Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Movies, Books, Theater, Concerts, CDs I've Seen/Read/Heard So Far In 2019

Updated March 16, 2019

KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2

(Increasingly, I am sampling books, reading 10%, 20% even 40 or 50% before deciding to move on. The books below are only the ones I've read completely. That also explains what looks like generous grading -- more and more, if I sense a book is not going to be among my favorites, I stop reading. Too many books; too little time!)

1. Love To Everyone by Hilary McKay (ya WW II) *** 1/2
2. The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926) *** 1/2
3. The Winter Of The Witch by Katherine Arden *** 1/2
4. The Music Of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg **
5. DogMan: Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey ** 1/2
6. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923) ** 1/2
7. Underground: A Human History Of The World Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt *** /
8. Unknown Man #89 by Elmore Leonard (1977) *** 1/2
9. The Falconer by Dana Czapnik (NYC coming of age basketballer) *** 1/2
10. Midnight In Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham *** 1/2
11. The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard (2005) ****
12. Pogo: Bona Fide Balderdash -- The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol 2 1951-1952 by Walt Kelly ****
13. Pogo: Evidence To The Contrary -- The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol 3 1953-1954 by Walt Kelly ****
14. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (1937-1938) by Milt Caniff *** 1/2
15. The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown (1941) *** 1/2
16. The Last Samurai by  Helen De Witt (2000) ****
17. There Is No Planet B: A Handbook For The Make Or Break Years by Mike Berners-Lee **
18. Cherokee America by Margaret Verble *** 1/2
19. A Taste For Honey by H.F. Heard (1941) ** 1/2
20. Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions And What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans De Waal ***

CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS (A strong emphasis on the ones I like, so don't think I love everything I listen to -- I just don't bother really listening to the ones I don't )

1. The Beach Boys -- Smiley Smile (1967) *** (esp side two)
2. The Beach Boys -- Wild Honey (1967) **
3. The Beach Boys -- Friends (1968) ***/
4. The Band -- Stage Fright (1970) ** 1/2
5. The English Beat -- Public Confidential ***
6. The Band -- Cahoots (1971) *** 1/2
7. The Band -- Northern Lights Southern Cross (1975) ***
8. Van Morrison -- The Prophet Speaks *** \
9. Dee White -- Southern Gentleman **
10. Ken Nordine -- Speak With Your Ears (1979) *** 1/2
11. David Gray -- Gold In A Brass Age ** 1/2
12. Van Morrison -- The Healing Game (1997) ***/
13. Various Artists -- Joni 75: A Celebration ** 1/2 /
14. Maren Morris -- Girls ***
15. Elton John -- Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy (1975) **
16. Joe Jackson -- Fool *** /
17. Trevor Horn -- Reimagines The 80s **
18. India Arie -- Worthy ** 1/2
19. The Everly Brothers -- Roots (1968) ***
20. John Pizzarelli -- For Centennial Reasons: A Salute To Nat King Cole ** 1/2
21. Julio Gutierrez -- Cuban Jam Session Vol 1 (1956) *** 1/2
22. Lone Justice -- This Is Lone Justice: The Vaughn Tapes 1983 ***
23. Nancy Wilson -- Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (1962) *** 1/2 /
24. Nancy Wilson -- Something Wonderful (1962) *** 1/2
25. Nancy Wilson -- Tender Loving Care (1966) ***\
26. Ella Fitzgerald -- The Complete Decca Singles Vol. 1 *** \
27. Nancy Wilson -- The Swingin's Mutual w George Shearing (1961) ***
28. Antonio Carlos and Jocafi -- 20 Super Succesos ** 1/2
29. Idles -- Joy As An Act Of Resistance (2018) **


(Not TV movies, of course, but movies and TV -- and TV movies if it comes to that. Mostly I only list TV shows when I've tackled an entire season at once or reappraising an entire series after it's over This doesn't really capture my ongoing watching of current TV.)

1. Sweepstakes Winner (1939) no stars
2. Captain Marvel **
3. Giant Little Ones *** (gay swimmers)

(The names after the shows are the people who joined me at the performance.)

1. Frankenstein (at Public) ** 1/2 
2. Minor Character (at Public) ***/ 
3. Ink (at Met) w Noam ** 1/2 
4. Choir Boy (at MTC) ** 1/2 
5. Chambre Noire (at Public) (w Noam) ** 1/2 
6. Weightless (at BRIC) (w Diego) (left early feeling ill, but quite promising)
7. Be More Chill (on Broadway) (w Noam) * 
8. Grease (at UN International School)  w Noam
9. Das Rheingold (at the Met w Noam) ** 1/2 

KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2

Updated March 16, 2019

TV and Film Must Watch List


At Eternity's Gate
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
Ben Is Back
Birds of Passage
Bisbee '17 (doc)
The Cakemaker
Crime and Punishment (doc)
The Dawn Wall
The Death of Stalin
El Angel
Everybody Knows
Green Book
The Green Fog (Guy Maddin)
The Guilty
Happy As Lazzaro
The Insult
Jane Fonda in Five Acts (doc)
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont)
Leave No Trace
Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 (John Ridley)
Life and Nothing More (friend of Greg Marcks)
Minding The Gap (doc)
Mom and Dad
Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle
Nico, 1988
Permanent Green Light (Dennis Cooper)
Pope Francis (Wim Wenders doc)
Reversing Roe (Netflix doc)
Shirkers (Netflix doc)
Skate Kitchen
Sollers Point
Stan & Ollie
Sweet Country
The Tale (HBO)
Vox Lux
You Were Never Really Here


Adventure Time
American Crime (three seasons, ABC)
The Americans
American Vandal (Netflix)
America To Me (Starz doc)
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Babylon Berlin (Netflix)
Better Call Saul
Big Mouth
Black Mirror
Blue Planet II (BBC America)
Bob's Burgers (FOX)
Bodyguard (Netflix)
Bojack Horseman
The Bridge (Hulu)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC)
Casa de los Flores
Corporate (Comedy Central)
Counterpart (Starz)
Dear White People (Netflix)
Derry Girls (Netflix)
The Deuce
Drew Michael (HBO standup, no audience)
Elite (Netflix high school drama, Spain)
Fauda (Israeli-Palestinian) (Netflix)
Forever (Amazon)
Game of Thrones
GLOW (Netflix)
The Good Place
High Maintainence (HBO)
Homecoming (Amazon)
The House of Flowers (La Casa de las Flores, Mexico) (Netflix)
Howards End (Starz)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (fX)
Kidding (Showtime)
Kid Gorgeous at Radio City: John Mulaney stand up (Netflix)
The Little Drummer Girl (AMC)
Lodge 49 (AMC)
Mindhunter (Netflix)
Mr Inbetween (Amazon)
My Brilliant Friend (HBO)
Nanette: Hannah Gadsby standup (Netflix)
Nathan For You (Comedy Central)
One Day At A Time (Netflix)
Patriot (spy guitar) (Amazon)
Pose (fX)
Random Acts Of Flyness (HBO)
Rectify (Sundance)
Rick And Morty (Cartoon Network/Adult Swim)
Salt Fat Acid Heat (Netflix cooking show)
Sex Education (Netflix,  Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson)
Silicon Valley
The Sinner
Six By Sondheim
Sorry For Your Loss (Facebook Watch)
The Staircase (Netflix doc)
Steven Universe (Cartoon Network)
Succession (HBO)
Tamborine: Chris Rock special (Netflix)
The Terror (AMC)
This Close (Sundance)
Tig Notaro: Happy to be Here standup (Netflix)
Veep (HBO)
A Very English Scandal (Amazon)
The Vietnam War (PBS doc)
Wild Wild Country (Netflix doc)


Alan Partridge
An American Family (1973 PBS documentary)
Anne Of Green Gables (1985)
The Avengers
Baseball (Ken Burns)
Brassed Off
Broken Trail (2006 TV movie)
Buffalo Bill
Danger UXB
The Day After
Eleanor and Franklin
Elizabeth R
Gulliver's Travels (1996 miniseries)
Jazz (Ken Burns)
The Kids In The Hall (1988 sketch)
The Jewel In The Crown
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts
Mr. Show
The Paper Chase
Party Down
Planet Earth
Reilly: Ace Of Spies
The Rockford Files/Maverick
S.C.T.V. (1976 sketch)
Sons Of Anarchy
St. Elsewhere (1982 drama)
Tattingers (1988 light drama)
Victory At Sea
The Waltons (1971 drama)
The World At War

Friday, February 08, 2019

MUSIC: The Best Albums Of 2018 or How Everything Old Is New Again

Every year I make a list of my favorite albums. Of course, I put my favoritest albums near the top, but any album on the list is worthy of your time. If you like the artist or the genre, give it a listen. But my #1 pick? Clearly that's a statement: here's the BEST album of the year and if you want to pretend you're hip or cool or care about music, well you better lay down some vinyl, drop a needle and give it a listen! And how do I choose the best album of the year? Easy: which new album have I played the most? This year, however, I struggled. Was it this album or that album or the other album? And why don't kids listen to albums anymore? They'll binge-watch an entire season of a TV show from start to finish in two days -- in ORDER -- but they'd rather die than listen to an album from an artist they love? What gives? Do they pick up a book, read chapter seven and then chapter two and then chapter sixteen and then move on to another book?

