Feb 23

We are three days out from Oscar giveaway day, and only now do I have time to look at the list of nominees more closely to see who I predict to win the big prizes.

More and more, I think the buzz will be borne out with victories for “The Artist,” which in addition to a lot of positive chatter has brought home BAFTAs and Golden Globe victories. Its Oscar victory seems inevitable. For a few months, I thought “Hugo” would be the winner, but I think the Michel Hazanavicius silent flick carries too much feel-good nostalgia about cinema history to be denied. Hollywood will feel good giving it the nod here at the Academy Awards, and Hollywood—as a colossal, dream-making machine—likes to pat itself on the back—not necessarily such a bad thing here with a movie that has been heaped with such near-universal adulation.

I’ll take Jean Dujardin over George Clooney and Gary Oldman (who maybe, just maybe, could win it) for the Best Actor in a Leading Role, the great Christopher Plummer for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Viola Davis from “The Help” (over steely Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”) for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Octavia Spencer for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

I love Davis and will also absolutely love seeing her on stage as an Oscar winner. I’m also rooting big for the ditty “Man or Muppet” to take home a win for “The Muppets,” which I would have liked to see land more nominations. I’m hopeful it will reel in Best Original Song.

I’ll tap Hazanavicius for Best Director, though perhaps Woody Allen could sneak in with a win? Animated Feature Film? “Puss in Boots.” Foreign Language Film? “A Separation” from Iran, which would be quite a proud achievement for the film scene there, to say the least.

What do you think?

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Feb 10

Unless you are an aficionado of jazz, you may not know a Texarkana native is up for a Grammy Award this year. Roseanna Vitro, who was born in Hot Springs but grew up right here in Texarkana, released a beautiful recording of Randy Newman tunes last May (“The Music of Randy Newman”). Her jazzy renditions put out on the Motéma label have garnered her a Grammy nomination in the category for best jazz vocal album. I spoke with her earlier this week and the fruits of that chat will appear in our Sunday Accent section in two days. She said when growing up here she would sing any chance she got. Here’s hoping all that singing brings her the Grammy goods on Sunday. (Check out a clip of her singing “Mama Told Me Not to Come” down below.)

In other Grammy notes, I’m not going to go out on a limb with any predictions, except to say I’ll also be rooting for Bon Iver. I expect Adele to bring home some well-deserved honors, as well.

- Aaron Brand


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Feb 6

I used some scarce free time Sunday to catch TexRep’s latest production, “Doubt: A Parable,” which just completed the first weekend of a two-weekend run at Texarkana College’s Stilwell Theatre.

I’m a big fan of the 2008 movie “Doubt” starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and for that reason I both anticipated the show and felt apprehensive. It would be diffcult to top the movie, I thought. Nevertheless, I hoped I’d see a great character study because that’s what made the movie adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s play so engaging to me. The material is a multi-dimensional exploration of the theme “doubt,” and what makes the play so moving is the fine, honest writing that declines to offer easy answers about these characters. When I saw the movie, I realized I had clear sympathies … but I wasn’t sure about guilt and innocence.

That complexity is what I got, too, with TexRep’s excellent version of the play about a school headmistress at a Catholic school in the Bronx who accuses a young, up-and-coming, free-thinking priest of improprieties with a student. All of the performances were outstanding, particularly the two lead performers, Janice Russell as Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Michael Skotnik as Father Brendan Flynn. Both inhabit their characters so fully that they come alive on stage as real characters, not cartoon cutouts. “Doubt” is one of the best plays I’ve seen TexRep perform. Hats off to cast and crew for a marvelous production, and if you haven’t seen the play it’s well worth seeing next weekend, Friday through Saturday (7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday).

- Aaron Brand

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Jan 13

It’s cold outside but there’s plenty of live music to warm up to this weekend and in the coming weeks. Here’s a taste of what’s ahead on the local live tune scene in Texarkana and nearby.

Fat Jack’s Oyster and Sports Bar hosts Southern Pride tonight, Tommy Rock’s band Saturday night and then Southeast Oklahoma’s very own Chalkline 259 next Thursday.

Hopkins Icehouse hosts Jonathan’s karaoke tonight, while Alex Addy and the Tambourine Machine’s fun Texas rock and reggae comes to town from Paris (Texas) for Saturday night’s show, followed by The Background Music (in town from Dallas) on Sunday night. John Calvin Brewer brings his blues back to town next Thursday.

