Houston music

Kam Franklin: “Byrd And Shepard”

Admirers of modern Texas soul-funk-R&B ought to already be well acquainted with Houston outfit The Suffers. And if you’re hip to that group, you’re also aware that part of what makes them so special is frontwoman Kam Franklin.

This powerhouse can make just about any subject matter sound groovy as hell, so as a performance artist, orator, and activist, it’s no surprise that Kam’s comfortable broaching some tough topics as well. Within her solo saga that really started picking up steam at the turn of the 2020s, Franklin’s recently tackled two notorious United States hate crimes, that of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard on her aptly titled latest single “Byrd And Shepard”.

The weight and pain of all-too-real bigotry history doesn’t stop Franklin from soaring on “Byrd And Shepard”, in which a simple percussive pulse and tortured key-and-six-string pairings support Kam’s championing of checking facts and protecting poignant books that policymakers want to ban. Behold Kam Franklin as she joins the star-studded lineup that wraps up KUTX’s 10th Birthday Concert Series with Walker Lukens’ The Last Walt tomorrow night at The Paramount, and give “Byrd And Shepard” a few extra spins not only in the name of preserving our painful-yet-important past, but also because it’s a powerful ballad that could’ve been a Whitney Houston/Tina Turner-Highwaymen collaboration.

Katherion: “Roses and Daisies”

Song of the Day is finally back from a much-needed break! And as a token of appreciation for everyone’s patience in the interim, we’ve got some great new picks to catch y’all up on, one of which made an inaugural streaming appearance just last weekend.

We’re talking about Katherine Yuna, also known as Rion Reed, but best recognized by their stage name amalgamation Katherion. This Houston native with growing Austin exposure has been singing their whole life and penning tunes for the past decade, but didn’t unlock and realize their true form as Katherion until a semi-recent, life-changing experience in guided psychoactive therapy.

True to their handle (pronounced “Kath-e-Ryan”), this project provides a healthy balance of masculine and feminine, spiritual and emotional, and sonically speaking…indie and alt-rock. In fact, ahead of their upcoming debut album 33, Katherion teamed up with indie-alt-rock innovator and Song of the Day favorite Walker Lukens to co-produce the record’s lead single, “Roses and Daisies”. So before we’re blessed with the full bouquet of unbridled acceptance on 33 later this Fall, which’ll also include the sophomore single “Thank You” in about a month’s time, bask in the refreshing fragrance of “Roses and Daisies”, whose authentic aromas alternate between vulnerable solo verses and defiant double-tracked choruses. By the time you get across the bridge and into the final hook, you’ll better understand Katherion’s admirable mission of empathy, uplift, and humanity’s mutual bonds, no matter how you identify.

Swimwear Department: “We Need A Place”

The turn of the millennium was an outstanding time to be an adolescent developing their music tastes, for better or worse. And while it’s easy to look back at has-been fads like rap-rock and scoff, it’s just as easy to overlook one the coolest innovations of the late nineties/early aughts: dance-punk. Thankfully that playful angst of post-punk plastered over frenetic disco-inspired drums still makes waves well past the era when acts like LCD Soundsystem, !!!, and The Rapture reigned supreme.

So while we don’t envy Houston’s sweltering humidity during this historic heatwave, we’re pretty jealous that Swimwear Department kicks it in the Bayou City’s backyard. This receipt-fiending aquatic quartet first got their ankles wet half a decade back on their EP Turn Over! Go Under!, a seven-song dip that sticks to two strict lyrical lanes: swimming pools and shopping malls. Music-wise, Swimwear Department doggy paddles around DEVO, backstrokes with The B-52’s, and front crawls up to early Elvis Costello… and their collective pH level’s only gotten better; no need to scrub that infectious punk gunk off with any commercial pop chlorine.

Well, as we near the tail end of these dog days, there’s hardly a better time for Swimwear Department to cannonball into streaming services with their sophomore follow-up. This Friday the four-piece reemerges shocked and invigorated on The Poolest of the Mall, bringing a whole new meaning to the term “swimmer’s ear” with all types of sonic oddities. Fortunately for those who want to dive in headfirst, half the record’s ten originals have already submerged as part of a year-long release schedule, all ahead of an Austin show at Valhalla on Saturday, September 23rd with fellow weirdos Big Bill. So if you’re feeling a little juvenile this Tuesday, let The Poolest of the Mall’s album opener splash you with a clearance discount on gratifying crassness, courtesy of “We Need A Place”. At just under five minutes, “We Need A Place” offers slippery sanctuary to all who need a zany post-punk plunge ASAP.

