The Soundtrack to The Water Lord

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I’m a music lover, and as with my two previous books, The Representative and The District Manager, The Water Lord comes with its own built-in soundtrack. In my first novel, The Representative, my flawed protagonist, JD Dothan, was a music lover as well. His tastes were very orthodox. JD is a Generation Xer, thus he is a fan of punk and post-punk. Though he deviated into C&W, and even a bit of 70s singer-songwriter, his tastes largely stayed the course. When I switched gears in The District Manager, I was writing a Southern Gothic novel. Thus my mentally wounded protagonist, Mason Dixon, had an ethos of Alt. Country, largely American music. The Water Lord, though a melding of both books’ characters, sees the return of Dothan as one of three narrators.

I did not want to repeat myself.

Generally, when I’m working on a novel the music reflected in the text reflects my tastes at the time I’m writing it. About the time I began writing The Water Lord, I had become enamored with NME Magazine’s series, The Uncut History of Rock. This was a monthly publication that chronicled music from the 1965 to 1988—what the editors termed as the “golden years of rock music.” I started the series late when my wife gave me 1977 as a gift upon its release. After digging into it I discovered I needed to not only catch up with previous issues, but also follow the series installments as they were subsequently released. These magazines served as a veritable cornucopia of material for reference in The Water Lord. Frankly, I was discovering stuff that I had neglected or was ignorant of altogether.

I would both build on Dothan’s punk/post-punk ethos and introduce a new side to his tastes; a side that would reflect the ironic mysticism of the book’s title.

Though it is not necessary to know the soundtrack of my novels, I believe it does enhance the experience. And for an open ear, The Water Lord is a satisfying audio journey.

I will only touch on the highlights.

Early in the book I needed to create a sense of intimacy, romance, and atmosphere between two married lovers. I found that The Blue Nile’s album A Walk Among Rooftops served this purpose quintessentially, in particular the single, “Tinseltown in the Rain.” As heretofore mentioned, I started off the Uncut History of Rock series with 1977, the Year Zero of punk. Though I had heard of Television, I was not familiar with their music. I was living in abject ignorance. Television is punk as art-rock. There is nothing like it and if you don’t familiarize yourself with “Marquee Moon”…!!!

The book is littered with references to bands like Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and Lords of the New Church (basically progeny of the punk movement as it shattered into brilliant fragments cascading into the eighties). But then it struck me…Dothan, having suffered, is a changed man…hmm…how to musically end a book titled The Water Lord?

I’ve never been a heavy metal fan, really, but I do appreciate its inception. And this is what I turned to. There was a guitarist I once knew who had a habit of drugs and hard liquor. In his oft-altered state, he used to demand that I acquaint myself with several bands. At the time I disregarded him. If he’s still alive, I wish to thank him, because he was right on!

At the conclusion of The Water Lord, Dothan stops off at Cactus Music, a Houston music shop (one of the last of its kind, sadly). He’s old-school, so he likes tangibles. He purchases three albums: Secret Treaties by Blue Oyster Cult; Argus by Wishbone Ash; and Technical Ecstasy by Black Sabbath. And it is the third track of the last that I discovered the best way to end a novel in need of the notion of reconciliation. If you give it a listen (and a read), I know you’ll agree. And I know you’ll be surprised. If you disagree, however…“It’s Alright.”

 

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U2: Songs of Experience—A Perspective

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Five stars

If you approximate my age group, then U2 is essentially your Beatles. I can think of no other musical act that really comes close. At least for me, this statement is true. With the exception of perhaps REM, The Alarm, and the author William Faulkner, no other artistic outlet had more to do with the shaping of my adolescent mind than “the boys,” from Dublin (not Liverpool). In fact, they did more than that. Their music, which at its best is a sort of Celtic-Christian post-punk, actually helped me to survive what were at that time considerable trials, not the least of which was a violent, tyrannical, alcoholic father. Their music also aided in instilling the courage to rebel against his authority, no matter how extreme the consequences.

