Townes is arguably the quintessential Americana album. Townes Van Zandt is Americana—not the culture industry’s Statuettes of Liberty and Fourth of July parades, but its people, especially its millions of restless outcasts. His songs conjure a culture’s icons: forlorn Edward Hopper loners, restless Melvillean vagabonds, and downcast Bukowskian couples. They often cite the geography to which they belong and are fleeing, from Texas and New Mexico to Cleveland and Greensboro. Their melodies and rhythms are as plucky as they are distraught. Americana is Steve Earle, too: an ex-con and an ex-junkie; an anti-death penalty, anti-landmine, and anti-war activist; an actor, writer, and singer. And Townes Van Zandt, dead in 1997, was Earle’s close friend. This album is a musical eulogy from one great U.S. singer-songwriter to another. It’s partly Van Zandt in his own words—his recurrent bewilderment with the universe and his small but surprisingly sustainable consolations in highways, smiles, wine, and one-night-stands. Yet it subtly interprets, expands, and salutes its subject through Earle’s signature scruff vocals, familiar repertoire of arrangements, and excellent vocal contributions from Justin Townes Earle, Tom Morello, and Allison Moorer.
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The man and all the controversy aside, let’s focus on the athlete, or at least, the athlete-in-a-game. Graphically, this looks terrific, with enhanced water, terrain and trees. I’m happy to report that this is the first version of Tiger Woods to get skies right. They are beautiful and dynamic, and even include, finally, haze. The spectator models and animations have also been given long-overdue attention. Playing this game is finally the visual treat it should be. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 may be the most fully-realized sports game EA has ever made. It has nearly everything one could want in a golf game.
In 1959, Ray Charles released The Genius of Ray Charles, still considered one of his finest albums. Now, 50 years, hundreds of accolades, awards, hits, and a motion picture later, Ray Charles is again putting out a new album, albeit a compilation. And the genius that was back in 1959 seems to resonate just as much now. Part of Charles’ appeal was the fact that when asked what kind of music Charles made, critics couldn’t simply toss out one genre or niche that thousands of cookie-cutting artists fall into so easily. Country? Yes. Blues? Definitely. Rock? Yes. Gospel? That too. Soul? Without question. Just listening to the opening track off this 21-track collection, “Hit the Road Jack”, symbolizes how versatile Charles was. Part jazz, part swing, and completely solid, the tune shines despite being all of 119 seconds. This compilation should be in your emergency gift stash to pull from when you forgot someone – anyone, on or off your list, will love this album
Kevin Smith films, Spiderman, Comi-Con, and Seth Cohen on The O.C. have all brought nerds some street cred. This book explores the geek-dom of Japanese popular culture. Anime, video games and Manga (Japanese comics and graphic novels) are chronicled, discussed and defined in this encyclopedia. Otaku, the Japanese word for “geek” or “nerd”, is now just another word for awesome. This guide is perfect for a whole slew of people on your Christmas list: anyone interested in fashion, video games, comics, travel, Japan, movies, anime, anthropology, or humor will thoroughly enjoy this paperback.
Tim Burton’s line of toys makes it into the inner child category because sometimes, it just sucks being a kid. Launched by Dark Horse to coincide with the filmmaker’s career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the characters in the four sets of PVC toys all come from his book of poetry, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories. In classic Burton fashion, children are represented as ostracized freaks, such as Stain Boy, Toxic Boy, Junk Girl and The Pin Cushion Queen. It is a good bet that when we were children, we’ve all felt like Jimmy, The Hideous Penguin Boy at some point or other, and the memories from that time stick with us. So give these gift as a way of saying, “Hey, I like you even though you used to feel like an oyster boy.” [www.momastore.org]