Night Drive: “Summerwaves”

Although Houston and Dallas are indisputably the hubs of such, car cruising culture is alive and thriving all over the Lone Star State. And while swangin’ looks best before dusk, these triple digit temps tormenting Texas have been making it tough to tempt daylight, even with top down. And especially if you’re less about “Tops Drop” and “Diamonds & Wood” and more into the Miami Vice or Kung Fury soundtracks…this is where the prospect of a good ol’ Night Drive shines. Back when we named Night Drive as our May 2017 Artist of the Month, we knew right away that these Austinite-Houstonians’ retro-bred blend of post-punk and synth-pop wasn’t just moonlighting for a sole getaway score. No, by the time their eponymous LP hit our airwaves, the pair had already spent the past half decade shaping their sound and shifting up their skills from Night Drive’s 2013 debut EP Position I. Now that 2017’s Night Drive marks an approximate midpoint between Position I and the present…there were only so many lanes for Night Drive to explore next. With the addition of a third member, Night Drive drops their sequentially titled sophomore EP Position II this Fall. Produced by Rick Rubin protege Phillip Broussard, these six new songs step away from Night Drive’s remix routines and instead embrace a less-formulaic middle ground between their strongest sounds. Position II drops August 4th ahead of a release show the following evening at The Parish with openers Haunt Me and Holy Wire and the record’s lead single just cut the engine on this stagnant Texas heatwave. Alongside its VHS-on-LSD music video, the record’s lead single “Summerwaves” veers past the saturated vaporwave aesthetic in favor of something timeless and authentic. Like if Joy Division hopped across the pond with a mouthful of MDMA, rented a Testarossa, and started plowing past rows of palm trees, “Summerwaves” is an ideal track both for piston-pushing under the sweltering sun and gentle swerving under the stars.

Marlei: “Sheesh”

There’s no question that Queen Bey’s court extends to the furthest reaches of the globe. But especially in her hometown of Houston, Beyoncé really is royalty. Her majesty’s legacy – in particular her role in the progression of R&B into trap-pop – continues to shine as a statewide piece of inspiration with its pinnacle smack dab in H-Town.

And although she’s not necessarily taking a shot at Beyoncé’s crown, rising singer-songwriter Marlei could definitely feel at home in “Third Ward Trill”‘s inner circle. Marlei first emerged in Fall 2021 with her incendiary debut single “Burn”, instantly channelling Beyoncé’s regal confidence and sultry, soulful vocals. And today, just in time for rising Texas temps, Marlei’s cranked things way up on her sophomore offering.

Embedded in the steamy essence of the Bayou City, “Sheesh” finds Marlei directly comparing herself to the Queen and Ariana Grande before accepting and amplifying her own intrinsic audacity. Produced by Zayn/Mind of Mine magic ear XYZ, “Sheesh”‘ll have you saying its namesake thanks to Marlei’s lilting intervals, disciplined harmonies, and a sense of unbridled sassiness that might even make Sasha Fierce use her safe word.

Rodney Crowell: “Everything At Once” (feat. Jeff Tweedy)

The Cactus Cafe has remained an important cultural crossroad for countless Americana, folk, and country acts. So when a thread is formed between two longtime Cactus veterans (with recognition in their own right) who go on to collaborate outside of Austin’s best listening room, expectations are high.

Take for instance two of the most decorated Cactus acts, Houston-born Americana country-rocker Rodney Crowell and Uncle Tupelo/Wilco co-founder Jeff Tweedy. Both have created unforgettable acoustic performances, both have two Grammy Awards to their name, and both their genre fortes roughly overlap into the sphere of alternative-country. These talented two have undoubtedly crossed paths plenty of times in the past, but it wasn’t until recently that Tweedy was recruited to produce a full Rodney Crowell record.

Despite a relatively unremarkable title, The Chicago Sessions are anything but; the pairing of Tweedy’s keen ear with Crowell’s tried-and-true country storytelling presents this Texas troubadour in a pristine, rejuvenated package, even compared with 2021’s Triage. And intentional or not, the ten tracks on The Chicago Sessions drop on May 5th, or Cinco De Mayo for folks with upbringings near the southern border like Rodney Crowell. Remember what we said about high expectations? The Chicago Sessions‘ lead single “Everything At Once” not only channels some of Tweedy’s best production work, but also moves him away from the mixing board momentarily for his sole in-person feature on the album. Which makes us wonder, what would a WilCrowell tour sound like? We can only dream for now.

