The last couple of weeks have been full of terrible news and similarly terrible shows of hard-heartedness and prejudice, with the headlines dominated by violence, racism, injustice, riots, and worse. Thus, I’ve been especially drawn to rare flashes of goodness, humor, and grace.

Some of those have come in the form of the Christmas party playlists that I’ve published here at the blog, thanks to Joe Henry, Ashley Cleveland, and several more that I’ll post in the coming days.

And here are a few more highlights: recent distractions and discoveries from elsewhere on the web that gave me fleeting moments of relief from the storms.



I love it when my favorite artists are properly appreciated. This week, The L.A. Times gave four stars to Blood Oranges in the Snow, the excellent new Over the Rhine Christmas album, saying: “If every musician brought this much inspiration and imagination to the task of recording holiday songs, what a wonderful world it truly would be.”

Indeed! Sounds like what I’ve been saying about Over the Rhine for almost 20 years.

And speaking of Over the Rhine: All I want for Christmas is … oh my, how in the world can I transport myself to this? It can be rough, being an Over the Rhine fan, because they’re always up to something awesome, and nobody can keep up.


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Glad tidings! IMAGE has received an NEA grant.



It’s that time of the year when some critics rush to turn in their Best of 2014 lists even though there are still 30 days left to explore. While many, if not most, of those titles will be familiar to me (Rolling Stone just picked U2’s Songs of Innocence as the #1 record of 2014), there’s almost always a number of titles that are new to me, and then, investigating, I find some new favorites. I’ve just found one: Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Small Town Heroes. I love this record. Here’s a cheery song for your holidays.


The Hollow of the Hand, a book of poetry by PJ Harvey, will be published in October 2015, so you know what to get me for my birthday.


Another legendary Seattle movie theater is closing: This time, it’s the Harvard Exit.


I think half the fun of these new Star Wars sequels will be the hilarity of watching what other people make of them. It was a week for everybody to talk about, and make something of, the new Star Wars trailer. Even Steven Colbert got into it.

Then there was this tweet.

And then there was this: Star Wars, Episode VII – The Force Awakens … directed by Wes Anderson.


The 2014 film awards marathon has begun, and The New York Film Critics Circle honored some fantastic work this year.

I wonder if I’ll see a more satisfying list of winners this time around.


As an Anchorman fan, I’m happier knowing that this exists.


Rest in peace, P.D. James.

We are grateful for the example that you have set. You reminded us that genre fiction can also be great literature.


All Songs Considered has posted a long podcast in which the usual suspects review their favorite music of 2014. Our friend Joe Henry, who guest-posted at this blog just a few days ago, gets some very special attention there.


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