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Closer to Mystic River and '30s Jimmy Cagney movies than it is to The Sopranos, the gritty Brotherhood benefits from its working-class Providence setting, with endless row houses that seem to bring together the opposing forces of justice and corruption in a single boiling plot.
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1.
Tom Petty, Highway Companion (American/WB): This is certainly a mature album, one that looks back wistfully, sorrowfully, but without regret, at a life lived on the road, where he’s “losing his treads,” as Tom Petty puts it on songs like “Night Driver” and “Flirting With Time,” warily contemplating a return to the home he left behind. This quintessential SoCal songwriter (though born in Florida) takes a mournful look at an end that’s now closer than the start on his first solo album since ’94’s Wildflowers, joining with longtime bandmate Mike Campbell and fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne to create the missing link between Bob Dylan (“Down South,” “Ankle Deep”), the Byrds (“Big Weekend”), Neil Young (“Turn This Car Around,” “This Old Town”) and early Who (on the “Happy Jack”-like “Jack”). Thanks to the album’s shimmering, quicksilver backdrop, to which he contributes mightily, Petty veers between the Highway 61-like blues of “Saving Grace,” the delicate acoustics of “Square One” and the shimmering illusions of the closing “Golden Rose,” which evokes the plaintive fin de siecle lament of the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Weaving all his influences into an elegiac whole sequenced like an old-time album, from the re-born “Saving Grace” of the first track to the long farewell of “Golden Rose,” Companion has the comfortable fit of an old friend, as it bids hello and goodbye for what feels like the first, but could well be the last, time. —Roy Trakin

2. Los Lobos, The Town and The City (Hollywood): This under-appreciated band from East L.A., going on 23 years since their debut album, return with their 13th studio effort on Sept. 12, reason enough to declare them a national treasure. The disc is being touted as the successor to the experimentation of 1992’s Kiko, and it doesn’t disappoint, carving a narrative of immigration and assimilation while still maintaining its unique cultural identity. David Hidalgo’s heartfelt soul illuminates the beginning of the journey on “The Valley,” which leads into the deep blues of “Hold On,” a depiction of a new world’s dangerous temptations before giving way to Cesar Rosas’ joyous “Chuco’s Cumbia,” a tribute to the zoot suit past. “Little Things,” with its nod to Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” marks the band’s roots in British rock as it notes life’s smaller pleasures, while “Don’t Ask Why” is an R&B-soaked homage to the Grateful Dead, and “No Puedo Mas” comes off as a reggae-tinged tip of the cap to fellow Latino rockers Santana. “The City” and “The Town” form bookends to the Lobos sensibility, with one foot in the brave new world of urban chaos, the other in the enduring pull of their ancestral homeland, standing for both America’s promise and its perils, a living, breathing example of how we are all just immigrants searching for a place to call our own. —RT

3. A Prairie Home Companion: Robert Altman’s adaptation of Garrison Keillor’s faux old-time NPR radio show also has the odd rhythms and cadences of a work by an artist closer to the finish line of his career than the beginning, and not being a fan of the original, I was able to approach the milieu as an insular world on its own terms. The film sports its share of Altman-esque touches, including the overlapping dialogue and apparent improvisation, while the country music milieu recalls Nashville, Virginia Madsen’s avenging angel of death is right out of Brewster McCloud and the theatrical community of players being wiped out by encroaching history evokes Buffalo Bill and the Indians. The rambling plot revolves around the final performance of the titular radio show, which takes place in a deco theater in Minneapolis in real time, with Keillor himself genially hosting the proceedings. The top-notch musical performances include a wonderful Meryl Streep (even better here than in Devil Wears Prada) and Lily Tomlin as the Carter Family-like Johnson Sisters, Yolanda and Rhonda, and Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as the wisecracking singing cowboy team of Dusty and Lefty. Veteran actor/director/writer L.Q. Jones (best known for A Boy and His Dog) is a highlight as a country legend with a helmet of gray hair who literally dies moments after finishing his song, illustrating Altman’s way of eradicating the line between on- and off-stage, as he does when Keillor and Streep glare at one another over a failed romance moments before seamlessly launching into a duet at the mic. There’s an artificial quality to the film that isn’t helped by Kevin Kline’s stylized noir security guard, but all is forgiven when a surprisingly effective Lindsay Lohan as Streep’s alienated daughter belts out a show-stopping finale of “Frankie and Johnny” with lyrics about running a hose from a gas pipe that she penned for her poems about “suicide.” It’s a curiously elating moment, just part of Altman’s crazy quilt knitting of highbrow and homespun that makes him one of Hollywood’s last mavericks standing. —RT