Ok, forget the kids. Suddenly, I realized my problem and why I was struggling with naming my favorite album of the year. I was too focused on the new. Yes, I am talking about the best albums of 2018 but streaming has permanently changed my listening habits. The latest albums bump up against a sudden desperate need to check out Andy Gibb or the entire catalog of The Temptations from start to finish or Buffalo Springfield (for the first time!) or The Carpenters. And if I'm being honest, the music I listened to the most in 2018, the music I couldn't stop talking about and recommending, the musical career I became mildly obsessed over was found on the boxed set The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters by Bobbie Gentry.

I knew the name. Bobbie Gentry was a classic one-hit wonder (I thought), the voice behind the enigmatic, unforgettable single "Ode To Billie Joe." I'd never heard an album of hers or even another song by her. And I don't think I'd ever heard anyone extolling her as an unappreciated talent. But here's the boxed set containing all sorts of live cuts and b-sides -- the usual boxed set material. It was compiled by Andrew Batt, the guy who did similar work on the solo albums of Sandy Denny. And just as his boxed set of Denny brought renewed attention to that singer, he is hoping the same will happen for Gentry. (Here's an excellent interview with Batt about the project.) And scattered in that boxed set are all the songs from seven studio albums (and one unreleased album of standards). I had to create playlists for each one just so I could listen to them from start to finish without any distractions. And what did I discover? One of the best albums of 1967...and1968...and 1971...and 2018.

THE 40 (ish) BEST ALBUMS OF 2018

BOBBIE GENTRY -- The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters
JANELLE MONÁE -- Dirty Computer
KAMASI WASHINGTON -- Heaven and Earth
ANGELIQUE KIDJO -- Remain In Light
PANIC! AT THE DISCO -- Pray For The Wicked
BRANDI CARLILE -- By The Way, I Forgive You
THE JOHN SALLY RIDE -- Nothing Doing
NELLIE MCKAY -- Sister Orchid
BETA RADIO -- Transition
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Black Panther

ARCTIC MONKEYS -- Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
BENJAMIN JAFFE -- Oh, Wild Ocean Of Love
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- African Scream Contest 2
SHAKEY GRAVES -- Can't Wake Up
ESPERANZA SPALDING -- 12 Little Spells
COURTNEY BARNETT -- Tell Me How You Really Feel
NAS -- Nasir

BIRCH PEREIRA -- Western Soul
SCOTT MATTHEWS -- The Great Untold
JASON ALDEAN -- Rearview Town
DRAKE -- Scorpion
JAMES HUNTER -- Whatever It Takes

LINDA THOMPSON -- My Mother Doesn't Know I'm On The Stage
ROSEANNE CASH -- She Remembers Everything
BUDDY GUY -- The Blues Is Alive And Well
GORILLAZ -- The Now Now
MANDY PATINKIN -- Diary: January 27, 2018/ April, May 2018
JOSH ROUSE -- Love In The Modern Age
THE VINES -- In Miracle Land
BOZ SCAGGS -- Out Of The Blues
ELLA FITZGERALD/ LOUIS ARMSTRONG -- Cheek To Cheek: The Complete Duet Recordings

1. BOBBIE GENTRY -- The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters
...and what did I discover? One of the best albums of 1967...and1968...and 1971. I discovered a debut album suffused with southern grit and sass and a marvelous sense of place, an album so confident it saved the brilliant single "Ode To Billie Joe" for the final cut. That's nerve. Then came a second album served up as a song cycle, one tune flowing into the next. If anything, it's even better. And then the crazy, dismissive, sexist music industry takes over, both praising Gentry's albums and dismissing her as a cute little thing at the same time. Bizarrely, despite her debut selling millions and topping the charts and Gentry winning Grammys (including Best New Artist) and the second album delivering artistically and being right in the wheelhouse of her debut, it disappeared. I don't mean it didn't sell that well; it barely charted on the Billboard 200, only reaching #132. Her third album didn't even CHART. So Gentry played the game and recorded a duets album with Glen Campbell, one of the hottest acts around. It's her least interesting album by a country mile but it sold tons and went straight to the top of the charts. Her fifth album, clearly ready to capitalize on a revitalized Gentry with commercial appeal? It peaked at #164. Even curiouser was her songwriting. Gentry wrote most of the songs on her debut and second album, but each release after that included fewer and fewer originals, as if she'd run out of things to say. Gentry has excellent taste in music so her covers are well chosen. But given the outstanding quality of her writing, it's sad to see just one original track by Gentry on her fifth and sixth studio albums. Eventually, the label just ignored her completely. Gentry's very good seventh album -- which includes standards like "God Bless The Child" and "Feelin' Good" -- wasn't released at all. Then out of nowhere she recorded one final work. Gentry's eighth and final release (to date) contains all originals. Like many of the previous albums, she arranged and produced the entire affair, even painting the album cover. It's a work of Americana very much in the spirit of Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson and every bit the equal of their best work (and hers). It's a triumphant capper and when it too sank without a trace I picture Gentry making a hand gesture at the music world and heading out the door. Somewhere in there she did TV specials and then accepted a huge paycheck from Las Vegas, where she directed and choreographed and even designed the costumes for a hugely popular stage show, starring in it for several years. Artistic control and more money than she ever saw from the record biz must have been sweet. Gentry married and divorced three times (always her own woman), wisely invested and profited from the Phoenix Suns basketball team and hasn't even glanced at the music biz since 1981. Reba McEntire includes Gentry's song "Fancy" in most every concert she does and surely Gentry's determination to do it all and do it her way has been an inspiration to countless acts over the years. But what really matters is the music and four of her eight albums are very good to stunning. Start with the debut and thank me later. I've never named a reissue as my favorite album before. Typically, I would just go back and insert the album onto the list for the year it originally came out. But that's the beauty of streaming. You can listen to so much great music from every era right now. If you're suddenly discovering classic Hollywood, maybe your favorite movie of 2018 was 1944's The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek. Maybe the TV show you obsessed over was Firefly from 2002. Maybe the book you couldn't stop sharing with friends was Stoner by John Williams. Hey, diving into some classic stuff is a hell of a lot better than just watching some dumb new movie because you remember seeing the trailer a few weeks ago. (Kevin Hart is pretty funny; how bad can it be?) So my favorite album of 2018 is 1967's Ode To Billie Joe. Just like Gentry, I guess there's a little rebel in me. Today, Mercury Rev is releasing a tribute to Gentry that covers her sensational second album with an all-star guest list of singers ranging from Norah Jones to Lucinda Williams. Of course, they toss in "Ode To Billie Joe" at the end, because how can't you? I'm looking forward to checking it out and hope it keeps the Bobbie Gentry comeback a-rolling. But do check out the original albums first.

Follow me on Spotify! Or just go here to check out my playlists for the albums. I've got all eight on my playlists but here are the three best:

Ode To Billie Joe 

The Delta Sweete


2. JANELLE MONÁE -- Dirty Computer 

The craziest, sexiest, coolest album of the year. Monáe covers the waterfront stylistically, from Prince to Madonna to Marvin Gaye to Nina Simone and she does it on an album bursting with great songs that is also one of the boldest political statements in years. I've been in love with her talent for ages and this was the moment it all came together. She threatened to explode commercially -- certainly the media coverage said this was Her Moment. But it didn't happen, at least not on the charts. Unquestionably her reach in pop culture is strong, from her video album to her savvy use of ad endorsements to keep that profile high. But the streaming success she deserves has not arrived. Yet. She'll just have to settle for being a terrific artist.

3. KAMASI WASHINGTON -- Heaven and Earth

Kamasi Washington gave a shot in the arm to jazz and re-awakened my love for the genre as a source of new music. (Jazz is always in the mix for me when it comes to icons like Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong.) And if I have one huge complaint about streaming it's the piss-poor selection of jazz and classical and world music. This year it seemed like all the new jazz I could hear let me down...when I could find them at all. But Washington delivered with an album just as sprawling, messy, vibrant and alive as his breakthrough work a few years ago. I'll keep searching for the latest jazz releases, but Spotify and Apple need to step it up.

4. ANGELIQUE KIDJO -- Remain In Light

What a trip! What a great way to appreciate again both Kidjo and Talking Heads. She tackled their entire album Remain in Light and it's a trippy revelation. It's hard to know what's more exciting: her singing and how she makes this eccentric, seemingly un-coverable album her own or the greatness that was Talking Heads.

5. PANIC! AT THE DISCO -- Pray For The Wicked

I may not care that Janelle Monáe didn't break commercially. (She doesn't need it.) But I am THRILLED that Panic! At the Disco has a monster single with "High Hopes," their first Top 10 hit since 2006. This is a band that deserves, needs, nay demands pop glory and now they've got it. You liked Bohemian Rhapsody? Well, what the heck are you waiting for? They're not Queen (no one is); they are their own band. But they are definitely in that lane: melodramatic pop-rock, surging melodies, over the top vocals and roll-down-the-windows turn-up-the-volume choruses. I've loved them for years and have puzzled over why critics didn't go gaga for them. But I was even more confused as to why their radio-crushing singles weren't crushing radio. Well, now they are.

