Thursday, December 31, 2009

Documenting The Arts in 2009

The New York Times' Arts Blog documents over 30 of the top arts moments of 2009 at the site linked here. Enjoy!

Documenting the Decade in Photographs

The New York Times asked its readers around the world to submit their photos documenting the decade - everything from 9/11 to Katrina to Obama. The result are these excellent 667 photos selected out of over 2300 submitted.

Peter Travers' 10 Best Films of 2009

See what the long-time Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers thinks are the best films of the year by clicking here

Roger Ebert's 10 best films of the Decade

Ebert's list starts with... well, you can read the list in full for yourself by clicking here

The Wall Street Journal: Top Jazz Albums of 2009

The Journal always has good pieces on Jazz, it seems, and this list compiled by Larry Blumenfeld is no different.

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

Handwringers issuing dire prognoses for jazz are like holiday-season Grinches during a recession: We've known more flush times, but let's not take for granted this year's considerable offerings, nor the spirit that binds them. "There's a revolution going on," trumpeter Terence Blanchard told me. "But it's the quietest one I've ever heard of, because everybody has their own version."

The L.A. Times: Top 10 Architecture Moments of 2009

Another fascinating list from The L.A. Times!

The L.A. Times: Top 10 Most Fascinating Museum Exhibits of 2009

The lists keep a' comin'! And this is a fun and interesting one, to be sure!

The Boston Globe's 10 Best Books of the Decade

As New Creation rambles along through the mounains of "best-of" lists, this one seems like it's worth taking a look at: Nicole Lamy's (Editor of The Boston Globe's Book Review) Top 10 Books of the Decade.

Top Musicians, Critics, Industry Insiders vote on 100 Best Albums & Songs of the Decade

Chancing by any mag stand over the last month or so and you were bound to bump into a music magazine selecting the "best XYZ" of the decade. Rolling Stone got into the game as well - but with a twist. Instead of limiting the list to their staff, they dolled out ballots to over 100 top musicians, critics and industry insiders and let them each vote for the best albums/songs of the decade. The result is a cross-section of a wide-ranging musical landscape that appeared in flux and fluid motion throughout the decade.

Perhaps one of the coolest side-links made available by RS is a page (linked below) where you can see scanned copies of the actual ballots filled out by everyone from Austin Scaggs (writer for Rolling Stone) to Lars Ulrich (the drummer of Metallica) to Tom Morello (formerly of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, and now The Night Watchman) and two dozen others!

As for who was voted the best?

In the album category, Radiohead takes top honors for their seminal 2000 album "Kid A", recorded in Lennon/McCartney's sonic realm of choice Abbey Road (Studio 2).

Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" was voted best song of the decade for its cross-over appeal in a decade in which true cross-over pop hits were a dwindling, if not extinct, species.

From "Blueprint 3" to "Backspacer", Rolling Stone editors select Top 25 Albums of 2009

The editors, Jann S. Wenner and others, at Rolling Stone magazine have selected their Top 25 albums of 2009. U2 takes top honors for No Line On The Horizon, but Jay-Z, Bob Dylan, Green Day, Animal Collective, Phoenix, Wilco, Neko Case, Springsteen and others rate high also!

See the list in full by clicking here

Lit in an Age of Wonder: The New York Times' Top 10 Books of 2009

After quite a long nice nap, New Creation is up and raring to go, ready to blast off into 2010! However, before we get there we've got some business to tend to in 2009 posts - namely the year-end/decade-end plethora of "best-of" lists of books, music, films, fruitcakes (well, maybe not fruitcakes, but you get the drift...).

The first one we are posting in this litany of lists is The New York Times' Book Review's Top 10 Books of 2009.


Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

After so many years, and so many lists, you might think the task of choosing the 10 Best Books would get easier. If only. The sublime story collections alone created agonies of indecision. So did the superb literary biographies we read — and deeply admired. But in the end the decisions had to be made.

