Texas’ key master.

Red Garland

It’s A Blue World
(Original Jazz Classics)

JAZZ IS CHARACTERIZED BY ITS HARD-LUCK CASES, but there are also those who got lucky. Wrapping up one of his first cross-country tours in post—World War II New York City, Red Garland would find himself in the right place at the right time. The Dallas native, who acquired his keyboard dexterity in the Army, arrived in the Big Apple at the height of the bebop craze. In a few years he was playing with the movement’s anointed leader, an ornery alto player named Charlie Parker. Miles Davis, who in those days stuck to Parker like wallpaper, would recruit Garland along with a raw young saxophonist named John Coltrane. When Coltrane began to make his own records, Garland again got the nod. A large part of his appeal to these once-and-future jazz giants lay in what he didn’t play. His frugality was akin to Hemingway’s; rarely was a single note wasted. Yet when it was time to deliver, he never disappointed. Witness his effortless transitions from melody to double-time solo in these two trio dates, recorded more than nine months apart in 1957 and 1958, and recently reissued. It’s tempting today to dismiss Garland’s music as squarish cocktail filler. His occasional over-reliance on octave-framed block chording could lend a frilly ornateness, and for a person with such forward-thinking bosses, his own work clung tenaciously to the standards. But while the whiff of cliché may permeate the air, Garland, Paul Chambers, and Art Taylor were working without a post-bop map. These are albums of sublimity and precision, and each note sounds with clarity and purpose, which is all the more remarkable from a label known for its treadmill-paced recording sessions. Exciting? Groundbreaking? Well, no. But in the right place at the right time, Red Garland is still the perfect choice. Jeff McCord

ZZ Top


IT’S A DAMN SHAME THAT ZZ Top’s XXX slipped under the radar because there’s no better proof that the Little Ol’ Power Trio From Houston is far more than a mere classic rock band going through the motions. Forget the Jeff Beck cameo on “Hey Mr. Millionaire” or the three other live tracks—XXX was originally going to be a live recording—and get familiar with the new stuff cooked up in the studio, namely “Beatbox,” a twenty-first century update of the “La Grange” riff with a thoroughly modern story line, and the electronica-laden funky instrumental “Dreadmonboogaloo.” Both are paragons of the risk-taking going on behind the scenes of Texas’ most successful rock band. Don’t sweat: The Boogie Beast still lives, and Billy F Gibbons’ voice has aged to the point that he’s as much an elder as John Lee Hooker. But considering ZZ could’ve turned out as mush-brained as the Moody Blues—a shining example of how the ennui sets in when you’ve been at it so long—the studio gimmickry lacing the BBQ ‘n’ beans basics makes ZZ sound positively cutting-edge. Uh-haw-haw-haw. Joe Nick Patoski

The Derailers

Full Western Dress
(Sire Records)

PEGGED AS COUNTRY-AND-WESTERN revivalists, Austin’s Derailers have followed the tried-and-true path of their sixties idols, mixing a little George Jones with a little Faron Young, a little Lefty Frizzell with a lot of Buck Owens. With Full Western Dress, they take that sixties influence a step further, wrapping tight vocal harmonies around tunes that would have made the Beatles envious. The album is full of hooks, from “Whatever Made You Change Your Mind,” by guitarist and singer Brian Hofeldt, replete with the requisite na-na-na’s, to the countrified (and gender modified) take on the Crystals’ “Then She Kissed Me.” Like their idol and mentor Owens, they move effortlessly between country and pop, and on “Someone Else’s Problem” the resemblance to the Buckaroos is uncanny. Owens even duets with singer Tony Villanueva on the bittersweet and near-corny “Play Me the Waltz of the Angels,” an homage to Wynn Stewart’s classic “Waltz of the Angels.” Thirty years on, the Derailers fill in the gap between Bakersfield and the Byrds. Luann Williams

. . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead


WHILE IT HAS OFTEN COME IN the form of best (and the occasional worst) band-name citations, this Austin quartet just keeps growing in stature. In the past year it has dealt with the theft of its equipment (while on tour in New Orleans) and the dissolution of its record label, Trance Syndicate. All bands should have such lousy luck, as Madonna is a terrific-sounding rock record, and when it comes to the indie scene, it doesn’t get more hospitable than Merge, the decade-old label operated by the band Superchunk. In fact, AYWKUBTTOD is emblematic of that scene’s continued viability, with its pre-1993 influences (Sonic Youth and various space-, kraut-, and noise-rock bands) and a do-it-yourself ethic that stems from a true regional community. The material ranges from alienated art rock and brute punk riffing to slow, byzantine guitar duels, all rendered with crystalline beauty and sheer sonic force. Suggested motto: Rock hard, play loud, and leave a beautiful corpse. Jason Cohen

Jerry Lightfoot And the Essentials

Better Days
(Age Out)

IN THE LATE SEVENTIES JERRY LIGHTFOOT pumped a second wind into the careers of Houston blues originals like saxman Grady Gaines and guitarist Joe “Guitar” Hughes by putting them in front of new audiences. On this, his first album in four years, he rarely strays far from the blues spirit, but surprisingly few songs follow blues structure. Better Days is about successfully crawling from the wreckage of a life lived perhaps too hard and then getting slapped down anyhow—but again Lightfoot avoids the obvious. There’s not a blues-rock cliché here, though some lyrics (“Cryin’ Lord have mercy/And please make it quick”) ring like classic bluespeak. Jerry Lacroix, the former vocalist for Edgar Winter’s White Trash and Gulf Coast bar band the Boogie Kings, sings lead on five tracks; he can seemingly hit any note from any direction and make it sound like personal testimony. Lightfoot’s biting guitar lines run from hard blues to Chuck Berry to some of the faintly Eastern flavorings of sixties blues-based jam bands, though he’s much more succinct than they ever were. Ultimately, Better Days stomps and soars, and hurts and hopes, in equal doses. John Morthland


Donley Watt

Haley, Texas 1959
(Cinco Puntos Press)

TOO MADE-UP FOR MEMOIRS, too fact-based for fiction, Donley Watt’s Haley, Texas 1959 wrests a new subgenre, one we might label the “demi-memoir,” out of his hardscrabble East Texas childhood. Unlike some memoirists, the author, who now lives in San Antonio, doesn’t dish out too many mournful (or too many suspiciously detailed) recollections, and he acknowledges that “the meanderings of my mind” have embellished or distorted crucial moments of the past. At the same time, only experience could spark his precise rendering of the little-bitty daily doings of mid-century middle-class life. Haley, Texas 1959 comprises two novellas. In the first the father leaves his fourteen-year-old son on his own for a week to clear-cut a field of mesquite; in the second a group of idle young men in search of entertainment descend into casual brutality. In both you’ll find fine prose, unexpected twists, and perfect nostalgic touches, like the mesquite hacker’s reverie on his mother’s cooking and her discomfort with a neighbor’s “dubious, non-Confederate origins.”

Briefly Noted

AMARILLO’S KIMBERLY WILLIS HOLT commands attention with her youth novel When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (Henry Holt), which has been nominated for a National Book Award. Zachary, the “fattest boy in the world” is put on display (for cash) in desolate Antler, Texas, and somehow nothing will be the same when he leaves. Only the rote ending disappoints in this engaging outsider tale.…

Bet on this: Bill Minutaglio’s First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty (Times Books) will not be yanked from the shelves. Devoid of innuendo, it is an even-handed look at Texas’ hyperenergetic guv and his enormously privileged yet grounded heritage. Though George W. argues that he didn’t stroll through life finding cash lying about, he certainly has harvested money trees tended by Bushes and Friends of Bush. First Son reinforces more than it reveals, but the wealth of detail brings into clear focus the gregarious presidential candidate who, denials aside, was born and groomed to run.…

Those fortunate enough to have attended tapings of Austin City Limits recall free beer, chairless seating, and perilously close camera dollies. Austin City Limits: 25 Years of American Music (Billboard Books) captures some of that experience, though John T. Davis rightfully focuses on the artists. It might be a college yearbook in disguise, but the alumni are outstanding. Mike Shea