4. Brotherhood (Showtime): Closer to Mystic River and '30s Jimmy Cagney movies than it is to The Sopranos, this gritty series about Irish brothers who find themselves on opposite sides of the law benefits from its working-class Providence setting, with endless row houses that seem to bring together the opposing forces of justice and corruption in a single boiling plot. First-time producer/director Blake Masters isn’t afraid to tackle clichés, but he also digs pretty deep to find the truth in them, thanks to strong, iconic performances from newcomers Jason Clarke as “good brother” Tommy, a local politician who looks out for his blue-collar neighborhood The Hill, but isn’t above lining his own pockets to better his middle-class family and pay the mounting bills, and the unpredictably scary Jason Isaacs as ruthless sibling Michael, returning home after a stint away and riling things up a la De Niro in Mean Streets. The thin line between institutionalized corruption and criminal action is the theme here, with the moral gray areas provided by Annabeth Gish, who plays Tommy’s unfaithful drug addict wife. It’s not flashy like The Sopranos, but the Phillip Noyce-directed first episode featured a Sidney Lumet-like examination of the ever-shifting yin and yang between good and evil, a tale as ancient—and timeless—as Cain and Abel. —RT

5. “The God of Hell” at the Geffen Playhouse: Sam Shepard’s new 75-minute, three-scene play is a curious amalgam of sitcom broad (there’s a running joke about heifers punctuated with an off-stage “mooooo”) and agitprop metaphor, meant to epater le bourgeois with a vein-popping outrage that skewers the Bush administration along with such topics as xenophobia, blind patriotism, hucksterism, nuclear panic, paranoia, torture and the demise of the small farm. Directed by Jason Alexander with an eye toward the slow burn of his Seinfeld character George, the play’s main characters aren’t really human, but caricatures, like American Gothic gone completely insane, with Sarah Knowlton’s Wisconsin farmwife Emma, cheerfully channeling Frances McDormand’s Oscar-winning turn in Fargo, mindlessly over-watering flowers to create a persistent dripping sound, and Bill Fagerbakke’s stolid and dazed Frank stumbling around like a horse kicked him in the head when he was a kid. The play doesn’t come alive until the appearance of Bryan Cranston’s ultimate salesman Welch, who gleefully staple-guns American flags to the walls and pawns chocolate chip cookies wrapped in the red, white and blue, selling the concept of the good ole U.S.A. as if he were hawking ginzu knives on late-night TV. The showstopper, though, is Curtis Armstong, a veteran actor who was Tom Cruise’s nerdy sidekick in Risky Business and recently played Ahmet Ertegun in Ray. Armstrong’s Haynes is an electro-shocked torture victim who’s been infected with radiation and now literally emits bolts of lightning from his hands whenever he comes into human contact. The rather well-heeled, elderly audience seemed confused by the almost slapstick action, though we didn’t hang around for the après-show discussion. If Shepard is trying to shock, his targets are a little too obvious, but whenever Armstrong as Haynes flies into a rage, his face turning beet red, like a perilously overloaded grid in a nuclear power plant, he artfully links the apoplectic to the apocalyptic. Asked by Frank if the crisis he's found himself in "is a world situation or something personal," Haynes shrugged, “What’s the difference?” The God of Hell suggests there isn’t any, which is a scary thought, indeed. —RT

6. The Chelsea Handler Show (E! Entertainment): The joys of channel-surfing have yielded this late-night show, hosted by a female comic who, like her contemporary Sarah Silverman, is a lot easier on the eyes than your usual Lisa Lampanelli/Rosanne Barr-type stand-ups. Her credits include stints on Reno 911, Last Call with Carson Daly, My Wife and Kids, The Bernie Mac Show and The Practice, as well as a correspondent on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but I’d never really run into her before this. The show consists of Handler doing a little shtick, but mostly features location pieces, including one depicting a picnic with Handler, Phyllis Diller, Lou Ferrigno and Wink Martindale that basically just sat there, but the sheer unlikeliness of it was appealing in a shaggy-dog, no soap radio sorta way. Then there was a parody of Dr. 90210 about babies undergoing plastic surgery on their faces, tummies and legs that was laugh-out-loud funny. As the daughter of a Jewish father and Mormon mother, this self-deprecating comedienne seems to have some fertile soil to till. There’s no reason why late-night TV has to be such a boy’s club, at least since Joan Rivers got drummed off the air, and this is a low-key start in the right direction.
RT

