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NOVEMBER 21, 2006
One to Watch: Cracklin Moth

Cracklin The idea of a cracklin moth conjures images of friends huddled around a campfire, kickin' back on a warm summer night. Beers strewn about, constant laughter fills the air. Someone pulls out a guitar and starts strumming, laughter subsides and attention is focused. People huddle closer, smile, faces burning from the fire's warm glow. Eyes sparkle. Singing gets louder, chills spread up your body. Friends huddle around a campfire, loving life on warm summer night.

This is what Chicago's Cracklin Moth sounds like ... to me. Five guys from disparate backgrounds who all share the love of good storytelling and great music and create a warm, welcome environment when they play. Whether they were raised on Dylan, the Dead and Johnny Cash makes no difference. Their music says otherwise. Lead singer Matt Ammerman's songwriting has the depth of character not found by many emerging artists today. From start to finish, he weaves a story that pulls you in. But it's the music that holds your focus.

With tight-as-hell gorgeously flowing pedal steel, Rocco Labriola guides the band through each track, holding the candle to lead their path while Shawn Rios' drums create the heartbeat that allows the band to breathe. You're hard pressed to find Cracklin Moth's progressive Americana in a city like Chicago, which is so rock and pop focused these days, but it's refreshing -- and welcome -- that someone is doing it, and doing it as well as they are. It's exciting that Wilco's Illinois roots are once again moving outward and producing young bands like this. There's a similarity between Cracklin Moth and other alt-country acts like Tweedy's and the Jayhawks -- maybe it's the down-home country feel or perhaps the incredible harmony. The music has that feel-good edge that, midway through any song, you find yourself tapping your feet -- and you just can't stop. And why? Sure, it sounds good -- but you can relate to every single song.

It always amazes me when I hear bands like this that aren't signed to a label. Seeing them tonight at Schubas in the opening slot before Kunek and the Bon Savants, they not only held their own, but pretty much took top prize. Their music is what drives their set -- not gimmicks or antics. Just pure, straightforward musicianship. And I thank god for that.

The band is currently recording a new batch of songs for an EP to be released sometime in early '07, but their last, Redbird, is available. However, after hearing a batch of new songs tonight, I feel like the song that best reps their sound is "Special." And I was just emailed a couple new tracks, which Ammerman demoed at home.

Listen to Cracklin Moth:

Special

Forever Song

Other Life Forms

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NOVEMBER 19, 2006
Start London

Start2_1 Start is not one but two of the hippest clothing stores in London. Holding two storefronts down the street from each other in the city's trendy Hoxton enclave, Start carries an eclectic mix of styles for both men and women. Being more interested in the men's options, I popped into 59 Rivington Street (the original space) and found an amazing collection of designers from England, the Continent and abroad. The shop is owned by Philip Start (founder of menswear chain Woodhouse) and Brix Smith (former guitarist for the Fall in the '80s). Their backgrounds in fashion and music seamlessly intersected with the burgeoning artist, design and rocker cliques of Hoxton to create this little fashion haven.

Set on two floors, the shop itself is easy to navigate and aesthetically appealing, with exposed brick, a mix of patterns on the wall, dark wood displays and even a neon sculpture. For men lookingStart1 for anything and everything, from accessories and shoes to suits, topcoats and hats, Start has it. It features wares from Miu Miu, Rykiel Homme, Comme des Garcon, PRPS, U-Boat watches, Mario Mateo, Tretorn sneakers, Nicolo Ceschi Berrini sweaters (so yummy!), REN Skincare -- not to mention the bespoke suit option and extensive denim selection. Start is a veritable men's department store whose presence only ups the cool factor in this uber-hot area. This could be London's answer to Barneys CO-OP -- at least until it crosses the pond. 

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NOVEMBER 17, 2006
Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages

Cinq_bottle Today I had a one-on-one lunch and wine tasting with Chateau St. Jean winemaker Margo Van Staaveren (ok, it was a one-on-two -- the winery's wonderful publicist, Jennifer Scott, joined us as well). Over sushi, swordfish and steak at NoMi at the Park Hyatt Chicago we tasted the three most recent vintages of Cinq Cépages, the winery's crown jewel. Cinq Cépages, which means the Five Varieties, comprises the five grapes that make up the base of this Bordeaux-like Cabernet blend: Cabernet (75%), Merlot (10%-11%), Malbec (7%-8%), Cabernet Franc (3%-4%) and Petit Verdot (2%). Margo has been with Chateau St. Jean for 26 years and has been head winemaker since 2003 -- and she definitely knows what she's talking about.

After explaining how each grape affects the wine in its own way ("the Cab defines the vintage" "Merlot softens the blend" "Cab Franc adds a subtle elegance" "Malbec is always a friend to a wine maker" "Petit Verdot adds just the right amount of dustiness") we decided it was time to put it all to the test.

