Here in Texas, we're rarely in need of validation from outsiders when it comes to our talent-rich, influential musical landscape. Nonetheless, it's nice when a notable Yankee newspaper throws a bit of acknowledgement our way.
In the latest music-intensive New York Times Magazine, a group of established music journalists from across the country listed the 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music is Going, and Texas, most rightfully, was well represented.
In addition to songs from metal giants Metallica, hip-hop record breaker Future and the reigning queen of everything, Adele, these Texans made the list:
- Arlington's favorite a cappella group Pentatonix
- Austin's grizzled folk troubadour James McMurtry
- Houston's psych soul Grammy winner Solange
The Fort Worth-born McMurtry, long an outspoken critic of anyone carrying a politically conservative agenda, a few years ago released Complicated Game, which might be his finest album ever. For this piece, McMurtry was interviewed by Slate writer Ruth Graham over dinner at Smoke restaurant at the Belmont Hotel in Oak Cliff before performing a recent show at the Kessler. McMurtry discussed, among other things, his excellent song "Copper Canteen," the opening track from his latest record which dives into the plain but poetic realizations of a man with more life in the rear view than out ahead of him.
Similar to McMurtry, who has a famous father you may have heard of, Solange is sometimes overshadowed by an iconic relative. Being Beyonce's sister trying to make it in the music can't be easy, but Solange has effectively carved her own path over the past few years. Author Angela Flournoy examines Solange's identity-claiming, genre-straddling "F.U.B.U." a song that, Flournoy writes, "pulls black listeners close."
It's a stunning, self-assured song and a bold statement.
In writing about Pentatonix and their celebrated collaboration with Dolly Parton on her legendary "Jolene," writer Amy Phillips asks the question "Can choir nerds bring harmony to a divided country?" At first blush, the minivan-safe version of an adulterous country classic doesn't seem progressive enough to be included on a future-looking list. But the song and the group's affiliation with interstate chicken fried steak kingpin Cracker Barrel, merely serve as window dressing to why the Times views the self-proclaimed "choir nerds."
Though Pentatonix enjoys a squeaky-clean image, they're anything but whitewashed. The five-piece is a study in diverse unity unto itself. The group contains a Hispanic woman, an openly gay man, a Jewish man and an African-American Seventh Day Adventist, and this group, as much or more than any other in pop music today, offers hope that people from all walks can move forward together in unity.