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Jon Dee Graham is a journeyman whose frontman role has eclipsed his hired guitarslinger reputation. The Quemado native’s second solo CD, Summerland (New West), features his gritty, growling rasp and his incisive, somewhat pensive musings, which approach a kind of brilliance on “At the Dance,” a moody slice of South Texas that pays tribute to borderland music legends, and “Look Up,” a duet with Patty Griffin. The imagery he evokes on both is so vivid you can practically see the white heat shimmering above the horizon. JOE NICK PATOSKI

Stephen Bruton proves a most unusual kind of guitar hero on Nothing but the Truth (New West). The Austin–via–Fort Worth axman has chops galore, but he uses them sparingly: Though songs are usually built around his guitar, it serves them, not vice versa. There’s showy stuff beneath the surface of the arrangements, but the surface itself is serene. And he manages to forge a credible persona—self-effacing and tender but resilient—out of a voice that was never meant to sing lead. . . . The Last Soul Company (Malaco) is an ironic title for the six-CD box set celebrating thirty years of Jackson, Mississippi’s, Malaco Records. When East Texan Z. Z. Hill signed with Malaco in 1981, his sales bailed out the funky label financially, and his Down Home Blues sent it down bluesier paths. Black Texas icons like Bobby “Blue” Bland and Johnnie Taylor brought soulful blues and bluesy soul, respectively. These big guns each have several cuts, but the surprise is the obscure West Texas duo Betty and Charles, whose churchy, electrifying “Can’t Find Love” comes from the label’s earliest days. JOHN MORTHLAND

Practiced in the kinetic melodicism of bebop, Fairfield-born trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s subdued demeanor earned him little more than a foot in the door of the house of jazz heavyweights. Yet the road from Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Fats Navarro leads right to Dorham, who in many ways embodied the finest attributes of all these giants. On Blues in Bebop (Savoy), a scattershot assemblage of early Dorham recordings, you can almost hear him soaking it all up from the likes of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker. Notes sharpen, phrases tighten, and lines flow deep into chord changes with increasing confidence. . . . Like all good students, Austin’s Plum stayed home after school to do its pop homework. The band’s third album, Trespassing (Carpe Diem), is a muscular textbook reading, full of sharp twists and sonic delights; its best moments evoke a timeless Top Forty magic. Yet creating pop music is akin to following a treasure map. Make all the right turns and you’ll be rewarded; one false move and you get zip. When Plum can’t seem to find its way out of its own traps, the overpolished surfaces have little to reflect. JEFF MCCORD

Formerly the best little band in Phoenix, the Meat Puppets are a Texas concern now that leader Curt Kirkwood (who was born in Amarillo) has reassembled the group in Austin. But recalling days past is Live in Montana (Rykodisc), a loose 1988 document of the trio’s patented aural wanderlust. It features lazy grooves and whimsical noise that combine jazzy stoner jamming and deep-fried twang with primal punk aggressiveness. . . . Brompton’s Cocktail (Robbins Entertainment), the second album from Austin’s Meg Hentges, teams the former Two Nice Girl and bassist-songwriter Jude with Adam Schlesinger (leader of Ivy and Fountains of Wayne and writer of “That Thing You Do!”). It’s a taut, smartly observed pop concoction of straightforward melodies, skewed guitars, and oddball new-wave keyboards. Hentges’ warmly laconic lyrics and understated vocals are the straws that stir the drink. JASON COHEN

Hot Books

Since the eighties, Dallas’ Deep Ellum has earned the reputation as a magnet for alternative music, artists in lofts, and weekend party people on a bender. But long before that, it functioned as the Main Street of black Texas and a hotbed of nightlife that rivaled Memphis’ Beale Street and New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. That glorious period is chronicled lovingly in Alan B. Govenar and Jay F. Brakefield’s Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged (UNT Press, $29.95), a thorough work accompanied by extensive oral history, great photographs, and a selected discography. JOE NICK PATOSKI

Veteran newsman Howard Swindle has penned three true-crime books; now he’s tackled his first novel, Jitter Joint (St. Martin’s Press, $21.95). His “agonist” is Jeb Quinlin, a Dallas police detective and chronic alcoholic who’s just entered rehab. Naturally, the strays in his therapy group start turning up dead. Swindle’s style is brisk, confident, and funny: About a hangover, he writes, “The early morning sun slammed him in the face like an iron skillet . . . he felt the lasers of pain all the way to the back of his skull, which he suspected was lined with aluminum foil.” Now there’s a description we can all relate to. . . . Illustrator Keith Graves of Leander, a longtime Texas Monthly contributor, has just published his first children’s book, Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance (Chronicle Books, $12.95). The wacky pix might be a bit scary for wee ones, but older kids will find it monstrously fun. ANNE DINGUS

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