Tonight you can catch acoustic musician Jaredd Reed at The Road Map. Sioux City Pete was scheduled to perform as the headliner but word is, according to a promotional page for the show, that his ride broke down. Reed is a an excellent singer-songwriter, however, and well worth seeing.

Lee’s Catfish has Jay Kirgis performing tonight. Kirgis plays some great blues.

Shooters Sports Bar bring Tragikly White back to the stage for tonight’s show, while The White Trash Wannabees return next Wednesday. (Looking down the road, Pat Green on Jan. 26 and Sunny Ledfurd on Jan. 20 are two big shows for the venue.)

Hippy’s Nightlife presents a New Year’s Revolution show Saturday night with metal act Cult of the Flag in from Memphis, Kulture Kill up from the Shreveport area with their rock and metal mix, and locals Setacide.

Jeremy Phifer will perform at the American Legion in New Boston this Saturday night, while down at Music City Texas Theater there’s some serious blues going on that night with Jonathon “Boogie” Long and Matthew Davidson.

You can catch live open mics at The Big Easy downtown on Sundays, while there’s a live house band on Saturday nights playing R&B “mature jams.” (Thursdays it’s reggae, jazz and poetry.)

Here are a couple more shows to consider in the upcoming weeks: psychedelic blues rock with Radio Moscow, as well as Dallas-based Mothership, locals Buffalo Child, and Southwest Arkansas’ Age of Man, all performing on Jan. 23 at Dave’s Skatepark (it’s an all-ages show); Glenn “SmittyG” Smith performs his Narada Weeps solo bass show at The Blues Iguana on Jan. 28, presenting his CD “A Clockwork Frozen in Time.”

Got some live music to recommend? Let us know!

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Dec 30

I recently downloaded The Roots new album, “Undun,” and it is a total masterpiece. I think I made my “top five” albums of 2011 list too soon. Rhythmically captivating, tight, soulful and musically beautiful despite the bleak subject matter, this concept album, “Undun,” belongs at the very top of a list of the best albums of 2011. So, put it up there on my list.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Dec 23

I just spoke with the folks at the Perot Theatre and they say just a hair under 100 tickets remain for the Willie Nelson concert on Sunday, Jan. 8. Willie, seen below in a submitted promo photo, is popular here in Texarkana and I’ve been told someone from as far away as New York is traveling to our Twin Cities to see the icon up on the venerable, historic Perot Theatre stage. Today’s Accent page included interviews with two locals who are excited to see him in concert. Here’s a link: Local fans can’t wait to see Willie. Seeing Willie Nelson at a theater like the Perot is a rare opportunity and I hope all who attend have a grand time.

- Aaron Brand

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Dec 16

Awards season has landed. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, in addition to the winter holidays we have buzzing along, but this year when it comes to being a movie buff I feel woefully unprepared to consider the forerunners for film awards. I will need to get busy in the next couple months catching up (for a variety of reasons, I haven’t seen as many new movies this year). Golden Globe nominations were announced earlier this week and movies like “The Artist,” “The Help,” “The Descendants” and “The Ides of March” were among the top nominees. I’m not surprised to see those movies find the attention. But here’s one crime: “The Muppets” is not among the nominees for top comedy or musical. Sorry, but for a movie that received near universal acclaim, that is surprising, at the very least. I don’t care if it was, nominally, a kid’s movie. It deserves some consideration. Maybe the Oscars will right this wrong.

So, what movies do you think will win the Golden Globes or come up big at the Academy Awards? I have no sense of it yet and think it’s a real wide open year. I still think “Hugo,” “The Help” and “War Horse” may be the pick come Oscar time, but it still feels up in the air.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 2% [?]

Dec 12

I’m not always fond of making top five lists, but in the interest of talking about something I love—music—I don’t mind taking a stab at a rundown of the top five new albums I’ve listened to this year. My taste is, admittedly, probably pretty different for Texarkana and much of the reading audience I have at the Gazette, but I love to recommend some good tunes in the hopes someone will find them too. This year has been an excellent one, as far as I can tell, for new music.

