What to read, listen to, and watch this month to achieve maximum Texas cultural literacy.
Good as Gone, Amy Gentry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 26)
In this Houston-set debut thriller, a girl who’s been missing for eight years shows up out of the blue on her parents’ doorstep—or does she? There’s a twist, another twist, and a satisfying payoff, none of which feel manipulative or implausible, largely because of Austin writer Gentry’s unerring (and unusual for the genre) feel for character and family dynamics.
Death of the Cool, Cotton Mather (Star Apple Kingdom, July 29)
Fifteen years after its last album—and nineteen years after the release of Kontiki, a record whose ardent fans include Britt Daniel and Noel Gallagher—Austin’s Cotton Mather has put out the follow-up: the first installment in a 64-song cycle based on the I Ching, which shows that front man Robert Harrison’s knack for muscular power pop is undiminished.
The 2016 Summer Olympics (August 5–21)
Houston gymnast Simone Biles is poised to become America’s sweetheart in Rio, but she’s not the only Texan looking to win big. At the top of the list is Houston Dash midfielder Carli Lloyd, who seeks to continue the heroics that made her the star of the 2015 World Cup. Surprisingly absent: Austin sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross, who decided at the last minute not to try for her fifth gold medal.
The Founder, directed by John Lee Hancock (August 5)
Ray Kroc, the driven salesman who weaseled a burger stand called McDonald’s away from its visionary founders and turned it into an empire, is a subject fit for Paul Thomas Anderson. But Longview native John Lee Hancock (The Alamo, The Rookie) got there first, with a script penned by The Wrestler’s Robert Siegel, giving comeback kid Michael Keaton the juicy title role.
Pete’s Dragon, directed by David Lowery (August 12)
Sure to be a departure from the 1977 musical, whose dragon—rendered by El Paso native Don Bluth—was a cartoon, this remake is helmed by Irving High School grad Lowery, whose lauded Ain’t Them Bodies Saints makes an odd prelude to Disney family fare. His early film Pioneer, in which a man tells his son a harrowing bedtime story, hints at how dark things could get.
Sunkissed, Ashleigh Smith (Concord Records, August 19)
Dallasite Smith, a graduate of the University of North Texas’s music program, has plenty of jazz chops, as her victory in the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition demonstrates. But on her debut she keeps the improvisational acrobatics to a minimum and dials up a feel-good seventies-era smooth-soul vibe—even when she’s not covering Hall & Oates.