CD and Book Reviews

Hot CDs

With Jackpot (Watermelon), The Derailers take the classic Buck Owens-Bakersfield ethos, itself rooted in Texas dance music, full circle. Augmented by sidemen, the Austin trio weaves a kinetic beat, punchy guitars, and rich harmonies into a feel-good sound with hints of darkness at its center. The kaleidoscopic twang of romps like “My Heart’s Ready” goes into overdrive for stomps like “100% Pure Fool.” John Morthland

Sculptor-pianist Terry Allen may be the smartest, most subversive singer-songwriter in contemporary country music—or he may just be a Renaissance dude who knows how to exploit his connection to all things wide open and West Texan. Either way, on human remains (Sugar Hill), the Lubbock native transforms high art (“Wilderness of This World,” co-written with David Byrne) and low art (“Peggy Legg,” the story of a good-hearted, one-legged woman) into intelligent verse, and he sings it in an unapologetic drawl that puts him in a class all his own. Joe Nick Patoski

Alejandro Escovedo ’s national profile ought to swell further with the release of With These Hands , the singer-songwriter’s third solo record but his first for the prominent independent label Rykodisc. Once again the Austinite infuses his literate, wearily emotional songs with sweet melodies, darkly beautiful strings, resonant rhythms, and thrilling guitar work that’s both gutty and lovely. The title track’s crackling percussion comes courtesy of Escovedo’s niece, Sheila E., and “Nickel and Spoon” weds his nonpareil vocal ache to that of guest star Willie Nelson. Jason Cohen

Hot Book

Time to call in sick, Elmer Kelton fans—the San Angelo writer’s forty-fourth book hits stores this month. In The Pumpkin Rollers (Forge, $22.95), the title characters are green-as-a-gourd newlyweds who must adapt the lessons of their farm upbringings to a rigorous new life on a rustler-ridden cattle ranch. All the Kelton trademarks are here: understated humor, unabashed romance, odious villains overdue for a comeuppance. Depending on how fast you read—er, recuperate—you should be back at work in a few days. Anne Dingus

Hot Carryout

If you can’t remember the last time you spent more than twenty minutes fixing dinner, Eatzi’s may be in your future—if you can get in, that is. The brand-new combination gourmet deli, bakery, Starbucks coffee bar, and fresh produce and flower market was so gridlocked five days after its unadvertised opening in central Dallas that you had to walk sideways, like a crab, to navigate the aisles. But it was worth it, not just for the take-out lobster ravioli and meat loaf but for the European atmosphere (right down to the Italian arias on the sound system) and the Texas friendliness. Creator Phil Romano—the brains behind successful eateries like Romano’s Macaroni Grill—just may have another winner. Patricia Sharpe

Hot CD-ROM

Do you miss Mario, the hero of Donkey Kong ? You won’t once you get to know Joey from Arcade America ($39.95), the latest game released by Richardson-based 7th Level . Although its setup resembles Kong’s—lots of ladders to climb and platforms to jump on— Arcade takes it to the next level with inventive characters (Joey talks like a New Yawker and wears a propeller beanie), wacky scenarios (including a visit to the Alamo, where Joey has to dodge flying tacos and killer peppers), cartoonish graphics, and dreadful jokes (the weather report: “Chili today, hot tamale!”). Nuts to you, Mario—and the donkey you rode in on. Josh Daniel

Hot Literary Scene

With its cut-rate prices and mass appeal, Barnes and Noble has built a Wal-Martish reputation for stomping into unsuspecting towns and squashing independently owned rivals. But in bookstore-starved El Paso, the megachain’s 18,000-square-foot west side location has become a magnet for the kinds of writers you’d expect to find at the mom-and-pops. Cormac McCarthy, Dagoberto Gilb, Abraham Verghese, Rick DeMarinis, Janice Woods Windle, and Benjamin Sáenz can often be found browsing the aisles, sipping coffee at the cafe, or (except for the elusive McCarthy) reading from their latest books. “Barnes and Noble may be the devil in other places,” says DeMarinis, “but it has saved El Paso.” Evan Smith

Hot Train Ride

Sightseers hungry for a taste of West Texas—and the tastes of West Texas—are scrambling to sign up for South Orient Express’ private rail cruise . The four-day tour departs the Fort Worth Stockyards on March 9 and makes overnight stops at San Angelo, Alpine, and Chihuahua City, with a sightseeing itinerary that includes a side trip to Big Bend National Park and a private star party at the McDonald Observatory. Best of all, you’ll feast on gourmet grub served in domed dining cars courtesy of chefs Grady Spears and Louis Lambert of Alpine’s Reata restaurant. Per-person fares begin at $1,250; for an extra $1,550, you can spend three additional days in Copper Canyon and a night on the Mexican coast at Los Mochis. For information, call 800-505-3356. Eric O’Keefe

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