CD and Book Reviews
If Cindy Walker had never produced another song besides “You Don’t Know Me,” her stature would be assured among country and pop writers. But the Mexia woman has written about four hundred others, including “Bubbles in My Beer” (Bob Wills) and “Two Glasses, Joe” (Ernest Tubb). All three are among the twenty Walker songs picked by former Wills vocalist Leon Rausch for the relaxed, subtly swinging Close to You (Southland). Without sacrificing the earthy emotions at the core, Rausch polishes each track to reveal a deeply hued gem. Greatest Grooves (Dragon Street), which gathers “Groovey”
Joe Poovey’s heppest sides from 1954 to 1997, confirms that the Dallas rockabilly rarely mustered the raw vocal power of peers like Ronnie Dawson, but proves that nobody boasted better bands. Always more comfortable with country than with rock, Poovey nonetheless shouts with the best of ’em on his 1958 should’ve-been-a-hit “Ten Long Fingers,” which recasts Chuck Berry’s Louisiana guitarist “Johnny B. Goode” as a Texas piano pounder. JOHN MORTHLAND
The one-man band known as Darin has a simple philosophy: “The hook is not part of the song. The hook is the song.” On his solo debut record, Solitarium (Copper), the Austinite (formerly half of Trish and Darin, with sister Trish Murphy) flaunts his influences (there are hipper antecedents, but it comes down to Revolver) in pleasingly left-of-center songs that offer more pop than a roomful of broken balloons. You’ll be hooked.
If there’s such a thing as a fringe legend, Gretchen Phillips qualifies, having been a member of three influential Austin bands: Meatjoy, Girls in the Nose, and Two Nice Girls. On Songs to Save Your Soul(Seasick Sailor Records), her first CD, Phillips has fashioned a quirkily beautiful, folk-and-gospel flavored song cycle that contemplates alienation, cultural warfare, spirituality, and sex, all in just over 21 minutes. JASON COHEN
Hazy, narcotic-hued soundscapes abound on Telescopic (Drag City), Edith Frost’s second album, which broadens the former Texan’s frugal acoustic approach with a medley of humming and buzzing electric instruments. Though the album’s lethargic pace initially lulls the listener, Frost’s dreamlike musings of human frailties are melodic, distinctive, and wholly addictive.
Overshadowed by his former high school classmate Ornette Coleman, and more recently by his son Joshua, Fort Worth tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman remains an underappreciated talent. Despite exemplary turns with Coleman, Charlie Haden, and Keith Jarrett, Redman’s own recordings are infrequent. Ear of the Behearer (Impulse!), an adventurous 1973 reissue, is one of the most exciting and far-reaching. Perched atop a feral band with uncommon instrumentation, Redman’s tone fuels frantic improvisations, droning dirges, and even some down-home Texas blues. JEFF MCCORD
North Texas’ feisty Honey Records has done a public service by assembling the works of Homer Henderson into a CD for the ages, Greatest Flops and Golden Filler. All of Homer’s semi-hits are here—“Picking Up Beer Cans on the Highway,” “I Want a Date With a Cowboy Cheerleader,” the epic “Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine”—celebrating the checkered career of the only star from Dallas named after a street intersection. Southwest F.O.B. had all the ingredients for a sixties-era punk band—a teenybop Farfisa organ, “deep” lyrics, and a bona fide regional hit, “Smell of Incense.” So how come this hep Dallas combo was overlooked on the Nuggets box set? Probably because two members actually became famous as the seventies soft rock duo England Dan (Seals) and John Ford Coley (né Colley). Inklings of that pop sensibility are all over Smell of Incense (Sundazed), but there’s also a righteous extended jam, “And Another Thing,” for street cred and “Bells of Baytown,” which tries to make the Texas coast sound as pretty as the Mediterranean. JOE NICK PATOSKI
Texans B. J. Thomas and Christopher Cross took career turns at Oscar-winning Burt Bacharach compositions, and both land cuts with 35 other performers on Rhino’s exquisite The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection. The 75 tracks drip kitsch like syrup wrung from a pancake with both hands: solos are whistled, oboed, and ukuleled, with guitar chinks and Tijuana Brass blasts to punctuate, but underneath are melodies that ride like Charlie Parker runs, like a kid taking the stairs three steps at a time. And you don’t have to be an Elvis Costello fan to listen to the whole thing. JOHN SPONG
Technophobes need not fear Distraction (Bantam Spectra, $23.95), the new novel from Austinite Bruce Sterling, the nation’s preeminent cyberfabulist. Plot and character take center stage; the requisite computers and futuristic gizmos do duty as intriguing props and backdrops. This cautionary vision of America falling apart in the year 2044 is an engaging, Cajun-spiced tale of romance and intrigue that satisfies thoroughly—even if sci-fi isn’t your bag. MIKE SHEA