Hot CDs

The real pleasure in Toni Price’s Sol Power (Antone’s/Discovery/Sire) is trying to peg her as country, blues, or folk. Whether she’s singing something silly and simple, such as “Cats and Dogs,” or taking the sultry and sublime route, as when she covers Allen Toussaint’s “Funky,” the Austinite offers an earthy spin in the great genre-bending Texas tradition. The whole thing is made even earthier by the recording’s semi-acoustic live-in-Alpine setting and Champ Hood’s wondrous fiddling; the result is music stripped down to its barest essence. Joe Nick Patoski

Politics have kept Cuba’s vibrant jazz scene out of view in America, but Waco-born trumpeter Roy Hargrove has succeeded in bringing a bit of the island fire back home. Crisol, his large, exciting band of big-league cross-cultural talent, finds an intriguing neutral zone between bop and Afro-Cuban on Habana (Verve) and settles in smartly. Still in his twenties but imbued with the wisdom and taste of his elders, Hargrove keeps the arrangements impeccable, though a bit more abandon might have fanned the flames of this enjoyable set even higher. Jeff Mccord

On It Had to Happen, James McMurtry leaves behind Columbia Records and his onetime producer, John Mellencamp, for indie label Sugar Hill and a mostly Texan supporting cast, including producer Lloyd Maines and keyboardist-accordionist Lisa Mednick. The Austinite’s fourth effort is pure singer-songwriter classicism, a melding of American roots music and minutely detailed, affectionately remorseful small-town stories. His gruff singing gives the record a sober tone, but he does throw in a few curveballs, including beautifully snaky guitar playing and an elegiac cover of Kinky Friedman’s “Wild Man From Borneo.” Jason Cohen

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s practice of jumping from country to blues tracks has created consistently patchy albums. But on Gate Swings (Verve), the 73-year-old Orange native devotes himself to the big-band Houston blues that launched his career. The orchestra (heavy on stylish New Orleans horn men) swings while Brown’s boogie guitar stings on everything from house-rocking blues like “Caldonia” to Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.” This is a more subtle kind of eclecticism that has always marked the best Texas music. John Morthland

Hot Books Austin’s Carol Dawson has just published her third novel, the labyrinthine Meeting the Minotaur (Algonquin Books, $22.95). The thesis is Theseus, a modern-day, Texas-style version starring Taylor Deeds, whose gangly, geeky exterior hides a hero’s heart. Dallas stands in as Athens and Tokyo as Crete, and as for the Minotaur—well, you’ll just have to negotiate the maze yourself. … Two expatriates mine their Texas childhoods in gems from El Paso’s Cinco Puntos Press. Lisa Sandlin, a Beaumont native who teaches at Nebraska’s Wayne State College, proffers Message to the Nurse of Dreams ($11.95), a collection of short stories that addresses coming of age—and becoming aware of racism—in the kind of “Pig Stand, 7-11, refinery town” that dots the Gulf Coast. Novelist LaVerne Harrell Clark, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, also focuses on the clash of black and white in Keepers of the Earth ($14.95), set near her hometown of Smithville. There are doodlebugs, coachwhips, “hoodoo and conjuration”—as well as sly humor: The recurring crape myrtle, for instance, is the fluff-blossomed tree and a middle-aged Myrtle in widow’s weeds. … Just in time for July jaunts comes photographer Laurence Parent’s Official Guide to Texas State Parks(University of Texas Press, $19.95), a handy compendium enhanced by hundreds of inviting landscapes. Anne Dingus

Hot Cover Story

The July issue of Food and Wine has “Texas” written all over it. On the outside is a shot of a red, white, and true-blue dessert—summer berries on ginger shortcake with mascarpone cream—created by Houston star caterer Joe Abuso. Inside is a nine-page Fourth of July article on the Barb Wires, a highly unstructured culinary-musical foursome consisting of Abuso and fellow chefs Robert del Grande and Tim Keating of Houston and Dean Fearing of Dallas, featuring recipes and interesting biographical details. For instance: If Abuso ever decides he wants to get out of the kitchen, he can go back to his old career—he was formerly a bass player for pop star Tom Jones. Patricia Sharpe

Hot Author

The name’s Benson, Raymond Benson—and we don’t mean the leader of Asleep at the Wheel. The Midland native, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, is the latest scribe selected to pen the James Bond novels, only the third writer in the history of the 007 series. Does this mean the superspy will be trading in his vodka martinis for a can of Lone Star? Not likely. In the recently published Zero Minus Ten (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $22.95) and the Bond books to follow, you’ll find the usual fast cars, high-stakes gambling, and seductive women. Oh, yes, and exotic locations, like the setting for Benson’s next book: Texas. Jordan Mackay