Amaney A. Jamal

Since 2005, the Arab Barometer project that Amaney A. Jamal co-founded has interviewed ordinary people in the Arab world about their views on (according to ArabBarometer.org) "governance, political life, and political, social, and cultural values."

So Jamal had extraordinary insight into the Arab Spring that began in 2010, and its aftermath. In a phone interview last week, she said she had seen the seeds of change but didn't know if or when they would blossom. "It was very clear and obvious in our public-opinion polls that the status quo was not sustainable," she said. "That the levels of frustration, the levels of mass discontent with the status quo were there. What was not clear was whether ... there was going to be some sort of trigger to bring it all down."

Jamal will present "The Arab Spring: Did All Go Wrong?" - St. Ambrose University's Folwell Lecture in Political Science & Pre-Law - on February 9, and the answer to that question should be obvious enough to anybody who pays attention to international news.

Saturday, January 24th, 7:00 p.m.
(Doors open at 6:00)
Davenport Freight House
421 W. River Dr.
Davenport, Iowa

Join us for a night of entertainment and support Food Hub programs!

• $80 per table - 8 players per table
• 10 Rounds of 10 Questions Each
• 1st place $160 - 2nd place $80

DOOR PRIZES - RAFFLE - GAMES - FOOD - DRINK - FUN

Food Available. Refreshments from the Local Market Store. Beer from Front Street Brewery. *Please no outside beverages allowed

Reserve your table in advance to guarantee a spot! Don't miss out. To register a team or for more information stop in to Local Market store or call 563-265-2455.

Nacho Radio's Dave Levora (left) and Darren Pitra

On his morning show on January 14, Darren Pitra asked with mock exasperation: "Haven't we learned enough?"

Just a year ago, the answer to that question would have been simple: Absolutely.

Pitra and Dave Levora have been on-air morning-show partners for nearly 11 years - as "Dave & Darren in the Morning" - so it's no surprise that these old radio pros have an easy rapport, or that they breezed through the show of comedy and conversation without a lull.

There was a bit about a beer brewed with smoked whale testicles, a recurring motif of the perils - sometimes self-inflicted - of being a bus driver, and evidence of both men having way too much familiarity with the live-action Flintstones movies. They roped me in as a guest - sorry, listeners! - and asked off-the-cuff questions that were thoughtful and insightful without ever getting too serious. Their routine is smooth and comfortable - a warm welcome to the day for listeners tuned in to their favorite radio station.

Except that the show wasn't on the radio at all, instead a podcast on Dave & Darren's NachoRadio.com - which was launched in October after Pitra and Levora lost their jobs at Rock 104-9.

So the learning must continue.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Promise Land seems to invite preconceptions.

First, there's the white kitty hanging perilously from a rope on the book cover, cheekily recalling the famous "Hang in There" inspirational poster.

Then there's the subtitle: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture.

Flip to the first page of prologue. The book opens: "Ten years ago, I tagged along with my father to a weekend conference on how to write self-help books." Yes, it really was a self-help retreat for self-help-guru wannabes.

From those elements, you might expect an arch, cynical take-down of a movement and the industry that feeds it (or feeds off it).

Lamb-Shapiro will be the January 27 guest in the River Readings at Augustana series, and you're hereby advised to not judge this book by its cover or its opening sentence. It's so much richer than that.

Saturday, January 24th, 7:00 p.m. (Doors open at 6:00)
Davenport Freight House, 421 W. River Dr., Davenport, IA

Join us for a night of entertainment and support QC Food Hub programs!

•$80 per table - 8 players per table
•10 Rounds of 10 Questions Each
•1st place $160 - 2nd place $80

DOOR PRIZES - RAFFLE - GAMES - MORE FUN

Food Available
Refreshments from the Local Market Store
Beer from Front Street Brewery

STAY TUNED FOR DETAILS!

*Please no outside beverages allowed

Reserve your table in advance to guarantee a spot!

To register a team or for more information stop in to QCFH Local Market store or call 563-265-2455

When Mike Schulz suggested revisiting and updating our lists of favorite movies of the 2000s, I looked back at my early-2010 article and thought: "Ghost Town? What the hell is that?" Sorry, Ricky Gervais, but it took a few seconds to recall anything at all about a movie I'd listed as one of my top 100.

Such are the perils of composing lists covering long periods of time with a memory as leaky as mine. Unlike my colleague Mike, I don't have a record of my thoughts about most of the movies I've seen, and therefore I can't say with much certainty whether I still like the 100 favorite movies I selected for 2000 through 2009. So I started from scratch here, with the idea that I wouldn't include anything so poorly (if fondly) remembered as Ghost Town. (Favorites from the 2010 list that aren't included here haven't necessarily fallen in my esteem; in many cases, I just don't have a recent experience or firm memory of them to rely on).

