For a minute there, didn’t it feel like Austin was gonna become the next Seattle?

In much the same way that Seattle gave birth to the grunge scene in the early ’90s, with homegrown bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam leading the zeitgeist-capturing charge, a new singer-songwriter boom — one, no doubt, which got kicked off by Jagged Little Pill, got stoked by the staggering success of Jewel’s debut and Sheryl Crow’s sophomore efforts, and got sent into orbit by the phenomenal, out-of-the-box success of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair — exploded across the landscape in the latter part of the decade, and, thanks to the emergence on the national stage of supremely gifted local talents like Patty Griffin, Kelly Willis, Shawn Colvin, Sister 7, Fastball, and the peerless Abra Moore, its epicenter was Austin. Having long labeled itself the “live music capital of the world,” the city had all of a sudden become ground zero in the most significant cultivation of introspective music since the early days of Dylan, Mitchell, Collins, and Taylor. (Clive Davis was so certain it was gonna stick that he launched the Arista/Austin imprint to discover and develop new artists.)

Pegged as the newcomer to beat in this new derby, Austinite Kacy Crowley got scooped up in early 1997 by executives at Atlantic Records who flipped over her independently produced first album, Anchorless. Full of raw, earthy vocals and compelling, angular songwriting, the record was a powerfully brilliant introduction to an impressive new talent, and by shrewdly hurling Crowley into the Lilith whirlwind that summer and getting her name dropped by the right people, Atlantic seemed to be setting up a can’t-miss megasmash.

You can almost certainly guess what happened next: In spite of its entirely obvious quality — this was one of my favorite records not only of that year, but of that decadeAnchorless not only missed, but missed huge. The album won sterling reviews from Time, Rolling Stone, and several other major media outlets, but it was all for naught. Despite getting a high-profile re-release ten months after its original street date — Atlantic believed in the record so much they had Crowley re-record a couple of songs and tried in vain to launch the record anew with a publicity blitzkrieg — Anchorless sold fewer than 10,000 copies, and a couple of years later, after a massive rift over the creative direction of her second record, the never-released Boys in the Attic, Crowley found herself without a record label.

Deciding to return to her maverick roots (which is almost certainly where she belonged all the while), she returned to the Austin club scene and ended up recording a pair of platters (2003’s spectacularly nuanced Moodswing and 2005’s dour, depressed Tramps Like Us) for her die-hard fans. And after laying low for the past few years, Crowley is back with a stunning new masterpiece called Cave. Easily her strongest effort since Anchorless all those years ago, Cave flip-flops effortlessly between fast and slow, between happy and sad, between yearning and satisfied, and Crowley (who finally seems completely at peace with the fact that, however unjustly, her stab at mainstream stardom was such a flop) places her emotions so openly on display, you can practically taste the desperation of the terrific title track, and the optimism and awe of the record’s instant classic track, “The Universe.”

In honor of this great surprise from an artist whose presence is always welcomed, follow the Buzz on a trip back to where it all began, back to the time when — save for a couple of breaks that just didn’t fall our way — Austin almost rebranded itself as the creative hub for American music that mattered. That movement would be over and done inside of one year, but damn if that year didn’t manufacture some genuinely earth-shattering aural material.


1. “Time Has Told Me” — Kelly Willis (from What I Deserve) — Kelly Willis - What I Deserve - Time Has Told Me — once again, I defer to Sherry Ann, the world’s leading Kelly-ologist, and she has named this — a gentle, bittersweet cover of an old Nick Drake tune — as her favorite Willis track. Works for me.

2. “Under the Radar” — Sister 7 (from Wrestling Over Tiny Matters) — Sister 7 - Wrestling over Tiny Matters - Under the Radar — outrageously, this band’s breakthrough second disc This the Trip (and its stupendously brilliant radio smash “Know What You Mean,” which featured sexy-to-die-for vocal work from the astonishing Patrice Pike) isn’t available on iTunes. But Sister 7 belongs on any discussion of terrific Austin music, so this — the strongest track from Trip’‘s overlooked 2000 follow-up album — will have to do in its stead.

3. “The Way” — Fastball (from All the Pain Money Can Buy) — Fastball - All the Pain Money Can Buy - The Way — a newspaper article about an elderly couple who got lost on the way to Wal-Mart and ended up driving their car over a cliff and falling to their deaths at the bottom of a ravine two states away inspires one of the coolest, most beloved one hit wonders in pop music history.

4. “Sunny Came Home” — Shawn Colvin (from A Few Small Repairs) — Shawn Colvin - A Few Small Repairs - Sunny Came Home — seven excruciating years past winning a Grammy for her well-received debut disc, Steady On, and — go figure, this — with a subversive (and eminently hummable) little ditty about a woman who burns her house down to exact revenge on an abusive husband (“‘it’s time for / a few small repairs,’ / she said….”), a local heroine — without question, one of the great songwriters of her generation — finally lands the commercial bullseye she always deserved.

5. “I’m In” — Radney Foster & Abra Moore (from See What You Want to See) — Radney Foster & Radney Foster with Abra Moore - See What You Want to See - I'm In — a plausibly sweet, shimmering duet between two of the most compellingly off-kilter voices of our time.

6. “One Big Love” — Patty Griffin (from Flaming Red) — Patty Griffin - Flaming Red - One Big Love — after introducing herself to the world with the frail, riveting open wound that was Living with Ghosts, this impossibly brilliant artist makes a breakneck bid for pop superstardom, just ‘cuz she can. Why this rollicking triumph wasn’t an instant smash in the summer of 1998, I’ll never know. Ever.

7. “Bottlecap” — Kacy Crowley (from Anchorless) — Kacy Crowley - Anchorless - Bottlecap — I could’ve filled up this entire playlist with nothing but this album’s songs (and, indeed, I briefly considered composing a double playlist, turning over the second one exclusively to Crowley). But in the end, this thrilling musical joyride perfectly sums up what I adore about this woman. Alongside the magnificently warped “Hand to Mouthville” (Kacy Crowley - Anchorless - Hand to Mouthville, just in case), this raw, raspy slice of flawless imperfection was a great debut album’s most valuable asset.



1 response to “hope is the ghost that gets me through this”

  1. the buzz from A.:

    This playlist presents a marvelous opportunity to enrich my collection with four songs: a pair of new ones and a pair which I surely should’ve gotten ages ago!

    Indeed I was surprised not to find the full-bodied (if I may use a wine metaphor) “Sunny Came Home” in my collection. Having heard it so many times while driving with Brandon, I assumed that it was there for many months! Moreover, I thought “Cinnamon Road,” which joined my collection in late 2006, surely would’ve inspired me to investigate Shawn Colvin further. Well, better late than never.

    Although Brandon and I continue to have our differences on Patty Griffin in general, “One Big Love” is one of her songs we definitely agree upon: it is just great! Just listen to it.

    Among the two new pieces is Fastball’s “The Way,” a sweet song with an easy-going melody and straightforward lyrics, a pleasure to listen to. Upon further reflection, however, it becomes immediately clear that the lyrics can be interpreted in multiple ways, well beyond the original motivation.

    Finally, after several attempts, Abra Moore joins my collection with “I’m In.” Like “The Way,” this Radney Foster and Abra Moore duet is sweet and simple, the winning line being undoubtedly “So if you need a lover and a friend, baby, I’m in.”