Ray Johnston Now a Baller With a Guitar

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Being a baller was his ultimate dream, but sometimes what you want isn't always what you get.

That's the case for former Dallas Mavericks player turned Texas musician Ray Johnston. His current album is called No Bad Days, and that's also his life's anthem.

"Thinking about the theme of the album No Bad Days, to me is the strongest song I've ever been a part of writing and I think it summed up my last ten years as far as getting a shitty diagnosis -- sorry, crappy diagnosis -- and doing my best to turn a lot of frowns upside down," says Johnston. "It was really dark for a while, man. Having leukemia five times in 12 years, there's a lot of pissed-off moments, but my parents wouldn't let me sulk."

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Kacey Musgraves at Warehouse Live, 10/2/2014

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Photos by Jason Wolter
Kacey Musgraves
Warehouse Live
October 2, 2014

Kacey Musgraves feels almost too good to be true. The 26-year-old Texan seems as sweet as can be, both onstage and in her media appearances, and sparks the kind of connection with fans that has them singing her songs back to her without her even asking them to. Running across this kind of guileless talent in 2014, not just in Musgraves' chosen realm of country but in all of pop music, feels a little like driving past a jackalope on your evening drive home from work. You're not sure it's real, but you won't soon forget it all the same.

Although it came out a while ago (March 2013), Musgraves is still touring behind Same Trailer, Different Park, prompting her to slyly dub the leg that brought her to Warehouse Live Thursday evening "Same Tour, Different Trailer." As she apologetically explained to the venue's near-packed ballroom, she's been so busy she simply hasn't had time to make another record. Picking up award after award and spending the balance of the year as Katy Perry's hand-picked opening act will do that.


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The 10 Biggest Country Stars Who Live in Texas

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Photo courtesy of EB Media
By Chris Gray and Matthew Keever

HONORABLE MENTION: SUNNY SWEENEY
Thus far mainstream success has eluded Sunny Sweeney, but not for lack of either talent or trying. According to her Facebook page, Sweeney (a former standup comic) has now played the Grand Ole Opry 41 times but continues to reside in Austin, where she did an acoustic set at Waterloo Records last month to celebrate the release of her third LP, Provoked. Both Country Weekly and NPR have come calling since then, so Sweeney -- also a 2013 nominee for the CMA's New Female Vocalist -- can't possibly stay under the radar much longer.

Facebook fans: 106K

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The Musical Cream of This Fall's County-Fair Crop

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Photo by Axel Naud via Flickr
Now that's a super moon all right.
If you've been lucky enough to see the so-called "supermoon" the past couple of nights, you know good things are coming: not only cooler temperatures but fairgrounds full of carnival midways, fried foods, beauty pageants, golf tournaments, parades, cookoffs, livestock auctions and top-notch country music. In other words, small-town Texas in all its harvest-season splendor.

Although this season is somewhat overshadowed by that big shootin' match that takes place next to the Dome (which is now just six months away), almost every county that touches Harris is having some sort of officially sanctioned celebration between this weekend and late October; lest we forget, so is Harris County's second-largest city. To salute them, Rocks Off picked out a dozen acts that are worth the short drive outside the Loop to see while eating Frito Pie and drinking light beer from a plastic cup or aluminum bottle. Don't forget those boots, because they might even make you want to dance.


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Welcome to Country Music Time Machine

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carhumor.net
Country music has an interesting relationship with current events. Unlike other forms of pop that deal with one form of fantasy or another -- starlets forever falling in love with that guy who is just out of reach; aspiring rappers' dreams of a ghetto-fabulous lifestyle, for example -- country draws a large part of its credibility from its basis in reality, a direct link to its roots in folk music that improbably remains very much intact.

Now, that may be an idealized, exaggerated or otherwise distorted reality, true, but even the biggest country stars are careful not to put on too many airs lest they be criticized for being "out of touch" with their fans -- a creed that more or less holds true from Hank Williams Sr. and Loretta Lynn through Florida Georgia Line and Kacey Musgraves. Compare that with, say, Kanye or Lady Gaga, whom many people idolize and almost no one faults for acting like they're above the rest of us.

It might even be argued that listening to country music is like reading the newspaper of regular people's lives, which is why thisdayincountrymusic.com is so much fun. The UK-based site itself is an invaluable almanac of country facts, and actually just released a new app for iPhone and iPad this week. Furthermore, the section that allows users to input their birthday to reveal what song was No. 1 on that date also reveals that country music is just like history in a different way: just as sometimes it seems like weeks or even months can go by without something truly historic happening, a lot of songs that reach even the pinnacle of popularity are really nothing special.


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Jayhawks Take Flight Again on Raft of Reissues

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Marina Chavez/UME
The Jayhawks "Sounds of Lies" lineup 1997: Karen Grotberg (keyboards), Tim O'Reagan (drums/vocals), Gary Louris (guitar/vocals), Marc Perlman (bass), and Kraig Johnson (guitar).
At the end of 1995, Gary Louris had a problem. A big one.