The '01 was just right. You definitely got the jamminess from it but it was layered with the perfect amount of tannins that it left just the slightest hint of dryness in your mouth. But more than that, a few minutes after taking a sip, you realize a familiar flavor lingering on your tongue and then it hit me: clove and nutmeg. How apropos for a blistery late autumn day in Chicago while sipping wine staring out a window seven stories above Michigan Avenue and looking out onto the lake?

The '03 is just coming into its own. It's still a young wine, but Margo said that these wines can reach their climax after 10 years and cited both the 1990 and '93 holding up well, but that "not all vintages are created equal."

After lunch, Margo lead a wine seminar for about 50 people in hotel's Grand Salon. I popped down with Jennifer for a few minutes and tasted the winery's 2004 Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay, which was surprisingly not very oakey or buttery for a Sonoma Chard but offered up some really nice citrus and tropical fruit. But the real treat was getting to taste the 1996 and 1999 Cinq Cépages vintages. The '99 was a little big and tannic for me -- it made me want to have a large cooked steak to soak up the wine, but the '96 was perfection in a glass. After gushing about the wine, Jennifer told me that Wine Spectator rated it the No. 1 wine in the world when it was released in 1999. It was big, lush and jammy and left just the slightest dryness on the tongue. The cherry-filled bouquet opened up to some beautiful bright dark berries.

Unfortunately I had to take off, but not before realizing that it's days like this reaffirm why I love what I do.

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NOVEMBER 16, 2006
Kiehl's Dog Products

Kiehls_pets If you fuss over your pet like I do then your dog (or cat) is as spoiled as Emma. I mean, what's the point of having a dog if you can't treat them like a human child? Sure, Emma's collar looks like it's from Burberry (it's not but we get asked all the time), she eats only high-end, all-natural food (hey, it's helped her lose more than 10 lbs!), loves to indulge in bell peppers, string cheese and edamame (what dog doesn't?) and has two beds (yet chooses to sleep in ours).

So when I learned about Kiehl's pet products, I flipped. I thought: ifEmmabeach_1 I love these products and use a variety of them, why wouldn't Emma like them too? The Cuddly Coat Grooming Shampoo and Conditioner both contain chamomile flower extract and palm kernal to help detangle and soften a dog's coat. But it's the Spray-n-Play Cleansing Spritz  (doesn't everyone need a spritz from time to time?) that has me most excited. Washing or grooming your dog often isn't good for her coat -- not to mention how not fun it is for you. So being able to use this "waterless shampoo" more frequently is a welcome reprieve from the actual task of bathing your pet. Leave it to Kiehl's to enable us dog freaks to spend even more money on these already-spoiled creatures. God love it!

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NOVEMBER 15, 2006
Stream Jay-Z's "Comeback" Album; Jigga Planning 1-Day Multi-City Tour

Jayz You can preview Jay-Z's forthcoming album, Kingdom Come, here. It's on Clear Channel's "sneak peek" website so there's an annoying woman who says "sneak peek, here it first" throughout the songs for copyright reasons. I'm listening to it right now for the first time and it's quintessential Jay-Z -- samples Rick James and disses Cristal in "Kingdom Come" and there's a video for the first single, "Show Me What You Got." On the album, Jay collaborates with John Legend, Kanye, Pharrell, Chris Martin and Beyonce, natch.

According to Billboard, Jigga is doing a one-day, seven-city promo tour on Nov. 18. He'll fly on a private jet to Atlanta, Philly, D.C., New Jersey, Chicago, LA and Vegas where he'll perform for 30 minutes then grab two fans at each stop to join him on the jet and fly to the next location.

Pre-order Kingdom Come, which drops Tuesday Nov. 21.

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Terry's Toffee

Main2 After 20 years of working in the non-profit arena, Terry Opalek, realizing how much he loved his grandmother's classic toffee recipe, decided to make a major career move. Now, a few years into his venture, Terry's Toffee offers some of the most incomparable flavors that will whisk you back to your childhood. Launched three years ago out of his home, Terry now sports 15 flavors of the most mouthwatering toffee blended in a great storefront in Chicago's West Town neighborhood and supplies about 80 stores across the US. His candies are a perfect gift for any occasion, especially the upcoming winter holidays.

I stopped by to visit Terry last week and, having sampled his toffees in the past, was amazed at the growth of the selection. Favorites definitely include the Chai-cago Spice (with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and other spices dipped in dark chocolate); Peppermint Pistachio Crunch; Mazel ToffeeLogo2_1 (nut-free toffee and matzo surrounded by decadent milk chocolate) and of course the two most important: McCall's Classic (named for Terry's grandmother -- this is what toffee was meant to taste like) and Terry's Signature (a variation of his grandmother's recipe featuring stunning tinted cocoa butter to showcase various designs). Terry, who works alongside his life partner, Michael, also offers great biscotti in three flavors as well as six flavors of homemade rich ice cream.

