What to hear, read, and watch this month to achieve maximum Texas cultural literacy.
Make Some Room, The Suffers (self-released, January 20)
Yes, this is a four-song EP from an unsigned Houston band. But when that band dominates the Houston Press Music Awards, attention must be paid. And given this ten-piece ensemble’s razor-sharp funk revivalism and front woman Kam Franklin’s powerhouse voice, it’s tough to imagine they’ll remain unsigned for long. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, watch out.
The Same Sky, Amanda Eyre Ward (Ballantine Books, January 20)
Austin author Ward’s fifth novel, about a pair of Honduran refugees whose paths intersect with that of a Texas barbecue proprietor, has the good luck of being timely; Central American children crossing the Mexico-Texas border weren’t making headlines or panicking TV news broadcasters when she began writing it. But her fiction has never depended on topicality for its power.
George W. Bush: The American Presidents Series, James Mann (Henry Holt, February 3)
Mann’s Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet, which came out in 2004, when our forty-third president was still riding high, was lauded for its informed, evenhanded analysis. Eleven years later, Bush’s reputation has taken a few hits, and Mann has a lot more material to work with in this brief historical sketch.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO, February 8)
After New York real estate heir Durst’s 2003 acquittal in the gruesome murder of his Galveston neighbor, the wise move for him would have been to keep a low profile. Instead, Durst reached out to Andrew Jarecki, the director of All Good Things, a feature film inspired by Durst’s life, and offered to sit for a series of interviews, resulting in this utterly bizarre six-part documentary miniseries.
Happy Prisoner, Robert Earl Keen (Dualtone, February 10)
Though Keen was raised on bluegrass, he had never, until now, gotten around to making a proper bluegrass album. These songs, featuring guest appearances by Lyle Lovett and Natalie Maines, offer an intriguing corrective to that—Keen’s deep baritone has little in common with the high, plaintive tenor usually associated with the genre. In a sense, he still hasn’t made a proper bluegrass album.
Terraplane, Steve Earle & The Dukes (New West, February 17)
His sixteenth studio album, recorded on the heels of the dissolution of his seventh marriage, is, aptly, his first blues album. Fronting a band that includes an Austin couple, Earle discards the curatorial impulse that usually sinks these sorts of projects—there are no cover songs here—and titles one tune “Go Go Boots Are Back” to remind us that the blues can be funny too.