Is Country Music Ready for Sturgill Simpson?

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Photo by Jason Wolter
Sturgill Simpson at a recent show in Houston
So the big new noise in the increasingly noisy -- or static-y -- genre known as Americana is this Kentucky guy Sturgill Simpson. With 2014 appearances on Letterman and Conan and a first-ever Grammy nomination for his sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Simpson has been branded (not by him, but by those who take it upon themselves to brand such things) as a new hope for country music, a Waylon/Outlaw Movement throwback, a loophole through which we can crawl back toward the Holy Grail: legitimate, old-school country music that sounds like, well, country music rather than background noise at a Young Republicans meeting.

If you live in Houston and remember the old Whiskey Wednesdays at Mango's and later at Fitz, you probably thought young Robert Ellis would eventually fulfill this role, but, well, he's gone in another artistic direction.


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Dwight Yoakam Was the Eternal Honky-Tonk Man at Arena Theatre

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Other than a few dozen new songs, not much has changed about Dwight Yoakam -- whose management has taken to not approving photography of his concerts -- since 1986.
Dwight Yoakam
Arena Theatre
November 28, 2014

Guitars, Cadillacs, etc., etc. was released in 1986, and other than his catalog expanding, not much has changed about Dwight Yoakam. He has been one of country music's most consistent performers, who gives equally consistent performances. If you have ever seen one of his concerts, it is highly likely that you did not walk away disappointed.

Last Friday night, the Arena Theatre looked like Gilley's back in the day, packed with pearl-snap shirts, boots, tight-fittin' jeans, large belt buckles and tall cowboy hats. Or it could have been the inside of a large tent at the rodeo cookoff. Groupon specials helped bring in fans on the unofficial day-after-Thanksgiving holiday, but it still wasn't quite enough to sell out the venue as several rows in each section sat vacant.


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The Top 10 Country Stars Who Live in Texas

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Photo courtesy of EB Media
Note: this article originally appeared on September 19, 2014

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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93Q Country's Recipe For Successful Radio

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Photos courtesy of KKBQ-FM
The staff of KKBQ onstage during this year's A Day In the Country festival at the Cynthia Woods Pavilion
At some point during this evening's CMA awards in Nashville, one of the presenters will announce Houston's 93Q (92.9 FM) as the 2014 winner of the association's Radio Station of the Year-Major Market division. It's yet another piece of hefty hardware for the Cox Media Group-owned property, whose "Q Morning Zoo" show is also up for Outstanding Morning Show-Major Market for the team of Kevin Kline, Erica Rico and Tim Tuttle.

But that's not all. KKBQ is also coming away from this year's Marconi Radio Awards, given by the National Association of Broadcasters, with its second trophy in a row -- and in a much broader category this year. In 2013 the station won for Country Station of the Year, but this year graduated to Major Market Station of the Year, an honor that covers all formats. Within the industry, KKBQ is increasingly being recognized as a model of how to run a successful radio station.


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Country Music Time Machine: World Series Edition

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Mike Kalasnik via Flickr
Sluggerrr is ready for Game 7.
Right now Texans are in the middle of football season, and therefore even attempting to talk about any other pro sports amounts to ripping a wet fart into the wind -- unless it's the Rockets, and most of us Houstonians can't watch them on TV anyway. But in case you haven't noticed, and you probably haven't, the Major League Baseball fans among us have been enjoying one of the most entertaining postseasons in ages.

It ends tonight, one way or another, when the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants meet in the first World Series Game 7 in three years. And while it's been fun to watch former Astro Hunter Pence's slow transformation into Hayes Carll, once you watch them play a little while it's nearly impossible not to root for the club from Kansas City. Not only do they bunt and steal bases and move runners over and make spectacular outfield catches, but the Royals also have the most entertaining mascot in the major leagues, a goofy-ass lion named Sluggerrr.

Thus far the most interesting music-related news to come out of this series is ex-Staind singer/current country solo artist Aaron Lewis' three-base error while singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game 5 at San Francisco's AT&T Park. Even Sluggerrr could have sang better than that.


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Jim Lauderdale Is Way Past Where the Sidewalk Ends

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Photo by Jay Blakesberg Photography
Buddy Miller (l) and Jim Lauderdale (r) will produce the next Ralph Stanley (c) album.
One of the most respected songwriters in the suddenly-chic genre called Americana had been chasing the dream of a recording deal ten years when he finally found success through the backdoor to Nashville at age 35.

Jim Lauderdale, 57, who visits Dosey Doe's satellite Music Cafe in Conroe Friday night, struggled for a decade in New York -- even working as a messenger for Rolling Stone magazine -- and Los Angeles before finally hitting the big time in 1992 when two of his songs, "King of Broken Hearts" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends"" from his first album Planet of Love, were selected by Tony Brown and George Strait for the soundtrack of Strait's movie, Pure Country.


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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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