One of the funniest, most wholly satisfying seasons of television in the history of the medium hits DVD at long last this week, surrounded by a passel of worthy music choices populating the new release wall at your local record store. Live it up, kids — it’s a banner week:


A’s new favorite guy, the cutie-pie balladeer Jamie Cullum, returns this week with his fourth album, The Pursuit, which includes his apeshit crazy cover of Rihanna’s smash “Don’t Stop the Music” and a gentle reading of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd classic “Not While I’m Around,” as well as the stirring title track he contributed last year to Clint Eastwood’s hit film Gran Torino. (Don’t miss the deluxe edition of Pursuit, which contains a DVD with a handful of live performances, recorded at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival, and videos, plus an interview which finds Jamie going through the album track by track.)

To celebrate Tim Burton’s highly-anticipated motion picture adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, the director has pulled together a handful of music’s most fascinating personalities to create a unique quasi-soundtrack for the film entitled Almost Alice, which includes new tracks from Avril Lavigne, The All-American Rejects, Owl City, Metro Station, Shinedown and many others. If you’re like me, some of this may well going flying right past you, but this whole creative exercise is well worth the time spent just for the pleasure of hearing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals rip through the Jefferson Airplane classic “White Rabbit,” on which they acquit themselves brilliantly.

They don’t win Grammys or commandeer much respect from peers and/or critics. All they do is write and play really good music that sounds magnificent on the radio. Fortunately for Jason Wade and the boys of Lifehouse, that more than suffices, at least judging from the stout confidence that pulses throughout their fifth album, Smoke and Mirrors. I’ll admit that the record’s first single “Halfway Gone” leaves me a tad bit cold, and on first listen, I didn’t hear anything that grabbed me instantly the way the masterful “Broken” did on their last album three summers ago (though, truth be told, neither was I listening like a hawk). But no matter: with strong contributions from Chris Daughtry, Richard Marx, and Kevin Rudolf, these guys have clearly found the formula that works for them.

For Scratch My Back, his first full-length album in nearly eight years, the amazing Peter Gabriel dares to put his own unique spin on the covers album, offering up versions of classics from Paul Simon (“The Boy in the Bubble”), Randy Newman (“I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”) and Neil Young (“Philadelphia”), as well as newer (and more obscure) tunes from the likes of Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, and that irritating strumpet Regina Spektor. But the true starring attraction of this album is Gabriel’s stirring second take on an old Magnetic Fields song called “The Book of Love” (which he originally covered five years ago for the Shall We Dance? soundtrack), which still knocks me flat every single time I hear it. Utterly gorgeous.

To my eye, the 1988-89 season of CBS’ all-time classic comedy series Designing Women was the most pivotal one in the show’s history: after a handful of remarkable episodes during the show’s second season — most notably, the Emmy-nominated “Killing All the Right People,” which took on the emerging AIDS crisis head-on, with humor and with brutal honesty — Women‘s creative staff, led by the ferociously fearless Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, had finally managed to meld their penchant for tackling tough topics and their cast’s brilliantly refined chemistry into a solid and consistently funny half-hour of television. The infamous writers’ strike that dragged on through the summer of ’88 temporarily delayed the show’s forward progress, but Season Three — which debuts on DVD this week in a sterling four-disc set from the good folks at Shout Factory — hit the ground running when it premiered in November of that year with a string of outings that were full of both hilarity (“The Junies,” which found Charlene getting sucked into an Avon-type group of ladies — or, as Julia called them, “a perky cult” — who sell cleaning products with peculiar verve, or “The Last Humorously Dressed Bellboy in America,” in which Suzanne’s crooked accountant returned to Atlanta having purchased for her a circus) and heart (“E.P., Phone Home,” a surprisingly moving episode which finds the ladies making a pilgrimage to Graceland, or “Stand and Fight,” where the ladies enroll in a self-defense course after Mary Jo is mugged). My two favorite episodes of the series — the one where the women haggle with a smarmy car salesman over the price of a new van, and the one where Julia gets stuck on jury duty — won’t come until seasons four and five, respectively, but spend some time with these twenty-two half-hours of television and remember the time when one of the medium’s most incredible assemblages of talent started finally to gel together as a team.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • Danny Gokey, the bespectacled doofus who finished third in last season’s American Idol festivities, is up with his debut disc,
    My Best Days.

  • Legendary singer/songwriter John Hiatt is up with his latest offering, The Open Road.

  • Without question, my current favorite indie band on the rise is
    Rogue Wave, who return this week with their new album, Permalight.

  • They make moody and incredibly powerful music, and now British band Athlete are back with their latest album, Black Swan.

  • Finally, to close out the subject of great television of yesteryear, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention my favorite-ever episode of the homespun Andy Griffith classic Matlock, which hits DVD this week as part of the series’ Fourth Season. It’s the one in which that human goddess
    Leann Hunley murders a slimy talk show host and frames the guy’s hapless producer for the crime. I’m telling you, the way Matlock and co. managed to suss out the identity of the true culprit rocked my whole damn world, and it’s well worth another peek.

1 response to ““this is not a business, it’s some kind of cult…
it’s some kind of perky cult!”
(or: march 2 — a thumbnail sketch)”

  1. the buzz from A.:

    I am almost through my first take on The Pursuit, and I am absolutely loving it! More so than his previous albums, it truly showcases Jamie Cullum’s incredibly broad range of talent. It’s too bad his US tour is almost over; the next best thing is catching him on Ellen on March 18!

    I wholeheartedly recommend his two previous albums, Catching Tales (especially “Catch the Sun,” “London Skies,” and “Photograph”) and Twentysomething (especially “All At Sea,” “I Get a Kick Out of You”, and “Twentysomething”). (I am not quite ready to recommend favorites on The Pursuit; there may be too many!)

    P.S. Designing Women definitely has its moments, and Julia’s diatribes are to-die-for!