For the past eight years, I've compiled a year-end album of favorite songs released in the 12 preceding months, with no artists repeating from previous years. I've done it again.

Beyond the artists presented here, my favorite album was O'Death's Out of Hands We Go - which, if not quite as consistently great as the band's 2011 record Outside, is a stunning accomplishment - a warbling, adventurous, authentic backwoods blend of introspection and primal emotion putting bluegrass instrumentation through the aesthetic amp of folk, punk, lo-fi, and indie rock. The band's "Vacant Moan" is probably my favorite song of the past decade (it was on my 2008 album), and since then O'Death has largely abandoned thrashing furor in favor of a more measured sound that finds its power in places other than speed and volume.

My initial effort at compiling this album was decidedly pop-oriented, with a few digressions into my natural proclivity toward the odd. But 19 songs became 16, and as I pared away tracks I loved that felt a little too reliant on formula, I recognized a thread of elemental music. Sometimes it took the form of naked aggression (another proclivity), but just as often it was songs stripped down to base emotion - concentrated states of the heart and mind. I ran with that.

Counting Crows. Photo by Danny Clinch.

When Counting Crows visits the Adler Theatre on December 16, it will be a different band from the one that scored top-10 hits with each of its studio albums from 1993's August & Everything After to 2008's Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.

And for that, you can credit a lowly covers record.

It's more complicated than that, but in a phone interview earlier this month, singer/songwriter Adam Duritz explained that interpreting the songs of others was one of two key ingredients to the band's revitalization - which is in full bloom on this year's Somewhere Under Wonderland album. The record also hit Billboard's Top 10, and many critics have called it the band's strongest collection since its August & Everything After debut.

Counting Crows' new swagger is evident in its sets and on the album. Somewhere Under Wonderland's longest song, "Palisades Park," is its opening track and first single, and even before the record's release it kicked off the band's encores. "We played an entire summer of shows with an eight-and-a-half-minute song that nobody knew as the opening song of the encore, which is kind of crazy," Duritz said. "We had the confidence to do it."

Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings marked a sort of end for Counting Crows. Within a month of its release, Duritz revealed that he had depersonalization disorder - which he wrote in Men's Health "makes the world seem like it's not real, as if things aren't taking place. It's hard to explain, but you feel untethered."

The announcement coincided with Duritz's fatigue with the songwriting process that had sustained the band through 15 years and five very successful albums. "By the time we got done with Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings," he told me, "I was kind of fed up with being locked into this autobiographical record-making. People start to expect a certain plot arc from you, and while you can write as well as you can write, you can't change the actual plot of your life. I felt like I was not only trying to live my life to get my life together, but trying to live my life so I have a more interesting plot arc for the records. ... I was kind of tired of just talking about being crazy. It's not all there is to me."

(Editor's note: The venue for Ben Sidran's December 9 lecture has changed since this article was published, and admission fees for both events have also changed.)

Ben Sidran is best known as a jazz pianist and producer; for his work with the Steve Miller Band (he co-wrote "Space Cowboy"); and as host of public radio's Jazz Alive and VH-1's New Visions series. But he also holds a Ph.D. in American studies, and his 2012 book There Was a Fire: Jews, Music, & the American Dream displays not only the storytelling gift and playfulness you might expect from an accomplished songwriter, but also an erudite and thoughtful mind befitting his academic credentials.

It's the mingling of those different facets, however, that makes the book such a compelling read: a love of tales, a deep curiosity about history, the use of personal narrative to ground points in contemporary and emotional life, the creativity to unearth surprising connections, and the jazz artist's willingness to follow a muse or idea wherever it might lead.

All those components will be evident when Sidran visits Davenport as part of the Jewish Federation of the the Quad Cities' "Jews Rock" series: a solo lecture and performance based on his book on December 9 at Temple Emanuel, and a performance by the Ben Sidran Quartet on December 10 at the Redstone Room.

The Soil & the Sun. Photo by Rotten Photography.

Given the expansive, spacious, and precise sound that Michigan's The Soil & the Sun achieves on Meridian - the band's third record - two things leap out from its history: that what's now a seven-piece ensemble started as a duo, and that its first two albums were home-recorded by people who didn't really know what they were doing.

Meridian - released in August - marks the first time the group worked with a producer, and the most obvious difference from its predecessors is in its choir-like group vocals, particularly on "How Long." The band has retained its orchestral breadth and adventurousness, but with its soaring collective singing the album becomes something more celestial; songs dominated by gloomy clouds have given way to bright stars.

Working in a proper studio "was a little bit overwhelming, actually," said frontman, primary songwriter, and co-founder Alex McGrath in a recent phone interview, promoting The Soil & the Sun's December 4 performance at Rozz-Tox. "We had the whole world opened up to us, really for the first time. We had to exercise some restraint and not get too caught up in effects ... ."

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