And due to being featured in the Academy Awards gift baskets for the last two years Terry now claims the likes of Hillary Swank, Lenny Kravitz, Outkast, Sean Hayes, Penelope Cruz, Jennifer Garner and many others as loyal fans.

Are you ready to join the ranks? Place your holiday orders now.

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Stephen Reed Soft Spot Table

Bench_1

Sitting on a hard wooden bench is only comfortable for so long. Stephen Reed came up with a solution: build a bench with half the seating area crafted in wood tiles held together by sturdy elastic cords that give way when you sit on it. While most cities won't likely replace their hard park benches with comfortable elasticity, you might want one for your home. Best yet: when you're not sitting on it, you can use it as a coffee table.

via OhGizmo

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NOVEMBER 13, 2006
La Granacha Cotes du Rhone Villages '04

Lagrancha There's nothing like discovering a great bottle of wine, especially when you only pay about $10 for it. Every few weeks, I like to pop into the Wine Discount Center and see what gems I can find. A couple of weeks ago while browsing the Cotes du Rhone corner, I focused in on a bottle that grabbed my attention: La Grancha. There was something about the label that I liked and when I inquired about the wine, the guy at the store didn't hesitate when he basically told me to just buy it.

So when we cracked it open at a friend's house for dinner, everyone was equally thrilled about it. The wine has a deep purple color with a full nose of cherry and chocolate. It's made from 80% old vine Syrah and 20% old vine Grenache, is super full bodied and is reminiscent of a bold Zinfandel with strong raisin flavor and some excellent spice. La Granacha is perfect for sitting around a table at a dinner party or kickin back in front of a fire.

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Update: Bloc Party Cancels US Tour

Bparty SomethingGlorious got wind of this over the weekend and just got confirmation: Bloc Party has been forced to cancel the entire US tour with Panic! At the Disco. Last week, after a show in Atlanta, drummer Matt Tong's lung collapsed. During his healing process, doctors strongly advised him to not travel and perform for a few weeks.

This is seemingly bad news for fans, not only because the tour is canceled, but the band is likely road testing highly anticipated new songs. However, might not be such bad news for the band (aside from Matt): One of my sources reported that Bloc Party didn't really get on with the guys in Panic! Apparently the glam theatrical outfit is a bunch of whiny immature kids.

Frontman Kele Okereke said: “We would like to apologize to all of our fans here who won’t be able to see us on this tour.  We were looking forward to playing in a number of American cities that we’ve never been to before, however, Matt’s health is our number one priority right now.”

Ticket refunds will be available at point-of-purchase.  Ticket holders are encouraged to return their tickets within the next week.

The cancelled dates are below:

11/16/06         Toronto, ON @ Ricoh Coliseum
11/17/06         Rochester, NY @ Gordon Field House (R.I.T.)
11/18/06         Lowell, MA @ Paul E. Tsongas Arena
11/19/06         Philadelphia, PA @ Wachovia Center
11/21/06         Detroit, MI @ The Palace of Auburn Hills
11/22/06         Chicago, IL @ UIC Pavilion
11/24/06         Minneapolis, MN @ US Bank Theatre at the Target Center
11/25/06         St. Charles, MO @ St. Charles County Family Arena
11/26/06         Council Bluffs, IA @ Mid America Center
11/28/06         Denver, CO @ Magness Arena/ U of Denver’s Ritchie
11/29/06         Salt Lake City, UT @ The E Center
12/1/06           Portland, OR @ Memorial Coliseum
12/2/06           Vancouver, BC @ Pacific Coliseum
12/3/06           Seattle, WA @ Everett Events Center
12/5/06           San Jose, CA @ HP Pavilion
12/6/06           Long Beach, CA @ Long Beach Arena
12/7/06           Glendale, AZ @ Glendale Arena
12/8/06           Las Vegas, NV @ Orleans Theatre
12/9/06           San Diego, CA @ ipayOne Center

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NOVEMBER 12, 2006
One Deko's Surface Tension

Onedeko

One Deko, a home store just inside the grasp of Spitalfields Market in London, is way ahead of the curve. They have everything -- and nothing -- you need for your home. With a variety of deco and modern clocks, stainless steel kitchen items, an array of floor and hanging lamps, rugs, club chairs, sleek platform beds and more, you hardly need to hit another store. But the selection goes beyond the ordinary and into the realm of extraordinary with the Surface Tension entertainment/coffe table. With its fogged glass top and steel base, it's straight out of the '70s and looks like an original sit down Space Invaders video game, which you can play. But it also comes with a panel to control a variety of electronics, including video, internet, a wireless digital juke box, photos and more. Standing along, it's a conversation piece for the middle of your living room. At £3295 it's not cheap, but damn is it cool.

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