CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

Yes, it’s that Tiny Tim —albeit with a gruffer voice than you probably remember—singing with Denton polkaholics Brave Combo on Girl (Rounder). Together, the onetime tulip tiptoer and the 1995 Grammy nominees bip and bop through a set of standards (“Stardust”) and pop-rock faves (“Hey Jude”). The collaboration may not be for everyone, but it does result in an unprecedented fusion of the tacky and the tasty, especially the lounge-music overhaul of “Stairway to Heaven.” John Morthland

If the music business had soul, Joe Tex and Archie Bell and the Drells would still ride the charts, and Tyrone Davis and Z.Z. Hill would still rule the chitlin circuit. Fortunately, we’ve still got W. C. Clark . On Texas Soul (Black Top), the unsung hero of Austin blues updates two stylistic favorites: horn-laden fatback Memphis soul and the kind of Houston R&B that put Don Robey’s Duke/Peacock Records label on the map. The dilemma is deciding whether Clark does a better Al Green (he’s all sweetness and light on “I Only Have Love for You” and “Ain’t No Fun to Me”) or Bobby “Blue” Bland (check out his growl on “Someday Sooner or Later”). Joe Nick Patoski

It’s hard to be Austin’s Next Big Alternative Band when there has never really been a first one, but Spoon is officially on its way with Telephono, the moody trio’s staggering debut on the New York independent label Matador. Front man Britt Daniel and producer John Croslin have carved out a snarling, devious suite of ultra-catchy songs that are simultaneously vivid and opaque; Daniel’s deep, throaty vocals and gritty guitars, plus the snapping energy of drummer Jim Eno and bassist Andy Maguire, add up to a great rock and roll record. Call it art; wait and see if it’s commerce. Either way, Telephono is a local triumph and a national contender. Jason Cohen

Hot Books

In Yorktown writer Cindy Bonner ’s third historical romance, The Passion of Dellie O’Barr (Algonquin Books, $18.95), a lonely young matron becomes obsessed with a Populist rabble-rouser in turn-of-the-century McDade. Like Bonner’s Lily and Looking After Lily , which were grass-roots favorites, it brings to mind the western stereotype of the old-fashioned schoolmarm: What seems to start off plain and even prissy ends up mighty fetching and downright fun… . Despite its title, Austinite Marion Winik ’s First Comes Love (Pantheon, $23) is a horror story. The starkness of this memoir of life with her late gay husband is bound to stun fans of her entertaining essays. Even more stunning, though, is that someone who knowingly committed acts of lunacy—sharing needles to shoot up heroin, having sex with an HIV-positive partner—is able to write about it so movingly and so well. Anne Dingus

Hot Screenwriter

Ever since John Lee Hancock wrote A Perfect World in 1992, the Longview native has found Hollywood to be, well, a perfect world. That movie—which starred Clint Eastwood (left, with Hancock) and Kevin Costner and was directed by Eastwood—wasn’t a commercial success, but it won Hancock critical acclaim, as well as a three-picture deal from Warner Brothers. Today, at 39, he’s watching that deal bear fruit. He has completed a screenplay for The Little Things , a drama that begins shooting this summer. He’s working on the second draft of a script for a remake of the French film Itinerary of a Spoiled Child (no, it’s not about Macaulay Culkin). And, best of all, he’s on draft two of a screenplay for the movie version of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil . Eastwood plans to direct that film too, and no wonder: These days, any script with a John Hancock on it is a good sign. Evan Smith

Hot ’Zine

If you like your country music equal parts Lefty Frizzell and Gram Parsons, No Depression is for you. Since its debut last fall, the Seattle quarterly—co-edited by ex— Austin American-Statesman music critic Peter Blackstock—has been tracking the national surge in interest in the off-center, neo-traditionalist genre known as alternative country. In his first three issues, Blackstock has published CD and concert reviews and features by many Texas writers, and he’s skewed the editorial focus to Texas artists, from Austin’s Alejandro Escovedo and Don Walser to Dallas’ Old 97’s and San Antonio’s Steve Earle. No Depression is available in many record stores and bookstores; for subscriptions, call 206-547-5952. Randy Franklin

Hot Seafood

Who needs the Gulf of Mexico, with its viral infections and brown tides? Cleaner, fresher fish can be had from Penbur Farms in landlocked Buda, eleven miles southwest of Austin. Inside a 100,000-square-foot building that sits a few feet from a shrimp boat run aground, two entrepreneurs and a team of biologists are raising shrimp, clams, and oysters in 36 tanks the size of small swimming pools. The operation is pristine (workers must pass through a clean room) and ecologically friendly (the water is continuously recirculated and filtered), which may be why the little creatures are so fat and tasty. Penbur’s first crop of Pacific white shrimp should be available in gourmet food stores and top restaurants in Texas this month. Suzy Banks

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