CD and Book Reviews

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Texas honky-tonker Floyd Tillman is best known for heartbreak lyrics like “Slipping Around” and “It Makes No Difference Now.” But on Herb Remington Instrumentally Salutes Floyd Tillman (Glad), the chiming steel guitarist for Bob Wills’s post-war Texas Playboys demonstrates that Tillman’s poppish material is equally strong on melody and atmosphere. The Houston picker captures the desolation of “This Cold War With You” eloquently, while “I Love You So Much It Hurts Me” never sounded more resigned. So who needs words?…

In an era when country is usually all hat and no cattle, the progressive-traditional Roy Heinrich and the Pickups’ Smokey Night in a Bar (Stockade) is so simple and untrendy it’s easy to overlook. But you’d best listen up. Songs like “A Face in the Crowd” and “Take Me Drunk” have always kept the jukebox moaning in Texas, regardless of what’s happening elsewhere. The Austin singer’s baritone, a blend of homey and despondent, resonates with presence even when he insists that he just wants to disappear into the background.…

Corpus Christi’s Chris Perez Band is sweet and lyrical on Resurrection (Hollywood) yet still pounds it out in the time-honored hard-rock fashion. Front man John Garza sings with an aggressive wail while Perez, Selena’s widower, provides incisive lead guitar. But it’s brevity and resourcefulness that put the band across; each time they threaten to meander off into Santana-like noodling, they return with smart strings or similar flourishes. With nine tracks in Spanish and six in English, Perez’s debut should win roc en español a broader audience in America. JOHN MORTHLAND

The ink’s barely dry on Alejandro Escovedo’s Bourbonitis Blues (Bloodshot), which flings its roll-the-tape-and-knock-’em-out stance against the studio wall to see what sticks. The loose, late-night vibe of this brief hodgepodge scarcely resembles the labored eloquence of the Austinite’s previous studio work. Interspersed among covers ranging from Jimmie Rodgers (great) to Lou Reed (dreary) are four originals, which his “orchestra” endows with an exhilarating rock and roll spirit. Though Escovedo credits his current label with “making music fun again,” we should all thank them.…

If your conception of the blues encompasses 64-bar guitar solos, you have reason to rejoice. The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2 (Epic/Legacy) accompanies the four revamped Stevie Ray Vaughan studio releases, each loaded with bonus tracks. Aside from Hendrix and late Coltrane, rarely did such pure egoism make for listenable music. Vaughan’s innovations never scaled such heights, but the ferocious talent in evidence on these recordings remains spellbinding. JEFF MCCORD

With Low Down and Up (Antone’s/Sire), Austin’s Toni Price serves notice to the would-be blues and blue-eyed-soul divas getting spun on AAA radio: Her exclusion from the company of Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi makes as much sense as a New York Times Magazine fashion pictorial. New listeners will marvel at Ms. Toni’s honey-smooth vocals and the acoustic stringmen backing her up; old fans will applaud the long-awaited recording debut of Shoeshine Charley Miller, the Continental Club’s landmark within a landmark, who sounds like he’s ready to step into the spotlight himself. JOHN SPONG

Forty-nine years after their million-selling gospel hit, “Let’s Talk About Jesus,” A. C. Littlefield and the Original Bells of Joy from Austin create a joyful noise of sweet harmonies on Second Time Around (Dialtone), a primer on black spiritual music supercharged with leg-shaking rhythms that makes modern rock and roll seem pallid by comparison. JOE NICK PATOSKI

Hot Books

A former investigative reporter for Texas Monthly, Austin’s Robert Draper once wrote about scandal and abuse within the Texas prison system, and the same menacing realism permeates his first novel. In Hadrian’s Walls (Alfred A. Knopf) a pardoned murderer returns to the Huntsville-like town where he not only grew up but also served time. Naturally, his past and future are bound to collide. The suspense is as sharp as razor wire, and Draper has nailed the natives’ conversational cadence. As for atmosphere—well, if you’ve never visited East Texas, after reading this book you won’t need to go.…

The work of Yorktown author Cindy Bonner proves that a tale can remain sleaze-free but still rivet readers. Her fourth literary romance, Right From Wrong (Algonquin Books), is set in World War I—era Texas and France. Featuring Bonner’s patented heroine—a likable, unassuming, strictly non-generic type—the novel is about a dangerous chemistry between first cousins. Bonner fans, who range from girls to grandmas, are in for another treat.…

Real-life blueser Janis Joplin is the subject of Scars of Sweet Paradise (Metropolitan Books), a perceptive and readable biography by Los Angeles writer Alice Echols . Texans will particularly enjoy her detailed re-creation of the singer’s formative years in Port Arthur and her folkie beginnings in Austin. ANNE DINGUS

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