A half-dozen cool things in music, from two points of view:

Great Big Sea, "XX." Newfoundland's favorite sons have produced a wonderfully eclectic mix of catchy sea shanties, pop songs and ballads over the past 20 years. Along with two greatest hits discs, this retrospective (out Oct. 30) also will feature six new tunes.

"X Factor." The MTV faux-documentary style introduced this season adds more behind-the-scenes drama. New judge Demi Lovato brings youthful energy and empathy, but Britney Spears' "real" personality suffers without the benefit of Auto-Tune. The X factors are how the dynamics play out after teams are formed and whether hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian will click.

Norah Jones, Orpheum. The immensely talented singer/songwriter gave the audience what it wanted when performing covers and her own hits. The encores, featuring all five band members huddled around a retro mic, were the highlights, not the atmospheric tunes from her new CD, "Little Broken Hearts."


Dark Star Orchestra, San Francisco. Went to see a Grateful Dead cover band with the Dead's publicist at the landmark Fillmore. Talk about your ultimate San Francisco experience in 2012.

Bettye LaVette, San Francisco. At Yoshi's jazz mecca, the heart-wrenching R&B singer delved into material from her potent new album, "Thankful n Thoughtful." She did two Neil Young numbers back to back and a soul-searching reading of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," the night's high point.

"Rock 'n' Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip" by Robert Landau. They are part of music-biz history, those hand-painted Hollywood billboards touting the latest albums and concerts. Landau captures more than 100 from the Beatles' "Abbey Road" (with a headless Paul McCartney) to Lady Gaga's Monster Ball Tour, with commentary by everyone from photographer Norman Seeff to Hollywood-raised teen star Shaun Cassidy. What cool ephemera.