CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

Running on equal parts inspiration and gumption, Austin’s Damnations are the alternative to alternative country, going way back for tunes like “Copper Kettle,” forward for a romp through Lucinda Williams’ “Happy Woman Blues,” and their own way with impressively traditional-progressive originals. The mostly acoustic Live Set (Damnations), pressed in a limited edition for sale off the bandstand, is lean, clean, and to the point—and more infectious than most of the other twang bands’ efforts combined. … Beaumont’s Mark Chestnutt is as down-home as Nashville gets nowadays, and Thank God for Believers (Decca) may be his most fully realized effort yet. His heart has always been in the right place, but he’s had to grow into the vocal credibility to pull off songs like “Hello Honky Tonk.” Such sentiments return country to areas shunned by the current upwardly mobile generation of singers, as does Chestnutt’s willingness to put the pedal steel guitar front and center. Combine that with the radio-friendly production Nashville requires, and you’ve got a consummate commercial country star. John Morthland

While he’s best known as a six-string gunslinger, Jon Dee Graham ’s considerable songwriting talents have been underrepresented on record. Escape From Monster Island (Freedom Records) remedies the situation, laying out ten originals in straightforward fashion, with Graham’s and Mike Hardwick’s guitar wallop driving each track. Since his days in the seminal Austin band True Believers, Graham has picked up a bit more asphalt in his voice, and he’s also encountered—as the album’s title suggests—serious bumps in the road. When steering clear of these hazards, Escape’s subtle and pandemic moments make for an enjoyable ride. … Metal power chords and cyclone drum fills might not be everyone’s notion of jazz, yet Fort Worth drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson —who spent his early years with the likes of Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor—has a singular approach that has never fit rigid preconceptions. The American release of Shannon’s House (Koch Jazz) will remind some people why they can barely utter the word “fusion” without grimacing. Despite these lapses of taste, however, Jackson’s unique muse remains admirable, particularly when his band’s loose, fluid funk escalates with surprising alacrity and velocity. Jeff Mccord

If he was nothing more than a hillbilly archivist bent on slavishly replicating the hard-edged honky-tonk stylings of Hank Williams, Wayne “the Train” Hancock would still deserve veneration. But he’s much more than that. On That’s What Daddy Wants (Ark 21), the Lubbock native delves into the mysteries of Jimmie Rodgers on originals like “Little Lisa,” and he demonstrates his ability to grasp the greasy and grungy essence of eighties punk by deftly covering the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac.” All of it evokes the primitive joy of rock and roll. … There are bootlegs of Stevie Ray Vaughan in concert that are far better, but don’t dismiss Stevie Ray Vaughan: Live at Carnegie Hall (Epic) just yet. The belated release of this 1984 recording demonstrates that the last great blues guitarist wanted to be like T-Bone Walker and lead a big band, which is why he augmented his Double Trouble rhythm section with a full-blown orchestra, including Dr. John on keyboards and the Roomful of Blues horns. The results are uneven, but it shows the late Oak Cliff legend was willing to take risks even when he was on top. Joe Nick Patoski

Hot Book

Come September, when the heat plummets from suicidal to survivable, Texans venture outside to survey the brown and brittle remnants of their gardens. Those unwilling to sacrifice more innocent greenery to the still-fierce sun can take heart—and hints—from Garden Junk (Penguin Studio Books, $29.95). New Yorker Mary Randolph Carter earns honorary Texan status as an advocate for battered birdbaths and other tatty touches. She also includes a make-your-own-gazebo guide and, for realizing yard-art yearnings, a list of junk emporiums in Texas and elsewhere. Anne Dingus

Hot Web Site

So Scully has cancer and Mulder is dead: What a great way to kick off the new season of The X-Files. But if the show’s plot is too disturbing, visit Austinite Beth Wilson’s David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade 3 Web site ( http://miri.simplenet.com/ddeb3), where the actor who plays Mulder is alive and well. Wilson’s shrinelike site features Duchovny’s bio, homespun X-Files fiction, and hunky pictures, though she insists the Brigade is less interested in beefcake than in forging meaningful friendships while waxing starry-eyed over their favorite heartthrob. Yeah, right: And alien life has arrived on Earth. Jordan Mackay

Hot Beer

What do you drink with a spaghetti western? When Clint Eastwood wanted a signature beer for his two Carmel, California, restaurants, he tapped Austin’s Celis Brewery to create Pale Rider Ale , a copper-colored microbrew tailored to his palate. The slightly malty, medium-bodied brew went into limited production after extensive consultation between Celis brewmasters and the actor-director. Named for Eastwood’s 1985 movie, Pale Rider plays on the star’s iconic status as Mysterious Stranger—an image depicted on its label. Pale Rider should drift into other markets (including Texas) sometime this month. Pableaux Johnson

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