But as I crossed the bridge into adulthood I found their music did less and less for me. By my mid-twenties I was connecting more with country music than anything rock had to offer (mainly neo-traditional acts like Dwight Yoakum, George Strait and Clint Black).

Listening back, it’s not that everything post-Achtung Baby was really that lacking, but that I was no longer running from my roots. Rather, I embraced them. No matter how many pairs of boots or hats U2 donned on Rattle and Hum, come their reinvention in the mid-nineties, they just didn’t speak to me anymore. Not on a gut level. Sure, there were a few songs that stuck, but the albums, at that time, seemed lacking.

It wasn’t until the release in 2005 of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb that the band seemed to be firing on all four pistons again. But then the two subsequent releases, No Line on the Horizon and Songs of Innocence, respectively, they again—from my perspective—returned to what appeared to be uninspired music.

So in late November of last year when satellite radio started to hype the new record, Songs of Experience, I was less than interested. That is, until I listened to a few tracks.

Front man Bono has always been a gifted vocalist and poet. His one flaw, in my opinion, is his tendency towards preaching rather than teaching. In the early days of the band, this distinction was less relevant. Largely because the music, spawned against an age of synthesizers, was so fresh and uplifting. But at his best he is not the politician or the world’s savior (I’m not diminishing the band’s bi-partisan activism in any way. How many celebrities would have dinner with Jesse Helms?), but the romantic at odds with circumstance. And this characteristic is what shines above all on the new album.

On Songs of Experience (the title of which, like its predecessor, is purloined from the poet William Blake), Bono is largely bereft of righteous armor. In fact, he hasn’t been as self-questioning since Achtung Baby, their last great album from over a quarter century ago. In many ways the songs are a sort of love letter to his wife of nearly four decades.  A marriage of any kind that can survive that long, let alone endure the trials of fame and fortune, deserves recognition, if not praise. The muse is elusive and often times flippant. With Bono the courtship never ends. This is the essence of survival in all things amorous. Astute in the guiles of metaphor, his love letter to his wife acts as microcosm to the world at large.

Even at its weakest philosophical points SOE prevails. For the record is full of civilizational disillusionment. It doesn’t take a legislative mind to glean that Bono’s crisis is rooted in the West’s present recoiling from globalism, if not the election of Donald Trump. Though this is never stated overtly, it is implied in such songs as, “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “Blackout”. (For those distraught by the accession of The Donald, these songs as well as a few lesser tracks can serve as guide to get up off your ass and quit complaining.)

Then there is “American Soul”, the weakest track on the record. Bono’s belief is that America belongs to the world. Okay. But I find it hypocritical that a man as proudly Irish as he would deprive American citizens of their own sense of nationhood. This foiling of identity for all but the elite is yet another reason for globalism’s decline.

The best cut overall is “The Little Things That Give You Away”.  It is here that the self-questioning romantic is at his most vulnerable. Unlike previous records, it is not performed as self-parody, but with plain honesty; the man in the mirror, so to speak.

Musically the album holds nothing new (this is an operatic record). They have their style at this point, much like the Stones have, well…forever. You either like Edge’s playing or you don’t. For those that do, there is stunning guitar throughout.

U2 had the great fortune of producing compelling, original music in the last decade where that was possible. Western popular culture has devolved largely into a series of lowest common denominators. In the early nineties, grunge, although it produced a handful of truly great records, and not withstanding that it was the final chapter of rock, left little legacy. In fact, it proved ultimately to be a cleansing agent to its nemesis, heavy metal (sweeping clean its decadent glamour into the dynamic purity that exists in the genre today).

I give this album five stars, and for abnormal reasons. U2 has survived as the last solvent remnant of rock and roll as an institution. Their ilk will perhaps never come again, at least not in English. And also because they have found a way of preserving, largely on their own terms—the only way it can exist—that increasing rarity of modern life: Artistic Genius.

