CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

The 33 selections on My Time: A Boz Scaggs Anthology (1969— 1997) (Columbia/Legacy) are as sleek and as shiny as a Highland Park Mercedes. Despite the ex-Dallasite’s irresistible sense of flow-as-melody, several tracks on the two-CD set are also vapid enough to reconfirm that all that glitters is not gold. But as his touchstones jump from San Francisco to New York to Philly to Muscle Shoals to Texas, Scaggs puts his unmistakable stamp—forged out of equal parts upscale dandyism and blue-eyed soul—on an impressive array of blues, rock, soul, funk, and disco. JOHN MORTHLAND

Jeb Loy Nichols graduated from Austin’s Westlake High in 1979 and spent the next decade in London leading the obscure folk combo Fellow Travellers. Now comes his solo debut, Lovers Knot (Capitol), which teams him with Cassandra Wilson’s producer, Craig Street, and a band that includes members of Jazz Passengers. Nichols’ songs are doleful, soulful, and strong, but what makes them go is their surprising sonic eclecticism, whether it’s the prickly sweetness of his Dylan-as-crooner vocals, the lovingly modernized nods to Memphis R&B, or an old bluegrass tune rendered with echoes of ska and trip-hop.…With its gently energetic nerd-rock, Silver Scooter is the spiritual descendant of New Zealand’s seminal garage band the Clean. The Other Palm Springs (Peek-a-Boo), the Austin trio’s first full-length CD, finds catchiness in the spiky lead guitar lines that jerk and weave their way through fourteen sprightly pop songs. Imagine Nirvana without the rage or Sugar without the noise: a geeky, dynamic, infectious drone. JASON COHEN

Cutting like a beacon through the turbulent hypocrisy of the sixties, Phil Ochs ’ crystalline voice delivered a brutal form of honesty few were ready to hear. The El Paso native’s message, forever in the shadow of Bob Dylan’s, was too personal to be embraced by a generation; his anti-war platitudes were swathed in patriotism, and he indicted liberalism long before it became fashionable. Righteous fervor ultimately gives way to a sad defeat on Farewells and Fantasies (Rhino), a thoughtful, comprehensive collection of Ochs’ twelve years of recordings, as major and minor works sketch the path of his short, fascinating life.…Tightly arranged and executed, The Complete Verve Recordings of the Teddy Wilson Trio (Mosaic) illustrates the Austin native’s mastery of the piano. Wilson worked with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday but is also known for his association with Benny Goodman, with whom, in the late thirties, he was the first to break the swing era’s color barrier. Staying true to his swing roots, Wilson ignores his bebop counterparts and sticks with the standards for his fifties tenure with Verve, gliding the arrangements and igniting the various trios with his forceful left hand and effortless speed. Available by mail order from Mosaic, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut 06902; 203-327-7111. JEFF MCCORD

On The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure (Freedom Records), Houston’s Hollisters make their presence known on the alternative country landscape with all the subtlety of a runaway Cummins diesel. That’s a good thing, since most of their peers tend to be more obsessed with slavishly imitating their heroes than with capturing the spirit that gave the original sound its appeal. The secret weapons here are Mike Barfield’s booming baritone, which has echoes of Sun-vintage Johnny Cash, and the geographically specific lyrics of songs like “East Texas Pines” and “Tyler.” JOE NICK PATOSKI

Fifteen years after Marty Robbins’ death, the work of the beloved balladeer has at last rated homage. Return to Me: A Tribute to Marty Robbins (Who’s in Charge Here Productions) features guitar by Austin’s Jeff Gore , whose velvety voice is fittingly Marty-esque, and contrabass and ukulele by Fort Davis’ inimitable Washtub Jerry . Eight of the fourteen cuts are Robbins’ own, including “Devil Woman” and the legendary chartbuster “El Paso.” ANNE DINGUS

Hot Books

Now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Joseph Skibell wrote A Blessing on the Moon (Algonquin Books, $21.95) while at the University of Texas Center for Writers in Austin. In a twist on the tale of the Wandering Jew, the traveler here is a victim of the Holocaust who rises zombielike from a mass grave to embark on a surreal adventure, encountering talking animals, a falling moon, and a Grand Hotel for the undead. It’s sad and funny and fantastic.…Texas A&M professor H. W. Brands successfully charges up the San Juan Hill of biography with T.R.: The Last Romantic (BasicBooks, $35), a 912-page opus on Theodore Roosevelt. Of particular interest to Texans are Teddy’s San Antonio capers with the Rough Riders one century ago.…A lighter volume, by an author lighter on his feet, is Footnotes: A Memoir (Simon and Schuster, $24). Wichita Falls native Tommy Tune chronicles his rise from dancing dormouse in a Houston children’s production to one-man show on Broadway. ANNE DINGUS

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