "Feels Like Home" CD and "Live in 2004" DVD emphasized her country roots and underscored a subtle mission to introduce the rest of the world to late Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt. Her version of "Loretta," performed on the DVD with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, sounds like angels in a honky-tonk heaven.

Track 4: Norah Jones - "Loretta"


David Okamoto is senior producer of entertainment at Yahoo Broadcast and a contributing editor to ICE magazine. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.