• Big funk and big love are back on the map with the soulful vibes of Big Advice and its appropriately titled album Love Shines. Comprised of Juan Nelson, bassist of Ben Harper's Innocent Criminals, and vocalist Ahaguna Sun of Sunbear, Big Advice is a smooth house party and romantic after-hours gem wearing its heart on its sleeve for classic soul grooves.

• Hey! You've got history in my heavy metal! No, you've got heavy metal in my history! Former Judas Priest vocalist Tim Owens is now a part of Iced Earth, with a new album due this Tuesday that focuses on historical people, places, and events such as Attila the Hun, the Red Baron, Waterloo, Gettysburg, and Valley Forge.

• The Neverland Ranch burns like a scene out of Equus, and major record labels are diving for a warm seat in a game of musical chairs. Even Wal-Mart is taking a stab at the MP3 game as iPod devices, cell phones, and PDAs morph into the next killer application.

The Winter Blanket is one of those bands that the more you listen to them, the more you want to know.

My first experience with the group, which originally hailed from the Quad Cities but is now based in Minneapolis, came when I stumbled across its sophomore effort, Actors & Actresses (see "Building a Better Sedative," River Cities' Reader Issue 358, January 23-29, 2002).

Two hundred sixty years after its composer set the words to music, The Messiah still draws hundreds of spectators to enjoy the tradition in the Quad Cities. What makes The Messiah different from hundreds of other masterpieces created through the years? Perhaps its history can give us a clue to why crowds flock to see performances.

• Jack White of the White Stripes has his touch all over the soundtrack to Cold Mountain, released this week on DMX/Columbia Records. Alongside songs by Alison Krauss, Tim Eriksen, and the Sacred Harp Singers, White contributes two originals and covers of material written, or made famous, by Ralph Stanley and Howlin' Wolf.

• Are we there yet? Are we in the festive mood? C'mon, set the road rage aside and give in to the twinkling lights and falling snow, even if only in your mind. Need a nudge? Ivan Pavlov and I suggest baking peanut-butter cookies and getting lost in the spell of new holiday music, from sentimental to silly, softly soulful to house-rocking.

The fledgling club Quad City Live got a big push in October, when the annual Pigstock metalfest was held in its parking lot (in the Freight House complex off River Drive in Davenport). But that boost wouldn't do much if the club didn't continue to bring in interesting acts.

• In the pre-digital culture, kitchen-table lyricists and pop-radio junkies devoured hokey magazines that flourished in the day, re-printing popular song lyrics and publicity photos to an information-starved audience.

The Holiday Pops concert inspired Christmas spirit in a near-capacity crowd of about 8,500 people at The Mark on November 22 with an array of dazzling sights and sounds of the season. The Sanctuary Choir of First Presbyterian Church in Davenport, the Holiday Pops Children’s Chorus, traveling medieval performers Tapestry, and skaters from the Figure Skating Club of the Quad Cities joined the Quad City Symphony Orchestra for a Christmas program impressive in texture and depth.