My top three albums would likely be: Bon Iver’s “Bon Iver,” M83′s “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” and The Decemberists’ “The King is Dead.” Bon Iver’s album just landed the band well-deserved Grammy nominations. It’s a powerful, eclectic and intimate spin on folk rock music using the orchestrated meanderings of horns, piano, guitar and the falsetto of Mr. Bon Iver himself, Justin Vernon, to great and finely-crafted effect.  The surreal lyrics are a mystery but a welcome one, and the album has been on continuous rotation for my ears on many a morning drive. If forced to choose, I’d say it’s the top listen for the year.

Then there’s M83′s “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” an album my late cousin Ryan, who had such a keen and appreciative ear for great music, told me quite rightly would be “epic.” It’s full of dreamy synth-pop greatness and it’s a double album, to boot. It’s the kind of music I want to hear while gazing up at the stars.

There’s also “The King is Dead” from Portland, Ore., a gorgeous addition to indie folk, full of lyricism and wry humor. It felt like a great, full summertime album when I first bought it, but on cold mornings last week it was a wholly positive kick in the pants to enjoy the day.

To round out the top five, I’ll mention Radiohead’s “The King of Limbs” and Death Cab for Cutie’s “Codes and Keys.” Both albums felt like fresh directions for these respective bands—welcome adventures.

Current earworm: two SomaFM radio stations, Xmas in Frisko and Christmas Lounge. Right now I’m listening to Louis Prima “Shake Hands with Santa” and Julie London’s “I’d Like You for Christmas.”

What’s the best new music you heard this year?

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 3% [?]

Dec 2

I’m late getting to this because this week has been extra busy, but I think many moviegoers have already caught on to the excellence of the movie “The Muppets,” judging by the box office numbers and critics’ praises. I would like to chime in with my recommendation. If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so. It’s super amounts of fun. I saw it over the Thanksgiving weekend with my sister and we loved it. (Admittedly, we grew up with the Muppets. I think the Muppets wielded a pretty big influence on how I view the world.) “The Muppets” shines with a kind of self-deprecating, innocent and yet madcap sense humor you don’t see much of nowadays. It’s also a wildly funny and heartfelt addition to the Muppet legend, and the return of these characters felt true to their original spirit. So often reviving old characters like this to “update” them for a new generation feels inauthentic and opportunistic. Not so with “The Muppets.” It has both its heart and funnybone in the right places. Kudos to the team who brought the Muppets back for this film. I’d even say the movie has an outside shot at a Best Picture nomination come Oscar time.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Nov 25
Live music: weekend look
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There’s a bunch of local live music to enjoy this weekend in addition to George Jones this Saturday night at the Perot Theatre.

Tonight at Hopkins Icehouse it’s a Synergistic unplugged show. Tomorrow, catch the acoustic vibes of Brandon Callies and Kaki Mendoza, two musicians out of Austin. I gave Mendoza’s music a listen on Reverb Nation and she has quite the gorgeous voice.

Chalkline 259 comes back to town tonight for another Fat Jack’s performance; it seems like they’re driving on down here from their Oklahoma home base quite often. And on Saturday night Driven, a popular local country band earning raves, will perform at Jack’s.

Recession Proof plays at the Wooden Indian down in Atlanta, Texas, for a Saturday night concert, while here in town that night at Timothy’s Grill it’s Split Decision performing. That same night Trepid will be rocking hard at Hippy’s Nightlife.

The Big Easy has added live music to its Saturday lineup with the house band playing rhythm and blues.

Tonight at 6 p.m., the talented youth of Kosmic Girlz & Koltrane perform at Central Mall for the hordes of shoppers. Also tonight, it’s dance and party band Tragikly White at Shooters Sports Bar.

In other news ….. Want to hear some fun and local original music? Give the band Buffalo Child a listen, particular the revved-up and rockin’ cut “Good Science.” They describe their music as “rock n’ soul,” and that seems apt to my ears.

It’s been too long since we’ve heard new material from Pilotdrift, the excellent indie music brainchild of local musician Kelly Carr. Thankfully, the band is back with new material, a new single on Good Records. Check out the tune and a video here: Pilotdrift Latest Release – All These Things at One Time.

Edited to add: Current earworms here? SomaFm Christmas music channel and the latest Bon Iver album, which is all kinds of awesome.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

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