Stars in our Pies

Always wanted to invite a famous person over for dinner? You can dine with almost any one you want, every day, no linen napkin required.

Paul Newman’s recent announcement of his retirement from the movie business got me thinking. My first thought was that what I’ll miss most isn’t Newman’s presence in the movies, but his salad dressing. My second thought was that of course, his salad dressing is so successful that it surely won’t be affected by Newman’s retirement.

This, in turn, made me wonder why the Newman’s Own label -- which now covers a range of organic goods, from pet food to pretzels -- no longer seems ridiculous (if, indeed, it ever did). Does the odd notion of the movie-star-grocery-product tie-in just come to seem less peculiar with time (after all, Newman’s Own has been around for 25 years)? Or does the fact that Newman himself has always been a serious, well-respected actor make his product line easier to accept? Perhaps it makes a difference, too, that the products are high quality, well produced, and ecologically-sound. Oh, and they taste good.

Of course, some celebrity tie-ins come with the territory. Successful athletes endorse sports equipment as a matter of course, and everyone accepts that movie stars often launch fashion and fragrance lines. Ventures like these may be sell-outs or second careers, but either way, the product is tied to something recognizable about the celebrity, be it their glamour, athletic prowess, sex appeal or silky hair. But food is another matter, and it’s a rare celebrity who can, like Paul Newman, pull off the grocery-store tie in with dignity intact. But that doesn’t stop them trying. In fact, there are enough celebrity groceries out there for the star-struck diner to put together a complete supper menu from products made (or at least, endorsed) by the stars.

You could begin with a small plate of Francis Ford Coppolla’s Mammarelli Creste di Galli organic pasta, served with the accompanying Mammarelli Empolese sauce. For your main course, if you’re a meat eater, you could try one of golfer Greg Norman’s Signature Wagyu Australian steaks, “grain-fed and aged to perfection”, and if you’re not, you can substitute one of Linda McCartney’s frozen vegetarian meals. Either way, add a dish of Dwight Yoakem’s Refried Buffalo Bean Dip on the side.

There’s no point eating meat without sauce. If you like it hot, you’re in luck; celebrity hot sauce is the tie-in du jour, so hot, it’s cool -- a grocery product you can peddle without losing your macho cajones. Mexican actor Cheech Marin makes it in three flavors, including Gnarly Garlic; porn star and celebrity autofellator Ron Jeremy has also come out with his own hot sauce line (let’s hope he washed his hands). Heavy metal fans can choose between Mad Anthony’s Hot Sauce, the official hot sauce of Van Halen’s Michael Anthony (“so hot you’ll need two assholes!”), or Rock Your World hot sauce made by Joe Perry from Aerosmith, available in Boneyard Brew and Mango Tango. For the younger generation of rockers, Dexter Holland of The Offspring has a hot sauce out called Gringo Bandito.

(An interesting side note: while past-their-prime US rockers go in for hot sauce, their British equivalents prefer a more genteel pursuit: history. Fans of MTV reality show The Osbournes will recall Ozzy’s passion for The History Channel; no doubt Ozzy often tuned in to Extreme History, hosted by The Who’s frontman Roger Daltrey, who could, if he chose, prepare for his show by unearthing buried treasure with the help of the Bill Wyman Signature lightweight metal detector).

But back to our supper, and to go with our Greg Norman steak, we’ll want a nice red wine. Bob Dylan has a 2001 Montepulciano, which is supposed to be “rich, warm, supple and well structured, with ripe sweet tannins.” If you prefer something heavier and more demanding, how about Gerárd Depardieu’s Cyrano Cuvée 2000, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc? If you like Australian wine, chanteuse Olivia Newton John makes a 2004 Shiraz that “combines red berry aromas with a hint of cherries to ensure a well-rounded finish”, or, if you’d prefer a Canadian red, you could go with one of comedian Dan Aykroyd's super-premium offerings from his new Signature Reserve Series, or -- if you’re dining on a budget -- one of his more “mid-priced wines”.

Finally, polish off your dinner with a nice cup of Barry Manilow's “intriguingly smooth” Earl Grey Cream Tea and a slice of Pope Cake. That’s right, Pope Cake -- Pan Ducale’s Dolce Del Papa, a delicious-sounding chocolate almond roll that Pope John Paul II stamped with the papal imprimature the day he first tasted a slice, in 1985. This gives it the honor of being one of the few edible items (outside the host) approved by the Vatican, so we can leave the table feeling full and blessed. Now, if only Jesus made a good cigar.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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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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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.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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