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“You’ve got to market this music like you were a dope dealer.” So goes a line in “Village Idiot Savant,” the opening track of The Right to Remain Silent (Heiress Aesthetic) by Cottonmouth, Texas, the nom de guerre of Jeff Liles, who was rapping when Vanilla Ice was still in junior high. The pastiche of soundbites, mood music, and spoken words done in an eerie Rod Serling—esque voice offers listeners a taste of the dark side of youth culture. Power cut: “Planopiate, Texas,” which manages to say more about the heroin outbreak in Plano than all the media coverage combined. . . . If you arrived on the planet too late to witness T-Bone, Albert the Iceman, or Stevie Ray, don’t fret. You’re just in time for the belated recording debut of Pete Mayes, the guitarslinger from Double Bayou who has been a fixture on the Houston blues scene for more than forty years. And does he ever deliver: for pete’s sake (Antone’s) is simply the best collection of shuffles, slow blues, and boogies I’ve heard in the past decade. JOE NICK PATOSKI
Fort Worth saxophonist Julius Hemphill was best known as a founder of and the primary composer for the World Saxophone Quartet, yet his blues-based compositions and avant-garde leanings profoundly influenced today’s younger players. Chile New York (Black Saint) is an unreleased duet with percussionist Warren Smith cut back in 1980, long before Hemphill’s health problems began to diminish his abilities. Smith’s multiple instruments paint a spacious soundscape, adding a level of depth not often present on duets, while Hemphill’s spirited blowing skirmishes the craggy scenery with stark originality. . . . A snack between main courses, The Gourds’ eight-song EP gogitchyershinebox (Sire/Watermelon) dishes up unusual fare. Regulars will recognize the Austin band’s absurdist, countrified take on rapper Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” and the crowd-rousing traditional stomper “I’m Troubled.” Live recordings like “Lament” shine; it might be a sad tale, yet when the song effortlessly downshifts from easy picking into a hell-bent double-time shuffle, you can’t help but crack a smile. JEFF MCCORD
Ever since Roky Erickson took an elevator to a nonexistent thirteenth floor, Texas has produced more than its fair share of spacey rock. Austin’s Sandwich Records, which has just released its first two full-length CDs, is the latest home for this anti-scene. Denton quintet Transona Five’s Duffel Bag is a tuneful update of Galaxie 500’s drone-rock, though the Francophone “Pourquois Manges-tu?” will have Stereolab fans swiveling their hips so hard their berets will fall off. Electrostaticvibraverb by Austinites The Swells boasts less memorable melodies but deeper, more disorienting textures. Roky would understand. . . . Willie Nelson’s core fans are so loyal that they would pay to watch him wring the perspiration out of his bandanna. Unfortunately, on Teatro (Island) he doesn’t bother to work up a sweat. Though the album is billed as a collaboration with Cuban-style percussionists Victor Indrizzo and Tony Mangurian, all parties seem to be separated by a large body of water. Chalk that up to Daniel Lanois’ mannered production, which makes it sound as though Willie is still observing the U.S. boycott of Cuba. JEFF SALAMON
Mary Cutrufello arrived in Austin from Connecticut in the early nineties a Yale-educated, black country singer-songwriter. Now based in Houston, she recasts herself as a heartland rocker on her major-label debut, When the Night Is Through (Mercury). Though some of her songs cry out for some twang—she’s at her best when she sounds least like Springsteen—her working-class imagery and tales of hard love ring true. . . . Originally a cassette sold off the bandstand, Dale Watson’s The Truckin’ Sessions (Koch) revives a venerable country subgenre. The Austin honky-tonker is clearly awash in the delightfully clichéd novelty songs about double-clutchin’, gear-jammin’ sons of a gun pushing their big rigs down the long white ribbon. But he also grasps the nobility, romance, and pathos of the open road. Ten-four, good buddy. JOHN MORTHLAND
El Pasoan Janice Woods Windle, whose True Women was a grass-roots best-seller, offers the same winning blend of ancestral fact and romantic fiction in Hill Country (Longstreet Press, $25). This story focuses on her grandmother Laura Hoge Woods, who, among other experiences, trained horses, loved an Indian captive, and played auntie to LBJ. Oh, Lordy: Now she’s being attacked by wild dogs! Go away. I’m reading. . . . Upstate New Yorker Kim Wozencraft of Rush fame has scored with The Catch (Doubleday, $23.95). The author is a former Tyler narc who descended into drug addiction and landed in federal prison, and her checkered past imparts solid believability to this tale of husband-and-wife marijuana smugglers who decide to go straight after one last deal. Wozencraft’s ability to build sympathy and suspense overrides the plot’s predictability. . . . Veteran novelist C. W. Smith has taken on the coming-of-age novel and emerged victorious. Understanding Women (TCU Press, $24.50) revisits the fifties—Elvis, Marilyn, Ike, the Duke—through the scrim of adolescence. During a long, hot-blooded summer, a teenager yearns for love and burns with lust. “The choice,” he opines, “was truly between lady and the tiger behind one door and nothing behind the other.” ANNE DINGUS