CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

The Texas Reunion (Skinny Records) is ostensibly a solo album from Skinny Don Keeling , the bass player in Don Walser’s Pure Texas Band. But since Keeling appears as the bassist and/or singer on only half the CD’s twelve cuts, he’s better described as a ringleader. He chose the material (such as the obscure gem “I’m Only Human”), the vocalists (Sherri Barr Walker is heartbreaking on “Things I Can’t Bring Back”), and the musicians (including fellow Pure Texas bandmates and, in what are among his final recordings, the late pedal steel maestro Jimmy Day). The result is crisp, kinetic dance hall music seasoned with bluegrass… . Texans take up a big chunk of the double- CD Men Are Like Street Cars: Women Blues Singers 1928—1969 ( MCA), especially during the post-war years. The earliest is Victoria Spivey of Houston, with the salacious “Black Snake Swing” from 1936. The most recent is Miss La-Vell (Lavelle White) of Houston, represented by her 1958 debut “If (I Could Be With You).” But the best homegrown highlights are probably the jazzy, bittersweet Little Esther Phillips of Galveston, the jumping Marie Adams of Linden, and the raunchy Big Mama Thornton of Houston.  JOHN MORTHLAND

Terry Allen has always colored the Lubbock scene from which he sprang with an artist’s touch, but as his wry view has expanded beyond the level land, his hues have sharpened. Salivation (Sugar Hill) shares the same jaundiced take on humankind as Leonard Cohen’s “The Future”; framed in evangelical fervor and musical backing that strays from Allen’s country roots, apocalyptic imagery dominates the canvas. Yet his characters still retain a sadness that even humorous moments can’t wash away. It’s this sensitivity that brings salvation to one of Allen’s finest hours… . The lax charms of Austin’s Silver Scooter flowed over unexpectedly on its acclaimed debut. The follow-up, Orleans Parish (Peek-a-Boo), proves just as irresistible. Armed with the essentials—a rock-steady drummer and a vocalist who doesn’t overexert, sing with fake accents, or affect cool boredom—the trio’s strum-happy pop rings with open-string exuberance. Conjuring all the right influences (Superchunk, the Feelies, Built to Spill), afterthought lyrics and hooks are laid out by the band without gloss or pretense. JEFF MCCORD

Lubbock expat Ned Sublette has been a New York City fixture for more than two decades, in which time he’s made the downtown avant-rock scene, led a country band, and run the record label Qbadisc. Yet Cowboy Rumba (Palm Pictures) is his first true solo effort. As the title suggests, it grafts Southwestern myths and frontier lyricism to the sultry rhythms and giddy orchestrations of Latin music. Lloyd Maines adds pedal steel to an all-star band of Cuban and Puerto Rican players, and eight fine originals are rounded out by waggish covers of “Not Fade Away” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” … The Gourds have been Austin’s most pleasurable band in the second half of the nineties, and on their third album, Ghosts of Hallelujah (Munich Records), the old-timey, Cajun-hillbilly combo shows no sign of letting up. Ghosts is a friendly backyard barbecue of a record, though the carefully rendered songs—witty and funereal, gritty and beautiful—are just as striking as the music’s warm, raggedy vibe.   JASON COHEN

Hot Books

The newest from David Lindsey of Austin is The Color of Night (Warner Books), a trenchant thriller about hired assassins, fine-art forgery, and international intrigue. Here’s a five-point plan for approaching it: (1) Warm up your wrist muscles—Lindsey’s books are economy size. (2) Settle in—you’ll be reading longer than you intended to. (3) Start chapter 1. Note that the protagonists are all rich, beautiful, brilliant, aloof, and largely immoral. Wonder if you can really relate to such rarefied folk. (4) Continue reading, to the detriment of professional and domestic obligations. Scoff at the likelihood of Lindsey’s managing to tie together all the disparate threads of his ambitious plot. (5) Realize that he has twisted those threads into a sneaky little rope, which he uses to lay snares and trip up the reader. By now you feel—as does one of the many hapless characters—that you have “journeyed through a landscape of secrets and arrived in a sorcerer’s castle.” … Austinites David M. Horton , a professor at St. Edward’s University, and Ryan Kellus Turner , a briefing attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals, have produced a clear, concise, and helpful reference in Lone Star Justice: A Comprehensive Overview of the Texas Criminal Justice System (Eakin Press). Don’t let the subtitle scare you; their handiwork should appeal to Texans of all stripes. John Grisham addicts and fans of The Practice can finally understand terms like “mens rea” and “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Screenwriters and novelists will find ample inspiration in sections such as the history of vigilantism (23 wedding guests were fatally poisoned in Shelby County in 1847!). Law students can use it like Cliffs Notes, and budding criminals (of the literate variety) may find that a quick perusal wises them up. Everyone else will derive guilty pleasure from reading horrific little facts like how, once upon a time, lawmen used “a well-oiled length of pliable five-strand manila hemp rope” to produce “almost instantaneous death.” ANNE DINGUS

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