John Morthland

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Articles by John Morthland

Unsentimental Journey

Jan 20, 2013 By John Morthland

Ornette Coleman's radical theory of harmolodics helped redefine jazz. His relationship with the music business has always been troubled, however, and today the Fort Worth native suffers from benign neglect. But his tenor sax still packs an emotional wallop.

Voice of Amerykah

Jan 20, 2013 By John Morthland

Whether or not Erykah Badu is the Billie Holiday of hip-hop, her uplifting songs and soulful singing are winning fans from coast to coast.

Gone To Kansas City

Jan 20, 2013 By John Morthland

I went; I ate; for the most part I snickered. Of all the alleged barbecue capitals in the United States, the only serious rival to Texas is Kansas City, Missouri. This is because Kansas City barbecues beef, whereas Memphis, the Carolinas, and the rest of the Deep South barbecue pork.

The Other Cabeza de Vaca

Jan 20, 2013 By John Morthland

At seven on a Saturday morning, I find Armando Vera and his assistant in the prep room of the tin smokehouse behind Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que in Brownsville. The assistant is cleaning about fifty cow heads with a powerful spray hose; when he finishes, Vera wraps them in extra-heavy aluminum foil. In…

Lockhart and Soul

Jan 20, 2013 By John Morthland

It’s been the same for years. At Kreuz Market in Lockhart, you enter from the dirt parking lot through the hellishly hot pit area in the rear. If the line is long enough—and the line at Kreuz is seldom short—the exposed post-oak-wood fire at the end of the pit may…

Pit Stops

Jan 20, 2013 By Patricia Sharpe, Eileen Schwartz, Joe Nick Patoski, Katy Vine, John Morthland, Paul Burka, John Spong, Michael Hall, Jane Dure and Christopher Keyes

Where are the best places to eat barbecue in Texas? Six years ago we published a highly subjective—and hotly debated— list of our fifty favorite joints, and now we’ve gone back for seconds. Ten intrepid souls drove more than 21,000 miles in search of 2003’s worthiest ‘cue. Here’s what they came back with: the top 5 and the next 45, plus honorable mentions, great chains, and meat by mail.

Clifford Antone

Jun 30, 2006 By John Morthland

ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, environmental activist Robin Rather, and others remember the legendary Austin nightclub owner who died May 23, 2006.

Clifford Antone (1949-2006)

Jun 30, 2006 By John Morthland

The legendary Austin club owner, who died May 23, helped launch many a Texas musician, from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Charlie Sexton. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons remembers the larger-than-life music impresario.

Grease

Jul 31, 2005 By John Morthland

At restaurants across Texas, there are any number of things that taste better dipped in egg and milk, dredged in flour, and pan-fried in hot oil. If you think steak is the only chicken-fried, uh, delicacy, wake up and smell the bacon. And the antelope. And the lobster. And…

Top Fifty

Apr 30, 2003 By Patricia Sharpe, Eileen Schwartz, Joe Nick Patoski, Katy Vine, John Morthland, Paul Burka, John Spong, Michael Hall, Jane Dure and Christopher Keyes

Unless otherwise noted, all places take credit cards. ABILENE: Harold’s Pit Bar-B-Q We didn’t catch pitmaster Harold Christian singing gospel songs to his customers, but we’re told that isn’t an unusual occurrence. This cozy little room, packed with nine picnic tables, seven booths, and a congregation of athletic trophies, is…

Prodigal Son

Mar 1, 2003 By John Morthland

After years of ignoring Woody Guthrie's time in Pampa, residents of the tiny Panhandle community are finally singing "This Land Is His Land."

Sharp Shooter

Apr 30, 2002 By John Morthland

Richard Young knows it takes a lot of practice—and a little natural ability—to be a proficient cowboy action-shooter.

We Are the World

Apr 1, 2002 By John Morthland

With colorful music and dynamic performers who hail from Africa, Asia, and all points in between, the Houston International Festival puts the globe onstage.