 

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The House

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Not all haunted houses are haunted by an independent specter and not all specters that haunt a house are strictly occupants. Meaning, not all haunted houses are actually haunted; some are, in and of themselves, specters. Additionally, not all of these engineered specters are necessarily evil. Many are adversely to the contrary. Continue reading

State of the Arts: Texas

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Texas is an innovative state. It breeds originality. Perhaps because beneath that strutting cowboy persona lurks something that doesn’t quite fit in. We’re misfits. Texans, though they may hate the comparison, are really the new world French. The difference is that the French have had a millennium to hone, perfect and market their creative wares. Texas is behind by more than eight hundred years.

It is an interesting phenomenon how many creative people, no matter the area of
interest, one finds originating from Texas. Though this is by no means researched fact, I would bet my bottom dollar in saying that the Lone Star State has produced as many artists as any acknowledged state, maybe more. One may ask, “But what about New York and California?” True, there are far more exports from those two states, but their respective exports were initially an import from another place—many times Texas.

And this is the gist of my argument.

Even today, having taken the helm of advanced civilization, Texas still can’t seem to get it right with regards to nurturing its vast pool of creative souls. For to be an artist in Texas is to be an outcast. Does anyone see the irony here? But wait, it gets thicker. What am I getting at, you ask? Aren’t there plenty of great artists that call Texas home? Celebrities that the state honors with Apollonian laurels? My retort would be simply, “You are correct…but,”

These hoards of creative people had to leave the state in order to reach their potential. When, after success, they returned…of course they were greeted with open arms like the Prodigal Son. But they had to leave. That’s the point.

This seems insane given the fact that people are flocking to Austin in search of some kind of stardom, much like they have for nearly a hundred years to places like New York City, Los Angles and Nashville. But even with all its arty weirdness, the capitol city has yet to spawn a style beyond its country and western roots from the 1970s (a single exception being Texas Blues). As for the rest of the state, when it does export the arts, like say, post- Baby Boomer Texas Country, it’s weighted with mediocrity and is at best a footnote to something far better.

The reality is that Texas has never had the entertainment infrastructure to package and market its infinite talent. Why is that? Even our institutions of higher learning have little to offer. Particularly when juxtaposed with the universities of our elder siblings to the Southeast.

Having grown up in the state from a family thoroughly Texan in every regard, my conclusion is that for all our self-assuredness, Texans are blind to the arts out of lack of confidence. Someone from the outside must point to that which has merit. We need approval. The misfit prevails.

And the endless waves of invaders from the far reaches have yet to alter this truth.

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The 85th Texas Legislature: A Survivor’s Tale

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The 85th Texas Legislature plain sucked. That’s really the only way I can describe it. From someone who lived through it day in and day out, it’s one of those occurrences you wished you’d stayed home from. It’s one thing to be aware of things in the abstract but it is another to know of them first hand. And what do I know firsthand? That I am a meaningless pawn in a petty, vindictive game? My life has no significance; my work futile?

Pretty dark huh? I told you the session sucked. Now let’s touch on a few specifics.

It’s little secret to anyone that follows Texas politics that the state legislature is divided. The senate and the house despise each other, or rather the respective power structures do. What is not widely known is that the structure of a legislative session itself is partly to blame for this dysfunction. (I’ll address this in another segment—losing focus…)

The state is run by three men essentially: Governor Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Strauss. Among this paradigm the Lt. Governor is, “The only some-bitch that knows what he’s trying to do,” to quote from the classic film Patton. Nature favors the aggressor and thus Patrick is in control. The Governor by his recent actions (pushing further to the right while chastising the legislative body for inaction) has confirmed this. The House Speaker is either an obstructionist or a pragmatist depending on your perspective.

The Texas Senate has become Draconian in its attempt to render the state the superior governmental body in the state, as opposed to counties and cities. The predominantly red ‘Land of the Green Carpet’ spit out a multitude of bills intended to reign in local governments. This seems a bit ironic given the fact that the horse-beaten mantra of the Republican Party is ‘local control’. Nevertheless, the proverbial horse bypassed the plowshare and was being beaten directly into a sword.

