CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

Coming Home , the debut release from Paula Nelson (Luck Records), one of Willie’s daughters, proves that the 29-year-old shares at least one thing with her father: the ability to say so much with so few words. This contemporary singer-songwriter’s CD, which deftly weaves a “chamber pop” ensemble around torchy, sinuous vocals and confessional lyrics, will appeal mainly to the already converted. But even if Paula is still finding her voice, her promise is undeniable.…Nobody has come up with a more original or more infectious take on Western swing than the progressive traditionalists of Cowboys and Indians . A Big Night in Cowtown (Cowboys and Indians), the Dallas sextet’s second release, jumps and jives and swings and sashays, thanks to singer-songwriter Erik Swanson’s fusion of Bob Wills and Cab Calloway, Billy King’s versatile guitar, the sassy horns of Jim Lehnert and Brandon Lusk, and the loosey-goosey rhythm section of Larry Reed and Geoff Vinton. Like Wills, they’re Texocentric, aggressive, lighthearted, and blue. JOHN MORTHLAND

Austin’s Vallejo makes the sort of grooving noise that gets little critical notice but lots of radio play and fan support. The band’s second album, Beautiful Life (TVT Records), is a polished and amiable but mostly nondescript blend of hard rock hooks and funky jamming, heavily seasoned with Latin touches and a hippie-meets-hip-hop vibe (DJ Hurricane, of Beastie Boys fame, mixed four tracks). One-hit-wonder status could be just around the corner.… Enduro is as fast, cheap, and out of control as the next band, but on Half Rack of Sugar (the Self-Starter Foundation), the Austin trio’s first CD, there are loads of soul, dynamism, and lyrical content (genuine albeit indecipherable) to go with the blues-groove stomping. So savage is this rock and roll beast that you would never suspect that two thirds of them went to the school-of-the-moment, Brown University—though they are also so culturally self-reflexive and musically ecumenical it makes perfect sense that they did. JASON COHEN

Beaver Nelson first emerged from the Austin scene as a lauded, wise-beyond-his-teenage-years songwriter with major labels sniffing at his heels. Nearly a decade later comes his debut—for a local imprint. What happened in between is a tale that has left its share of scars. Yet despite its fatalistic title, The Last Hurrah (Freedom) proves that all the superlatives once heaped on Nelson still apply. Memorable originals populate the dozen offerings, played with skill by the city’s finest but recorded in a plain-Jane fashion that unfortunately may not gain much national attention.…It’s May 1966, and enjoying the best view of rock and roll history this night in Manchester, England, is the Texan at the drum set. Mickey Jones , a hired hand in a group soon to be called the Band, backed Bob Dylan with a wallop never before experienced in a concert hall, raising decibels along with the hackles of folk purists. Live 1966 (Columbia/Legacy) legitimizes the most famous bootleg in history (for years mislabeled as the Royal Albert Hall concert), improving the sound tenfold. Jones would move on to a long career of television acting, usually playing the heavy, while Dylan would release Blonde on Blonde, wreck his motorcycle, and go into seclusion. But on this night, they made music of monumental fury and beauty. JEFF MCCORD

David Berman , the Dallas-bred leader of Silver Jews , calls his group’s third full-length album American Water (Drag City). But Berman doesn’t sound like he has been drinking from the same well as the rest of us; his weird America is a place where rainbows spring from water hoses and socialites are charmed by lotharios who compliment their “amethyst eyes” and “protestant thighs.” Backed by Pavement’s Steve Malkmus on guitar, Berman sings in a deadpan sprechsang that might remind you of such fellow silver-throated Jews as Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. But everything else won’t remind you of anything else.  JEFF SALAMON

Hot Books

The title of Barbara Jordan: American Hero (Bantam Books, $23.95) reflects the breathless reverence that Mary Beth Rogers obviously feels not only for her subject but also, perhaps, for her own ambition as biographer. Rogers was a colleague of Jordan’s at the University of Texas at Austin—her academic bent shows in the way that names, dates, facts, and footnotes (667 of them) steadily pile up—and her tone wavers annoyingly between that of adoring fan and privileged insider. Ultimately, though, Jordan’s own power and personality elevate the narrative. And no one who has ever heard Jordan’s address to the 1976 Democratic National Convention can read chapter 16 without hearing that voice and feeling that chill.… The Encyclopedia of Country Music (Oxford University Press, $49.95) is big enough to chock a truck tire. Almost 1,300 entries, laboriously verified and succinctly written by the staff of Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, encompass performers, songwriters, labels, venues, instruments, and much more. Even a casual flip-through reveals Texans’ long-standing prominence in the field, from early influential balladeers like Vernon Dalhart to modern mainstreamers like superstar Clint Black to reclusive greats like Townes Van Zandt. ANNE DINGUS

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