CD and Book Reviews
This month’s Willis Alan Ramsey Award for Belated Follow-up goes to Manuel “Cowboy” Donley, one of the founding fathers of modern tejano music, who waited twenty years before returning to the recording studio to make Adios Chiquita (Mini). The delay was worth it, since Donley serves up a spicy, thoroughly danceable combo platter of rancheras, waltzes, boleros, and ballads. In fact, his vocals and the tight brass arrangements on the sentimental “Redencion” and the romantic classic “Auscencia” have more in common with the great Beny More, the trailblazing Cuban bandleader from los fifties, than with La Mafia, Grupo Limite, or La Diferenzia. In light of tejano’s abandoning of horn charts in favor of synthesizers and the irritating mosquito sounds they create, that’s a real good thing. Welcome back, Cowboy. Joe Nick Patoski
Austinite David Garza has long been an earnest, proficient talent in search of a provocative voice. With this euphoria (Atlantic), the Artist Formerly Known as Dah-veed has found one. Working within a production aesthetic that’s both scruffily lo-fi and bombastically phosphorescent, Garza veers smartly from Prince-like soul to precious melodic navel-gazing. Shining brightest is the heady pop rush of “Discoball World”; the song isn’t brand-new (it’s been on an indie EP), but it’s doubtful that 1998 will produce a giddier car-radio-ready reverie. Jason Cohen
David “Fathead” Newman’s albums typically had considerable filler, and It’s Mister Fathead (32 Jazz)—which packages all of four LPs from the late fifties and early sixties into one double CD—has it too. But it’s still a worthy listen. The Dallas native, who played several saxophones along with the flute, helped reshape the post-war Texas tenor—his bulbous, rippling tone and swinging pace nudging the gospel-rooted sound from jazz into R&B. On the 1958 Fathead/Ray Charles Presents David Newman, he’s joined by the legendary pianist, his longtime employer, in a set that laid the groundwork (plus the roof and walls) for the soul-jazz movement that was then still a decade away.
Justin Treviño’s Texas Honky Tonk (Neon Nightmare) lives up to its name, with the Maxwell singer’s clear, clean tenor throbbing and straining for one more spin around the dance floor. There are instant-classic originals like the title song as well as some sweet, Spanish-tinted Marty Robbins in “Tonight Carmen.” Treviño also remakes songs by Jeanne Pruett and unearths new ones by Lawton Williams, thereby poking into some of country’s most rarefied corners, and in the tradition of Ray Price and Johnny Bush (the drummer on most of the tracks), he handles a shuffle better than Amarillo Slim. John Morthland
There’s power-chord muscle packed into the auspicious major-label debut from Spoon, but the Austin trio is not about guitar heroics. The songs on A Series of Sneaks (Elektra) are front man Britt Daniel’s best yet: lanky gems fueled with a melodic freneticism and recorded with an aural punch. Like Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices, Daniel knows the strength in brevity. Hooks—and there are many—rarely repeat, lending an unpredictable fervor to the proceedings. Daniel might still betray his influences on occasion, but there’s little doubt that Spoon is a band finding a voice all its own.
Long guitar solos reign on Big Blues Extravaganza! The Best of Austin City Limits (Columbia/Legacy), a new collection culled from the archives of the popular syndicated TV series. ACL’s pristine production values don’t really jive with the usual presentation of authentic blues music, nor do some of the artists included (the Neville Brothers? Delbert McClinton? Dr. John?), and Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan contribute surprisingly perfunctory tracks. Yet Albert Collins, Gatemouth Brown, Buddy Guy, and B. B. King all turn in barnburners, and subtler standout performances by Lightnin’ Hopkins and Taj Mahal feed the fire. Jeff Mccord</p>
Some mystery writers might slack off after winning the prestigious Edgar, but not Austinite Mary Willis Walker. In All the Dead Lie Down (Doubleday, $22.95), reporter Molly Cates embroils herself in the homeless underworld, murderous doings in the Texas Legislature, and the uncompleted investigation into her own father’s death. Although Walker’s secondary characters always shine, this time Molly does too.
Houston novelist Max Apple roped in readers with Roommates, his 1994 memoir of his grandfather Rocky Goodstein. Whatever heartstrings that book left untugged are given a heck of a yank in I Love Gootie (Warner Books, $24), the story of his equally winsome grandmother. The Lithuanian-born Mrs. Rocky wanted Max to be a retailer. “Even if there were no books or papers or magazines,” he quotes her as saying, “people would still need a jacket in the winter.” True, Gootie—but books can warm you up too.
The problem with memoirs is that a first-person narrative can ultimately give readers an I-ful, but the author of Keepers (W. W. Norton, $23.95) never sounds whiny or glib. Missouri resident Bobby Jack Nelson (with that name, no wonder he hails from small-town Texas) recharges some chestnuts—boy meets girl, boy strikes it rich—and his unforced humor balances the horrifyingly restrained recountings of a suicide and murder. Bobby Jack, we’re glad to know ya. Anne Dingus