There's an interesting supplement in the new issue of Texas Monthly, the one with all-but-declared gubernatorial candidate Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on the cover. It's a 32-page mini-mag called Texas Bound for Music, and appears to be TM's attempt at... well, it's not really clear exactly what the magazine is trying to accomplish here.
It's always irked Rocks Off that for a publication that professes to love Texas so much, and how central music is to the state's cultural identity, the Monthly is apparently content to confine its music coverage to (excepting longer features) a single page of record reviews in the front of the book and maybe a Q&A or two in the event-listing section. Especially with writers and editors such as John Morthland and Michael Hall at its disposal. So if this is TM's way of expanding its music coverage, more power to 'em. It just picked a really strange way to do it.
First of all, the cover gives Rocks Off visions of the TM editors sitting around their conference room in a meeting that might have gone something like this:
"So... think it's OK to go ahead and run Willie on the cover again?"
"Well, you know we just ran that giant oral history on him last May for his 75th birthday."
"Oh yeah. Still, it's coming up on a year. A year is a long time to go without putting Willie on the cover."
"How about this: What about a mini-issue within the magazine? We can excerpt some of that oral history and throw in a few other things."
"Hmmm. Sounds good. Let's do it."
That's right. Most of the content in Texas Bound for Music has already appeared in the magazine, some of it not even remotely recently. Both Cecilia Balli's article on norteno accordion king Ramon Ayala, as engaging and thorough as it is, and Morthland and McCord's ranking of the "Top 10 Texas Songs" date all the way back to the Monthly's April 2004 edition, which must have been some sort of special music issue. (Bet Willie was on that cover, too.) It's been so long, though, who knows?
Worse, what original content there is feels just as stale. Morthland's list of "12 Texas CDs You Shouldn't Live Without" is more or less the same old Texas Tornados/Lyle Lovett/ZZ Top/Billy Joe Shaver/Lucinda Williams roll call - Guess who's No. 1? Here's a hint: he's on the cover - that gets trotted out every time. Worse, half are live albums or greatest-hits records, which just feels like cheating.
Maybe Morthland realized this, because Chamillionaire's The Sound of Revenge, the Dixie Chicks' Fly and Erykah Badu's Baduizm are also on there, even though all three have made much better records (Get Ya Mind Correct with Paul Wall; Home; and last year's New Amerykah: 4th World War, respectively.) Rounding out the list are Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar, which Rocks Off will let slide since it did win the 2007 Pulitzer freakin' Prize - Coleman, hasn't lived in Texas for more than a half-century, though - and Norah Jones' 2002 Starbucks blockbuster Come Away With Me. No comment.
And then there's Chester Rosson's illustrated "Texas Music History Notebook," which outlines key Texas musical figures decade by decade, with a short explanatory essay. (The years 1900-30 are covered in one entry.) But look for the pages covering 1980-90, 1990-2000 and 2000-present, and you're going to be looking for a while. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Monthly's music coverage (besides its heavy Austin-centric bias, that is): what it does, it does well, but what it leaves out could fill UT's Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium a couple of times.