Top Picks: 'Downton Abbey,' Buffalo Tom, 'Secret Service Files,' and more
A television series on dysfunctional British aristocrats, an alternative rock band, a behind the scenes look at the Secret Service, and more recommendations.
Lori McKenna is a singer/songwriter from Massachusetts whose life story is played out in intimate and starkly honest songs on her new CD, "Lorraine." A mother of five who married her high school sweetheart, McKenna mines the small but defining moments of a long marriage, motherhood, and life's trials and triumphs with uncommon grace and depth. Her lyrics on songs like the title track and the nostalgic "Buy This Town" will coax tears of recognition and tug at your heart.
A young string star
"Virtuoso" is the second album of Ray Chen, a young violinist who was the winner of the Queen Elizabeth competition in 2009 and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in 2008. This elegant collection of his favorite solos with spare piano accompaniment includes works by Bach, Franck, Tartini, and Wieniawski.
If you missed PBS's newest "Masterpiece Classic" series, "Downton Abbey," not to worry. The critically acclaimed four-part series (with Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery, pictured) ended its first season with a humdinger of a cliffhanger on Jan. 30, but episodes are available online (pbs.org) until Feb. 22. Season 1 is also available on DVD. It's like "Upstairs, Downstairs" on steroids, featuring a deliciously loathsome Maggie Smith as the meddling matriarch of a magnificently dysfunctional English family losing its grip on privilege.
A herd worth hearing
Showing its "Skins" (Scrawny Records) and a whole lot of alternative rock mettle, Buffalo Tom returns with its ninth album. "Don't Forget Me" is a notable track rendered sweet by the sound of Sean Staples on mandolin and vocals by Tanya Donnelly. Listeners will detect the best aspects of 1990s powerhouses Pearl Jam and Third Eye Blind as well as relative newcomer Mumford and Sons.
A tiger's tale
"Broken Tail: The Last Days of a Wild Tiger" is a somber assessment of the future of the Bengal tiger in India. Airing on PBS on Feb. 20 at 8 p.m., the show tracks the final journey of a particular tiger who strayed from a preserve and was struck by a train. This investigation helped create new understanding of a tiger's vital needs and helped rewrite the rules governing nature preserves for these large cats.
the secrets they see
National Geographic Channel takes us behind the scenes of an unexpectedly diverse agency in "Secret Service Files," a two-night, four-hour event on Feb. 20 and 21. It is a revealing look at the lesser-known functions of the Secret Service, which was created after the Civil War to battle the rising tide of counterfeit money in the US. Today, these critical yet largely hidden duties range from digital terrorism to credit-card fraud to guarding the president.