Skip the Yule Log: See/Hear/Read This

With most music labels closed for the holiday and many music executives busy sipping pina coladas on the beach, this is a slow week for mainstream releases. Hip-hop star David Banner doesn't care, though, and after pimping his acting career in "Hustle 'n Flow" and "Black Snake Moan," he's not so humbly returning to music with "The Greatest Story Ever Told." The album showcases an all-star team of crunk and hip-hop elite -- Snoop Dogg, Akon and Lil Wayne drop rhymes on the single "9mm," and Chris Brown, Yung Joc and Jim Jones help out on "Get Like Me." Buoyed by the heavyweight cast and building from his 2005 raunchy hit single "Play," Banner will likely have even more to brag about in 2008. Just don't expect it to be PG-13 rated.

Free from the burden of a major label deal, Radiohead continues its innovative approach to releasing music. The band recently removed its independently produced album "In Rainbows" from its site, where fans could name their own price for the download. This week, audiophiles and CD-nostalgic fans can finally get the high quality, physical disc version without shelling out $80 for the mail-order deluxe version (which consists of the album, a bonus CD, two vinyl LPs and artwork in a special package). Who needs the fancy box anyway?

Though many can't wait for Woody Allen's U.K.-based films to naff off -- and his most recent offering, "Cassandra's Dream," may make you cringe as much as "Scoop" did -- the soundtrack is worth a listen. And Allen, a jazz and classical music aficionado, knows it. Scored by Academy Award-nominated New York composer Philip Glass ("Notes on a Scandal"), this is the first soundtrack Allen has released in stereo (most of his soundtracks are in mono or Dolby). The ominous, classical string music is haunting and beautiful -- it's arguably the best part of the movie. Too bad it can't make up for Colin Farrell's performance.

Books

Romantic thriller writer Kay Hooper returns to bookshelves this week with "Blood Dreams," the newest addition to her "Bishop" special crimes unit series. The New York Times best-selling author's new book marks the beginning of her first true trilogy. This time around, the daughter of a powerful U.S. senator has been killed, and the only group able to solve the case is a fledgling civilian organization of unorthodox crime stoppers. It's no Dan Brown novel, but it will suffice to help CSI junkies get their fix of crime stories during the writer's strike.

The most controversial release of the season is Mark Bowen's "Censoring Science." The book is an exploration of NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen's unfruitful attempts to warn the public about the dangers of global warming. It's most compelling, though, in its damning expose of the U.S. government's resistance to meaningful, environmental policy change -- and its illogical commitment to muzzling one of the nation's brightest scientists. Global warming and politics aren't traditionally sexy topics, but this book's scandal-filled pages make this expose a real page-turner.

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