6. BRANDI CARLILE -- By The Way, I Forgive You

Speaking of melodrama, Brandi Carlile has a gift for it in a shameless, stirring way that would make Roy Orbison nod his head in appreciation. Carlile is in a country rock vein, not the pop opera of Mr Orbison. But that heart on her sleeve emotion combined with a maturity in her outlook and empathy (after all, she forgives you) make this so perfect for the lovelorn that her backing band should be called the Heartbreakers.

7. THE JOHN SALLY RIDE -- Nothing Doing

Wait, WTF? My friend Sal recorded an album as a member of The John Sally Ride last year. Their debut was -- I thought -- a happy accident, an alignment of the planets that allowed veteran musicians to record and release the album of their careers, power pop rock performed with the sheer joy of kids but with the insight only adults could deliver. It was, well -- not a fluke. I mean, they're talented. But surely it was something to cherish and maybe in the back of my mind I thought it would never happen again. How often does lightning strike? I wasn't even sure the band was a going concern. And then out of nowhere comes their second album. And it's...better than the first! It contains more power pop, which is one way of describing rock n roll with killer hooks recorded by people with a few miles on them. From its default sad sack perspective to hilarious one-liners and melodies that sink in and won't let go, this in every respect builds on everything that was good from their first album. I hate to reduce them to humor, but it's a big initial part of the appeal, until you recognize the pain and sadness and regret that underlie all the laughs. But laugh you will, from the first track "Embarrassingly Single" to "I Won't Let Failure Go To My Head" to "I Usually Eat Alone" (are they stalking me?) and the kiss-off "Don't Flatter Yourself." Holy shit, they've got a band. And a discography. And a career!

8. NELLIE MCKAY -- Sister Orchid

Nellie McKay is such a talent, such a bouquet of talent that people can't pin her down. If I were in charge, she'd already have her own variety show on TV somewhere, along with a blank check to do whatever she wanted on her days off.  She's already done it all, from Broadway to pop albums to one-woman bio-musicals about important female figures in history to leading the Resistance with sly humor and smarts. Oh and she records albums. Her latest is a gem and McKay's best since her tribute to Doris Day. For such a talented songwriter, she's really shown a commitment to the classics, whether doing covers of 60s pop to that Doris Day album to this new collection of standards. She recorded it entirely on her own, a la Prince, if Prince were suddenly to discover a talent for the Great American Songbook. It's a quiet, turn off the lights and sit in the dark sort of album. Think Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours or Ella Fitzgerald's The Intimate Ella. From the opening track "My Romance" (which makes canny, subtle use of over-dubbing) to a droll "Lazybones" and a vulnerable "Where Or When," McKay creates a real spell here. She does a lot without ever showing off, like the sound effects that create a piano bar mood on one tune that will make you laugh without ever being jokey. Or the marvelous arrangement that tops off "In A Sentimental Mood." Or the fact that she covers "Georgia On My Mind" when I thought we'd never need another cover of "Georgia On My Mind" pretty much ever, but damned if she doesn't pull it off. I especially enjoy how she allows her vocals to be naked and vulnerable at just the right lyrical moment. Anyone who appreciates Broadway or the classic albums of the 1950s by Ella and Anita O'Day and Dinah Washington, anyone who loves cabaret? They simply must get this now. In a word, exquisite.

9. BETA RADIO -- Transition

The label I want for this music isn't Americana. Maybe the Band comes close to what I'm thinking, the feel you get when you're hearing music that seems to be created right this very moment but has always existed. You see glimmers of it in Mumford & Sons (sort of) but more so in the likes of Fleet Foxes and Midlake. And you hear it in Beta Radio. One year, after doing my annual story about my favorite music, someone did what I love: they made a recommendation. Hey, check out Beta Radio, they said. I did and was immediately besotted. I think this is the third album for the North Carolina duo. In 2010 they put out Seven Sisters. In 2014 it was Colony of Bees and now in 2018 Transition. Which means, I assume, we can look forward to another album in 2022. Quiet but restless, wise but confused, the lyrics of Beta Radio are rooted in the everyday and the need for more. They'll stop you dead in your tracks, if you know what I mean. I'm playing a few tracks as I write this and suddenly I'm finding it hard to move on to the next album I want to talk about. If you're still waiting for Tim Smith to release his solo album (take your time, Tim!), don't wait to check this out. The real deal.

10. VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Black Panther 

A de facto Kendrick Lamar album with a whole lot of guests, this was more immediately accessible to me than Damn. Like the film, it's expansive and positive and conflicted and determined to be true to itself. Given his track record on TV appearances, Lamar's duet with SZA at the Oscars when they perform "All The Stars" will give Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper a run for their money. Don't get me wrong: "Shallow" will win the Oscar. But who knows? Black Panther could come out of nowhere and win the Oscar for Best Picture or the Grammy for Best Album. It's got the music this project deserves.


The most exciting jazz singer around does it again. Indeed, "more of the same" is a very high compliment for an artist who has been on fire in the past few years and delivered my favorite album of 2017. The heir to Cassandra Wilson, Salvant draws on a wide range of influences. But she establishes her own magnetic identify as an artist with piercing insight into the lyrics, tremendous humor and a voice that can do anything but knows not to, at least not all the time. Thrilling.

12. ARCTIC MONKEYS -- Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope...oh wait, actually I do like the new Arctic Monkeys album. At first, it sounded more like a project for the Alex Turner offshoot The Last Shadow Puppets. But what's in a name? The band has wowed me from the start and so have most of their albums. So when you respect an act that much, you're willing to live with a new album that takes a left-turn and come back to it and let it grow on you. This one did.

13. KASEY CHAMBERS -- Campfire

What kind of a jerk wishes a marriage hadn't ended just because he enjoyed the albums that now-divorced couple produced? I keep wondering what she would do next with her ex Shane Nichols when Kasey Chambers has delivered one sprawling, exciting solo album after another. This one is dead simple, a real campfire sing-along of an album. A treat.

14. BENJAMIN JAFFE -- Oh, Wild Ocean Of Love

State of the art neo-soul for those waiting for the next Maxwell. Deeply impressive and the debut of the year.

15. VARIOUS ARTISTS -- African Scream Contest 2

Somehow I missed the apparently landmark compilation African Scream Contest. Its sequel brought me back to those glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s when African pop was exploding and with each new compilation I found about a dozen new artists worth exploring. Like so many compilations, this may not be something you dive back into again and again -- it's a primer.  But it's exciting and generous and opens your mind. Streaming really does drop the ball when it comes to world music (and jazz and classical) and I fear for the gaps in my musical knowledge that this is creating. African Scream Contest 2 helps to fill in the gaps.

16. SHAKEY GRAVES -- Can't Wake Up

A terrific Americana act, Shakey Graves opened as a busker for Mumford & Sons, which gives you an idea of his wheelhouse. He definitely gave off a street-corner vibe on earlier albums, though each one has proven a little bolder in its instrumentation and arrangements. Every time I put him on, I think "Why aren't I listening to this more often?"

17. ESPERANZA SPALDING -- 12 Little Spells

Esperanza Spalding's talent is so expansive it can get away from her. Like Norah Jones, her ability to make most anything seem magnetic in the moment allows her to sometime drift over ideas rather than dig deeper. Here she digs deeper and delivers the melodies to anchor her always impressive vocals and playing. A return to form.

18. ELVIS COSTELLO -- Look Now

A veteran with fire in his belly. Costello has delivered impressive albums in all sorts of styles, rarely going a few years without delivering a knock out punch artistically. Here he reunites with the Imposters and reminds us he can still rock out too. To anyone who's been paying attention, it's no surprise at all.

19. COURTNEY BARNETT -- Tell Me How You Really Feel 

A smidge less fun than most of her albums, which have a dry wit rivaling Bob Dylan, this more serious album is...more serious. Her guitar work and deadpan vocals and rambling melodies remain a treat and I'm sure I'm just being a kvetch who complained she was repeating herself and now that she's moved ever so slightly to the left, I'm complaining that she's not doing what she did before. Critics!

20.  NAS -- Nasir

Lately, I find I have NO patience for hip-hop that even remotely leans toward the glorification of violence or dismissive attitudes towards women. I just don't want to hear it. But Nas remains an artist who can document violence or his own complicated past without ever giving it nodding approval. Like Costello, he still has fire in his belly and anyone who has been paying attention won't be surprised in the least by this vital album.


It's been a terrific year for albums of standards and this one is right up there. Bennett's voice has been reduced to a whisper of its former self, but like Willie Nelson he has such command and swing of the little vocals left to him that it still works wonders. He and Krall are an awesome pairing with chemistry to spare. A treat.

22. BIRCH PEREIRA -- Western Soul

As fun as his album may be, what I really want to do is grab a cold beer and catch Birch and his band in a dive bar somewhere. Then I'll be a fan for life.