Not that drawing up the list — or rather, whittling it down — was a wholly painful exercise. One of the pleasures it afforded was the chance to resample the sometimes surprising chemistry of reviewers and authors, particularly when it came to fiction. Jonathan Lethem, whose “Chronic City” made our list, reviewed Lorrie Moore’s novel “A Gate at the Stairs,” which made it too, while Curtis Sittenfeld, whose novel “Prep” was one of the 10 Best in 2005, reviewed Maile Meloy’s story collection “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It,” a winner this year. Any book review editor will attest that persuading fiction writers to assess other people’s fiction can be a struggle. These were heartening exceptions to the rule. May more novelists review for us in 2010!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spiritual & Artistic Quests: In Search Of Flannery O'Connor

One last article to post before
New Creation is put on ice for a few days during finals week: A fascinating piece from February 2007, "In Search of Flannery O'Connor" which follows Lawrence Downes' journey to visit O'Connor's homeland in rural Georgia, a literary pilgrimage that treads lightly between the fictional and the real.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

THE sun was white above the trees, and sinking fast. I was a few miles past Milledgeville, Ga., somewhere outside of Toomsboro, on a two-lane highway that rose and plunged and twisted through red clay hills and pine woods. I had no fixed destination, just a plan to follow a back road to some weedy field in time to watch the sun go down on Flannery O'Connor's Georgia.

Somewhere outside Toomsboro is where, in O'Connor's best-known short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a family has a car accident and a tiresome old grandmother has an epiphany. The fog of petty selfishness that has shrouded her life clears when she feels a sudden spasm of kindness for a stranger, a brooding prison escapee who calls himself the Misfit.

Of course, that's also the moment that he shoots her in the chest, but in O'Connor's world, where good and evil are as real as a spreading puddle of blood, it amounts to a happy ending. The grandmother is touched by grace at the last possible moment, and she dies smiling.

“She would of been a good woman,” the Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

O'Connor's short stories and novels are set in a rural South where people know their places, mind their manners and do horrible things to one another. It's a place that somehow hovers outside of time, where both the New Deal and the New Testament feel like recent history. It's soaked in violence and humor, in sin and in God. He may have fled the modern world, but in O'Connor's he sticks around, in the sun hanging over the tree line, in the trees and farm beasts, and in the characters who roost in the memory like gargoyles. It's a land haunted by Christ — not your friendly hug-me Jesus, but a ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of the mind, pursuing the unwilling.

Global Music Spotlight: The Songs of Senegal

Another article worth posting that showed up this weekend from The Times, giving us a glimpse into the vibrantly majestic and ever-evolving African music scene.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

“I LOVE the evening in Dakar,” says Youssou N’Dour, glancing out the darkened window of an S.U.V. at the nocturnal crowds streaming into his nightclub, Thiossane, as a warm West African breeze rustles the palms and stirs up the dirt in the unpaved parking lot.

They arrive by foot, car, scooter and battered black-and-yellow taxi, dolled up in their Saturday best for the imminent wee-hours concert by Mr. N’Dour, Africa’s biggest music star. “It’s a city that really comes alive at night.”

Though he has recently returned to Dakar, the Senegalese capital, from a gala in New York City for the international Keep a Child Alive charity — where he sang with Alicia Keys and was honored alongside Bill Clinton and Richard Branson — Mr. N’Dour sounds more like a wistful local kid than a 50-year-old global icon who has won a Grammy Award and was once named one ofTime magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” “I’m still very attached to Dakar,” he goes on, adding that he was born in a working-class neighborhood a few miles from the club. “And the people of Dakar are very attached to my music.”

And how. When he takes the stage, an ecstatic roar explodes, and soon several hundred bodies are dancing madly. With its fast-driving, interweaving traditional sabar drummers — rounded out by guitar, bass, keyboards and a rock drum kit — the opening number, “Less Wakhoul,” is pure mbalax, the propulsive, percussive, melodic pop music that Mr. N’Dour popularized starting in the 1970s and that remains the dominant sound emitted from Senegalese radios.

When the sun dips behind the Atlantic, this gritty concrete metropolis — exhilarating, inventive, emotive — flares into a living jukebox of sounds with few African rivals. And with the imminent arrival of the annual Africa Fête — a music festival from Dec. 12 to 19 featuring the mbalax master Omar Pène and many other top local acts — the city’s tuneful bounty is about to go on even larger and more ebullient display.

“Dakar is one of the most musically vibrant cities in Africa,” says Simon Broughton, editor in chief of the Britain-based Songlines magazine, which last year began operating tours of the city and this month features Youssou N’Dour on its cover.

