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BOOKS & THE CULTURE And the Beats Go On BY MICHAEL HOINSKI The History of Texas Music By Gary Hartman Texas A&M University Press 304 pages, $19.95 usic has proved a wand of empowerment for the vast array of Texans who have wielded it. The state’s native inhabitants ramped up their tribal music in part to free themselves from the incoming Spanish settlers. Later, Mexicans played conjunto to unburden themselves of the white man, while blacks played the blues as a way to loosen those same chains. Even the whites played music to free themselvesfrom their history, expectations self-imposed and otherwise, and in some cases their homelands. This between-the-lines conclusion that music enables transcendence grows out of Hartman’s thesis: that Texas’ ethnic diversity has engendered a musical cross-pollination that forms the backbone of American music. The manifestation of that notion is The History of Texas Music, a concise primer on the state’s music, examined in social, political, and economic contexts. It’s incredibly inclusive, yet Hartman, founding director of the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University, omits at least one important musician, avant folkie Daniel Johnston \(and Hartman skates over the genre Johnston played an integral part in spawning, a genre that arguably draws on all of its predecessors: who’s anybodywhether they were born in Texas or lived their formidable years heregets at least a name-check, but rarely more than a few paragraphs. “Texas music” is routinely mistaken for a genre unto itself, though it’s much more than just the outlaw ballads of Willie Nelson, the crooner classicism of George Strait, and the cooing harmonies of the Dixie Chicks. Assumptions to the otherwise derive largely from country music’s widespread appeal, which Hartman credits to Hollywood’s mythification of cowboys, as enacted by Texans Gene Autry, Dale Evans, and Tex Ritter. Defining Texas music as a sound bound by geography, not style, is therefore one of Hartman’s main tasks. This leads him to countless pronouncements a reader familiar with the subject might find obvious. “First and foremost,” he writes, “Texas music is extraordinarily diverse. Although many people may think of country music when they think of the 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 22, 2008