23. TRACEY THORN -- Record

One of the great voices in pop, Tracey Thorn has delivered enough solo gems now that -- as a body of work -- it's beginning to rival the music she recorded with Everything But The Girl. And that's very high praise. Toss in the fact that I suddenly realized she was writing columns for New Statesman and now I can enjoy her witty, insightful writing all the time and not just when she published a book or recorded a new album and 2018 was a banner year for this fan of Thorn. (Here's her latest column.) One of those acts you spend a lifetime appreciating and they keep rewarding your loyalty in unexpected and delightful ways.

24. SCOTT MATTHEWS -- The Great Untold

How did I miss Scott Matthews? He hits my sweet spot, seems to have been critically acclaimed for years with reviews that name check other acts I respect (John Prine, et al) and yet I've been shamefully unaware of him till now. Well, The Great Untold wowed me, with its hushed vocals and plaintive melodies and singer-songwriter vibe. Now I'm gingerly exploring his earlier work, wondering what I'll find. For the moment, he's my favorite new old friend.

25. MACY GRAY -- Ruby

Saucy, smart, ribald and fun. But above all, that gravely, distinctive, memorable can't confuse her with anyone else voice.

26. JASON ALDEAN -- Rearview Town 

More solid country, from the left side of the tracks.


Well, hey there! It's been a while. Peyroux has always been a little hit or miss for me. But boy when she hits, she's a treasure. Here, she hits and if I knew why this worked and some other albums of hers didn't, well I'd be Rick Rubin, wouldn't I? If you fell hard for Careless Love, like I did, you'll enjoy this one too.

28. DRAKE -- Scorpion

Not that anyone cares about greatest hits albums anymore, but boy is Drake going to have a killer one. The three big singles from this huge double album are tremendous fun. The real surprise for me is how it all holds together. Artists are shoving tons of tracks onto their albums for all the wrong reasons (manipulating the charts, etc.). So I assumed the 25 tracks of Scorpion would be about 10 tracks too many. But no...the bigness of it and the quality won out. If people still put out greatest hits albums he could put one out now that would rival Elton John's Greatest Hits Vol. One for sheer pop dominance.

29. JAMES HUNTER -- Whatever It Takes

Damn, James Hunter is consistent. He delivers blue-eyed soul circa London and he's always good. And then sometimes he's really really good. Like here. One of his best, though it's so sneakily great you'll be enjoying yourself too much the first few times you play it to actually realize that.

30. TROYE SIVAN -- Bloom

Sexy enough to make me blush, from the Grindr experience opener "Seventeen" to the closing "Animal" I don't think he's blushing though, which is a key to the album's strength. A great leap forward from his debut. Tag on the Queen cover "Somebody To Love" and this is a very queer, very exciting album. What's next?

31. RICK SPRINGFIELD -- The Snake King

That's right, I said Rick Springfield! I really can't be too adamant, as if I know we should all be surprised. I've always appreciated his clutch of terrific singles but somehow never listened to an album other than a greatest hits set I plunked down for. Now, thanks to streaming and an intriguing review, I checked out his apparently atypical latest release. It is, I kid you not, a crazily good combination of blues guitar and lyrics akin to Bob Dylan circa Highway 61 Revisited. It's defiantly bawdy, atheistic, ballsy, righteous, angry, God-mocking, political, funny and just plain mind-blowing. I'm almost afraid to play it, worried the spell it cast on me during a road trip won't be repeated. But oh my god it blew my mind and made me laugh and just plain rocked! I want to have a drink with Rick Springfield and I don't even drink.

32. LINDA THOMPSON -- My Mother Doesn't Know I'm On The Stage

This is really an evening of music hall entertainment hosted by Linda Thomson, with everyone from Martha Wainwright to Colin Firth (!) to son Teddy Thompson delivering humorous and sad songs of a vintage sort to an appreciative audience. An offbeat pleasure.

33. FALL OUT BOY -- Mania

Like Panic! At The Disco, they know how to deliver the pop goods.

34. ROSEANNE CASH -- She Remembers Everything

Just when she seemed to be edging into a respectable, elder stateswoman, Cash delivers a terrific new album of depth and passion. No, she's not done yet.

35. BUDDY GUY -- The Blues Is Alive And Well

Oh god no, please. A new album from a legend, filled with celebrity guests? I know how this turns out...except here Biddy Guy is really on fire, the celebrity guests stay out of the way and it's just a blast. Don't be wary. The blues really is alive and well here.

36. GORILLAZ -- The Now Now

Is Gorillaz more important now than Blur? Is Damon Albarn one of the sneakiest geniuses at disguising his impressive talent by donning one mask after another? Does it matter? The music, as always, is very good.

37. MANDY PATINKIN -- Diary: January 27, 2018/ April, May 2018

Yet another impressive album of covers. Patinkin began his recording career with a string of very good solo albums but lost his way just a little. Here's he found an excellent collaborator in Doveman, aka Thomas Bartlett. They bounce song ideas off one another and then record almost spontaneously. The result are what Patinkin charmingly calls diaries. The first, from January of 2018, was strong but the second one had an even better mix of songs and a deeper connection between the two artists. The off the cuff nature keeps Patinkin from perhaps getting in his own way vocally (like Streisand, he can overthink in the studio). And the intimacy of the recording is a treat, letting you feel like you're eavesdropping in on a conversation. I sure as hell didn't expect a cover of Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack Of Hearts" -- I would have said it wasn't a song anyone should cover until Patinkin proved me wrong. It's just the most unexpected of many treats on what I assume and hope will be more diaries to come.

38. THE VINES -- In Miracle Land 

A wonderful, Beatles-esque talent that exploded in their debut, got bogged down in personal travails and is back showing the gift for melodies and hooks and sheer pop genius that made you go nuts for them in the first place. Welcome back.

39. JOSH ROUSE -- Love In The Modern Age

Sometimes you feel guilty when you love an album by an artist and then don't keep touting them in the years to come, even as others hear something you don't. So yes, I was crazy about Josh Rouse's time travel of an album 1972 and -- while I really liked one or two others -- I drifted away. Now he's tackling the 1980s on Love In The Modern Age and here I am again, cheering. I suppose I'll return to the fold when he tackles the 1950s. But as with 1972, he both captures the musical vibe of an era yet never falls into mimicry. Great fun.

40. JEFF TWEEDY -- Warm/ BOZ SCAGGS -- Out Of the Blues

Two veterans delivering. It hasn't happened a while for Tweedy, who gives ragged charm to a clutch of originals that remind you what a hell of a songwriter he can be. Scaggs has been consistently excellent for a long time now. He does it again on this gem, which slips by with his usual elegance -- it's sleek, smart, sophisticated and sneakily moving.

42. ELLA FITZGERALD/ LOUIS ARMSTRONG -- Cheek To Cheek: The Complete Duet Recordings 

I started with a boxed set so I might as well end with one. It simply doesn't get better than Ella and Louis duetting. Any fool can enjoy it and you'd be a fool if you didn't lend an ear. Two giants who brought out the best in each other. Actually, it's hard to say who is the better duet partner since they both brought out the best in so many others. Here you have a late career peak for two artists who enjoyed so many. It's a joy from start to finish. 

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

BookFilter Reading List


Talk To Me -- on interviewing

Geography of Rebels Trilogy by Maria Gabriela Llansol

king of the khyber rifles

PW Best of 2018:

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
Melmoth by Sarah Perry

MARCH 2019

The Wall by John Lanchester out of comfort zone sci-fi dystopia 3-5-2019

We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It Irish memoir 3-5-2019

Real Queer America curr events travel 3-5-2019

Murder by Matchlight classic mys 3-5-2019

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag Swedish period mys 3-5-2019

Death on the Aisle a Mr and Mrs North mystery 3-5-2019 THEATER

THEATER A Puzzle For Fools by Patrick Quentin classic mys

THEATER The Unsuspected by Charlotte Armstrong classic mys

A Taste For Honey by HF Heard Sherlockian classic mys

The Unhappiness of Being A Single Man stories by Kafkia

The Women's war by Jenna Glass fantasy 3-5-2019

This Life by martin Hagglund philosophy prof at Yale 3-5-2019

The River by Peter Heller litfic college students wilderness survival 3-5-2019, Lives in Denver

Aunt Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario Giordano third in series MYS 3-5-2019

Mama's Hug by Frans de waal SCIENCE animals have emotions lives in ATL 3-5-2019

Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess sci-fi debut alternate NYC lesbian author 3-5-2019


The Catalog of Shipwrecked Books popular history 3-12-2019

***Childhood two novellas by Gerard Reve

Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith fantasy debut buzz, auction 3-12-2019

Shoot For The Moon by James Donovan nonfic space race Apollo 11 3-12-2019

The Bird King by G Willow Wilson fantasy 3-12-2019

The Selected Works Of Abdullah the Cossack by HM Naqvi litfic 3-12-2019

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor Nigerian litfic 3-12-2019

Sea People the Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson HISTORY 3-12-2019

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown classic kids book about theater, acting pub 1941 3-12-2019 THEATER

