CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

Anyone interested in fathoming that elusive sound called Texas Music is hereby directed to Augie Meyers’ Alive and Well at Lake Taco (White Boy). The San Antonio legend delivers a rhythm-infused guisada of vintage sixties roller-rink organ rock, timeless hard-core Western two-step, and modern accordion-powered, polkafied icehouse Tex-Mex. On the whole, it pretty much sums up the Texas-at-the-crossroads musical experience. J OE NICK PATOSKI

Her producers saddle her with too many clichés on her romantic solo debut, Southern Gal (EastWest/Elektra), but Houston native Terry Ellis of En Vogue transcends them impressively. Her crystalline voice shimmers and soars over solid, mid-tempo grooves, and her soul throbs tenderly—yet with a resilience that is indeed distinctly Southern. From the put-upon “What Did I Do to You?” to the come-on “Slow Dance,” she states her case and makes it stick. JOHN MORTHLAND

Pomegranate (Bar/None) marks the return of Poi Dog Pondering , though Austin’s favorite band of shiny, happy wanderers is now Chicago-based. Founder Frank Orrall and holdover Dave Max Crawford lead a reconfigured ensemble of more than a dozen players with startlingly soulful results; they’ve fashioned a deep and—believe it or not—dark multi-genre piece set amid a bubbling stew of strings, horns, percussion, and odd electro-funk pulsing, plus other weirdly beautiful noises. JASON COHEN

Hot Book

Alpine’s Robert James Waller specializes in snack writing: sugar-coated, insubstantial, nutritionally null. But the nearly 15 million readers who devoured his first three novelistic nibbles will enjoy his fourth, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze (Warner Books, $18.95). The plot involves a layabout gringo, his requisitely sexy señorita, and a noble Pied Piper of a hitman who lures them toward the border and bathos. Waller’s Spanish is as skimpy as his storytelling, but it all goes down easy enough—especially if, like the characters themselves, you accompany the action with plenty of tequila and beer. ANNE DINGUS

Hot CD-ROM

Most video game sequels are letdowns—just more of the same. Wing Commander IV ($65—$75), released late last month by Austin’s Origin Systems , is more of the same but better. Malcolm McDowell and Mark Hamill have starring roles again, but the graphics are snazzier and, unlike Wing III, the live-action sequences were shot on real sets. None of that matters, of course, if the game’s no fun to play. Wing IV is, so look for it to sell more than 500,000 copies worldwide, just as Wing III did. JOSH DANIEL

Hot Ingenue

If one of the surprises of the fall TV season has been the success of the campy syndicated show Xena: Warrior Princess , another has been the star turn of Renee O’Connor (left), who plays Gabrielle, Xena’s perky protegée. O’Connor, who is 24, attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and studied at the Alley Theatre, but a big break came when she appeared in a Visa commercial shot at the Austin restaurant Threadgill’s, which happens to be owned by her stepfather, Eddie Wilson. Nice to know she can always wait tables if things don’t work out. HELEN THOMPSON

Hot Dadaists

Those great jesters of the Houston cultural scene, the Art Guys , are continuing their upward trajectory, getting serious in spite of themselves. This month, the prestigious art book publisher Harry Abrams reprints the Contemporary Arts Museum’s catalog of the Art Guys show last spring, which featured Jack Massing and Michael Galbreath’s irreverent collections of bird houses, facial hair, and toothbrushes (including the unforgettable Swiss Army toothbrush, complete with pocketknife). Is the art world ready for this kind of Houston humor? Only the Art Guys would ask, Who cares? MIMI SWARTZ

Hot Greens

For a great winter salad, look no further than your own back yard: Growing from the ground all over Texas is Stelleria media , or chickweed; Oxalis dillenii , or wood sorrel; and Allium canadense , or wild onion (left). The dirt on these and other incredible edibles can be found in a new reference book, Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico . Weighing in at five pounds, the just-released tome retails for $125 but only covers the first part of the A’s; if you’re still hungry, the good news is that eleven more volumes will follow. ELLISE PIERCE

Hot Death Row

Texas’ deadliest criminals may soon be serving time in cyberspace. On the heels of excerpts in Newsweek and Paris Match, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft is negotiating to buy the electronic rights to Sentenced to Death, a forthcoming book about life inside Huntsville’s Ellis 1 unit. The plan is to put ten photos of convicts and copies of their correspondence on-line alongside a bulletin board where computer users can discuss capital punishment. Says author Suzanne Donovan, who collaborated on the book with photographer Ken Light, “We’ll try to show how inmates change, what they think about—what happens to them as they wait to die.” EVAN SMITH

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