Preston Lane

We had no idea how much difference a name makes until Check changed its moniker to Union Camp. To be honest, we probably wouldn't have given Check another chance, after 1998's All Time Low proved to be a tease, featuring guest appearances by Slobberbone's Brent Best, Legendary Crystal Chandelier's Peter Schmidt, and Centro-matic's Will Johnson, and, well, that's about it. But as Union Camp, the band got another shot to win us over, and this year's Fever and Pain (as well as its contribution to the Band-kits compilation) did just that, sounding like Brian Wilson sitting in with Creedence Clearwater Revival, or something like that. Southern rock that's not embarrassing or offensive? That's gotta be worth something.

A secret, a jewel, a hidden paradise: Around Lakeland and Ferguson Road in East Dallas, downhill from the grand manses of Forest Hills, Little Forest Hills is a quirky, delightful architectural mlange that looks as if it were spun of Berkeley, Seaside, Charlevoix, and an all-cousin East Texas trailer park. Built long ago as summer cottages for city dwellers, the idiosyncratic little hand-built houses were all throwaways 15 years ago. Now hip people are coming in and giving many of them a very cool flair to be found nowhere else in the city. Two shady creeks and even a little-known summer camp hidden in the bottom of a hollow make this a refuge where you can forget you even know about the rest of the city.

Best proof that Texas Monthly might be right

The Nixons, Hellafied Funk Crew, Pimpadelic, and every band that plays at The Rock. Unfortunately, there's even more where these came from.

The compact-disc manufacturing outfit run by former Leaning House Records honcho Mark Elliott and The New Year's Bubba Kadane out of a storefront in Exposition Park will one day pry loose Sam Paulos and Crystal Clear Sound's stranglehold on the local music scene. Count on it: Everyone involved with the company is too smart and talented for that not to happen. The only question is when. Already, the company has handled projects for the late, great Trance Syndicate Records, Two Ohm Hop, Quality Park Records, Last Beat Records, and the Butthole Surfers, as well as putting together CD-ROMs for numerous corporate and government clients. That sound you hear is Crystal Clear trying to come up with a counterattack. It might be too late.

A place where bands can rehearse and record, combined with a fully functioning record label, the Last Beat compound on Commerce Street has undergone major changes in the past few years, with outstanding results. The Toadies, Legendary Crystal Chandelier, The Deathray Davies, Chomsky, Captain Audio, Pinkston, and others all use the rehearsal facilities, and Baboon, The Polyphonic Spree, and many more have recorded in the studio, designed by renowned producer (Pink Floyd, etc.) Nick Griffiths. The label is one of the few in town that thinks like a major, with a roster (Pleasant Grove and Baboon, for starters) to match. You can bet Sam Paulos has driven by the Last Beat complex a few nights with Molotov cocktail in hand, just itching to put an end to it.

The Balcony Club
courtesy Lorena Davey

"Big" Al Dupree sings and plays the piano. Very well. From his low perch in front of a piano, Dupree's soft jazz and gentle blues captivate the crowd at The Balcony Club an average of five nights a week, joined by eager Dallas musicians who want to play with the great one. Their eagerness is understandable--in his time, Dupree played with the likes of "T-Bone" Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, and Ike Turner. Dupree is a true Dallas native, born in 1923 and playing in clubs here off and on since he was 14. To hear his gentle, rasping voice and talented ivory ministrations is heaven for jazz fans and an eye-opener to how good the medium can be for the uninitiated. The comfortably small Balcony Club is an ideal place to see the man in action, a showcase not only for the music but a catch basin for the ambience stoked by Dupree's appearances. Band members sip drinks and flirt at the bar until their solos. Regulars greet each other warmly, chat up Al and his band during break, and bask in the live soundtrack of their evening. Dates cuddle and speak softly, the music at a perfect ever-present but soft volume. Long live Al Dupree and his talented cohorts.

There are few distractions at this small, cozy coffee shop in Arlington. With more than 30 coffee flavors to choose from, this is the place to relax and read about the world's myriad tragedies. The coffee stand also includes sandwiches, salads, and cakes. And there's a computer nearby for Web surfing. Coffee is ground and brewed there and then.

The new one, lit up by Der Mayor on New Year's Eve, is pretty enough--a glossy neon vestige brought back to life in a downtown trying to breathe life into its concrete shells (lotsa lofts, but we'll see if it makes a difference). But the original, sitting in a Farmers Market shed, is still a sight to behold, especially up close. The first time we saw it, we were shocked. It took us by surprise--we knew it was there, but it had slipped our minds--so we stood there for an extra moment or two, ogling this piece of local history. Aside from a little rust and ruin, it looked somehow more majestic in the shed than it had when flying atop downtown--you could touch it, and touch history. Whether it qualifies as "sculpture," well, we're not qualified to say. But it's Dallas' real art, with a capital "he."

Stonewall Jackson Elementary

While the Dallas Independent School District talks about splitting into three (we think they ought to use dynamite rather than a bureaucratic blueprint) to deal with their woes, it's nice to cite an example of what is good within DISD. Stonewall Jackson Elementary School has received the exemplary school status on the state level, and the blue-ribbon school status on the national level. Their annual celebration of international cultures helps to teach inclusiveness at an early age in a city where ethnic clashes can create political headaches.

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