Passing Strange

Stew, the corpulent black joker who leads the band called the Negro Problem, wouldn't seem like the most likely candidate for adapting his life story into a Broadway musical. But Passing Strange, which told the story of his youthful move from middle-class Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin -- wrestling with his racial and artistic identity all the while -- was a triumph. It even won a Tony Award (for the book, but still). Many of the elements that made Passing Strange shine in the theater are absent on the cast album; especially missed are the bulk of Colman Domingo's supporting performance and the clever casting of black performers as Nordic princesses, which gave extra resonance to questions of racial "passing." And while the Negro Problem records work better as albums, there's still plenty to enjoy about this disc: Stew's wry presence as the "Narrator" of his own life, the supple groove of the house band, or the blistering Berlin rock song "May Day." At their best, the lyrics capture both the "Superfly in the buttermilk" experience of being a black American abroad and the sometimes-pretentious but always-funny awakening of an artistic free spirit: "I am the twentieth century incarnate," sings Daniel Breaker as Youth (the stand-in for a younger Stew). "The twentieth century coming home covered in mud / And missing a shoe."

July 29: On this day in 1878 Don Marquis was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).