2011’s Under the Radar Records

Juli Thanki | December 20th, 2011

Even the most dedicated music listener can miss a few albums. Here are ten up-and-coming artists whose albums may have slipped beneath your radar this past year.


This acoustic string band out of Austin starts Road From Home off right, with murder ballad “Dry Creek Inn.” Many of the tracks on their debut studio album are jazz-influenced instrumentals, like “Changa Chang,” that show off the band’s insane picking prowess (before they were a band, the individual MilkDrive members toured with acts like Asleep at the Wheel, Bruce Robison, and Jason Boland & The Stragglers). Fans of David Grisman and The Infamous Stringdusters should give these guys a listen, and if they ever come to your town, it’s a show you won’t want to miss.




bonniewhitmoreBonnie Whitmore

If Kathleen Edwards were a Texan, she might sound a whole lot like Bonnie Whitmore, whose Embers to Ashes is a must-listen for fans of Edwards and the Pistol Annies. Don’t be fooled by sweetly sung ballads like “Cowboy Lullaby,” though: this album has a body count. One unlucky guy winds up on the wrong end of a knife that slipped, while on the roots rock title track, Whitmore matter of factly sings about burning a cheating ex alive.




dirtdaubersThe Dirt Daubers

The oldtime-influenced trio, led by husband and wife team J.D. (of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers) and Jessica Wilkes, delivers high octane versions of standards like “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Say, Darlin’, Say” along with a number of footstomping, fire-and-brimstone originals on their album, Wake Up, Sinners!




brianwrightBrian Wright

Wright, a troubadour whose songs recall Townes Van Zandt, has delivered some of the best songwriting you’ll hear all year on his third album House on Fire (technically HoF was first self-released in 2010, but Sugar Hill picked it up this year for national distribution). Wright played every instrument on every song on this album, from the roots rock “Striking Matches” to the sparse closer, “Friend.” There isn’t a bum song on the record, but if there’s one you definitely need to listen to, it’s the Guy Clarkesque “Maria Sugarcane.”




tejasbrothersTejas Brothers

The Fort Worth quartet’s sophomore album Rich Man is bursting at the seams with highly danceable Tejano-country tunes that’ll appeal to anyone who digs The Mavericks. Frontman Dave Perez mans the accordion and has a voice reminiscent of former Derailers singer Tony Villanueva.




cajuncountryJesse Lége, Joel Savoy & The Cajun Country Revival

I have no clue what these guys are singing about most of the time on The Right Combination, but it sure sounds good. Accordion master and Cajun Music Hall of Famer Lége, fiddle whiz Joel Savoy and the always excellent Foghorn Trio (Caleb Klauder, Nadine Landry, and Sammy Lind), make a stellar band that sounds as though they just stepped out of a Louisiana dancehall.




1978 decemberSonia Leigh

“My Name is Money” didn’t crack the Top 40, but don’t let that dissuade you from giving album 1978 December (released on Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label) a listen. The raspy-voiced Leigh covers a fair amount of stylistic ground on this album, from the catchy alt-country of “Ain’t Dead Yet” to the beachy, reggae-lite song  “Roaming,” a solid duet which features Zac Brown.




zoemuthZoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers

This Seattle country singer’s second album, Starlight Hotel, should be on everyone’s wish list this holiday season. Full of deliciously sad songs and pedal steel, it’s an album that brings to mind early releases from Laura Cantrell. Muth is a songwriting talent to keep an eye on, especially considering the record’s standout track, where she asks the all-important question about a suitor’s dubious jukebox tastes: “If I Can’t Trust You with a Quarter (How Can I Trust You with My Heart?)”


  1. Blake Boldt
    December 20, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Bonnie Whitmore FTW.

  2. Ben Foster
    December 20, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Love Sonia Leigh and Zoe Muth! I will check out the others and hopefully fall in love with them as well ;)

  3. SamB
    December 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Oh noooo, more albums to check out! I’m never ever going to finish my albums of the year list!

  4. Leeann Ward
    December 21, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I’m excited to check out these albums. I love the Zoe Muth album and enjoyed her show that I saw last summer.

  5. Kim Grant
    December 22, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Brian Wright is insanely good.

  6. Rick
    December 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live performances from Zoe Muth and Sonia Leigh in 2011, and Bonnie Whitmore acting as a duet partner with Hayes Carll back in 2010. All three shows were very enjoyable and highly recommended!

    I love most of the debut self titled album from the Tejas Brothers, but the tracks I’ve listened to off of “Rich Man” just don’t have the same appeal. Oh well…

    Definitely a good list. I’ll have to give a listen to the artists included I’m not familiar with. Since Kim Grant is a big Brian Wright fan, maybe I can score a free CD off her when the free Grand Ole Echo Sunday afternoon Americana concert series starts up again in April! WooHoo! (lol)

  7. Carrie
    December 24, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Bonnie Whitmore provided supporting vocals for Hayes Carll when he opened for Dierks Bentley’s Up on the Ridge tour. Great, great vocals. Glad to know she’s got a record – I’ll definitely be checking it out.

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