Along with Nat “King” Cole, Texas City native Charles Brown became the father of late-night “cocktail blues” in Los Angeles in the forties. Half a century later, Honey Dripper (Verve/Gitanes) vividly conjures up Brown’s suave, stylish world. His voice is sweet and smoky like a rich cigar and as smooth and mellow as fine wine; his piano and jazzy combo are intimate like candlelight nightcaps. Clichés? Not when they’re applied to the man and music they were first created for. If “The Very Thought of You” doesn’t get under your skin, consult your dermatologist. JOHN MORTHLAND
Praise the Lord High Fixers. After countless singles and EPs and an Australian compilation disc, Once Upon a Time Called…Right Now (Estrus Records) is the first widely available CD from the riotously infectious hit-and-run quintet headed up by aging Poison 13 mainstays Mike Carroll and Tim Kerr. Drawing on everything from white noise to blue jazz, the Austin- and Houston-based Fixers hit on a raucous, swinging garage-punk sound that’s both savage and savvy. JASON COHEN
Austin’s Bruce Sterling concocts a fountain-of-youth fantasy in Holy Fire (Bantam Spectra, $22.95), in which a “late twenty-first-century technocrene” morphs into a supermodel thanks to futuristic fashion and medicine. It’s virtual surreality.
If you prefer your literature retro, check out The Oxford Mark Twain ($295 until February; $395 thereafter), a 29-volume collection of all of Twain’s writings—fiction, essays, and speeches—edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, a professor of American studies and English at the University of Texas at Austin.
Bibliophiles of all stripes should snap up David and Susan Siegel’s Used Book Lover’s Guide to the Central States (Book Hunter Press, $18.95), which lists 283 used-book stores in Texas alone.
Stuff a mystery lover’s stocking with two new paperbacks by Texas novelists. A Horse to Die For (Fawcett Books, $5.50) is the fifth equestrian puzzle from Bastrop’s Carolyn Banks—sort of Dick Francis light. In Austinite Jeff Abbott’s latest, Distant Blood (Ballantine Books, $5.99), a family turns gruesomely gothic. ANNE DINGUS
Thanks, thanks a lot to the Country Music Foundation ’s head researcher, Ronnie Pugh, for writing Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubadour (Duke University Press, $29.95). Pugh’s scholarship reveals Tubb as the true father of Texas-style country and provides an incisive overview of the genre’s evolution during the past half-century. JOE NICK PATOSKI
San Antonians David Lake and Ted Flato stayed true to their home state, and now people everywhere—not just design-savvy Texans and the judges of national competitions—have come running to honor their love of the landscape and native materials. See, for instance, the home-gallery of art patron Linda Pace (soon to be featured in House and Garden) and the ranch headquarters of Tommy Lee Jones (shot for an upcoming issue of Architectural Digest). Then, too, there’s the just-published survey of their work up to now, Lake/Flato (Contemporary World Architects, $20). But the real measure of their success may be this: These guys are so good that they’ve persuaded some clients to give up air conditioning. MIMI SWARTZ
Talk about ulterior votives! The Seattle-based company Three Tacky Texans has generated heat with its parodies of religious candles, such as Our Lady of Junk Food and Powerful Elvis Prayer. Devout Catholics may do a slow burn over the spoofy icons—one San Antonio firm that had supplied the company with blank candles deemed the products sacrilegious and bowed out—but thousands of irreverent customers obviously enjoy the wicked wit. This season’s surefire seller is the brand-new Protection From Dysfunctional Family Christmas, which retails for around $12 at tacky-tolerant stores statewide. ANNE DINGUS
In 1992 Austinite Daniel Quinn was plucked from obscurity when his novel Ishmael—about a supersagacious talking ape—won Ted Turner’s Tomorrow Fellowship, a $500,000 prize awarded that year to the work of fiction that best produced “creative and positive solutions to global problems.” Suddenly, the didactic but engaging eco-philosopher had a best-seller and an Internet site (http://www.ishmael.com) for his devoted fans. This month the 61-year-old—whose style has been called a mix of Robert Pirsig, Ayn Rand, and the Unabomber—releases The Story of B (Bantam), a novel about an itinerant preacher whose enemies denounce him as the Antichrist. Next up: a sequel to Ishmael for which he received an advance he says is “in excess” of the Turner prize. MICHAEL DILEO
The best lodgings in West Texas just got better. In October the oh-so-civilized Gage Hotel in Marathon opened its long-awaited Cafe Cenizo: four dining rooms in an adjacent converted house replete with cowboy and Indian artifacts on creamy white stucco walls. Big Bend—bound travelers can now enjoy the likes of grilled steaks, quail, savory catfish, and blackberry cobbler without the usual wait for a table. As evening falls, they can gather around the new courtyard’s glowing open-air fireplace and toast their toes under the biggest, starriest skies in the whole Trans-Pecos—or maybe the whole wide world. PATRICIA SHARPE