Tiny Americans litfic by Devin Murphy debut praised 3-12-2019


Genesis By Edward O Wilson on Evolution

THEATER: Funny Man: Mel Brooks by Patrick McGilligan 3-19-2019 THEATER

After The Miracle Mets sports book 3-19-2019

Antiracism by Alex Zamalin

The Parade by Dave Eggers fic 3-19-2019

Horizon by Barry Lopez travel bio 3-19-2019

ROTTER Waiting for Bojangles by Olivier Bourdeaut litfic mental illness French hit 3-19-2019 ROTTER

The Boy by Marcus Malte litfic French novel feral lad decades spanning 3-19-2019


The Size Of The truth by Andrew Smith author of Winger middle grade chef 3-26-2019

Who Killed My Father by Edouard Louis French curr events

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan cur events history 3-26-2019

The Forging Of a Rebel by Arturo Barea memoir history admired by marquez, George Orwell, charts 50 years of Spain in the 20th century 3-26-2019

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott in verse 3-26-2019

APRIL 2019

Greystone Secrets #1 middle grade fantasy launch by Margaret Peterson haddix 4-2-2019

Around Harvard Square gay 4-2-2019

THEATER What Blest Genius Shakespeare Jubilee by Andrew McConnell Scogtt 4-2-2019

AARP Greek to me by Mary Norris Comma Queen 4-2-2019

The Lost Boys by 4-2-2019 famous psychological experiment in 1950s

THEATER Macbeth by Harold Bloom 4-2-2019

A Crisis Wasted by Reed Hundt Obama CURR EVENTS 4-2-2019

Ghost Stories anthology edited Leslie Klinger

American Moonshot b Douglas Brinkley history of space race 4-2-2019

Save Me The Plums -- by Ruth Reichel -- FOOD memoir 4-2-2019

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent dalton Aussie hit litfic 4-2-2019

Shakespeare's Library THEATER history 4-2-2019

Crossing by Pajtim Statovci litfic Albanian queer 4-2-2019

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner sports history 4-2-2019

The Damascus Road by Jay parini religious fic St Paul 4-2-2019

Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault by Cathy Guisewite cartoonist of Cathy 4-2-2019

The Editor by Steven Rowley litfic writer and editor 4-2--2019

THEATER Trust Exercise by Susan Choi kids in performing arts school 4-9-2019

The Casket of Time Icelandic fairy tale/enviro tale 4-9-2019

The Players Ball by David Kushner internet history and battle 4-9-2019

PARADE Notes From A Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi GBN STAR 4-9-2019

My Coney Island Baby by Billy O'Callaghan LITFIC acclaim IRISH 4-9-2019

Working by Robert Caro notes on writing 4-9-2019

Falter by Bill McKibben -- curr events about danger to humanity

Normal People by Sally Rooney litfic great cover longlist Booker coming of age 4-16-2019

Tragedy, The Greeks and Us by Simon Critchley THEATER 4-16-2019

Revolutionaries by Joshua Furst litfic 60s radical son of.... 4-16-2019

The Binding by Bridget Collins -- period fantasy a la sarah Waters 4-16-2019

August Isle by Ali Standish YA big push 4-16-2019

Autumn Light by Pico Iyer nonfic on Japanese culture and grief 4-16-2019

The Meaning of Birds by Jaye Robin Brown (two bird names) YA Queer acclaim for last book 4-16-2019


Nanaville grandparenting by Anna Quindlen

Odd Partners -- mys anthology of orig short stories edited by Anne Perry

D-Day Girls history of WW II by Sarah Rose 4-23-2019

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World sci-fi 4-23-2019

Machines Like me by Ian McEwan sci-fi? 4-23-2019

**************Our Castle By The Sea by Lucy Strange middle grade author of Secret Of Nightingale Wood 4-30

Lie With Me gay french novel trans by Molly Ringwald 4-30-2019

Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Calkins new mys series Chicago speakeasy 4-30-2019

ROTTER REVIEW Cape May litfic by Chip Cheek -- 4-30-2019 ROTTER REVIEW

Mama's Boy by Dustin Lance Black PARADE GAY 4-30-2019

MAY 2019


Spring by Ali Smith litfic third in quartet

*********** YA  With The Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X)  5-7-2019

THEATER On Streisand by Ethan Mordden

China Dream by Ma Jian litfic endorsed Atwood banned China, sci-fi-ish

The Endling #2 -- 5-7-2019

Rough Magic memoir horse race 5-7-2019

Ghosts of Gold Mountain by Gordon H Chang HISTORY chinese building railroad US 5-7

Chumps to Champs NYYankees by Bill Pennigton 5-7-2019

AARP HISTORY PARADE War and Peace: FDR 1943-45 by NIgel Hamilton 5-7-2019

AARP Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist CBS Sunday morning fixture memoir 5-7-2019

Black Death at the Golden Gate history bubonic plague by David K Randall 5-7-2019

Our Man by george Packer bio of Richard Holbrooke politico 5-7-2019

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake litfic american saga GAN 5-7-2019

Ten Innings at Wrigley sports history by Kevin Cook 1979 slugfest 5-7-2019

On Democracy by EB White 5-7-2019 reissue

Furious Hour true crime Harper Lee nonfic by casey Cep 5-7-2019

The farmer's son by John Connell BIO Irish #1 bestseller 5-7-2019


We Hunt The Flame YA fantasy inspired by Arabia

Listen Up! Recording Music w Dylan Neil Young REM et al by Mark Howard

Spying on The South by Tony Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic) 5-14-2019

Out East by John Glynn queer memoir debut 5-14-2019

Freedom Fire Dactyl Hill Squad #2 5-14-2019

The Cult of the Constitution law book 5-14-2019

Maddy Alone by pamela Brown Blue Door #2 THEATER ya classic 5-14-2019


Mistress of the Ritz pop fic by Melanie Benjamin(Aviators Wife)

Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman litfic

AARP Theadore Roosevelt for the Defense nonfic bio about big trial

Why Superman Doesnt Take Over The World -- using comics to explain economic ideas

Superior: The Return Of Race Science by Angela Saini science cur events 5-21-2019

The Light From The Dark Side Of The Moon lit romance old man remembers WWII romance 5-21-2019

LAT The Dreamt Land -- history current events about California and water and soil by Mark Arax 5-21-2019

*********The Book Case  by Dave Shelton 5-28-2019

Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman nonfic about Hawaiian cowboys in 1908 who competed in the biggest rodeo in the world

JUNE 2019


*******The Favorite Daughter by Patti Callahan Henry

LA/PARADE  This Storm by James Ellroy LA in WW II

Indecent Advances by James Polchin history of queer sex crimes before Stonewall

The Crowded Hour by Clay Risen HISTORY rough riders etc

AARP The Plaza by Julie Satow

Like A Love Story queer YA

in West Mills by De-shawn Charles Winslow litfic black community 1940s-80s

PARADE My Life As A Rat by Joyce Carol Oates litfic


Norco 80 -- true story of botched bank robbery in Cali in 70s that was most violent in history by Peter Houlahan

Places and Names by Elliott Ackerman human cost of war from Veteran CURR EVENTS

Elderhood essays on aging  AARP

The Ice At The End Of The World -- science curr events melting ice by Jon Gertner

The Old Man in The Corner: The teahouse Detective vol 1 mys by baroness Orczy reissue


Lifelines by Heidi Diehl litfic Brooklyn

FKA USA crazy talking goat sci-fi dystopian road novel by Reed King cult

The Body Lies by Jo Baker; litfic thriller author of Longbourne

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (Curious Incident...) litfic based on myth

LGBTQI Outrages by Naomi Wolff  -- social queer history of British law/ramifications

You Can't Fall Off The Floor SHOWBIZ TV memoir of life in TV industry insider Harris Katleman

Golden Pavements by pamela Brown Blue Door #3 THEATER ya classic

Rilke in Paris trans in English

JULY 2019


***********Last Witnesses kid oral history by Svetlana Alexievich

How to reform Capitalism series editor Alain de Botton current affairs

The Saturday Night Ghost Club -- by Craig davidson litfic acclaimed author coming of age set in Niagara Falls, ref Stand By Me, looks appealing queer author

Circus THEATER by Wayne Koestenbaum -- litfic about concert pianist planning comeback who insists circus performer must appear w him for recital polysexual

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead GBN litfic

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J Ryan Stradal litfic

THEATER Professor Renoir's Collection of Oddities, Curiosities and Delights by Randall Platt



Summerlings by Lisa Howorth litfic Cold War coming of age

The Dragon Republic by RF Kuang sequel to fantasy The Poppy War

First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers LITFIC On Soviet space program


Everybodys Doin It: Rise of Popular Music NYC jazz and ragtime in dance halls and brothels by Dale Cockrell


The Ventriloquists by ER Ramzipoor WW II novel on true story

Shadow School #1 ya/middle grade



********A Hero Born: Legend Of The Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong classic Chinese fantasy



PARADE AARP THEATER The Contender by William J Mann bio of Marlon Brando 11-15




Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan (Henry) litfic, romance 10-2-2018

Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s edited by Leslie S Klinger 10-2-2018

