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10 hot Austin music acts looking to break big this year

singer Elizabeth McQueen of Asleep at the Wheel
Elizabeth McQueen Photo courtesy of Juice Consulting
Orthy Austin Band
Orthy Photo by Orthy/ Facebook
Slick Talk single
Slick Talk Slick Talk/Facebook
Austin Photo: PhotoEssay_Utopiafest_JitterbugVipers
Jitterbug Vipers Photo by: Mary Rose Wiley
Amy Edwards
Amy Edwards Amy Edwards/Facebook
KGSR Blues on the Green in Austin 5937
Shakey Graves Photo by Jon Shapley
Latasha Lee & the Black Ties
Latasha Lee & the Black Ties Latasha Lee/Facebook
Topaz & the Golden Dawn Arkestra
Topaz & the Golden Dawn Arkestra Topaz & The Golden Dawn Arkestra/Facebook
singer Elizabeth McQueen of Asleep at the Wheel
Orthy Austin Band
Slick Talk single
Gina Chavez on the cover of her new album UP.ROOTED
austin event wheeler brothers
Austin Photo: PhotoEssay_Utopiafest_JitterbugVipers
Amy Edwards
KGSR Blues on the Green in Austin 5937
Latasha Lee & the Black Ties
Topaz & the Golden Dawn Arkestra

Austin is positively bursting at the seams with creative talent. As the rest of the musical world organizes SXSW showcases and speculates about the next international star to surprise us with a visit, those hometown heroes are busting tail to build a little momentum. With 2014 in full swing, Culture Map Austin is spotlighting 10 local luminaries planning big things for the year ahead.

1. Elizabeth McQueen

Eight years after joining Texas swing kingpins Asleep at the Wheel, Elizabeth McQueen has finally decided to go her own solo way again. It was an amicable split, of course. McQueen and husband Dave Sanger, who’s still a spoke in the vaunted Wheel, are now focused on their two young children — and McQueen’s burgeoning solo career. Earlier this month, she released her The Laziest Remix EP, featuring noise-rock, hip-hop and R&B-influenced tracks from 2011’s The Laziest Girl in Town, re-recorded with St. Louis avant-soul band Brother Lazaroff. McQueen is anchoring Sundays January 19-February 9 at the Austin Artist Series, hosted by St. David’s Church on East Eighth Street.

2. Orthy

Local electro-pop standout Ian Orth started Orthy on accident, turning the snippets of house edits he made for his local Learning Secrets dance parties into something lush, breathtaking and downright original. Channeling elements of ‘60s pop, techno and New Wave, Orthy’s newest EP, E.M.I.L.Y., comes out next week on NYC boutique label Dither Down and pays tribute to the love and support Ian has received from his wife, Emily. Listen to spotlight tracks “Night Touch” and “E.M.I.L.Y.” on a bright, sunny day like Austin has enjoyed recently, and you’ll be in heaven.

3. Slick Talk

By now, everyone knows that no one does streetwise Austin hip-hop better than League of Extraordinary Gz. The collective’s 2013 full-length, #LeagueShit blew minds thanks to chopped and screwed, Texas-style beats, gritty rhymes and a no-holds-barred, party-starting vibe that harks back to our fair metropolis’ OG down-and-dirty vibe. Now, LoEGz big dog Slick Talk has dropped a Southside-upping single, “That Lower,” that combines tongue-twisting rhymes about Dove Springs and the Meadowbrooks projects with dreamy space-funk beats from producer Eric Dingus. Look for a collaborative EP from the two local fixtures to drop on February 18.  

4. Gina Chavez

If anybody in Austin is mixing cumbia, bossa nova, reggaeton and old-school Latin pop to better effect than Gina Chavez, we’d love to know about it. This Austin Music Awards winner recently returned from eight months of mission work in Central America to write an irresistible album detailing the experiences of ethnically diverse women making their way in the 21st century. Best of all, the upcoming release of UP.ROOTED, to be celebrated February 15 at Stateside at The Paramount, will benefit the Niña Arriba College Fund, founded by Chavez to support impoverished young women in El Salvador.

5. Wheeler Brothers

This Austin quartet — yes, three of them are actually brothers — recently got a big boost from Paste Magazine, which filmed a stripped-down version of uplifting single “My Time” at the Newport Folk Festival last fall and released it at the beginning of January. The Wheeler Brothers mix folk, bluegrass, rockabilly, and other rootsy strains of pure Americana into a potent, bittersweet blend that rivals the chart-topping artistry of The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. And with their first studio-produced album, Gold Boots Glitter, circulating out in the great big world, The Wheeler Brothers might just make that jump in 2014.

6. Jitterbug Vipers

If any contemporary band can place a legitimate claim on actually keeping Austin weird, it’s Jitterbug Vipers. Part 1930s jump blues outfit, part smoky lounge act, part self-described “swingadelic viper jazz” band, this raucous quartet lives and dies on the sultry, Billie Holiday-esque allure of frontwoman Sarah Sharp, the slinky six-string genius of septuagenarian guitarist Slim Richey, the slap bass power of Francie Meaux Jeaux and the crisp drumming of Masumi Jones. If you like your retro music druggy, dignified and fire-breathing, you’ll find no savior stronger than Jitterbug Vipers.

7. Amy Edwards

Looking for a life-affirming, hard-rocking musician to prove anything in life is possible? Look no further than Amy Edwards, who didn’t pick up a guitar or sing a note until age 38, when she and some friends started The Cover Girls. Now, three years later, Edwards is living a lifelong dream: writing and performing her own alt-pop gems for increasingly adoring crowds — including her two young daughters and supportive husband. Edwards isn’t breaking down any genre barriers with her straightforward tunes, but with her upcoming EP, Ghosts and Saints, she’s proving that anyone can reinvent themselves at any time.

8. Shakey Graves

One-man bands are always hit-or-miss propositions, but Alejandro Rose-Garcia transcends any stereotypes with his primitive folk approach. Intentionally or not, Shakey Graves recalls ultimate Austin solo act Scott H. Biram. But the power of one man, one resonator guitar, one tambourine and one suitcase-enclosed bass drum combining to produce howling, soul-stirring blues can never be underestimated. Rose-Garcia heads out in support of husband-and-wife sloppy-tonk heroes Shovels & Rope again this winter, before packing his summer itinerary full of big-ticket festivals. Pay attention, world: Shakey Graves is rising up from the dead.

9. Latasha Lee & The Blackties

If there’s one characteristic tying this entire list together, it’s authenticity. And Corpus Christi native Latasha Lee has it in every molecule of her body. Cutting her teeth in the old-school soul mold of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Etta James, Lee has also sprinkled hip-hop and R&B into her contemporary sound. With The Blackties laying down an impeccable groove behind her and acclaimed producer Salih Williams polishing the package to perfection, Lee has all the right stuff to cross over to a mainstream audience à la Lauryn Hill or Alicia Keys — while also standing toe to toe with such soul veterans as Sharon Jones.

10. Topaz & The Golden Dawn Arkestra

Calling all intergalactic Afro-jazz cosmonauts and deep funk aficionados: Topaz & The Golden Dawn Arkestra have touched down in Austin and resuscitated the far-out religion of the one and only Sun Ra. Composed of between eight and 12 area musicians and dancers rocking crazy costumes and whipping unsuspecting crowds into funkadelic frenzies, The Golden Dawn Arkestra may never sign a major-label record deal or attract audiences beyond Austin. But the world could end in 2014 — and there would be no better way to go than getting down with the offbeat sounds of this trippy, transcendent collective.

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