“There’s a large number of clubs,” Mr. Broughton says, “and lots of music as part of the fabric of everyday life.”

Vinyl Records & Turntables Make A Comeback

Just up from The New York Times, an article on the resurgence of vinyl records and turntables amidst the collapse of the larger recording industry. Some say its due to the role of video games like Rock Band and DJ Hero, other vantage points suggest it has something to with the richer, smoother sound that vinyls produce. Whatever the root of the cause, the effect is undeniable: Sales are on the up and up, and it ain't grandpa who's buying 'em - it's the kids!

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

“It’s all these kids that are really ramping up their vinyl collections,” Ms. Friedman said. “New customers are discovering the quality of the sound. They’re discovering liner notes and graphics.” In many instances, the vinyl album of today is thicker and sounds better than those during vinyl’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sales of vinyl albums have been climbing steadily for several years, tromping on the notion that the rebound was just a fad. Through late November, more than 2.1 million vinyl records had been sold in 2009, an increase of more than 35 percent in a year, according toNielsen Soundscan. That total, though it represents less than 1 percent of all album sales, including CDs and digital downloads, is the highest for vinyl records in any year since Nielsen began tracking them in 1991.

Sales of CDs, meanwhile, have been falling fast, displaced by the downloading of digital files of songs from services like iTunes. Sales of albums on CD, which generally cost half as much as their vinyl counterparts, have dropped almost 20 percent this year, according to Nielsen.

With overall sales down, numerous big music-store chains like Tower Records, Virgin Megastore and HMV have pulled out of Manhattan, leaving music sales largely to online merchants and the few small, die-hard record shops scattered about Greenwich Village and Brooklyn.

One exception has been Best Buy, a national electronics chain that recently opened its sixth store in Manhattan. A year ago, the chain started stocking vinyl albums in about 50 of its stores, including one on the Upper East Side. Their presence, with their alluring cover art, still has the power to stun.

“Some individuals come into our store and they stop in their tracks,” said Andre Sam, a sales representative at Best Buy’s store on East 86th Street. “They don’t expect to see this.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reading Lists (Part 2): Theology And/Through The Arts

Back on November 15, New Creation posted the first of our "Readings Lists In Theology And/Through The Arts". Today we unveil the second part of this on-going series by offering up an impressive list from Michael Paul Gallagher. Among other things, it's a great place to look for last-minute Christmas presents!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

For College Football's Best Wide-Receiver, The Time Between Saturdays Is Spent With A Six-String And In Prayer

We've been saving this piece for the biggest Saturday in college football. A fascinating article on the role of music and faith in the life of college football's best wide-reciever (and likely Biletnikoff Award Winner), Jordan Shipley of the University of Texas.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

DALLAS — He arrived with the nickname the Great White Hope. Vince Young nicknamed him ESPN for his highlight catches and Cedric Benson, seeing his blazing speed, began calling him White Chocolate.

But Jordan Shipley, 23, did not become a complete player and person at Texas until leg injuries kept him off the team in 2004 and 2005, nearly ending his playing days. Facing football mortality, Shipley found himself. “There just came a defining moment in his life where he made the decision that his commitment to football was not going to define him as a person,” Bob Shipley, Jordan’s father, who coached Jordan in high school, said in a telephone interview. “And that’s really when he really started being successful.”

Texas Coach Mack Brown said he considered telling Shipley to give up football.

But Shipley took his time away from the game to develop in other ways. He discovered a passion for music as a guitar player, a singer and a songwriter. When football was taken away, “I had to kind of figure out who I was as a person and what I stood for,” he said in a telephone interview.

“He’s awesome,” Colorado Coach Dan Hawkins said of Shipley in a telephone interview. “He’s obviously very talented, but he’s got that divine spark.”

Shipley’s rhythm on the field is in sync with his life off it. Shipley describes his music as a mix of country and Americana, styled after musicians like John Mayer and Jack Johnson. He has stopped watching television because he prefers to play his Alvarez acoustic guitar while singing and writing songs at his house.

“It really just soothes me,” Shipley said.

Shipley recently started playing in a band at Fellowship of Christian Athletes worship meetings at Texas, and has written nearly a dozen songs and recorded a few of them. In July, it only took him a few hours to write his first song, “Moving On,” about being stuck in the city and longing to get away.