My Father's Words by Patricia MacLachlan kids 10-2-2018

A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis 10-2-2018

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung memoir 10-2-2018

Good and mad by Rebecca Traister current events history of women's anger NYC 10-2-2018

Skeptic's Guide To The Universe by Steven Novella critical thinking 10-2-2018

When The Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis -- novel based on true female football coach WWII litfic -- 10-2-2018

Under The Knife by Arnold van de Lar history of surgery in 28 operations 10-2-2018

Death From A Top Hat by Clayton Rawson classic mys 10-2-2018

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo middle grade 10-2-2018

On Desperate Ground by Hampton Sides -- Korean battle 10-2-2018

Valley Forge by bob Drury and Tom Clavin history 10-2-2018

Uncompromising Honor by David Weber latest Honor Harrington sci-fi 10-2-2018

Bjorn Borg and the Super Swedes by Mats Holm sports nonfiction 10-2-2018

Dragon's Code by Gigi McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern 10-2-2018

The Flame by Leonard Cohen poems etc 10-2-2018

The Lady's Guide To Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee fic, romance, gay? *** 10-2-2018

A Knife In The Fog by Bradley Harper mys w Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper 10-2-2018

The Second Rider by Alex Beer Austrian mystery debut 10-2-2018

Fame by Justine Bateman -- memoir 10-2-2018

That Thin Wild Mercury Sound by Daryl Sanders making of Blonde on Blonde 10-2-2018

Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication science history by Thomas Abraham 10-1-2018

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger -- older man accident, movie house 10-2-2018

Blood Communion by Anne Rice (Lestat) 10-2-2018

The Red Lamp by mary Rinehart mys reissue 10-2-2018

The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer mys reissue 10-2-2018

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen mys reissue 10-2-2018

Home sweet Homicide by Craig Rice mys reissue 10-2-2018

Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel 10-9-2018 THEATER GILTZ

Behold America by Sarah Churchwell history of "America First" and "American Dream" 10-9-2018

The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat and Other Stories From The north anthology edit by Sjon litfic 10-9

Lulu the Broadway Mouse by jenna Gavigan 10-9-2019

The Corrosion of Conservatism by Max Boot politics 10-9-2018

Invisible by Stephen L Carter -- nonfic of female lawyer v Lucky Luciano 10-9-2018 ROTTER REVIEW

What If It's Us? by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera gay ya romance 10-9-2018

Grenade by Alan Gratz ya, follow up to Refugee 10-9-2018

The Clockmaker's Daughter by kate morton litfic 10-9-2018

The Soul Of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang essays 10-9-2018

November Road bY Lou Berney crime novel 10-9-2018

A Treasury of African American Christmas Stories edited by bettye Collier-Thomas 10-9-2018

Muhammad bio by Juan Cole 10-9-2018

Einstein's Shadow -- by Seth Fletcher science, black holes, 10-9-2018

Fight or Flight by Samantha Young rom comedy 10-9-2018

Death of A Rainmaker by Laurie Loewenstein dust bowl era mystery 10-9-2018

Vietnam -- by Max Hastings one volume history 10-16-2018

A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler litfic novel of Vanderbilts 10-16-2018

She Wants it b Jill Soloway Transparent 10-16-2018

The Season of Styx malone by Kekla magoon ya novel 10-16-2018

Trinity by Louisa Hall litfic Oppenheimer 10-16-2018

Melmoth by Sarah perry author of Essex Serpent gothic litfic 10-16-2018

We Can't Breathe essays current events by Jabari Asim 10-16-2018

Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson German fiction epic 1600+ pages 10-16-2018 NYRB

Frederick Douglass by David Blight bio 10-16-2018

TV Finales -- by Douglas L Howard and david Bianculli editors pop culture 10-16-2018

Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine fantasy ya 10-16-2018

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver litfic 10-16-2018

The Empty Throne by Ivo Daalder etc cur events US abdication of power 10-16-2018

Operation Columba WW II pigeons story by Gordon Corera history 10-16-2018 ROTTER REVIEW

The Library Book by Susan Orlean nonfic on library fire 10-16-2018

Young and In Love gay erotica 10-16-2018

In the Hurricane's Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick -- history of Washington and Yorktown 10-16-2018

*******Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson 10-23-2018

Astounding -- bio of John W Campbell and golden age of sci-fi 10-23-2018

Knights vs Dinosaurs middle grade 10-23-2018

The Reckoning by John Grisham mys 10-23-2018

The Long Path to Wisdom by Jan-Philipp Sendker folk tales 10-23-2018

Little by edward carey story of Madame Toussaud 10-23-2018

Marilla Of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy ya 10-23-2018 GILTZ

The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa Japanese LITFIC 10-23-2018

The Rain Watcher litfic by Tatiana de Rosnay 10-23-2018

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah short stories 10-23-2018

Let It Bang by RJ Young memoir of black man learning to shoot a gun 10-23-2018

Enemies Within -- history Cambridge spies 10-23-2018

Downtown Pop Underground by Kembrew McLeod history of NYC downtown, music theater etc 10-23-2018

Jack Of Hearts -- gay ya 10-30-2018

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know -- bios of fathers of Joyce, Wilde etc by Colm Toibin 10-30-2018

on Haiku by Hiroaki Sato -- essay 10-30-2018

Family trust by Kathy Wang litfic 10-30-2018


Wolves Of Eden by Kevin Mccarthy western, Irish writer 11-6-2018

Henry and Eva and the Castle on the Cliff by Andrea Portes middle grade 11-6-2018

Past Tense by lee Child mys Jack Reacher 11-6-2018 ROTTER

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim litfic 11-6-2018 ROTTER

Gene Machine by Venki Ramakrishnan SCIENCE 11-6-2018

Bletchley Park Brain Teasers by Sinclair McKay PUZZLES UK 11-6-2018

Jeeves and the King of Clubs by Ben Schott humor lit 11-6-2018

The Grandmaster by Brin-Jonathan Butler 2016 chess match history etc 11-6-2018

Wild Justice by Loren D Estleman western 11-6-2018

The Lonesome Bodybuilder stories by Yukiko Motoya British translator 11-6-2018

paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks fic wwii resistance 11-6-2016

Why Religion? by Elaine Pagels faith philosophy 11-6-2018

The War Before The War history of fugitive enslaved people by Andrew Delbanco 11-6-2018

A Shot In The Dark: mys debut by Lynne Truss killing of theater critic 11-6-2018 THEATER

Big Week: The Biggest Air Battle Of WWII by james Holland history 11-6-2018

Lost Time by Jozef Czapski lectures on Proust in Soviet camp NYRB 152pages 11-6

Inhuman Land by Jozef Czapski WW II reporting Katyn massacre NYRB 11-6-2018

The William Gass Reader 11-6-2018

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe memoir light, 11-6-2018

Grabbing Pussy by Karen Finley 11-6-2018

Those Who Knew by Idra Novey litfic Brooklyn author, sexual misconduct island nation 11-6-2018

The Indispensable Composers Nonfic Pop Culture on classical music canon by Anthony Tommasini 11-6-2018

We The People by Erwin Chemerinsky 11-13-2018

God in The Qur'an by jack Miles -- 11-13-2018

Winter War by Eric Rauchway HISTORY first fight over New deal 11-13-2018

Pulp by Robin Talley ya lesbian teens 11-13-2018

Vita Nostra Russian fantasy by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko 11-13-2018

Empire of Sand by tasha Suri fantasy debut London librarian, middle east setting 11-13-2018

A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne litfic 11-13-2018

Dear Zealots by Amos Oz cur events 11-13-2018

Heirs Of The Founders -- history of 2nd gen of US leaders by HW Brand 11-13-2018

The Circuit -- tennis nonfiction 2017 season 11-20-2018 GILTZ

All The Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy litfic 11-20-2018

Holy Sexuality and the Bible by Christopher Yuan 11-20-2018

Your Place In The Universe by Paul Sutter 11-20-2018

 Nigerian thriller 11-20-2018 ROTTER REVIEW

Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates dystopian litfic 11-27-2018

The Houseguest by Amparo Davila short stories 144p 11-27-2018

Aladdin new trans by Paulo Lemos Horta 11-27-2018 GILTZ

Come With Me litfic/sci-fi by Helen Schulman 11-27-2018


For The Sake Of The Game Holmes mysteries stories edited Laurie R King 10-4-2018

The dakota Winters by Tom barbash litfic 12-4-2018

A gentleman's guide to vice and virtue 

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield LITFIC debut was massive success UK out 12-4-2018 ROTTER

Ike's Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle history queer 12-4-2018

Bryant and May Hall of Mirrors mys series by Christopher Fowler 12-4-2018

The Future Of Capitalism by Paul Collier economist current events 12-4-2018

Once A King by Erin Summerill ya fantasy 12-4-2018

The Division Bell Mystery classic reissue by Ellen Wilkinson 12-4-2018

Victory City by John Strausbaugh history of NYC during WW II 12-4-2018


The Great War in America by Garrett Peck history of WWI 12-4-2018 


Mysteries Of Winterthurn by Joyce Carol Oates 12-11-2018

Influenza  by Jeremy Brown science history on fighting this diseases 12-18-2018 ROTTER

