5 Famous Austin Musicians and Their Best Albums

Gary Clark Jr performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2015
Gary Clark Jr performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2015 | © dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Richard Tulis
17 June 2019

From ringing steel-guitar reverb on Red River Street to sparky synth riffs at its famous ACL festival, there’s a good reason that Austin is dubbed theLive Music Capital of the World.’ Check out these five local albums that defy convention as much as the city itself.

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 work on 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 in pace, style and build. ‘Please Come Home’ posits the comfort of an evening waltz, while 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.

Gary Clark Jr. live at the Austin City Limits Music Festival 2015 in Zilker Park. Austin, Texas, USA. | © dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

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 listeners old and new. A roots-rock group formed between friends and birthed with the help of Austin’s musical nurturing, 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 is referring to 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. Named by Pitchfork as the “father of psychedelic rock,” Erickson created a new musical genre. His music embodies the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ slogan that pervades Texan culture. This 1966 classic by the Erickson and his band, the 13th Floor Elevators, is an album coated in creativity and ingenuity.

Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger (1975)

The musical clout of Texas icon Willie Nelson stretches far and beyond the state. Shotgun Willie’s character, somewhat of a hippie-outlaw hybrid, defies conformity and promotes freedom. This also happens to be what Red Headed Stranger does best. A concept album, Red Headed Stranger 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 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ article.

American country music singer-songwriter, as well as an author, poet, actor, and activist Willie Nelson on his 2014 Summer Tour. | © Rockstar Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

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 18-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 all in Austin.

American musician Stevie Ray Vaughan on stage in 1984. | © dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

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