Continue Reading

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tonight At The Mary Lou: Art & Soul

Tonight (December 4) at 9:30 at the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University, will be "Art & Soul: A Family Affair"

Food, Music, Family, Fun!

At Duke Divinity: Simeon Law Photographs "God's People"

If you're a student at Duke Divinity School, you've already been stopped dead in your tracks more than once this semester outside the Cokesburry bookstore by the uncanny beauty and deep humanity of Simeon Law's photography exhibit "God's People" from his summer 2009 Field Education assignment at Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. But if you live in the Durham, NC area and have not yet seen Law's photos, you need to make time to do so ASAP!

Information regarding the exhibit are below (photo(s) from the exhibit to be added soon).


The photos were taken by Simeon Law during his Summer 2009 Field Education at Church of the Savior in Washington DC. Church of the Savior is an ecumenical church that is committed to both the inward and outward journeys of discipleship. These photos offer a glimpse of the Church of the Savior - a community that crosses the racial, cultural, and class boundaries of society.


Simeon Law is a third year M. Div student who is currently seeking ordination in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He has had a passion for photography since high school that has been cultivated over the years by books, internet art communities, and friends. Photography has helped open his eyes to the beauty that is always around us.


During my time at Church of the Savior, I have seen glimpses of what transformed community looks like.

While at CoS I served several days a week at the Potter’s House, a cafe and bookstore ministry located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. What sets the Potter’s House apart from the other businesses in the neighborhood is its open door policy. All comers, regardless of who they are or what they may have done, or are still doing, are welcome inside. This open door policy is an example of radical Christian hospitality in a time when it is common to be suspicious of the stranger. According to the world’s “wisdom” it is unwise to allow ex-offenders, those struggling with addiction, or the homeless to freely come and go as they please. Yet it is by foolishly welcoming everyone that the Potter’s House is a living witness of Jesus’ love and the wisdom of God.

It is my hope that these photos offer a glimpse of the kind of community that is formed by hospitality that transcends societal boundaries.

Drowning In A Culture Of Detachment: Up In The Air

A number of good-or-great reviews are coming in for George Clooney's Up In The Air. This review, by Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, may be the most thoughtful one out there - especially in terms of laying bare where the film intersects with larger theological questions/concerns.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

Here are a few of the kinds of movies that I wish Hollywood made more often (like, you know, two or three times a year): a drama that connects to an audience because it taps, in a bold and immediate way, into the fears and anxieties of our time; a romantic comedy in which the dialogue pings with stylish wit and verve; a film that keeps surprising us because its characters keep surprising themselves. The beauty of Up in the Air is that it's all those things at once. Adapted from Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, it's a rare and sparkling gem of a movie, directed by Jason Reitman (Juno) with the polish of a master.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), the film's debonair hero, is a new kind of no-sweat corporate executioner. Each day, he walks into a different office somewhere in the United States — Wichita, Detroit, St. Louis — and gets a list of employees who are about to be downsized. One by one, he sits opposite each of them, bringing them the bad news that their bosses are too weaselly to deliver personally. The victims are mostly hardworking middle managers who've been let go because of the economy. None of them ''deserves'' to be fired, and so their reactions — terror, confusion, rage, despair — are notably intense, even as Ryan reassures them that opportunities await, that this is a beginning not an ending, and blah blah blah. (He's also a part-time motivational speaker, pepping up the very sorts of people he fires.)

The ''interviews'' that Ryan does with the folks he fires give you a chill. They're a vision of what's going on in the country today, and Up in the Air is the rare film that does justice to economic desperation by expressing it with an honest populist embrace. At the same time, it's a movie about how one man living inside the cocoon of an overly detached culture comes to see the error of his own detachment. Up in the Air is light and dark, hilarious and tragic, romantic and real. It's everything that Hollywood has forgotten how to do; we're blessed that Jason Reitman has remembered.

If Ryan had been played by anyone but George Clooney, we might not believe in (or like) him. But Clooney, with his effortless, cracklingly smart yet maybe slightly-too-polished charm, knows here, as he did in Michael Clayton, how to play a rogue who's in danger of losing his soul yet holds on to it anyway. In Up in the Air, Clooney gives his most fully felt performance to date as a smooth hedonist who comes to realize that he may be drowning. This is movie-star acting of the sort that no one else today can bring off.