Their 2008 self-titled debut went criminally unheralded by most, but, somehow, True Widow's first disc still caught the ears of the people over at New York City-based Kemado Records, who quickly snatched up the group and agreed to release their 2011 mouthful of a follow-up. The second True Widow release isn't much different from the first; it once again moves about as quick as molasses, but scores major points for its loud volume and aesthetic — a sound that the band calls stonegaze because it lies, as you'd expect from the name, just about smack dab between shoegaze and stoner rock. But it is a slightly more focused effort, and maybe a more focus-grouped one too. After taking a backseat throughout much of the band's debut, save for the must-hear "Duelist," bassist Nikki Estill is given a bigger vocal role on the newer effort, her angelic pipes cast in more of a secondary lead role to that of guitarist Dan Phillips. The move was a smart one — the juxtaposition of her sweet vocals to the band's heavy sound and Phillips' own gritty pipes is stunning. Really, though, the band is at its best when all members, including drummer Tim Starks, are cast in equal roles, with Phillips and Estill harmonizing over Starks' restrained beats and with their own instruments filling the holes as need be. Too often, bands that are reliant on excessive volume tend to come off sounding rather harsh; True Widow, especially on their second release, have a remarkable talent for making loud sound beautiful.
This year and last have been especially good for local indie folk darling Sarah Jaffe, who was born in Red Oak, found her audience in Dallas and perfected her craft in Denton. It's been a steady climb, but one that took a steep upward turn following the April 2010 release of her sophomore album, Suburban Nature, which found the performer earning praise from outlets as wide-ranging and varied as Paste and USA Today. Front to back, it's a strong, revealing release from the 25-year-old, but the album's unquestioned highlight is "Clementine," a song that Jaffe says she wrote as something of a throwaway — a means to fill out her once rather short live performance set. These days,"Clementine" has become about as unavoidable as a local song can be; it's in frequent rotation on KKXT-FM 91.7 KXT, as well as in Starbucks coffeehouses around the country. That much is understandable enough; "Clementine" is a really pretty song. But it becomes an especially impressive track when heard repeatedly. That's when Jaffe's rather self-loathing lyrical content shines through. "I wish my name was Clementine," she sings in the song's chorus, claiming that such a name would afford her the chance to be "a little more delicate." It's a song about being self-aware, about growing up and choosing to accept or reject the person that you've become. As she performs it, Jaffe seems uncertain that she's becoming the person she wants to be. On the listeners, it has the opposite effect. To them, it's clear that Jaffe's just fine exactly as she is.
When it opened this summer, Ro2 Art Uptown seemingly filled the art-scene lull that usually comes with the hot weather. Mother and son owners Susan Roth Romans and Jordan Roth expanded their reach from their downtown gallery space and promised exciting exhibitions featuring new talent, and did they deliver. Earlier this month, the Uptown gallery hosted An Evening of Arts and Jewels in conjunction with Fashion's Night Out, and the most recent exhibition features works from local artists Kathy Robinson Hays, husband Terry Hays and newcomer Val Curry. It doesn't hurt that the West Village gallery is situated within a stone's throw of popular retail and dining destinations, plus the inviting space is open seven days a week for aficionados who need a daily dose of art.
The newest member of Dallas Theater Center's elite Brierley Resident Acting Company also is the co-founder and current artistic director of Second Thought Theater, which just ended its seventh and strongest season. A handsome, lanky, angular leading man, Steven Walters played Prince Hal in DTC's action-packed Henry IV last year and opened this fall's DTC season as the romantic Ferdinand in Shakespeare's The Tempest. In between, he donned nerd glasses for Second Thought's manic one-man show Thom Pain (based on nothing) and had supporting roles on TV's Chase and Friday Night Lights. He also writes plays and has sold a screenplay for indie production this fall, but Walters made the decision last year to move back from Los Angeles to anchor his career in Dallas. Bravo.
At age 8, Matt Tolentino, a kid in East Dallas, became enchanted by the great Adrian Rollini, an early 20th century jazz instrumentalist best known for his bass sax in the speakeasy era just before the advent of big band swing music. Lucky for Dallas, Tolentino never came out from under Rollini's magic spell. Now in his mid-20s, Tolentino is proprietor of the city's coolest, quirkiest, retro jazz group, the Singapore Slingers, a full 18-piece orchestra with five strings, four reeds, three brass, five rhythm players and, of course, tah dah! ... Tolentino on the bass saxophone. They play the Pocket Sandwich, the Kessler, Sons of Hermann and a host of venues around town. Google Matt Tolentino or Singapore Slingers for dates.
