CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

Talk about a “solo artist”: On You Coulda Walked Around the World (rainlight records), Butch Hancock is record label boss, co-producer, photographer, singer, songwriter, and lone musician. The Lubbock-born Hancock left Austin for Big Bend about a year ago, and the result is a casually haunted album that’s suffused with regal desert imagery. As always, his voice is as loose and as gritty as a riverbed, but that only adds to the immediacy of a wise, witty, and—no surprise—wordy collection of spare parables and love songs that are both bittersweet and playful. Jason Cohen

Singer-songwriter David Rice mines the same sort of brooding, polished pop that has yielded big returns for the likes of Roxy Music and Peter Gabriel. On greenelectric (Columbia), the Houston native’s earthy voice resembles the latter’s, but instead of dodging the comparison, he curiously wallows in the selfsame atmospherics, recording at Gabriel’s studio and even using his guitarist. Though taxing production threatens to overwhelm the material, Rice possesses ample musical and lyrical prowess. It just may not prove to be enough to escape Gabriel’s long shadow. Jeff McCord

What do you get when you combine the brain trust of the Potatoes, one of the weirdest bands ever to claim Dallas as hometown, with some ace players in a lounge environment? A Man Overboard by The Captain and His Buccaneer Oarkestra (Maroon Toons), an odd collusion of swashbuckling pirate rock and polkafied circus music that is infused with more than a hint of subversion. The texture of all 25 tracks (“The Twister” and “Gumbolito” in particular) is not unlike hearing Brave Combo and Little Jack Melody getting sloppy-drunk on grog with Nino Rota at the helm, guiding the whole shebang through some very choppy Caribbean waters. Joe Nick Patoski

Better known among ravegoers for its high-grade psychedelics than its topflight dance tunes, Texas has never made the sort of contribution to club culture that it has to country, rock, blues, and jazz. So it’s no surprise that One—Texas Electronica (Face Records), a collection of homegrown techno tunes, offers little evidence that Texas is home to a particularly innovative electronica scene. But it does boast some standout tracks, foremost among them the giddily inventive breakbeat acid house of San Antonio’s D-Day Project and the lovely atmospherics of Austin’s quaquaversal. Jeff Salamon

With a second axman complementing the bandleader, Houston’s Mark May and the Agitators make like a guitar army on Telephone Road (Icehouse/Priority), playing with impressive discipline while wailing hard enough to blow listeners back against the wall. An eclectic with potential appeal to purists, May has a husky voice that is still capable of tenderness, having absorbed everything from the aggressive blues of the Alberts (King and Collins) to the seventies Southern blues-rock of the Allmans—and weaves it all into a sound as textured as it is formidable… . In the nineteenth century, Polish bands used fiddles to create a distinctly Texan sound. The rural sound died out decades ago, but Brian Marshall and His Tex-Slavik Playboys bring it back with grace and verve on Texas Polish Roots (Arhoolie). A Houston native with Bremond roots, Marshall has a fiddle style redolent of the Old Country while containing elements of Western swing as well. The tunes are nearly all traditional, but they’re more for dancers than folklorists; these guys are to Texas polka what Beausoleil is to Cajun music. John Morthland

Course of Empire has been one of Dallas’ best bar bands for years, and Telepathic Last Words ( TVT Records) demonstrates why Deep Ellum’s other loud-noise acts bow down before them. On their third CD, singer Vaughn Stevenson’s hypnotic voice and the precise clangings of guitarist Mike Graff infuse tracks ranging from the radio-ready industrial single “The Information” to the eerily rendered “Blue Moon” (yes, that “Blue Moon”). But no matter what you think of Telepathic’s quality, don’t miss a chance to see the band live. Nothing else proves why it’s better to have two drummers instead of one. Brian D. Sweany

Hot Books

Besides its subject, what’s notable about Barbara Jordan: The Biography (Golden Touch Press, $9.95) is that a Republican wrote it. Austin Teutsch , whose past credits include a biography of Sam Walton, chronicles the life of an African American politician who, two years after her death, is as revered in some circles as the Alamo heroes. Teutsch’s publishers have touted the book as the first Jordan bio, which may account for the narrative’s occasionally hasty feel, but it is warm and readable… . A boom in Hispanic-oriented books accompanies the advent of the New Year. First up is Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexican Border ( W.W. Norton, $25). This admirable effort by Los Angeles Times reporter Sebastian Rotella combines pathos and suspense—and even carries a blurb from Bruce Springsteen. Anne Dingus

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