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Ballad of a Boy

Baylor-bound teen musician Thomas Csorba’s old soul informs his evocative new folk record.

Houston folk singer Thomas Csorba, 18, marks the start of his freshman year at Baylor University with the release of his sophomore record.

Handsome folk and Americana singer-songwriter Thomas Csorba may have only just turned 18, but he’s been impressing fans since he released his first record a little over a year ago, while only a junior in high school. And now that the Memorial High grad—off to Baylor this month—has dropped a second album, Hard Truths and Noble Lies, he may be ready for a fan club.

Csorba grew up listening to the folk greats. So it’s no surprise that his new four-track EP has a rustic, clearly Dylan-esque charm to it, with overlays of classic country. There’s a sort of mournful sweetness in his sound—refreshing to find in an artist so young. Although he only started strumming a guitar a few years ago, he’s already cultivated an evocative, retro-informed sound.

“I picked up a guitar for the first time about four years ago,” he says, “and very quickly realized that I had a heart for songwriting.” After he played at church, a youth pastor recognized his talent and encouraged him to start practicing his instrument and writing music daily. The result was something close to spiritual. “A lot of what I write about is about personal experiences, and it’s a good way to process things that are going on in my life.”

His songs stretch into territory patently beyond his years, as in his plaintive, boozy ode, “Whiskey,” whose lyrics trace universal yearnings. We’ve all got troubles / We’ve got things / We need to lose / We can’t seem to find a thing / To take away our blues.

Another new song, “I Never Knew You,” chronicles the young singer’s relationship with his faith and whether he’s leading his burgeoning adult life right. “I was a little weary to put it on the record, because it’s so heavy and was such a topic of internal struggle, but it’s something that most people want to hear. [Music] helps us connect in a way we wouldn’t be able to connect otherwise.”

The artist recorded both of his EPs at Austin’s Rattletrap Audio with the help of veteran musician and producer Brain Douglas Phillips, who has since become a friend and mentor, guiding Csorba through the recording process. By his second stint in the studio, he’d overcome his initial nerves. He could focus more on what he wanted the album to sound and feel like, and less on the mechanics.

Still, he’s most at home performing live—and he’s played in quite a few cities on the Texas circuit, including a recent sold-out show at Fitzgerald’s in which he shared the stage with Austin’s popular folk foursome, The Friendly Savages, an experience he describes as surreal.

As his freshman classes begin, Csorba plans to focus on his studies, with academic success a high goal. Such business-like intent is unsurprising, given his major—entrepreneurship. But he’ll still perform in the area, hoping to grow his fan base in Waco; and he’ll play gigs at favorite Houston venues during the holidays. And, in the true style of the free-spirited folk poets he fashions his art after, he’s happy to let fate decide whether his career lies in the biz world or onstage.

“As long as I’m creating something that is honest to who I am and what I believe, I will be happy,” he says. “Music is something I will always be doing, whether or not it’s in front of 30 people, or 3,000.”