We're not ashamed to admit we're biased when it comes to the Video Association of Dallas' 24 Hour Video Race. With the advent of the Mixmaster, the Dallas Observer arts and culture blog, we finally got up the guts to enter the annual contest. Regardless of the award outcome (third in our division, high five!), we persevered from midnight to midnight, staying awake (sorta), eating (an obscene amount of) packaged snack food, achieving levels of insanity in which creating meat helmets seemed totally logical and, ultimately, accomplishing the task of writing, shooting, editing and scoring a five-minute film in 24 hours (naturally) based on a theme, prop, location and line of dialogue given to us as the challenge began. The VAD staff was funny, patient and supportive with an "emergency" hotline (for those techy questions easily solved had sleep been possible). If building bonds through sleep deprivation and/or seeing your work in a real video festival is a goal, well the former is a definite and the Dallas Video Fest this year features a screening of winners. Your first 24 Hour Video Race is certainly "a day to remember."
Dallas International Film Festival, March 31 to April 10 this year, offered more than 200 films to choose from. USA Film Festival, April 27 to May 1, supplied film lovers with nearly two dozen more. For one month, that may seem like a lot of celluloid (or whatever filmmakers are using these days) ground to cover and a lot of time spent in dark theaters' seats with strangers, but take into account that not only do most attendees love approximately three-fourths of the movies they see (based on our own unscientific surveying between films), both festivals also provide a good number of celebrity asses in the seats. From directors to screenwriters to stars, both festivals bring in the famous, the soon-to-be and the should-be for Q&As, panels, chi-chi red carpets and more. Better still: If you questioned going to the movies solo, you won't anymore with all the "I'll watch your seat if you watch mine" buddies you make spending up to 12 hours per day landing in the same screenings. April should really be called Dallas Film Lovers' Month.
On the one hand, we feel for Mark Abuzzahab, the new guy in charge over at KKXT-FM 91.7 KXT. We really do. He's taking over a station that, only a few months ago, was being slaughtered in the Twittersphere, nitpicked for every song choice its DJs would make. Clever social media types took to Twitter in particular to voice their bitches — and they were unified in doing so through their use of the hashtag "#kxtfail," which allowed fellow complainers to catch up on what everyone else was bitching about. Their complaints were probably a tad unfair: The region placed far-too-high hopes on KXT's shoulders when it launched back in November 2009; everyone crossed their fingers and blindly expected it to champion the local music scene and for the station and scene to become the envy of the rest of the country. That was never gonna happen — not in the station's first few years, at least. But here's the silver lining: Clearly, there's a large population of devoted KXT listeners out there. And that's where we think that Abuzzahab actually has it made: The dude's inheriting a passionate listenership that knows exactly what it wants. Kind of sounds like a dream job, actually.
Over the years Allison Smith has offered various themes in her self-published zines, from iPhone (Can You Hear Me Now?) and Lomo (An Issue With Lomos) to her love for the Lone Star State (Things I Like About Texas). Her April 2011 release, "40 Days," featured shots created via the Hipstamatic app and it didn't disappoint, giving up both ethereal colors and vivid scenes. If you were a superfan and ordered within the designated number, you got a free signed print. That shit's legit and it doesn't come cheap in the real world, folks. While many artists have become complacent between exhibitions and dependent on blogs and digital galleries (she has those too), Smith is keeping the small art book going in Dallas, snapshot by Superficial Snapshots.
Local animator Deanna Molinaro writes and illustrates storybooks that would traumatize most children but that, in truth, aren't any scarier than Grimm's fairy tales. With a few exceptions (she's marked innocuous, all-ages books "OK for children"), the stories explore that sort of nightmarish what-if world that smart kids tend to imagine early on. Molinaro says she writes the books "for fun, and without a single thought of the audience for them or what's right, wrong, appropriate." The often-wide-eyed hand-drawn characters are both lovable and haunting, and her black humor is reminiscent of the great Charles Addams. Her most recent release, this year's A Boy and His Sheep, is the story of a spoiled boy who is so cruel to his doting mother that she finally — well, we don't want to ruin the specifics for you, but let's just say it doesn't work out for everyone. Molinaro sells her books on her website (along with signed prints) but also offers them for viewing entirely online. "It's always surprising to find out anyone likes them," Molinaro says. "I guess as long as I continue to have crippling self-doubt they will all be free online to read." With seven strong offerings in print, she really shouldn't doubt anymore.

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