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

Jason Castro, Target Center. His covering Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" at the "American Idols Live" concert was hip, modern, unexpected and so un-"Idol." It's no wonder they didn't get him on that show.

Jace Everett, "I Wanna Do Bad Things With You." This creepy and cool song is the theme for HBO's new "True Blood." It's so fabulous and artfully conceived that it makes me wonder why theme songs aren't a category at the Emmys.

Handel's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Ordway. This one took me by surprise because this sort of music just doesn't stir my soul. Tenor soloist Joseph Gaines was such an exuberant performer you couldn't help but smile. He looked pretty hip, too -- more Michael Stipe than old-school orchestral.


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Nas, First Avenue. While this show wasn't as riveting and dramatic as last year's at the Myth, one thing stood out. When Nas spotted two bargoers shoving each other in front of the stage, he stopped rapping, called out the dudes and made them shake hands before he would continue. Smart move.

Country Music Association's "best new artist." After years of confusingly calling it the Horizon Award, the CMA has renamed the prize for what it is -- best new artist. Oddly, though, this year's nominees include Jason Aldean, Rodney Atkins and Kellie Pickler, all finalists for the Horizon last year.

Nils Lofgren, "The Loner: Nils Sings Neil." A former sideman to Neil Young, the current Springsteen sideman does stripped-down versions of 15 Young songs, which emphasizes something often overlooked in the roar of guitars -- how beautifully crafted his tunes are.