Vivi Rincon: “If We Lived On The Moon”

First and foremost, Happy Pride Month! Today we’re celebrating by shining the spotlight on blooming Houston songwriter Vivi Rincon. She may only be 21, but between her virtuoso vocal range, fearless lyricism, in-the-pocket guitar patience, and deft sense of dynamics, Rincon’s already proven an amazing talent well beyond her years. While attending Berklee College of Music, Vivi Rincon met her current girlfriend, who’s also a producer. Together they carefully crafted Rincon’s debut single, “If We Lived On The Moon”, a performance of which has already racked up a million views on TikTok.

“If We Lived On The Moon” paints a picture of that blossoming relationship as well as Vivi Rincon’s personal passage of self-disclosing her sexual orientation. The track dropped on Wednesday in commemoration of National Pride Month, and will continue to wow you through repeat listens with Vivi’s impressive interval jumps and infectious intimacy.

Fat Tony: “Sugar Daddy”

For people of my generation, the name “Fat Tony” immediately conjures an image of the tired-eye mafioso voiced by Joe Mantegna on The Simpsons. And although rapper Anthony Obi is something of a character himself, his passion and dedication to his craft is no joke. Raised in the historic Third Ward, Obi received the Houston Press Music Award for ‘Best Underground Hip Hop’ consecutively from 2008 to 2010, and made his studio debut as Fat Tony with the 2010 LP RABDARGAB. Fat Tony’s rapid-fire lyrical style, experimental ambitions, and disregard for genre restraints have earned Obi collaborations with the likes of Das Racist, A$AP Rocky, and fellow, legendary Houstonian Bun B. Fat Tony’s latest full-length Exotica showed off a level of maturity that’s distinctly mid-thirties, priming Obi for his own 4:44 in the next decade. But the two biggest pieces of recent news from Fat Tony is his appearance on the latest episode of Song Confessional and an opening spot this Friday at Empire Control Room for Oblivion Access Festival, headlined by Danny Brown. So get your tickets while they last, and even if you’d prefer to stay home this weekend, check out the spasmodic rock and hypnotic flow of Song Confessional‘s “Sugar Daddy”!

Kristine Mills: “Reach Out To Me”

Though she’s historically called Houston her home, after several LPs that navigate the many canals of jazz (including two in the bossa-nova-verse), singer Kristine Mills is about to actualize her international aspirations with a move to London. That pond-hopping dream becomes a reality only after the release of Mills’ aptly-titled new record, Looking Back. Moving Forward., which drops next Friday. On the cusp of Looking Back. Moving Forward. Mills performs 7PM this Thursday at Parker Jazz Club for a single and music video release show, one that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home thanks to a livestream. But if you do plan on coming out, you’ll want to check out Kristine’s powerful pipes ahead of time with “Reach Out To Me” and the aforementioned music video for that jazziest of hues, “Blue Isn’t Blue Anymore“!

Transmission Lost: “Beating Death”

When singer-guitarist Garret Ashton moved from rural Idaho down to Houston, his bucolic creativity collided with the hustle and bustle of bayou-metropolitan tastes. As soon as those internal frequencies acclimated to the new environment, Ashton’s alt-rock endeavor Transmission Lost was born, with its first lineup finalized around 2018. Unlike the cryptic numbers stations of decades past, the sonics behind Transmission Lost are relatively easy to pinpoint – somewhere between Cage the Elephant, Yellowcard, and Linkin Park – but with only two singles to the name til now, we’ve been fine tuning our dial in hopes of hearing more. Well, today Transmission Lost’s latest signal came through loud and clear – a bold drum ‘n’ bass style alt-rocker whose sound is big enough to please a full arena and whose title seems pretty appropriate for both Día de los Muertos and Halloween – “Beating Death”!

Thomas Csorba: “Goodbye To Goodbye”

Houston’s Thomas Csorba may have released his debut full-length From the Foxhole in 2017 but it wasn’t until last year’s eponymous LP that his mastery over the Americana genre became common knowledge. And riding off that well-deserved high praise for Thomas Csorba, much to the delight of us fans, the Bayou City singer’s set to sling out a new batch of refined folk-rock originals in just a couple months.

This morning Csorba announced a new five-track EP, From The Jordan, produced by The Texas Gentlemen’s Beau Bedford, featuring a co-write from KUTX favorite David Ramirez, and centered around the timeless theme of romance. From The Jordan streams in full on October 8th and you can dip your toes in right now with the record’s melancholy lead single, “Goodbye To Goodbye”!