CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

West Texas bluesman Long John Hunter plays even more guitar than usual on Swinging From the Rafters (Alligator), and that’s a lot of guitar. Hunter represents the party-down end of the blues spectrum; he’s gotta poke fun at himself even when he’s ostensibly down-and-out, as on “I’m Broke.” With a sure band for support and his blazing fretwork shooting off sparks behind and between his crawling-under-your-skin vocals, Long John simply gets in the groove and lets the good times roll. . . . Country Pedigree (Alcazar) is the first solo album by LeRoy Preston , the principal songwriter (and one of the lead singers) for Asleep at the Wheel in the seventies. Moving on quivering melodies between barroom and bedroom—with lots of highway in between—Preston’s songs can sum up a life in a phrase (“Makin’ all the right moves / shakin’ all the wrong hands”). And his voice, a blend of the virile and the vulnerable, painstakingly shapes each syllable while shrouding it in a weariness that speaks volumes. John Morthland

Rarely has a duet recording captured such fury, but precedents are what you expect from Ornette Coleman . On Colors (Harmolodic/Verve) the Fort Worth jazz legend finds an unlikely sparring partner in little-known German pianist Joachim Kuhn, who generates chordal flurries as if possessed while Coleman spins brackish tones from his saxophone, trumpet, and violin. Even the quieter compositions (such as “House of Stained Glass”) maintain an edgy intensity, as notes collide, ricochet, and gel into a challenging and ultimately rewarding set of music. Jeff Mccord

The American Analog Set makes its records at home using vintage equipment—hence the title of From Our Living Room to Yours (Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate). The second release from the Fort Worth—to—Austin transplants features eight whispering examples of music that strive for both gossamer pop perfection and unsettling psychedelic hypnotism, with compelling melodies that are urged along by trancelike keyboards and a dreamy Krautrock—Velvet Underground vibe. Jason Cohen

The title— Live From the City of Hate , by Homer Henderson , “the Amazing One-man Band”—more or less says it all. Dallasite Henderson is the most talented human being still breathing who covers Jimmy Reed (there are three classics on this album, including “Mary, Mary”), but he’s also a gifted composer (ably demonstrated here on his underground hit “Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine”) and an insanely rip-roaring guitarist (listen to his cover of Dale Bramhall’s “Cotton Club Revue”). Five stars and then some. . . . Houston’s La Mafia is reputed to be tejano’s top mega-act, and nothing on En Tus Manos (Sony Discos) suggests otherwise. Once again Oscar de la Rosa’s romantic balladeering is welded to brother Leonard’s pop-Latin musical boombox. Their latest radio-friendly slow-cumbia love shuffle, “Enamorada,” is cut from the same groove as their last giant smash, “Un Million de Rosas,” but the ear-opener is their tribute to norteño legend Cornelio Reyna: It proves this grupo can play with soul. Joe Nick Patoski

Hot Books

Louisianans now have yet another reason to resent that big ol’ state to the west. James Lee Burke , the author of the superior Dave Robicheaux novels—a steamy, swampy series set in Bayou Central—has switched heroes and settings, and now does for small-town East Texas what he did for New Orleans. In Cimarron Rose (Hyperion, $24.95) Burke introduces Billy Bob Holland, an attorney and former Texas Ranger who vaults into action when a pack of spoiled, twisted kids sets up his illegitimate son for murder. If you can forgive the occasional hyper-Chandlerian simile (“her mouth looked red and cold, like a dark cherry that waits to burst on the teeth”), this is all that a Texas mystery should be. . . . Not so for Bad Chili (Mysterious Press, $22). In the latest from Nacogdoches’ Joe R. Lansdale , a murdered biker and tortured corpse launch ne’er-do-well protagonists Hap Collins and Leonard Pine into their fourth nonstop adventure. The stumbling block is the author’s unremittingly raw language—a sexual overture, for example, consists of “You want to see you can lower the bald man into the canyon one more time?”—and constant straining for rectal references. Make no mistake: Lansdale is good. His plot unwinds smoothly and spookily, and his lowlifes are villainous. But even his charms can’t quell the queasiness brought on by Bad Chili. Anne Dingus

Dallas antiques dealer Lynette Proler is scrambling a few eggs—multimillion-dollar Fabergé eggs, that is. She is the coauthor of a lavishly illustrated new tome, The Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs (Christie’s Books, $125), that effectively slashes the value of some of the world’s most fabulous collectibles. How so? New evidence from the Russian archives reveals that certain of the famous “imperial” eggs weren’t made for Czar Nicholas II’s wife and mom after all. Patricia Sharpe

Hot Documentary

When Don Howard returned to Waco for the funeral of a friend, he got the idea for Letter From Waco . His portrait of the city—which airs on PBS stations August 12—manages to be poetic but not overly sentimental. Deftly mixing historical fact and personal narratives, Howard explores Waco’s four major institutions: race, religion, death, and football. Throw in artful cinematography and a fun soundtrack (featuring both Lorne Greene and the Butthole Surfers) and you definitely have a film worth writing home about. Erin Gromen

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