Then there was the bathroom bill. Regardless of your opinion of it, what unfolded that day Senate State Affairs heard it was nothing less than bizarre. Some were repulsed and some sympathetic. The House would not reciprocate and our compromise would be soundly wiped like a child regiment.

It went like this with basically everything. In fact vital state agencies still hang in the balance due to petty unrelated squabbling. Teacher retirement continues to rot, the stench ignored; the actual business of state an annoyance.

Days ran into nights which collided with mornings. The hours were brutal.

Myself, I was looking forward to its end, but found that when the gavel fell and I returned to my farm back in district…that I was displaced somehow. It didn’t help that I now had herniated a disc in my low back apparently from sitting for countless hours reviewing bills; hiking some twenty five miles (according to my pedometer) up colossal flights of stairs—morning in, next morning out.

Not to disrespect the suffering of our returning soldiers from afar, but I can only describe my mental state as a sort of PTSD—or at least that’s how my wife described it.

At the outset of session Texas Tribune deemed the 85th as nothing more than a side show to the bigger circus eastward just off the Potomac. What else could it be? But during World War I the war against Turkey was considered a sideshow as well. And so, with another battle looming in Special Session starting July 18, so I view the first act of the 85th. It was in effect the taking of Aqaba—but for whose side?

I just hope its sequel is not Gallipoli.

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Upcoming Book Signing – Reading Between the Wines

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On Friday, March 31, I’ll be a featured author at Reading Between the Wines at Safari Texas Ranch. This event, hosted by the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, will feature wine, food, and auctions. Local and national authors (including yours truly and Candace Bushnell of “Sex and the City” fame) will have books available and participate in a book signing.

This will be the highest-attended Reading between the Wines ever, and I’m honored to be a part of the evening.

Reading between the Wines

Safari Texas Ranch

11627 FM 1464

Richmond, TX 77407

 

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Writer’s Digest Review

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The District Manager by Matt Minor starts slowly but builds to a compelling finish. Mason Dixon takes center stage in telling this tale of his gig as district manager for a Texas State Representative.  His assignment to travel the district and handle problems for his boss and his boss’s constituents puts him in the path of good folks and bad and eventually of those MINOR_final_TheDM.fcwho surpass bad.

The plot moves slowly through the beginning chapters. Nothing much seems to be happening until late when Mason Dixon and the reader start putting pieces together to come up with a surprising (or not) conclusion. 

The narrative is skillfully constructed from firsthand knowledge to be sure. The array of characters is well developed with each having distinctive characteristics and consistent dialogue. There is something for everyone in this novel—a bit of romance, humor, nail-biting suspense, murder and mayhem and a conclusion to set us all on edge in this political season. 

The one typo that caught my eye was in chapter two with the use of slated that likely should have been slatted. Otherwise, the novel is free of distracting errors. Perhaps, with ebooks, the cover is less important but this one works.  The notes about the author give insight into the authenticity of the tale. This a book is surely one I would recommend to other readers.

Judge4th Annual Self-Published e-Book Awards

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The era of the ‘New Censorship’

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In Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, the character of Strelnikov comments to the novel’s protagonist, “each man will be judged politically.” With this single statement the Bolshevik partisan commander sums up a new pedigree of morals: a relativist belief system that nullifies actions by incriminating thought.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of the Gulag Archipelago (the most disturbing book I have ever read) after the Soviet State Security had seized the manuscript, wrote, “I have no alternative but to publish it immediately.”

Both these writer’s had an avenue of escape for their work. Both of these authors knew screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-12-24-04-pmthat if their manuscripts could breech the eastern bloc that they would be vindicated in the ‘free world.’ But that ‘free world’ is imploding before our eyes. And not only is the West rapidly dying, but the ideas expressed above by Strelnikov, have become mainstream due to the government-media complex.

I believe we are at the threshold of a new era of censorship.

I realize we live in a relativist age and that there are no standards for anything. A man that pukes on a canvas is equal to the old masters. Our literature has been deconstructed and there are highly credentialed people today who have never read Hemingway. That’s where we are at. However, I firmly believe that if writing is to be of any value at all, it must be honest.

