CD and Book Reviews

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Steve Earle

Steve Earle ’s The Mountain (E-Squared) is a set of bluegrass originals that joins the San Antonio-bred bad boy with pickin’-and-a-grinnin’ veterans the Del McCoury Band. Earle’s liner notes pay tribute to Bill Monroe and express the hope that at least one of his songs might achieve immortality as a festival standard. Ultimately, however, this loving genre exercise feels forced. The playing is impeccable and the songs are suitably dolorous, but the record never achieves the sweaty freedom and unvarnished intimacy of Earle’s best work. JASON COHEN


The Damnations TX

The drug-ravaged decline of Austin’s psychedelic pioneer Roky Erickson remains a true rock and roll tragedy. A stint at Rusk State Hospital for a 1968 pot bust seemed to change the former 13th Floor Elevator irrevocably; Erickson declared himself a Martian and began releasing violent horror-inspired ghoulishness. Yet Never Say Goodbye (Emperor Jones), crudely recorded, previously unreleased material made primarily while at Rusk and shortly thereafter, provides a different glimpse of his enigmatic talent. Upbeat and tuneful, the songs are laden with hope and heart, and stripped bare, Erickson’s remarkable voice betrays poignant raw emotion… . Since their live radio release, sisters Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly have added a suffix to their name and a taut pop bite to their sinewy harmonies. The Damnations TX’s major-label debut, Half Mad Moon (Sire), uses country tradition as a launching point but hits targets all over the musical map. From raucous to grievous, this Austin band’s fresh approach hurdles reverence in favor of finding its own way, forging a path you’d be hard-pressed not to follow. JEFF MCCORD

Dallas pianist Red Garland was best known as a sideman to John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Critics thought he lacked substance as a leader, but you can’t tell why from the live 1978 set I Left My Heart in San Francisco (32 Jazz). Displaying what fellow pianist Jaki Byard called “his ability to make the piano sing,” Garland sinks on Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” and soars on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” with snaky alto saxophonist Leo Wright augmenting the trio on three songs… . Nostalgic for the swing era not because of some mindless retro trendiness but because that was your heyday? Then The Nash Hernandez Orchestra (Nacho), directed by the late Austin bandleader’s son Ruben, may be just the ticket. This frothy, twelve-piece orquesta swings smoothly and melodically through a pair of Ellington tunes (“Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”), standards (“Stardust”), Latino favorites (Perez Prado’s “Que Rico el Mambo”), and more. JOHN MORTHLAND


Knife in the Water

Laura Krause’s organ is the secret weapon for Austin’s Knife in the Water . On Knife in the Water Plays One Sound and Others (self-released) her hovering chords envelop slo-core tracks like “One Sound” in a stirringly funereal pallor. But when things get countrified—on the surefire hit “I Sent You Up” or the heartbreaking “Seat of Pity”—the keyboards drop out and the strains of Bill McCullough’s pedal steel match every ache and swoon in frontman Aaron Blount’s voice… . If you’re already missing King Coffey ’s Trance Syndicate label, Schrasj—a trio of Rice grads—will provide your post-rock fix. On f (ojet), all the ingredients that have made Chicago’s Tortoise one of the most popular touring bands on the club circuit are here: oddly chorded bass runs mixed way up front, guitar playing that is adamantly anti-virtuosic, and a drummer who calmly slaps and shuffles his way around the beat. These days a lot of this stuff is floating around indie-land, but little of it is as good as this. JEFF SALAMON

Note to Dale Watson and other aspiring country-and-western neo-traditionalists: Hightail it over to the Stage Coach Ballroom in Fort Worth and study Chuck Smith and the Funchess Brothers Band . The Lubbock native knows the ways of both the honk and the tonk, so he doesn’t need a Nudie suit to convince a stranger he’s for real. On Cast-Iron Daddy (self-released), you hear an untrained voice well oiled by too many nights in a beer joint wrapping itself around original tunes like “Disappearing Husbands” and “Smart, Drunk, & Unhappy,” all supported by a swinging complement of fiddles, guitars, piano, and pedal steel. JOE NICK PATOSKI

Hot Books

Quoth the reviewer: “Read Nevermore.” In his new novel (Pocket Books, $23), Harold Schechter has created the most far-fetched of detective duos: Davy Crockett and Edgar Allan Poe, who investigate a series of savage mutilation murders in Baltimore in the 1830’s. Poe narrates the escapade with an overwrought breathlessness that contrasts effectively with Crockett’s backwoods bellowings. And fans of the father of macabre literature will enjoy Schechter’s many allusions to and borrowings from Poe’s horror classics.


Knife in the Water

… In The Mother-in-Law Diaries (Algonquin Books, $19.95), Carol Dawson creates the most memorable Texas mama since Larry McMurtry’s Aurora Greenway. Lulu Penfield, stunned by news of a son’s sudden marriage, reviews her own ill-fated unions and the mas-in-law they thrust upon her—housekeeper supreme, cold bitch, dysfunctional wacko. Thanks to Dawson’s nonpareil style, T he Mother-in-Law Diaries is a lulu too. ANNE DINGUS

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