7. Platinum Weird: The Untold Story (VH1): Basically, this is a half-hour promotional video, a tribute to how far record labels have to go these days to grab attention for their releases, in this case, a collaboration set up by Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine between Eurythmic Dave Stewart and hit teenpop songwriter Kara DioGuardi (who penned “Pieces of Me” for Ashlee Simpson and “Rich Girl” for Gwen Stefani, among many others) in a band called Platinum Weird. The idea was to create a Spinal Tap back story, a fake rock doc about a duo by the same name, featuring Stewart supposedly before he hooked up with Annie Lennox, that had a few hits in the early ’70s before vanishing from sight when the mercurial blonde lead singer suddenly took off. Some 30 years later, DioGuardi miraculously shows up singing an unreleased Platinum Weird demo, joining Dave to reform the group after revealing she was tutored by a mysterious next-door neighbor who used to be a singer herself. All the interviewed witnesses keep a straight face, including a hilariously deadpan Mick Jagger, Bob Geldof and Stevie Nicks, who reveals she took her twirling style from Platinum Weird’s original lead singer, as well as Iovine, who recounts the tale with tongue firmly in cheek. And Stewart himself, shown drunkenly guzzling cocktails and trying to explain exactly what happened, is clearly in on the joke. All in all, not a bad idea, although the rock documentary style has long ago become a parody of itself, but the live performances of DioGuardi and Stewart do whet the appetite for more, which would seem to be the point. —RT

8. Josie Cotton, Movie Disaster Music (Scruffy Records): Speaking of disappearing lead singers, ever wonder what happened to Cotton, who burst onto the indie scene with the controversial Bomp Records single, “Johnny, Are You Queer?,” and after signing with Elektra, seemed to vanish into thin air. Although she recorded five albums over the past 22 years, she released only one, ’93’s Frightened by Nightingales, but has been busy creating a series of recording studios with legendary punk producer Geza X, including Malibu’s Cliffside Satellite Park, where Elliott Smith did his last album, Basement on the Hill. Thanks to the encouragement of her frequent collaborators, local producer/writers Paul Roessler and David McConnell, she finally gave in to releasing her latest effort, and it’s quite a departure from Josie’s old Go-Go’s-meets-Bangles girl group pop. In fact, Cotton’s turned into a darkly sensuous new wave chanteuse on songs like the noir-ish “Nikita” and “End of Story,” while still maintaining her sense of humor on novelties like “Kung Fu Girl,” “Lookin’ for Elvis” and “Happy Face,” in which she drags the famed yellow smiley icon through the dirt. The only shame is it took her so long to get over her disgust with the record industry. Here’s hoping the wait for the next album is a lot shorter. —RT

9. Shtetlwear: These nifty T-shirts are not only kosher, they have rabbinical approval for their mission to keep the Yiddish language alive and well in the modern world, sporting such phrases as “nisht gefidelt,” “yiddishe kop,” “gornisht mit gornisht” and “vilde chaya.” The brainchild of local writer Ken Kubernik, each garment comes with tags that give a phonetic pronunciation and definition for the particular phrase as well as how to use it in a sentence, e.g. “yiddishe kop” (yi-dish-e kup): Jewish head, to think like a Jew; “If you used your yiddishe kop, you would have bought Google, not kugle.” Available for men and women in short and long sleeves. Go to www.shtetlwear.com and tell ‘em Meshugge Knight sent you. And, of course, never buy retail. —RT

10. Gripe of the Week: I’ve been raised to tip 10% at the counter, 15% at a table, and 20% when there’s a party of, say, six or more in a restaurant, but, while picking up take-out the other night at Chan Dara in Hollywood, I was faced with a moral quandary. Ordinarily, when I take food out, I simply bypass the “tip” line when signing the credit card, but that got me thinking... Someone did go to the trouble of packing up all the food in those nice cartons and supplying plastic forks, knives and napkins, not to mention wrapping those Thai Ice Tea styrofoam cups in plastic so they won’t leak. And I tip the pizza delivery guy, and he's just bringing it to my house... So, I’m putting this out to you, loyal TCOB readers... When taking out food: to tip or not to tip? That is the question. Let me know what you think and I’ll run the best responses. —RT