Our current politically correct environment is terrified of honesty. And in its infinite fear it has, is, and will continue to muzzle expression deemed ‘offensive.’ Through legislative manipulation the day is near when those that engage in unpopular speech will be charged with a crime. The sad reality is that a growing portion of our populace will support this criminalization of thought; but not all ideas, only the wrong ideas, as determined by the state, the media, and their inculcated herd.

Let’s take a page from recent events:

In the summer of 2015, a white male shot up an African American church. Though I am not a fan of hate crime statutes, it cannot be argued that the man in question was not a racist, if not insane. A brief time later it was discovered that he had posed in pictures where a Confederate battle flag was present. Immediately there was a calculated movement to ban the symbol. Amazon considered pulling books whose covers donned the flag, as did computer game manufacturers. Numerous influential corners openly expressed the need to ban the novel, Gone with the Wind. If not for the short attention span of our 24-hour news cycle, all of the above would have been acted upon and consummated. And though the removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol was in good taste, the expulsion of it in the past year from federal cemeteries that contain Civil War dead…was not.

An insidious motivation lurks at the core of this impulse, a desire to erase the American experience absolutely. An experience, however imperfect, deserves to be told.

But what I ask for now is consistency. My mistake?

Let’s now take the Quran. The Quran is cited repeatedly in the slaughtering of innocents all over the world. It is the only modern religion which is wholly political, meaning the ideas found therein are codified in law absolutely in Islamic countries. A rationalist is compelled to ask the question, ‘is this really a religion or is it not a political movement?’ But we are not a rational society any longer. We are an emotional society. And a people that digest the day’s events exclusively through the prism of feeling can be easily manipulated by those who do not.

Not only has the state-media-herd complex not called for the banning of the Quran, but increasingly any suggestion that it is culpable in the actions of its faithful is considered hate speech.

I am not advocating for the banning of the Quran or any other book or symbol any more than I am defending the Old South. I am simply drawing a comparison. I am illustrating how the new censorship operates.

So you agree with the government-media-herd complex…think it won’t affect you? You’ve made a deal with the devil.

*****

What if the West were no more? Like it or not, it has been, as illustrated above, an avenue of escape for fugitive ideas. Without it, the political prisoner in North Korea or Abu Ghraib, has no path to vindication; suffering without the hope of redemption.

A great irony exists at the core of the movement to eradicate the Confederate flag (I am using this simply as an example to illustrate my point. There are a multitude of ironies at play in this dynamic). Though a symbol of slavery to many, by its very existence and survival, it ensures that freedom of expression endures, as well as truth in history.

This crisis is not of a political nature, but rather it is one of fundamental liberties. And yes, there is a distinction.

Ask yourself a question, do you believe in free speech? Really believe in it? At some point your life and liberty might dependa on your answer.

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The District Manager Pt. 14

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“Pretty much, Mason.” There is a pause. It’s time to get down to business. “So what’s been going on?”

“Well, not a lot. However, I was alerted to an interesting situation in Bowers this past week.”

“Bowers. What’s going on down in Bowers?” he asks, sit-
ting up.

“Well, sir, it appears there’s an illegal dog fighting operation going on.”

“Dog fighting, what kinds of dog fighting are we talking about?”

“If you are referring to what types of dogs are being fought, then it’s pit bulls.”

“Pit bulls, aren’t they super-vicious, with jaws like goddamned bear traps?”

“They definitely have bad ass jaws, but I think they are bred to be vicious because of that very fact. I don’t think they are necessarily vicious by nature.”

“Well this is terrible, Mason! How in the hell did you find out about this?”

“A constituent: a man by the name of Julius Reynolds. A coon ass from the swamp lands.”

“Coon ass? Reynolds doesn’t sound like Louisiana to me.”

“Yeah, I know. By the sound of his voice I thought he was a Yankee, but he’s from New Orleans.”

