Killer or Filler?
Among the relatively new releases with roots in the 817, the ones by Jessie Frye, Royal South and company, and Tripp Mathis have a lot of history behind them. Each artist has been on the scene for nearly a decade, Frye when she was just a precocious teenager. Though putting out music may be easier than ever, creating music is still as challenging (and fun) as it’s ever been. Hats off to these folks for keepin’ on. –– Anthony Mariani
Obsidian, Jessie Frye
Native Arlingtonian singer-songwriter Jessie Frye has been recording and performing in and around Denton for at least six years now, but her first full-length album, Obsidian, is also her first recording to garner favorable notice from national platforms like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The sultry Frye, who’s also an accomplished pianist, is being marketed as a sort of power-pop cross between Alanis Morissette and the Dallas-raised St. Vincent: a brooding, slightly angry diarist of the dark side of romantic passion. Though ultimately overproduced and a bit too sonically predictable, Obsidian makes a strong case for Frye as a thoughtful, articulate composer and a singer of powerful emotional nuances.
“Never Been to Paris” opens the album with thundering martial beats and dark clouds of synth as Frye dreams of “calla lilies” and “kisses like chardonnay” but ultimately succumbs to raw romantic obsession. “White Heat” is a milder pop excursion with a dance-friendly beatbox rhythm and sparkly keyboards that invokes the shiny happy Britpop of the ’80s. Arguably the album’s best tune, “Shape of a Boy” slows down, brings the drums to the fore of the mix, and impels Frye to sing in a breathy lower register about how “danger comes in the shape of a boy.” The dirge-like “Teenage Luck” is a piano-heavy meditation about making the slow return from heartbreak.
Frye possesses some potent vocal chops that she knows how to underplay, extending notes and cutting them short to wring every drop of pain from a lyric. If only Obsidian’s co-producers, Matt Aslanian and Jordan Martin, had shown as much restraint with its arrangements and studio gimmickry.
Frye performs a free show Wednesday night in Dallas at Gas Monkey Bar N Grill (10261 Technology Blvd., 214-350-1904). –– Jimmy Fowler
I Love Fort Worth, various artists
Rapper turned entrepreneur Royal South, a.k.a. Edgar Romero, is blurring the lines between the merchandise and music industries with his new album. Released by his clothing line, ILoveMyCityClothing.com, I Love Fort Worth features 28 tracks by several notable North Texas rappers.
The album is interspersed with short promo blurbs by native Fort Worthian and K104 DJ Kiki J, giving I Love Fort Worth a radio broadcast feel. One of the more Fort Worth-centric songs is “817 ’til I Die,” featuring D.Rich, Osama the Great, and Smoothvega. Hi-pitched synth arpeggios and a torrent of kick beats give the track an urgency that’s matched by the menacing lyrics. If you think the line “welcome to Funkytown!” is anything but a threat, then the numerous references to pistols should clear things up.
The title track, a collaboration among Royal South, Hustle Man Hefner, Smoothvega, Itz Gibbz, Lou Charle$, Renizance, and Dreamer Daze, released as a single last September along with a video directed by Juan Salas, features low minor-keyed synth lines that churn and hum ominously. Each rapper recounts a personal story of overcoming adversity, leading to the melodic chorus that’s a call for unity among Fort Worth’s, north, south, east, and west sides. –– Edward Brown
Tripp Mathis & The Traitors
If there’s one thing Fort Worth has in spades, it’s rootsy, gravely voiced singer-songwriters contemplating the anxieties of life, love, and intoxicants over acoustic guitar, and the eponymous debut of Tripp Mathis & The Traitors adds to the good company. Longtime sideman-cum-solo artist Travis “Tripp” Mathis’ new band, The Traitors, cranks up the volume just enough to give his acoustic strumming the kind of country-rock heft that tends to thunder out of festival PA’s to legions of people who sing along to Pat Green (or Casey Donahew, anyway). This is not to say Mathis has made your typical Red Dirt retread, but his songwriting leans toward laid-back country pickin’. And when you hear a song about Fort Worth (mentioning the late, great Black Dog Tavern, in fact) that transitions into another song, one that pits banjo plinking with some super Allman Brothers-ish leads, it’s hard not to peg this stuff as country rock. Or at least Americana.
“Americana” is no knock either, because a good hook is a good hook no matter what the idiom, and Tripp knows his way around a sticky chorus –– his band matches his soulful rasp without overstepping its bounds. Overall, it’s a great entry into the Fort Worth songwriter arena, a mix of country and bluesy rock, the kind of thing you’d want to hear on a Johnson Country road or the juke in a Denton County dive. –– Steve Steward