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Miss Lavelle White’s It Haven’t Been Easy (Antone’s/Discovery) is essentially a primer on modern blues. Houston-bred and currently Austin-based, White is equally comfortable with a soul ballad like the title song, an up-tempo scorcher like “Can’t Take It (I Don’t Give a Damn),” the self-explanatory “Wootie Boogie,” or a jazzy late-night soother like “Lay Down Beside Me.” As produced by Austin guitarist Derek O’Brien, the set sports the kind of brassy Duke Peacock Records arrangements that put Houston on the blues map to begin with. JOHN MORTHLAND
Does the world need Guy Forsyth’s country-blues version of “Delirious”? Maybe not, but it’s on Do Me Baby: Austin Does Prince (Fume), along with Missile Command’s hardcore “Manic Monday” and Kris McKay’s blandly adult-alternative “When Doves Cry.” This tribute record is supposed to celebrate Prince’s unparalleled talent, and it does—but it also shows how tough it is to reimagine genius. Some tracks are simply execrable, and the most adventurous ones aren’t necessarily the most successful. Michele Solberg gets big points, though, for her dreamily elastic makeover of the sappy “Sometimes It Snows in April.” JASON COHEN
You’ve probably read about Big Bend as a geologist’s playground and the land of the desploblado, but until John Jameson’s The Story of Big Bend National Park (University of Texas Press, $12.95), precious little was known about its modern history. Jameson explains why Big Bend was designated a park by the federal government back in 1944 (it was an early nod by the state’s economic interests to eco-tourism) and tells the tales of every significant thing that has happened there since.
The Stevie Ray Vaughan Anthology, self-published by SRV Fan Club president C. Lee Hopkins, (P. O. Box 800353, Dallas 75380), is essential reading for anyone interested in Texas’ last great blues guitarist. Chock-full of interviews with musicians who played with him (including B. B. King), letters from his fans, a sight-seeing map of his Texas (with addresses of his childhood home in Oak Cliff and Sam’s Bar-B-Cue, his favorite Austin eatery), and a complete discography, it’s easily the most comprehensive work on the subject to date. JOE NICK PATOSKI
Houstonians can endure all forms of heat, flood, and pestilence a lot easier than the smallest traffic snafu, so it’s logical that repair work on the Pierce Elevated—the major north-south artery across downtown—has generated malaise on a massive scale. The northbound lanes have been closed since December and won’t reopen until late February; then the southbound lanes shut down. Either way, the locals lose: Friendships and business relationships are being sorely tested. Acknowledging stoplights and mastering surface streets have never been a favored pastime here. MIMI SWARTZ
While it struggles to compete in Texas’ crowded craft-beer market, Waco’s year-old Bosque Brewing Company is finding sweet success making an old-school soft drink. Loaded with Texas cane sugar and heady with cloves and vanilla, Bosque Root Beer is the thick, full-flavored stuff your parents remember. Brewmaster Kendall Garrison launched the sideline three months ago after making an experimental batch for his young sons; already, skyrocketing sales—in bottles and on tap—account for 40 percent of the company’s revenue. “We’re still amazed,” he says, “but there are worse ways to make beer money.” PABLEAUX JOHNSON
At Home on the Range: Jewish Life in Texas, the first installment in a nine-part PBS series on Jewish life in America, is a welcome addition to the small but growing history of Jewish life here. Focusing on smaller towns across the state, the film depicts the tenacity of faith and culture in a world without temples, Torahs, or even many Jews to speak of—one that pitted Friday night services against Friday night football. “They tried to convert me in a nice, friendly way,” one West Texas Jew remarks, showing in his sturdy grin how thousands of Jews managed to mix and maintain their identities at the same time. Check local listings for air dates and times. MIMI SWARTZ
Here’s one gustibus there’s no disputing: Dallas’ Fairmont Hotel has staged a culinary coup. Throughout 1997 its tony Pyramid Room will import four renowned European chefs to cook for a week each. Arriving in February, the first of the guests—all of whom have two or three stars in the Michelin restaurant guide—will be Gérard Vié of Les Trois Marches in Versailles. Anyone for venison pâté, roasted veal chop with crisp-sautéed foie gras, and cardamom ice cream? At $95 a person including wine, it’s a steal. PATRICIA SHARPE
Katy native Renée Zellweger nearly stole Jerry Maguire from Tom Cruise; now she walks away with The Whole Wide World. In this debut effort from director Dan Ireland, Zellweger delivers a brilliantly big-hearted performance as Novalyne Price, a Texas schoolteacher whose great love was Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard, played here by Vincent D’Onofrio. The film, based on Price’s memoirs, is a sharply observed romantic tearjerker, with Hill Country scenery standing in beautifully (if inaccurately) for Abilene and Brownwood. JASON COHEN