Never Look Back, Brian Houser's debut long-player, is proof enough that country music stopped improving about two decades ago. Everything since then has been a product of the Nash Vegas assembly line, by-the-numbers polished pop with a few pedal steel guitars and fiddles attached so it can (barely) qualify as country. Houser's songs, on the other hand, recall the days when Austin was the other country music mecca, and Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard were its black-hatted outlaw sheriffs. Produced by Mitch Marine--formerly of Tripping Daisy and Brave Combo--and backed by Marine on drums and bass, Sara Hickman on vocals, and Andy Timmons on guitar, Never Look Back is one of the best country albums to emerge from Dallas in the past decade. Then again, that isn't saying much. Houser will play songs from Never Look Back at Denton's Hastings Books and Music, located at 2305 Colorado, at 7 p.m. Call (940) 565-1674.
Since we first saw Spike Lee's NBA lockout-spoofing Nike commercials, we've actually been rooting for the labor impasse to last a few more months, or at least until another couple of spots have been filmed. Another reason to cheer for the cancellation of more games is the fact that the much-maligned Dallas Mavericks remain in first place. Who thought that you'd still be able to say that in December? At this point in the season, forward Michael Finley and his JV-quality teammates should be making off-season plans. With so much newfound free time on their hands, some members of the Mavs organization are using the opportunity to spread a little Christmas cheer with Mavericks at the Mall. The team's irritating mascot Mavs Man will cruise the mall on his new Ninja cycle and sign autographs, and the new Mavericks Urban Suburban will make its debut--along with Santa Claus--tossing out candy and a ton of things embossed with the Mavs logo. Coach Don Nelson and his wife will shop with fans, and assistant coach Donn Nelson will conduct a free basketball clinic. Come out and ask the coach some pointed questions about his roster moves over the past two years. Then go home and keep cheering for more labor strife. Mavericks at the Mall happens on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. at Southwest Center Mall, 3662 West Camp Wisdom Road. Call (972) 296-1491.
Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to concentrate on the Christmas shopping season. Of course, for many, the Christmas shopping season begins and ends on Christmas Eve. But, if you're the kind of person who doesn't wait until the absolute last moment to begin buying gifts, a unique place to start is the Holiday Marketplace, an annual event sponsored by the South Dallas Cultural Center. Holiday Marketplace was established several years ago to create an outlet for artists of African descent. This year, the event features works by many up-and-coming and established artists, including David Goff, whose new exhibit of portraits--I am because they were...--is on display at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Holiday Marketplace happens December 4-6 at the SDCC, 3400 S. Fitzhugh. Call (214) 939-2787.
In his work, artist Michael McWillie takes the old paintings of dogs playing poker seriously, using it as an inspiration. In his new exhibit at Empty Walls Gallery, McWillie creates a canine cast of characters that mug for his imaginary camera, chomping on cigars, watching television, and generally acting like short, hairy people. With his work, McWillie makes a good case for the people who have always said dogs are more human than we give them credit for. The only problem with that logic: Humans who go around sniffing other people's crotches usually end up in jail. McWillie's paintings hang at Empty Walls Gallery, 217 Preston Royal Shopping Village, through January 4. Call (214) 369-9989.
At this point, most people should have tired of the redneck shtick first semi-popularized by comedian Jeff Foxworthy. If you've heard one joke that begins with "You might be a redneck if..." you've heard them all, and if you grew up in a small town in Texas, you know them better than you care to let on. Joining the game a bit late is political cartoonist and author David Davis, with his somewhat cumbersomely titled book, Redneck Night Before Christmas. The book tips its hand before you even read the first page, with a cover illustration depicting Santa Claus delivering his toys in a beat-up pickup. It's a pretty obvious take on an oft-told Christmas tale (it's not hard to imagine a hillbilly Santa; he already has the long beard), but it's still fairly humorous. But here's what we want for Christmas: No more redneck jokes. Davis will sign copies of Redneck Night Before Christmas at Hastings, 2305 Colorado in Denton, on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Call (940) 565-1764.