My SXSW 2008 Top Artists

SXSW has always seemed to be a place to find cool, new upcoming artists, so when I noticed that the 2008 showcase was available on BitTorrent, I downloaded it – all 3.5 GB.

Yep, 764 artists.

It’s taken me a while to get through it all, even with my “If it doesn’t sound promising in 10 seconds, delete it” rule. But after countless listens, callbacks and consultations with Simon, Paula and Randy (Paula was pretty incoherent most of the time), I’ve narrowed it down to 18 artists. Here are the first six to watch (the others will be published in subsequent days):

  1. AJ Croce (“One And Only”) – The son of the late singer-songwriter Jim Croce has big footsteps to fill, but he’s been churning out albums since 1993. He’s hard to categorize – his albums have spanned such genres as jazz, Americana and blues. This song, from his latest album, Cantos, seems to span all those genres while still giving a nod to his father.
  2. Birds of Wales (“Cinderella (Has Nothing On You)”) – This Toronto-based band has evoked comparisons to Belle & Sebastian and even Coldplay, but I’m getting a Dream Academy (“Life in a Northern Town”) vibe from them. In the same realm as Belle & Sebastian, this song is acoustic-based but overproduced so that it sounds more chamber-pop.
  3. Blue Rodeo & Friends (“This Town”) – Oh, no, it’s another piano-based male balladeer, you think at the opening chords. But it’s a Canadian country-rock band that’s been playing together for the past 25 years. Probably one of my favorites.
  4. Clare & the Reasons (“Pluto”) – It’s the first ode to a planet – er, dwarf planet that I’ve ever heard, and it’s charming. Plucked strings provide the accompaniment for Clare Muldaur and her band, which sing in perfect multi-part harmony.
  5. Doug Walker (“Obstacles (Demo)”) – Okay, so this is another piano-based male balladeer. But he’s from Manchester, England, and counts ELO and Jeff Buckley among his influences. “Obstacles” is less pretentious than, James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” without being boring.
  6. Glen Reynolds (“Wonderland”) – “Wonderland” starts out sounding like early Radiohead, and the course is vaguely reminiscent of something I heard on “Dawson’s Creek” or “The O.C.” But it’s catchy nonetheless, and relatively harmless.

The second six debuts tomorrow…

Part 2