A benefit for Austin singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo (still recovering from a near-death encounter with hepatitis C), Karl Mueller (bassist of Soul Asylum recently diagnosed with cervical esophageal cancer) and Habitat for Humanity, the inaugural Mound City Music Festival features the return of a new Son Volt (Jay Farrar and cast of journeymen rockers), the redoubtable Bottle Rockets, the intense Richard Buckner and the even-more-intense Anders Parker
. Parker, best known for fronting the indie-rock broodsters Varnaline, has recently released his poppiest record, Tell It to the Dust
. More than the chiming Big Star guitars, the nearly whistleable melodies, the lyrics of friendship and love, the piano-and-string Carole King balladry, the astonishing sweetening of his dour voice, the record is pop in its hopes. Pop is not just a sound; it's a stance and a vision, an opening beyond the hermetic confines of the soul, beyond the artist's personal hang-ups and obsessions. Parker has made a gorgeous, inviting record, not because it is his most accessible -- to the contrary, the eight-minute bad trip of guitars and drums that closes the album is as dense and dark as anything he has recorded -- but because his emotional expression has reached out to a community greater than himself. As with all of the bands at this worthy benefit, the risks he has taken have made his personal art our art as well.