CD and Book Reviews

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This month Texas music shines on the silver screen. The soundtrack for The Horse Whisperer (MCA) not only features cuts from Don Walser , George Strait , and Steve Earle but also a Butch Hancock Joe Ely Jimmie Dale Gilmore reunion (long removed from Lubbock, they are now called the Hill Country Flatlanders )—and, even more miraculously, a new Lucinda Williams tune. For The Newton Boys (Epic), director Richard Linklater recruited Danny Barnes and Mark Rubin of Austin traditionalists the Bad Livers as composer and music supervisor, respectively. Aided by guest vocalists Kris McKay , Guy Forsyth , and Abra Moore , the Livers deliver a mostly boisterous, occasionally melancholy collection of twenties jazz standards. …Superego is known less for its music than its most famous regular gig: the celebrated “Rock and Roll Free for All” that breaks out every Sunday at Austin’s Hole in the Wall. But on its second album, My Bad (Nickel $ Dime), Superego transcends its loose, organic origins, shaping a ragged assemblage of piercing guitars, sax-augmented swagger, and fuzzy-sweet melodies into totally swell pop-’n’-roll—no free-for-all required.  Jason Cohen

On the live album The Country Boy Goes Home II (Malaco), Tyler’s Willie Neal Johnson reunites with his original group, the Gospel Keynotes , and is joined by such guests as the East Texas Mass Choir . Johnson sings much like bluesman B. B. King , and second lead Paul Beasley steals the show more than once with his thrilling, semi-falsetto vocals and screamlike improvisations that defy description. Though it bogs down now and again, especially when there’s too much testifying and not enough vocalizing, this is Texas gospel at its most stirring. …Opening with the hard-swinging “I Want to Be Happy,” 76-year-old San Antonio fiddler Sebastian Campesi ’s debut album, First Day of Spring (Catfish Jazz), keeps alive the sound of S téphane Grappelli , Stuff Smith , and Joe Venut i. Campesi’s quartet (which expands only for his deft duet with country swing ace Johnny Gimble on “Royal Garden Blues”) is anchored by Herlin Riley , Wynton Marsalis’ drummer, and displays unusual range and resourcefulness: plucking at the violin strings here, reaching for a high note there, and alternating between past-closing-time lines and staccato outbursts.  John Morthland

Now that Spike Jones and Homer and Jethro have passed on, it’s official: The Austin Lounge Lizards are the dopiest parody band on earth. Proof is in this couplet from “Stupid Texas Song,” the first track on the band’s latest CD, Employee of the Month (Sugar Hill): “Our rattlesnakes are the coiliest, our beaches are the oiliest.” What’s really unnerving about these jokers is their instrumental prowess; the melody of “Stupid Texas Song” is so on the mark that Asleep at the Wheel oughta sue. Listen to “Hey, Little Minivan,” an aging baby boomer update of a Jan and Dean drag-racing song and you might even conclude they sound a whole lot like an acoustic version of the Grateful Dead—only better.  Joe Nick Patoski

Alejandro Escovedo ’s orchestra has progressed from its late eighties kitchen-sink cacophonies to a lean eclecticism only hinted at on the Austinite’s excellent solo albums. More Miles Than Money: Live 1994—1996 (Bloodshot), a collection of scattershot recordings from three long years on the road, highlights the former True Believer’s moody and vivid imagery along with Stooges-Stones—Lou Reed staples from his rarely changing set list. Wrapped in chamber strings that glide and moan in quieter moments and generate friction behind crushing guitar mayhem, More Miles serves up some real magic in a winning concoction that only a talent like Escovedo could create. …Style, chemistry, charisma: The qualities that make a band special are found in abundance by one of Austin’s finest, the Gourds. Stadium Blitzer (Watermelon/Sire) apes the low-fi, acoustic assault of their debut album with near-equal success. Songs are this quartet’s forte, and writers Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith continue to be an uncanny match. Russell’s countrified charm and mandolin-driven tales are irresistible, while Smith spins gleefully off axis, possessed by some kind of pop-tango, belly dance, or maybe both. Despite the odd misfire, it’s hard to imagine a more endearing and original set of music.  Jeff McCord

Hot Books

We banished Mexico’s army 162 years ago, but its profound cultural influences are here to stay, as three new books demonstrate. San Antonian Kathleen Trenchard’s Mexican Papercutting (Lark Books, $14.95) is a history and do-it-yourself handbook of papel picado (“punched paper”), the colorful tissue banners of skulls and flowers that flutter over many a Tex-Mex cafe. Breads of the Southwest (Chronicle Books, $22.95), written by Beth Hensperger of San Francisco and photographed by Texas’ Laurie Smith, celebrates tortillas, pan dulce, empanadas, and even Day of the Dead bread. And a thorough and thoughtful tome comes from Washington Post staff writer Roberto Suro. In Strangers Among Us: How Latino Immigration Is Transforming America (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95), Suro evaluates expatriate Hispanics’ lives in several U.S. cities, including Houston.  Anne Dingus

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