EW's editor-at-large finds beauty in unexpected places, like Jordan Pruitt's new teen-pop album, Patti Smith's latest release, and the snowy Gobi desert

By Ken Tucker
Updated May 02, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Jeff Christensen/AP

Music, poetry, and great white sharks!

1. Patti Smith sings Jimi Hendrix’s ”Are You Experienced?” on Twelve
(Columbia CD)
I’m a tad perplexed by the muted response to Smith’s fine new collection of a dozen of her favorite songs, including the Stones’ ”Gimme Shelter” and Nirvana’s ”Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s as though the music press and the pop-music audience has been numbed to novel ways of interpreting music in the ceaseless onslaught of American Idol blare. Just using one example: Smith sings Hendrix’s ”Are You Experienced?” with her own sense of pacing and emphasis that both diverges from Hendrix’s original version and uses that divergence to express her admiration for the late guitarist/singer/songwriter’s unique craft. In doing so, she’s created her own unique homage.

2. Jordan Pruitt tells you to get ”Over It” on No Ordinary Girl
(Hollywood Records CD)
Oh, what blasphemy, following an entry about a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a pioneering guitarist with praise for a teen idol! Oh, get — as it were — over it: Pruitt is a terrific up-and-comer, with an interesting, slightly ragged-edged voice. If you can’t appreciate the pure-pop energy of songs like ”Over It,” ”My Reality,” and ”Teenager,” you’re denying yourself some of the fundamental pleasures inspired by proudly commercial, immediately catchy music — and I bet Patti Smith would understand what I mean.

3. Planet Earth: The Complete Series, now on DVD
(BBC Video)
Has there ever been a more gorgeous television series than this BBC production that initially aired on the Discovery Channel? The DVD version’s only significant change is the original David Attenborough narration rather than the warmer, more lulling Sigourney Weaver voiceover for its U.S. broadcast. You may end up spending more hours than you’d planned, gazing: in wonderment at the wintered Gobi Desert, blanketed in snow; in tense amazement at great white sharks hunting seals; in the almost abstract delight the cameras take in showcasing waterfalls, lakes, and oceans. So many ”nature documentaries” can be treacly and pandering; this one is all the more beautiful for its tough-mindedness.

4. It’s National Poetry Month, So Read? Carl Dennis’ Unknown Friends
Well, Poetry Month ends April 30, but let’s carry it into May and all the other months, shall we? Dennis is the rare contemporary poet who can write about personal and public themes — from faith to global warming — without being ponderous or embarrassingly confessional. Whether writing with startling bluntness about an unwanted neighbor in ”Unsent Letter From the Owner of 51 Summer Street,” or with a delicate forthrightness about beloved relative in ”Unfading Pages” (”Whatever good my aunt did, she did for the sake / Of the good itself, not for a heavenly payoff…”), Dennis’ honest lines are bracing, even inspiring.

5. Consider the ideas in A Brief History of Disbelief
(PBS, check local listings)
Host/writer Jonathan Miller explores ”the history of faith and doubt” and the ”penalties, dangers, and risks of atheism.” Miller’s calm reasonableness and sense of cultural history (exploring much of the same territory as Richard Dawkins’ recent science-rooted bestseller, The God Delusion, and the more strident argument of Christopher Hitchens’ forthcoming atheist manifesto) articulates ideas rarely heard in mass media these days.