“That’s an easy mistake to make, Mason. They sound similar. So tell me about this Julius Reynolds fella.”

“Well…”

I proceed to tell my boss all the details, including the part about Bowers Power, Inc.

“That’s interesting, Mason, very interesting indeed. I suggest you proceed with caution. But definitely proceed.”

“As I’ve told you, sir, I don’t know how to proceed, as all other governmental avenues have been exhausted. I guess we are Mr. Reynold’s last resort.”

“Have you tried the attorney general’s office?”

“No. Do you think I should?”

“Not yet, Mason. Before we do that we should try to figure out all we can ourselves…with the help of Mr. Reynold’s of course. Such as, who licenses dog kennels? That might be a good place to start.”

“Well, it would have to be the TDLR.”

“I’m not as good with these damn acronyms as you, Mason; who is that again?”

“The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.”

“Good thinking, Mason. See what they have to say. And remember…be discrete.”

Something’s been eating at me since I left the apartment; that something is Keith. I change the subject—again.

“We wouldn’t need so many of these acronyms if we legalized drugs.”

“The TD—whatever the hell they are—they don’t regulate drugs, do they?”

“No sir, if it’s legal then it’s the FDA, with edicts occasionally from the DEA. What I’m talking about is illegal drugs.”

“Christ NO! Jesus, Mason, we can’t do that. Are you out of your mind?”

“Not in the least bit, sir. Think about it…think about all the agencies that exist in law enforcement specifically because drugs are illegal.”

“Well, I know the DEA is a huge cost to the federal government.”

“And a fucking failure!”

“I love your passion, Mason. It’s one of the things that makes you so good at what you do, but no. It won’t work, think about the unintended consequences.”

Continue reading The District Manager by Matt Minor!

 

The Art of Orlando Reyna on display at B R Vino’s in downtown Rosenberg

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Originally published in the Fort Bend Herald July 19, 2016.

ROSENBERG –

The evening of Saturday, July 9th I popped into B R Vino in downtown Rosenberg’s Cultural District. The atmospheric wine bar doubles as an art gallery. On display was local artist Orlando Reyna.

Reyna’s art varies from multi-medium pieces to traditional canvas paintings. He has found his niche in the painting and resining of old acoustic guitars. Reyna’s palette offers the eyes a mixture of the bizarre, and dare I murmur…even the beautiful.

Reyna’s virgin offering in the guitar series is titled Lighting Strike. Imagine an eighties L.A.-style abstract fashioned in the underworld, roughed out over a macabre background of dark blues and purples. The patches of red, magenta and yellow serve not to brighten but to burn. The single coil of copper that snakes its way up the fret board is a fitting garnish.

Other standout guitar art pieces are Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead.) The background dia-de-los-muertosfrom which the painted guitar is fastened is in the shape of a jet black coffin. Night of a Thousand Drunken Vatos is as colorful and crazy as its title suggests. Lluvia Purpura (Purple Rain) is a tasteful tribute to the late Artist Formerly Known as Prince.  These guitar art titles are just a sample in a collection of many noteworthy pieces.

The bulk of Reyna’s canvas paintings, set against the guitar pieces, serve largely as filler. There are several worth citing due to their individual merit though. Sin Sentido (meaningless,) has a portal effect reminiscent of Mark Rothko. Breath of Fire, with its diagonal brushwork and vivid colors is engaging, as is Mascara Rojo (Red Mask.)

The center piece which ties the entire exhibit together in a loose theme is the canvas painting, Cabeza Loco. With its large, scribbled, skeletal-like visage and graffiti scrawled backdrop, it would hang perfectly at home in the dungeon of one of Walter White’s competitors.

Reyna’s brush technique is a self-taught, largely staccato application. His style is notable for his ability to lift dark undertones out of even the brightest of colors.

Orlando Reyna’s art collection will be on display at B R Vino’s through September. Stop by for a drink, a bite and a gander.

www.brvino.com

www.estudioorlando.com

Matt Minor is a culture columnist for the Fort Bend Herald.