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Austin, TX | Five Iconic Albums That Have Made Music History
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Austin, TX | Five Iconic Albums That Have Made Music History

Picture of Richard Tulis
Updated: 12 December 2015
Texas messiah Willie Nelson once said Texas is great because ‘there’s no one in control.’ His words best encapsulate one city in particular: Austin. From ringing steel guitar reverb on Red River Street to sparky synth riffs at its famous ACL festival, there’s good reason Austin is dubbed theLive Music Capital of the World.’ Check out these six local albums that eschew the musical norm as much as the fabled capitol city itself.
2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival | © SteveHopson/WikiCommons
2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival | © SteveHopson/WikiCommons

Gary Clark, Jr. – Gary Clark Jr. EP (2010)

When Austin native Gary Clark, Jr. delivered his self-titled EP in 2010, devotees of every genre were able to rally behind the versatile, eight-track release. The powerhouse track ‘Bright Lights,’ unquestionably the young blues guitarist’s best of the album, quickly helped inspire a subsequent album, which Rolling Stone magazine hailed as ‘noise-soaked, psychedelic, and shape-shifting.’ But the album’s most influential properties follow from its malleability. Each track offers nuanced changes of pace, style, and build. ‘Please Come Home’ posits the comfort of an evening waltz; a smoothly polished hip hop beat on ‘The Life’ evokes comparisons to an early-2000s J Dilla project. Clark’s EP shows he is unafraid to push boundaries without ever threatening his homegrown, blues-inspired Austin authenticity.

Okkervil River – The Stage Names (2007)

This August 2007 album earned the ‘Best New Music’ stamp from Pitchfork, 9.0 out of 10 from Prefix Magazine, and widespread popularity from band listeners, old and new. A roots rock group formed between friends and birthed with the help of Austin’s musical nurture, Okkervil River’s edgy twang ebbs and flows as rapidly as does the spirit of any young adult. ‘Unless It’s Kicks’ comes off almost like a warning, with lead singer Will Sheff closing the seasoned ballad by reminding listeners ‘not to turn off,’ or ‘believe in that lie.’ Exactly which lie Sheff references here is unknown, but the effect is unwavering: he is telling the truth.

13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966)

Roger Kynard ‘Roky’ Erickson was born and raised in Austin, created by it. But this artist has also created something himself – a new musical genre, altogether. Coined by Pitchfork as the ‘father of psychedelic rock,’ and even once mired by allegations of mental insanity, Erickson is finally back on the scene as a timeless Texas musician. His music plays true to Willie Nelson’s testament to a lack of central control and authority radiated by Texas culture. This 1966 classic by the 67-year-old veteran and his band, the 13th Floor Elevators, is an album coated in creativity and ingenuity.

'Roky' Erickson | © silatix/Flickr
‘Roky’ Erickson | © silatix/Flickr

Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger (1975)

The musical clout of Texas icon Willie Nelson stretches far and beyond the summative capabilities of a simple verbal review. Shotgun Willie’s character, somewhat of a hippie-outlaw hybrid, defies conformity upright and promotes free reign. This, also, happens to be what Red Headed Stranger does best. A concept album, it traces the imaginary steps of a dangerous fugitive on the run – yet one who treks his way into the hearts and minds of the public nonetheless. This album stole a 183 out of 500 ranking on Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time‘ article.

'Red Headed Stranger' by Willie Nelson | © Jeremy Chan/Flickr
‘Red Headed Stranger’ by Willie Nelson | © Jeremy Chan/Flickr

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood (1983)

Though originally a product of Dallas, Texas, esteemed guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan relocated to Austin before spearheading the musical campaign that captured the attention of critics worldwide. Sure enough, this list ends where it began: with the blues. Texas Flood’s meandering solos, craftily picked departure riffs, and light speed crescendos wax and wane as the bass lines truck steadily forward like an eighteen-wheeler on a South Texas highway. The album more than does its job in evoking some of the world’s best blues guitar skills while carrying forward the legacy of a man who is gone, but not forgotten – least of anywhere in Austin, the capitol city of Texas itself.