CALENDAR
Friday, July 14th
12:00pm
Vans Warped 2006, with Joan Jett, NOFX, Eighteen Visions, Cartel and many more, @ Idaho Center Amphitheatre, Nampa

7:00pm
Summer of Ska, with Voodoo Glow Skulls, Catch 22, Big D & the Kids Table, Suburban Legends and Westbound Train, @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney), Anaheim

7:30pm
Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood @ Madison Square Garden.

8:00pm
Kathy Griffin @ The Wiltern: She is absolutely hysterical.

Miranda Lambert w/Travis Howard @ House of Blues on Sunset

8:30pm
March of the Penguins: Riverflicks @ Hudson River Park, Pier 46.
 
Saturday, July 15th
12:00pm-9:00pm
Siren Music Festival, With The Stills, Scissor Sisters, Like Stars, Art Brut, Tapes 'n Tapes, The Cribs and Dirty on Purpose, @ Coney Island Boardwalk

5:00pm
-10:30pm

World’s Largest Block Party @ Madison and DesPlaines in Chicago

6:30pm
Dashboard Confessional @ Mesa Amphitheatre, Mesa, AZ

8:00pm
Lyle Lovett @ Dodger Theatre in Phoenix.

Hootie & the Blowfish @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney),
Anaheim

Sunday, July 16th
1:00pm
Sounds of the Underground, with As I Lay Dying, In Flames, Trivium, Vision of Disorder, Cannibal Corpse, Gwar, Terror, Black Dahlia Murder, Behemoth, The Chariot and Through the Eyes of the Dead, @ Tweeter Center at the Waterfront, Camden, NJ

7:00pm
Guster and Ray LaMontagne @ House of Blues, Myrtle Beach, SC

JE-C’S NEW-MOVIE RUNDOWN
The week’s only new movies are Little Man and You, Me and Dupree, and due to the fact that neither looks very good, I’m choosing not to preview them.. My suggestion is, go see Pirates! All I have to say about the movie is it’s amazing. If you haven’t seen it yet, due to the ridiculous lines, I suggest you go this weekend.
 
JE-C’S TOP MOVIES OF THE YEAR SO FAR
V for Vendetta:
This is my favorite movie of the year so far, for many reasons. It's more than just a comic book adapted for the big screen; it’s a movie that makes a big political statement that we can all relate to these days. Definitely a movie that was slept on, and I advise everyone to check it out if you haven't yet.
X-Men III: The Last Stand: If this is the last one, it certainly satisfied my appetite. It had it all, including some incredible action sequences.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Simply Awesome!!! Johnny Depp is brilliant, Bill Nighy is creepy and Keira Knightley is sexy, plus it has great special effects and nonstop action.
Mission Impossible III: OK, people are getting sick and tired of Tom Cruise, but if you can just get past him, this movie is actually really good. A lot of people are missing out because they’re so turned off by the star’s off-screen antics.
An Inconvenient Truth: The most important movie of the year… A MUST-SEE!!!
Nacho Libre: The funniest movie of the year. Jack Black rocks.
The Devil Wears Prada: This movie is making my list because Meryl Streep is truly brilliant, and if you haven’t seen it, or are on the fence about seeing it, go for her performance, if nothing else.


COUNTRY'S NEW KING
The Gospel of Luke (11/11a)
BIEBER BY CHRISTMAS?
How's that for a tease, Bieber Nation? (11/12a)
NEAR TRUTHS: MEET
THE NEW BOSSES
Not the same as the old bosses (11/11a)
CMA CENTERPIECE
CARRIE UNDERWOOD
This sure feels like her moment. (11/11a)
A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS II:
SARAH TRAHERN
It's a marathon, not a sprint. (11/11a)
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH KANYE
And lo, there was much earned media.
MOE, MARSHMELLO AND MONEY
The story of a "faceless" brand that got very, very big.
THE NEW WORLD OF A&R
The trap they all fell into.
GRAMMY NOMS
Who deserves consideration in the genre categories?
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