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San Antonio’s Monte Montgomery is a guitarist’s guitarist, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of the music on 1st and Repair (Heart Music). He brings taste, precision, economy, and a playful sense of timing to poppish songs with sturdy hooks and sings in a voice that’s equal parts grit and sunshine. And when you have his ability to make one guitar sound like two, who needs any more support than bass and drums? . . . Kim Wilson’s My Blues, one of the first releases on his own label, Blue Collar Music, is the most ripsnorting solo album of his career. Recorded “live to tape,” the set sports seamless grooves that put the emphasis on Chicago blues while also making stops in New Orleans, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. Stomping and swaying and swinging, these atmospheric blues strike much closer to the heart than the recent work of Wilson’s full-time band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. John Morthland
The Trance Syndicate label kicks off 1998 with the dynamic, mostly instrumental rock excursions of Austin’s Paul Newman (the CD is Frames Per Second, and yes, that’s really the bass player’s name) and the multilayered throttle of another Cap City combo, . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (a self-titled release; with that moniker, why not?). The cherry on top is Bedhead’s Transaction de Novo. The Dallas quintet has always put the “trance” in Trance Syndicate, but on their third and best longplayer their intricate sonic narcotics are energized with gently insistent melodies and head-wagging guitar licks. . . . The Meat Purveyors may have post-punk pedigrees, but don’t call the hot-pickin’ Austinites “y’alternative.” Sweet in the Pants (Bloodshot) is chock-full of rurally inspired music that’s speedy, sinister, and unpredictable (translation: bluegrass played with genuine skill and sincerity). Jo Walston’s vocals are hauntingly pretty, and Bill Anderson’s original songs stand proudly next to a handful of standards and an out-of-left-field cover of Glass Eye’s late-eighties track “Dempsey Nash.” Jason Cohen
Jazz history is dotted with also-rans, yet few made (or make) music with the arresting quality of Dallas-born Jimmy Giuffre. His low, sinuous lines on sax and clarinet lent an innovative voice to the fifties scene: He threw out chords and rhythm sections, though his modal approach was too understated to catch on in a time when bebop raged. The Complete Capitol and Atlantic Recordings of Jimmy Giuffre (Mosaic) has a few missteps—the entire Music Man soundtrack?—but the six-CD set is filled with hypnotic, long-unavailable early recordings of this near legend (available only by mail from Mosaic, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902; 203-327-7111). . . . Michael Fracasso has presented memorable vignettes of doubt, longing, and unabashed romanticism over the years. On World in a Drop of Water (BohemiaBeat), the transplanted Austinite eschews folkish, guy-with-a-guitar writing conventions and reinvents his seductive melodies in a panoramic setting, aided by the lush pop approach of producer Charlie Sexton. Edginess occasionally swallows the delicacy of the material, but most of the time, complex arrangements decorate the rich character of Fracasso’s voice, and it all works beautifully. Jeff Mccord
Take Sam Taylor, a proficient producer (King’s X, Third Day) and onetime protégé of ZZ Top Svengali Bill Ham, lock him in a studio with a piano, and what do you get? Compositions for the Moons of Jupiter, Volume One: Callisto (LoCo). The mostly instrumental suite strives to be as high concept as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but it is a thoroughly pleasant piece that works as foreground or background music depending on your mood: ethereal in the tradition of vintage Nick Drake, predictable in the spirit of the Windham Hill catalog. Whatever it is, it begs the question of why it took Taylor so long to step from behind the curtain and into the spotlight and state the obvious: “Sam I am.” Joe Nick Patoski
The American West has been a meaty subject for novelists—until now. Ric Lynden Hardman’s Sunshine Rider (Delacorte, $15.95), subtitled “The First Vegetarian Western,” takes aim at the carnivoracious world of the cowboy. Its narrator, Odessa boy Wylie Jackson, is an herbivore who embarks on an adventure in trail driving, horse thieving, Indian trading, and more. Hardman’s plot and dialogue are fresh and crisp, and humor lards his tale: Chapters begin with recipes both floral (Squash Blossom Pudding) and faunal (Son of a Bitch Stew). . . . A chorus of “attagirls!” for first-time novelists Chris Rogers of Houston and Debra Monroe of Wimberley. Rogers introduces Dixie Flannigan, a scrappy DA turned bounty hunter, in Bitch Factor (Bantam, $22.95), a fine debut in the classic tough-cookie mold. Monroe is an acclaimed short-story writer whose Newfangled (Simon and Schuster, $21.50) offers another likable heroine in Maidie Bonasso, whose work at a fusty museum of homemaking history parallels the domestic dramas of her own past. . . . Texana tip: Bolster your bookshelf with The Alamo: An Illustrated History (Aldine Press, $19.95). George Nelson spent thirty years researching pictorial representations of the building (not the battle), from a 1730 Spanish map detail to a 1997 aerial photo. Anne Dingus