The Ape That Understood The Universe science by Steve Stewart-Williams 12-30-2018

The Inflamed Mind a new approach to Depression by Edward Bullmore 12-31-2018

The Gown by Jennifer Robson (pop fic Royalty) 12-31-2018



Book Love by Debbie Tung COMICS UK set author out at 2-7-2019 in UK 1-1-2019

The Winter of the Witch fantasy trilogy 1-7-2019

55, Underemployed and Faking Normal by Elizabeth White 1-8-2019

Fault Lines -- Last 50 years of US history nonfic 1-8-2019

Henry VIII by Tracy Borman best-selling academic 1-8-2019 (out in UK in Nov)

The Second Kind Of Impossible by Paul Steinhardt (NJ) science on finding new matter 1-8-2019

An Indefinite Sentence by Siddharth Dube nonfic memoir, India gay (Out same day in Uk; author in NYC) 1-8-2019

The Belting Inheritance by Julian Symons classic mys reissue 1-8-2019

Hitler's Pawn by Stephen Koch history on teen Jew blamed for Kristilnacht NYC 1-8-2019

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman middle grade 1-8-2019

The Perilous Adventures Of The Cowboy King by Jerome Charyn -- fic/Teddy Roosevelt 1-8-2019

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma litfic Nigerian 1-8-2019

Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator by nonfic memoir by Gregory B Jaczko 1-15-2019

Bluff City HISTORY bio of Ernest Withers civil rights photog and FBI informant by Preston Lauterbach 1-15-2019

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames mys cozy senior citizen 1-15-2019

Late In The Day by Tessa Hadley LITFIC LONDON 1-15-2019 ROTTER REVIEW

Aristotle's Way by Edith Hall classicist UK, philosophy applied 1-15-2019

The Gilded Wolves by Rokshana Chokshi ya fantasy 1-15-2019 (out UK same date)

Maid nonfic by Stephanie Lande 1-22-2019

Camelot's End: Carter v kennedy at convention by Jon Ward 1-22-2019 GILTZ

The Field Guide To The North American Teenager by Ben Philippe 1-22-2019

The Weight Of A Piano by Chris Cander litfic two women united by piano/decades Houston author 1-22-2019

Restoration Heights by Wil Medearis NYC novel  litfic GBN 1-22-2019

The Falconer -- coming of age, female basketball player 1-29-2019

Underground: A Human History of the World beneath our feet by Will Hunt history tech 1-29-2019

The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells german best-seller 1-29-2019

The Wolf In The Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky litfic Inuit tale 1-29-2019

The Plotters by Un-su Kim thriller 1-29-2019


The Age of light litfic by Whitney Scharer

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas ya about teen female rapper by author of The Hate U Give 2-5-2019

Merchants of Truth by Jill Abramson nonfic on journalism NYT WaPo Buzz Vice 2-5-2019

This Is Not A Love Song by Brendan Matthews stories litfic author of World of Tomorrow 2-5-2019

Where Reasons End by YiYun Li litfic mother son suicide 2-5-2019

The Hollywood Jim Crow SHOWBIZ GBN by Maryann Erigha 2-5-2019

Jimmy Neurosis by James Oseland memoir, gay,punk TV Top Chef judge 2-5-2019

Europe A Natural History by Tim Flannery science 2-5-2019

No Beast So Fierce by Dane Huckelbridge nonfic on dangerous tiger 2-5-2019

The Coronation by Boris Akunin mys historical 2-5-2019

American Pop by Snowden Wright litfic about soda pop/Coke 2-5-2019

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff comm fic followup to Orphan Train 2-5-2019

If We Can Keep It CURR EVENTS by Michael Tomasky fix-it Daily Beast 2-5-2019

Milk of Paradise history of opium by Lucy Inglis 2-5-2018

Lady First bio of First Lady Sarah Polk by Amy S Greenberg 2-5-2019

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson liftic mys 2-12-2019

Leading men by Christopher Castellani THEATER fi on Tennessee Williams and lover 2-12-2019

Broadsword Calling Danny Boy watching "Where Eagles Dare" nonfic 2-12-2019

The City In The Middle Of The Night ya fantasy 2-12-2019

Sounds Like Titanic memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman fake performances to soundtrack of movie THEATER 2-12-2019

Midnight in Chernobyl nonfic by Adam Higginbotham 2-12-2019

Northern Lights by Raymond Strom litfic queer protag, gender fluid debut NYC 2-12-2019

The Psychology of Time Travel  by Kate mascarenhas litfic fantasy fun 2-12-2019

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli litfic family road trip NYC 2-12-2019

Separate: Plessy v Ferguson by Steve Luxenberg WASHPO HISTORY  2-12-2019

ROTTER The Familiars by Stacey Halls witches period, author of Essex Serpent litfic 2-19-2019 ROTTER

The Next To Die by Sophie Hannah thriller 2-19-2019

Landfall by Thomas Mallon litfic Pres W Bush author DC 2-19-2019

How To Hide An Empire history of US possessions 2-19-2019

Cherokee America by Margaret Verble litfic 2-19-2019

Arturo's Island -- Italian classic new trans 2-19-2019

Earth-Shattering/Cataclysms: Science book on disasters by Bon Berman NPR etc 2-19-2019

Possible Minds edited by John Brockman essays on AI by scientists 2-19-2019

Sleeping With Strangers by David Thomson movie criticism 2-19-2019

The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson middle grade 2-26-2019

Magic is Dead by Ian Frisch 2-26-2019

Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw 2-26-2019

An Affair of Poisons ya 2-26-2019

Binstead's Safari by Rachel Ingalls author of Mrs. Caliban 2-26-2019

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet WWII litfic orphan2-26-2019

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee ya 2-26-2019

There is No Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee ENVIRO 2-28-2019

NYT 2017:

The Evolution Of Beauty
Exit West
Locking Up Our Own
The Power
Prairie Fires
Sing Unburied Sing

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Arthur Ashe bio by Raymond Arsenault Boom Town by Sam Anderson history of Oklahoma City
French Exit by Patrick DeWitt
The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah new Poirot
brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak ya adi alsaid

Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf NYRB
Tailspin by Steven Brill cur events
Where The Crawdads Sing litfic
Whiskey When We're Dry by John Larison


The Age of Eisenhower bio 
And Then We Danced -- memoir history dance by New Yorker writer Henry Alford
Amatka sci-fi female
Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson German fiction epic 1600+ pages
Arrowood -- Holmes competitor
Augustown -- Jamaican novel
The Battle For Beverly Hills -- history
Bearskin by James McLaughlin lit thriller
The Beauties Chekhov short stories new trans
Before The Fall -- thriller by creator of TV Fargo
Behemoth: A History of the Factory
Binstead's Safari by Rachel Ingalls author of Mrs. Caliban 2-26-2019
Black Edge -- business nonfic hedge fund shenanigans
Black Flags Blue Waters -- history pirates US
Blood Moon Cherokee nation history two rivals
The Book Of Disquiet new edition
Born A Crime Trevor Noah
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken litfic 2-5-2019
Bryant and May Hall of Mirrors
Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber
The Butchering Art medicine history
Career of Evil (Robert Galbraith mys)
Central Station
Chicago by David Mamet
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir (book club fiction)
The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen mys reissue
A Christmas Carol and other Christmas stories by Charles Dickens
City On Fire
Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s edited by Leslie S Klinger
Conclave by Robert Harris Vatican thriller
A Country Road, A Tree follow-up to Longbourne 
Darwin's Backyard science history PW PICK 9-5
Daughter Of The Pirate King (ya fantasy)
Days Without End -- gay historical fic Sebastian Barry
Death Going Down (mystery)
Dodge City (popular history)
Drive -- nonfiction about early years of auto industry 
Elena Ferrante
Empire of Cotton
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Farthest Field
The Fine Art of Murder
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah short stories
Future Home of the Living God dystopia by Louise Erdrich
A Gentleman In Moscow -- lit fic
The Gilded Razor
The Girl at the Baggage Claim (social commentary East-West)
The Good Daughter Karin Slaughter 
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Green by Sam Graham-Felsen
Hallelujah Anyway Anne Lamott -- 4-4
The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood
Here Comes The Sun -- fic debut
Heroes Of The Frontier by Dave Eggers 
H is for Hawk
History Of Violence by Eduard louis
Holding by Graham Norton
Home By Nightfall Mys London period
Home sweet Homicide by Craig Rice mys reissue 
House Of Names by Colm Toibin
How To Survive A Plague 
How To Survive A Summer (gay conversion camp)
Huck out West -- by Robert Coover
I'll Have What She's Having -- Nora Ephron rom-com
Infomocracy (not on Kindle)
The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende
Joe Gould's Teeth
Katharine Of Aragon -- Alison Weir fiction
Last Stories by William Trevor
Leading men by Christopher Castellani THEATER fi on Tennessee Williams and lover 
The Lessons of Ubuntu nonfic on race 
A Little Life
Lost and Gone Forever Alex Grecian mystery
Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Loving, Caught, Back all by Henry Green reissue NYRB
Manhattan Beach by jennifer egan
The Man Who Spoke Snakish
Mapp Lucia reissues Worshipful and Queen and Lucia
The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith
Melmoth by Sarah perry author of Essex Serpent
The Mirror Thief
Mister Monkey -- fiction/theater 
Mrs. Engels
My German Brother by Chico Barques, Brazilian pop star
My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Ninefox Gambit (not on Kindle)
Nine Lives new Mys series Wendy Corsi Staub
The Nix
Noir by Christopher Moore
The Novel of Ferrara by Giorgio Bassani (six volume epic)
Number one Chinese Restaurant lit fic
The Odyssey by Emily Wilson trans
The Paper Menagerie
Passing by Nella Larsen
Patriot Number One -- bio/curr events Chinese activist
The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre history of Myers-Briggs
Pirate Utopia sci-fi fantasy by Bruce Sterling
The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer mys reissue
The Red Lamp by mary Rinehart mys reissue
Renoir's Dancer history
Requiem for the American Dream -- Noam Chomsky
Richard Nixon bio John Farrell
Room To Dream David Lynch
The Sacred Hunt Duology
Secondhand Time
Shark Drunk -- two guys true story catch shark, makes em drunk!
The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton
Sing Unburied Sing litfic 9-5
The 6:41 To Paris
Sleeping Giants (not on Kindle)
The Soul Of An Octopus
Speak No Evil litfic by Iweala
The Spirit Photographer his fic
Squeezed current events economics
The Stone Reader NYT philosophy column
The Stranger In The Woods -- RS reporter on hermit
Strangers In Their Own Land -- nonfic look at American right on ground level
Substitute -- Nicholson Baker memoir sub teacher
Swing Time Zadie Smith
The Sympathizer
Tell Them Of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard
That Thin Wild Mercury Sound by Daryl Sanders making of Blonde on Blonde
There There -- litfic urban Native Americans
Thirteen Ways Of Looking
Thrice The Brinded cat Hath Mewed new flavia de luce
The Tide -- popular science on tides
To Fight Against This Age --fascism essays
Tomorrow's Kin  sci-fi alien first contact
Too Like The Lightning
Twelve Kings (fantasy)
Valley Of Genius Silicon Valley by Adam Fisher history tech
Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
Victorian Fairy Tales edited by Michael Newton
Vision Quest (ya)
We'll Always Have Casablanca (pop culture)
When Einstein Walked With Godel science essays by Jim Holt
Winter -- Ali Smith
The White Ghost by James R Benn WW II Mys
Young Radicals -- nonfic about six radicals prior to WW I
The Young Visiters by Daisy Ashford
Yvgeny Onegin -- new trans of Pushkin