His band, the critically acclaimed, Minneapolis-based Jayhawks, was just starting to gain some commercial traction after a decade of existence at the front of the No Depression/Americana/alt-country pack. Their release earlier that year, Tomorrow the Green Grass, was (and is) considered a masterpiece, and single "Blue" seemed to have them poised to break even more.

Then, Louris' fellow singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Olson quit, relieving the band of its co-leader and, more importantly, one half of the harmony vocals that were the band's trademark.

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Nashville Stars Step Onstage But Not Out of Character

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Photos courtesy of Dancy Ware PR
Claire Bowen
It's been several decades, since The Monkees and The Partridge Family, that a television show about fictional musicians has turned its actors into real-life singing stars. Maybe it was MTV's fault, or the flood of reality programming, but the '80s through '00s were painfully short on shows capitalizing on the dramatic opportunities begged by even the most quotidian musician's life. Not until Nashville, ABC's hourlong soap set in the country-music capital, did viewers weaned on American Idol-ish competition shows realize that other forms of music could be ready for prime time too.

True, even without all the music, Nashville would be one of the better dramas on network television. It's a well-written, well-acted, totally immersive window into a glamorous but treacherous segment of American society. Imagine Scandal with fewer skeletons in its characters' closets (but not many), or The Good Wife set backstage at the Grand Ole Opry instead of courtrooms. But Nashville, created by Thelma and Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, came up with an ingenious twist: on this show, the songs and the characters are for all intents and purposes inseparable.

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The Rocks Off 200: Breelan Angel, Dirty Little Secret Keeper

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Photo by Todd Purifoy/courtesy of Spindrift Media & Entertainment
Who? If there's one thing the Texas Country scene needs, it's more women. For example, on this week's Texas Music Chart, the Top 30 is all dudes, all the way down to No. 34. (Take a bow, Tori Martin's Done Deal). Even pro-sports locker rooms let in lady reporters.

Born and raised in Baytown, Breelan Angel is doing her best to change that. She decided to pursue a career in country music during her sophomore year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, crediting vocal coach Tom McKinney and manager Jake McKim with helping her seal the deal. After a handful of singles ("Halfway to Wasted," "It's My Turn," "Double Standards") dating back to last summer, last week Angel released her debut album, Dirty Little Secrets. She reckons it to be a "good reflection of both Texas and mainstream country"; Angel is right, except her presence in the ranks improves both brands by no small number of degrees.

Angel can send a guy's cheatin' ass packing in a big-time weeper ("She Made Your Bed"), or sit at the bar and shoot trash-talk at the hussy across the room with lines like "honey, trash is as trash does" on "Walk of Shame." Double the twang on an average song from Kacey Musgraves' beloved Same Trailer, Different Park, and you've got Secrets' title track. Pay attention to this one.


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The Mystery of Mary Sarah: Country Music's Next Star?

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Photo by Jim McGuire/All photos courtesy of Shore Fire Media
Many critics believe that for the past few years, country music has been experiencing the kind of artistic bankruptcy that comes along once in a generation. But now something odd is happening, and the unlikely catalyst is a teenager from Fort Bend County who once confessed her "MAJOR" crush on Justin Bieber to this very blog.

Next week, Cleopatra Records will release Bridges, an album featuring 18-year-old Richmond native Mary Sarah dueting with a clutch of Country Music Hall of Famers including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton and the late Ray Price. Also on hand are near-Hall of Famers like the Oak Ridge Boys (her early champions), Ronnie Milsap, Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Big & Rich (ahem) and a few others.

Frankly, Mary Sarah looks and sounds an awful lot like Carrie Underwood: All-American cheerleader good looks and a voice blessed with not only perfect pitch but dynamic range (which, unlike Underwood, she doesn't overuse). On Bridges, she goes well beyond holding her own against some of the greatest talents in country-music history -- most of whom are admittedly getting on in years -- and pretty much steals the show.


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Rolling Stone's Ridiculous Top 100 Country Songs: The Second Half

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Leon Payne, Hank Williams, Jerry Irby at the Studewood Club, Houston, circa 1950. Payne wrote Williams' hit, "Lost Highway"; Irby wrote "Driving Nails In My Coffin."
Given the spread and the appeal-to-all-age-groups nature of Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time," the possibility that the list was computer-generated seems more and more likely.

Either that, or Rolling Stone is farming out its country blog to Best in Texas magazine? There are those ever-present, pesky concerns about advertising revenues generated via record labels that need constant cultivation, you know?

How else can the inclusion of Eric Church, Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves be rationally explained? In particular, Musgraves' track is so new, how can anyone have had the time and reflective distance to pronounce it a classic on par with tunes like "Night Life" or "Mama Tried" yet?

Actually, it looks like a hook in the water -- or an olive branch? -- for the Americana Music Association crowd. But be it human- or cyber-generated, the list has other glaring problems, not the least of which is that a reader has to click on 100 different pages to view it all.


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