Jon Emery

Mar 1, 2001 By John Morthland

With his sense of humor, his down-and-out songs, and his wordplay that turned country convention upside down, Leroy Preston gave Asleep at the Wheel dimensions it has lacked since the seventies. Kyle’s Jon Emery, a co-leader of Preston’s post-Wheel band, Whiskey Drinkin’ Music, reprises five of those songs here, and…

Leslie Satcher

Feb 1, 2001 By John Morthland

This Paris native’s debut album hopes to have it both ways, and it sometimes succeeds. Like most Nashville-based singers, her voice is largely twang-free, suited for pop as much as country, but it’s undeniably intimate. Producer Luke Wooten provides a typically radio-friendly, drum-heavy sound that would also be the Music…

Erykah Badu

Jan 1, 2001 By John Morthland

Nine months after her triumphant 1997 debut, Baduizm, Erykah Badu released a live album containing only two new songs. Since then, she has focused on raising the son she had with her then-boyfriend, OutKast rapper Andre “Dre” Benjamin, turned in a strong performance in Cider House Rules, moved from New…

The Cornell Hurd Band

Dec 1, 2000 By John Morthland

Critics aren’t supposed to review albums by their friends, but I can’t help it: Let me tell you about my longtime lunch-mate from Dripping Springs, Cornell. His ten-piece honky-tonk swing band, which specializes in jump and shuffles, is as tight as the Bush family on Election Night while boasting brilliant…

Susan Alcorn

Nov 1, 2000 By John Morthland

East meets country and western, and a whole lot more, on this Houston pedal-steel guitarist’s debut solo album. As a member of Eugene Chadbourne’s Ernest Tubb Memorial Band, Alcorn plays little that’s recognizable as country or alt-country. The eight improvisational instrumentals on Uma pursue that exploratory spirit without sounding much…

Unsung

Sep 30, 2000 By John Morthland

On the record with Chris Strachwitz, whose Arhoolie label has quietly built the world's best collection of indigenous Texas music.

Last Forever

Sep 30, 2000 By John Morthland

Last Forever fuses the talents of Manhattan songwriter, arranger, and keyboardist Dick Connette and singer Sonya Cohen of Austin. She is the daughter of John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers and the niece of Pete Seeger. The music, most of it written by Connette, extends American folk traditions…

Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville

Sep 30, 2000 By John Morthland

Luis Foncerrada, age ten, burst through the gates first, grabbing a zoo map on the way; his brother Sebastian, five, was a half step behind, followed by me. Veteran zoo-goers, the boys barely glanced at the flamingos, paused briefly for the jaguars, and then settled in to observe the spider…

Blue October

Aug 31, 2000 By John Morthland

Art-rock was never my cup of noise—so much so that I never even realized it had practically disappeared until this Houston quintet, currently based in San Marcos, sought to bring it back. With lyrics supremely neurotic and music nicely melodic, the band sounds both skeptical and outraged and uncharacteristically visceral,…

The Spectacular Johnny Horton

Jul 31, 2000 By John Morthland

Johnny Horton was best known for his “saga songs,” historical narratives that were popular in country music in the early sixties, right around the time the urban folk movement was hitting the pop charts. The longtime Tyler resident’s best-known saga song was “Battle of New Orleans,” which was written by…

On the Fringe

Jun 30, 2000 By John Morthland

You might have thought Waco’s Hank Thompson, a forebear of today’s alt-country scene, was dead and gone. But faster than you can say “No Depression,” he’s back, and even at 74, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Dallas Alley Drag

Jun 30, 2000 By John Morthland

In the history of Texas blues the glory often went to the guitar players, but this collection of twenties and thirties blues, rags, and stomps proves they weren’t the only show in town. Playing rolling bass underpinnings with their left hand and rocking lead lines with their right, the Dallas…

Greyhound Blues

May 31, 2000 By John Morthland

If not for this CD, which was recorded last year, most Texans would never have been aware of Beaumont’s Ervin Charles, who died on April 1 at age 68 with little more than two credits on 1999’s Lone Star Shootout CD to show for a storied, fifty-year career. The ferocious…

The Meating

May 31, 2000 By John Morthland

Three friends, seven years, untold pounds of barbecue pork chops and prime rib, and a single tradition that elevates the experience above mere food.

Wills Power

Apr 30, 2000 By John Morthland

Sixty-five years after his first recording sessions with the Texas Playboys, 25 years after his death, Bob Wills is still the king of western swing.

Waltz Across Texas

Apr 30, 2000 By John Morthland

At the start of the sixties Ernest Tubb’s grip on the country Top Ten was slipping. To compensate, he put together a “hot” band that allowed him to play clubs and dance halls as well as concerts; that’s the group documented in this 1999 six-CD box set that covers the…

Sweet Inspiration

Mar 1, 2000 By John Morthland

There’s little about the Hollisters that’s truly original, but their smooth mix of classic country, rockabilly, southern rock, and a dash of folk-rock is indeed inspired. between Mike Barfield’s fluttering baritone vocals and Eric Danheim’s twanging, country-boogie guitar, the Houston quartet often sounds like a Johnny Cash tribute band, but…