Pop stuff: What I'm reading, hearing, watching etc.

Petra Goes to the Movies by Petra Haden
The follow-up to her a capella cover of the entire The Who Sell Out album, Haden's new one features her one-woman-choir versions of 16 film tunes, most of them originally instrumentals.

To replicate the sounds of bands and orchestras, Haden puts her versatile voice to  work singing all the interweaving parts. Sure, some of it sounds like a novelty album, which I guess it sort of is, but it's also a masterpiece of singing and overdubbing. Not too many folks could pull this off.

Some of the tunes, particularly those with jazz elements, sound a bit like the Swingle Singers, but mostly Haden sounds just like herself. Anyone familiar with her earlier work will know the twisted mind and fabulous voice behind the rendition of the "Psycho Main Title" found here. That tune is worth the ticket price. Haden also does a nice version of "Goldfinger." Are John Williams' "The Man from Krypton" from the first "Superman" film is also great fun.

Elsewhere, things are prettier and more traditional. Haden sings a lovely straight vocal on "It Might Be You," a nice song from "Tootsie" on which she's joined by the brilliant guitarist Bill Frisell.

On "This is Not America," from "The Falcon and the Snowman," she's joined again by Frisell and by her father, the legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Pianist Brad Mehldau appears on "Calling You" from "Baghdad Cafe." But mostly it's just Haden, and amazingly so.

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian
I've been very gradually working my way through Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels for several years now, but seem to have quickened my pace of reading with each entry. At some point, I'll lose all control and end up reading the rest of the series (20 books in all, plus one unfinished entry) in one mad rush, but I'd hate to see it all end.

These books, as any O'Brian aficionado will  waste no time in telling you, are a joy to read.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the series centers on the wonderful friendship between two quite different men: Captain Jack Aubrey, an outgoing, jovial, sometimes brash man of action, and Stephen Maturin, Aubrey's ship-board surgeon, who's quiet, sometimes brooding and prone to extreme self-reflection.

There's plenty of action, and nautical lingo, as the duo sail from adventure to adventure and battle to battle, but there's plenty to think about, too. Aubrey and Maturin are among literature's most-fleshed-out, "real" characters. We get to know them better and better as the series goes on. And they change and grow. I like both of these guys. A lot. I celebrate their good fortunes and sympathize when they're injured -- both physically in battle, and psychologically through misfortune and heartbreak.

It took me the first couple of books to get comfortable with O'Brian's use of period language and naval terms, but once it became familiar, my reading of the books sped up and my interest grew and grew.

I highly recommend these novels to anyone who loves good writing, and urge you not to be put off due to the language, or the idea that they are somehow of a "genre" and therefore not worth your attention.

My wife and I finally got a chance to see this acclaimed film about an offbeat secret operation used to free a small group of Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in the late 1970s.

It's a captivating, entertaining stoty -- one of those that will put you on edge, even though you know the outcome.

Ben Affleck's direction is as subtle as his performance -- quiet, not showy, but very effective. There are lots of nice period touches, right down to the film's titles, that put me back in those times.

Readers of this blog and fans of comics artist Jack Kirby may know that he played a minor, unwitting, role in this odd episode of the American history and the film gives a nod to that, too. Nice touch.

I'm not going to spoil any of the story. I'll just say you should see the film while it's still playing on a few screens nationwide. It's worth of all of the awards it's received and likely to receive.