A look at what to read, watch, and listen to this (wonderfully jam-packed) month in order to achieve maximum Texas cultural literacy.
Servant of Love, Patty Griffin (Thirty Tigers, September 25)
The longtime Austin singer-songwriter’s tenth album is the first since her split with rocker Robert Plant, and the mood is aptly downcast. But while heartache may drive “Hurt a Little While” and “You Never Asked Me,” Griffin casts her lyrical net wide, delving into mystical poetry and, on “Good and Gone,” which was inspired by a police shooting, the genre of protest song.
We Are the Drum, Kendrick Scott Oracle (Blue Note, September 25)
Like labelmates and fellow Houstonians Robert Glasper and Jason Moran, drummer Kendrick Scott wants to reinvent jazz. On his group Oracle’s new album, that means covering the electronic musician Flying Lotus, playing melodies that are more Radiohead than Monk, and eschewing the genre’s usual “string of solos” for a kinetic, collective bustle.
Cass County, Don Henley (Capitol Records, September 25)
The once-and-future Eagles front man’s first album since the turn of the century, recorded in Dallas and Nashville, is something different: a meditation on the northeast Texas county where he was raised. A roots record? Perhaps, albeit a roots record that opens with guest appearances from Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert and, at times, sounds a lot like a Tom Petty record.
Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel, Ray Benson and David Menconi (UT Press, October 1)
The emphasis in that overstuffed subtitle is on “Outrageous.” The western swing bandleader’s let-it-all-hangout memoir doesn’t skimp on the details of life on the road, be it onstage antics or his prodigious intake of marijuana (“I still smoke it to this day”).
The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, Kinky Friedman (Avenue A, October 1)
For his first album in more than three decades, Friedman hasn’t exactly exerted himself—there isn’t one brand-new Kinky song to be found among these dozen tracks. But more often than not, his sparely arranged covers of songs by the likes of Dylan, Haggard, and Cash are the last thing you’d expect from the would-be governor: humble and heartfelt.
Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman, Elizabeth Harris (Gival Press, October 5)
The “three lives” rendered in this Central Texas–set novel—the protagonist’s early-twentieth-century girlhood, her brief marriage, and the decades she spent in a PTSD-like state after being cast out by her rural German community—are all overshadowed by a grotesque crime of passion whose mention, Fort Worth native Harris writes, “makes men cross their legs.”
A House of My Own, Sandra Cisneros (Knopf, October 6)
As she departed her longtime home in San Antonio for Mexico, Cisneros gathered a few decades’ worth of nonfiction pieces that trace her path from working-class Chicagoan to internationally celebrated author. There’s a fair amount of Texas here, not all of it celebratory. “San Antonio,” she writes, “is all about tribes, and once your tribe breaks up or migrates, you’re on your own.”
Bats of the Republic, Zachary Thomas Dodson (Doubleday, October 6)
Dodson, an El Pasoan turned Finn, is better known as a designer of books than a writer of books, so it’s no surprise that this novel, a fantastical adventure that stretches from revolutionary-era Texas to twenty-second-century Texas, is festooned with technical diagrams, animal portraiture, and newspaper clippings that somehow never overwhelm the story.
My All-American, Directed by Angelo Pizzo (October 9)
Forty-four years after his death, Longhorn legend Freddie Steinmark has never really left us. In addition to his autobiography, there was Jim Dent’s reverent 2011 biography, a recent authorized biography from UT Press, and now a biopic starring Aaron Eckhart as Darrell Royal and Finn Wittrock as the young safety who played through intense pain to bring home the 1969 championship.
Prophet’s Prey (Showtime, October 10)
Based on private investigator Sam Brower’s book of the same title, this documentary gives a full account of how Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, terrorized the community of thousands he once ruled. There are revelatory interviews, but it’s the audio evidence that was played in court—warning: it is gruesome listening—that’s the most chilling.
Vega Intl. Night School, Neon Indian (Mom + Pop, October 16)
During the run-up to his third album, did Alan Palomo, leader of the chill-wave band Neon Indian, listen to a lot of Prince? It appears he did. Did the Brooklynite-by-way-of-San-Antonio-and-Denton then do his best to write a few Prince-like cuts for his first record in four years? It seems so. And did he make a fool of himself in the attempt? Amazingly, he did not.
A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking, Adam Briggle (Liveright/Norton, October 19)
According to this engaging account, when Briggle began teaching at the University of North Texas with hopes of energizing the discipline of philosophy by helping it reengage with social issues, he had no idea that this ambition would turn him into a leader of Denton’s groundbreaking—and, thanks to the Lege, frustrated—ban on fracking.