Improvements to iPod line lost in shuffle

Eric Benderoff
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

A few interesting things were overlooked last week amid the uproar over the iPhone's sudden price cut: Apple Inc.'s new line of iPods.

The iPod Touch is a direct descendant of the iPhone, which should appeal to anyone who likes the iPhone's fabulous touch-sensitive navigation. It will be worth a long look later this month when it goes on sale, even though its 16 gigabytes (and $400 price tag) may not satisfy iPod fans with sizable music and movie collections.

Those folks will want the ridiculously large and newly named 160 gb iPod Classic, priced at $350.

So, considering those breakthroughs in design and storage, it would be easy to overlook the revamped iPod Nano. Don't, because this snappy little gadget offers the same cool features, more actually, first used on the iPhone in a remarkably small and familiar package. The only difference is that navigation is by scroll wheel, not touch.

The Nano is available in two versions, a 4 gb silver model for $149 and the 8 gb version offered in five colors for $199.

I've been using an 8 gb version and I quite like what Apple has done. Like the iPhone, it is another gadget you want to touch. It is small enough to sit in the palm of your hand yet so thin that when you slip it into a pocket you could forget it was there.

Frankly, it's so small you could drop it into an envelope and mail it across the country for about the cost of a first-class stamp.

As for appearance, the Nano looks like an iPod Classic but much smaller. It is as if someone put a Classic into that gizmo in Willy Wonka's Television Room that miniaturizes things.

Like its brawnier sibling, the new Nano now plays video. The 2-inch screen (measured diagonally) is surprisingly bright and easy to watch. Apple says it is 65 percent brighter than the previous Nano, and I wouldn't dispute the claim. It shows videos, photos and album art quite well.

Could you watch an entire movie on the Nano? On a plane, sure, but you probably wouldn't at home unless the cable was out.

A great feature is the new menu screen. Along the left side sit the standard menu choices - music, videos, photos, podcasts and a few others - but on the right, as you scroll down, you see images of your content. That could be album art if "music" is highlighted, or a picture of your kid if "photos" is selected. The images change randomly every few seconds.

The inclusion of "cover flow" is nice too. On the iPhone, you use a finger to virtually flip through album covers. Here, you use the scroll wheel. It is more fun with a finger, but flowing through album art is still nice with the scroll wheel.

As you scroll , you can click on an album cover to get a list of all the songs found on that album. Click on one to hear the music.


For those who like to improve the sound of the iPod, which I strongly advise, I have two ideas that should be heard.

First, Niles, Ill.-based Shure Inc. ( is introducing a pair of $99 sound-isolating headphones, the SE110s, that are worth getting yours ears into as soon as possible for two reasons:

The sound is considerably superior to what Apple includes with each of its products. You will hear details in the music you may have missed before.

More important, these are what is known as in-ear headphones, or what Shure calls sound-isolating earphones. That means when they are in your ear canal - they go deep, but comfortably - you will hear nothing else, only music.

If the phone rings, you won't hear it. If the dog barks, he will think you are ignoring him. If the person on the bus next to you chats incessantly into a mobile phone, you won't care.

With Apple's earbud-style headphones, and many others like them, listeners compensate for such external noises by turning up the volume. That is not healthy for your ears.

The sound is the main driver here, and you won't be disappointed. No, they don't compare with Shure's E500 line of headphones, which sell for about $500, but this new line is a nice entry for a sub-$100 price point.

There's a bonus for iPhone users too: These are among the first pair of after-market headphones that fit into the iPhone's peculiarly designed headphone jack. Add Shure's $40 music phone adapter and you can make and receive calls while wearing these.

The SE110s will be available Sept. 17 at Apple, Best Buy and other retailers.


Also coming to Apple stores in mid-September is an iPod speaker system from high-end audiomaker Bowers & Wilkins ( The Zeppelin, which will be priced at a hefty $600, provided an immediate improvement in my home on two fronts: sound and style.

I placed these relatively heavy speakers (they weigh 16½ pounds; definitely not for the beach) on the top of my living-room computer cabinet and they immediately improved the look of that furniture. It didn't hurt the decor in the rest of the room, either.

They look more like a kayak to me than a zeppelin, measuring 25 inches from end to end and about 8 inches tall in the middle. They are black, with a silver stand that holds an iPod dock. The new silver Nano looked right at home and quite fashionable perched in the dock.

For my first test, I streamed music through these speakers from my laptop via Wi-Fi. I'm not sure if it was how well designed Apple's Airport router is or how well the engineers at Bowers & Wilkins designed the guts of the Zeppelin, but my iTunes music software recognized the Wi-Fi connection with the unit almost instantly, filling my living room with warm sound. Very easy and very pleasant.

One drawback: I almost couldn't do this test because Bowers & Wilkins does not include a connector cord to attach the Zeppelin to an Airport router. I happened to have one laying around, but since these speakers cost $600, throwing in a generic cable should be a no-brainer.

For the Nano, I simply set it into the dock and pressed play. Out came the rich sound.

The Zeppelin would look great in a loft or a home library. It's a stylish sound system that doesn't take up too much room but delivers satisfying results. Much like Apple's new Nano.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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