Thursday, January 10, 2019

THEATER: "Choir Boy" -- It's The Same Old Song

CHOIR BOY ** 1/2 out of ****

It's been six years since actor Jeremy Jordan enjoyed a rare splash on Broadway: he starred in two new musicals (Bonnie & Clyde and Newsies) within weeks of each other. A star was born. (Ok, it was born the moment he took the stage at the Papermill Playhouse where Newsies debuted. But you get the idea.) Much the same appears to be happening for Jeremy Pope, who stars on Broadway right now in Choir Boy (a play with a lot of singing). And a few weeks from now, he'll be starring in the hotly touted Temptations musical Ain't Too Proud To Beg? Is lightning going to strike twice? And if so, will every parent dreaming of musical theater start naming their sons Jeremy?

It's also the Broadway debut for Oscar-winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. He won the Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay of Moonlight. McCraney also wowed critics with the bold, experimental and moving trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays at the Public Theater.

Prepare to be wowed? Not quite. The strong cast led by Pope and the graceful presentation by director Trip Cullman and his design team is what one would hope for. But Choir Boy proves far more conventional and uninspired than one might expect. It's the same old song given a new but unconvincing arrangement. And if you're eager to point out that's a hit by the Four Tops (and not the Temptations), I'd applaud you and suggest that's precisely the attention to detail that Choir Boy lacks.

Pharus Jonathan Young (Pope) is the golden-voiced member of the choir at an exclusive prep school catering to young men of color. He is very excited about taking a lead role in the ensemble and maybe breaking precedent by taking a solo at his own graduation. Pharus is also very gay. He is out, sort of, because being in is simply not much of an option for him. Pharus is proud and discrete at the same time, a tricky balancing act he manages with humor, defiance and by following the rules of the school both official (hey, no romance!) and unspoken (no ratting out a fellow student).

Most students just shake their heads at Pharus sometimes being a little too open. But Bobby Marrow, the nephew of the headmaster, can't stand Pharus and they butt heads constantly. When Bobby disrupts practice once too often, Pharus calls for a group vote and Bobby is ousted, creating even more tension between the two. Toss in a fellow student who is preparing for a life in ministry and a new (white) teacher who oversees the choir and you've got plenty of material for a drama, all of it pretty obvious. Sadly, Choir Boy follows the old script of a tragic but noble gay character, the repressed religious figure, and a stalwart straight best friend. It never surprises. The cast and presentation elevate the proceedings, but not enough to mask the play's essential flaws.

Beyond the charismatic ensemble, the best part of the show is the music, mostly old spirituals and an original posing as the school's theme song. They are woven into the action with simplicity and ease. Choreographer Camille A. Brown and Cullman keep the 100 minute show moving briskly and seamlessly between story and song. While the connections to the drama aren't always obvious to me, they were clearly chosen with care and feel of a piece with the action.

The highpoint of the show is a locker room scene. Bobby (played gruffly and a little too obviously by J. Quinton Johnson) has been touchy throughout over any mention of his mother. Indeed, when the would-be preacher David (Caleb Eberhardt) references her and Bobby's hackles rise, he immediately apologizes and says he forgot. Dead? A disgrace? It's not quite clear but Bobby's mom is a source of pain for him. In the locker-room David starts singing "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" directly to Bobby. (That answers that question, since now we know Bobby's mom is dead.)

It's an entreaty, a peace-offering and an invitation to grieve and heal all at once. The rest of the cast freeze in tension and empathy. David keeps singing and offering it up to Bobby...and finally Bobby takes the lead. Soon, the rest of the choir are joining in on harmony to support him. It's touching and powerful. And then Pharus steps in and starts show-boating on vocals until Bobby and everyone else stop singing and leave in disgust. Only Pharus' roommate A.J. (John Clay III) stays behind to shake his head and chide him. Everything about this scene is good. It's the best use of a spiritual and music in general. It moves the story forward meaningfully. And it complicates our hero, letting us know however much we sympathize with him, Pharus is human and can be brash and self-centered at times too.

But later in the play, this dramatic peak is undercut when we're supposed to believe Pharus had NO IDEA that Bobby's mom is dead. Since everyone else knows and Bobby is the nephew of the headmaster, his life is already an open book and if his mom weren't there for a school event it would be pretty obvious even to Pharus, that's hard to believe. And if true, it makes the earlier scene pointless: Pharus wasn't interrupting a precious healing moment; as far as he knew. he was just joining in on a song after Bobby and others had their turn.

Other problems abound, including the saintly AJ, a straight dude in high school so comfortable with himself he both straddles his roomie Pharus to tickle him and then swiftly takes in stride the inadvertent arousal that follows. Even more problematic is the new white teacher played by Austin Pendleton. The actor does his best and as usual is appealing and believable on stage. But what should be an unconventional shaking up of the choir (they've been on their own) proves quite beside the point: about the only meaningful step he takes is to assign them an assignment to learn a favorite song of their parents. This character might have created tension, proven a role model for Pharus, brought the two warring students together or a million other things. And yet, he does nothing. Indeed, when the teacher gets upset over a string of slurs voiced by Bobby, it was hard to tell if he was more upset by the N word or the F word. (Given his immediate understanding when the preacher-to-be references wanting to learn more about the Biblical King David, I'd go with the latter.)

It all ends much as one would expect, more's the pity. Despite the constant flow of music, even the setting of a choir seems beside the point. Pharus has one great scene discussing old spirituals. Yet accept for that locker room scene, the real joy of a choir is absent. Most of the music interludes are dropped into the show, not part of it. We don't see the young men working on an arrangement, learning a new song, striving to make their voices blend together. While Pharus yearns to solo at graduation, he might just as well be striving to deliver a speech as the student with the best academic record or strive to win the big game. It's a goal, but a generic one.

Still, the cast makes you believe. Chuck Cooper breathes life into every moment he's on stage as the headmaster. And the students are a strong ensemble, from Nicholas L. Ashe as the bouncy Junior to Johnson's stolid, dependable AJ. But just as Jeremy Jordan's appearance in Bonnie & Clyde was just a precursor of things to come, we can expect both Jeremy Pope and Tarell Alvin McCraney to be back on Broadway in far better style. Hey, the same was true with that Motown act. Their debut was the so-so Meet The Temptations. But with talent like this, the sky's the limit.


Frankenstein: Under The Radar Fest at the Public ** 1/2
Minor Character: Under The Radar Festival at the Public ***
Ink: Under The Radar  Festival at the Public  ** 1/2
Choir Boy ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.