CD and Book Reviews

CDs by the Jiménez brothers, the Old 97’s, and Lee Hazlewood; books by Joni Rodgers and Scott Zesch.


LA FAMILIA—Brotherly Tex-Mex

Santiago Jiménez, Jr.
El Corrido de Esequiel Hernández

Flaco Jiménez
The Best of Flaco Jiménez

FORGET THE WINTERS AND the Vaughans, or even the Sextons and the Robisons, for that matter. The most intriguing sibling rivalry in Texas music is the one between San Antonio acordeonistas Santiago Jiménez, Jr., and Flaco Jiménez. Their father, Don Santiago, practically invented the Tex-Mex style, while the sons are taking determinedly different directions. Santiago, Jr., has made his reputation by sticking to the old ways, sometimes as faithfully as a folkie. But on the title track of El Corrido de Esequiel Hernández—which celebrates the corrido tradition, in which the song commentary focuses on a real event—he leaps beyond faithful reproduction to deliver a gritty telling of the death of the teenage goatherd who was shot near the town of Redford two years ago by Marines. It’s a whole ’nother perspective than what you’ve read in the newspaper, which is precisely what a corrido is supposed to be. It’s also a fine lead-in to an inspired collection of romantic love songs, bouncy polkas, cumbias, and rancheras so compelling that it’s almost enough to make one forget Junior’s big brother, Flaco, whose distinctive squeezebox sound has decorated the works of Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, Doug Sahm, and Dwight Yoakam. The Best of Flaco Jiménez, a compilation recorded over the past forty years, captures his dazzling fingerwork while thankfully muting the presence of “heavy ‘guest appearances’”—Peter Rowan on “The Free Mexican Airforce” is about as heavy as it gets. Instead, the selections emphasize Flaco’s earthier side, including a sweet cover of his father’s “Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio” and “El Guero Polkas,” which features SA broadcasting legend Guero Polkas introducing the song named in his honor. That explains why I’m not about to take sides on which Jiménez is mas bueno. They’re both as good as it gets. Joe Nick Patoski

Old 97’s

Fight Songs

THE EARLY LINE ON THE fourth record by Dallas’ Old 97’s is that this second, sink-or-swim major-label effort goes beyond alt-country garnish toward more expansive sonic recipes. But while a certain sturm und twang has always been part of the deal, what really made the 97’s fabulous was—as Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High said of Cheap Trick—“the tunes!” Past albums were filled with sturdy gems that combined Rhett Miller’s playfully dead-on lyricism with a cupboard full of pop hooks.

Fight Songs’ cupboard does not runneth over. Miller’s apple-butter voice lends a winsome quality to otherwise morose mid-tempo material, and a few tracks pass through the neighborhood of memorable. Hillbilly touches or not, the musical palette reaches for sophistication but ends up studied and rather ordinary. And much like Paul Westerberg’s, Miller’s gift for perfectly executed, half-clever, half-heartfelt couplets is wearing a little thin. The Old 97’s are usually a great song band, but Fight Songs just doesn’t have ’em. Jason Cohen

Lee Hazlewood

Cowboy in Sweden
Smells Like Records

LEE HAZLEWOOD’S CAREER is a set of contradictions. In the late fifties he basically invented Duane Eddy’s guitar sound (which is to say he basically helped invent rock’s guitar sound). A few years later he basically invented anti-rock, crafting “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” for the marginally talented (but awfully well connected) Nancy Sinatra. From its title on down, the recently reissued Cowboy in Sweden reconciles Hazlewood’s conflicting impulses. A savvy industry figure who worked with Gram Parsons and Ann-Margret, he listened not only far and wide but also with prescience. Cowboy in Sweden borrows from disparate sources—French ye-ye, Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock soundtracks, Burt Bacharach—that have more hipster cache today than when the record came out thirty years ago. The result, at once rootsy and gothic, sounds like “Tom T. Hall Sings the Leonard Cohen Songbook”—gloomy, symphonic, and undeniably

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