BEST LONG-AWAITED ALBUMS On Tuesday, Fast Weapons Records released Bonnie Montgomery's self-titled full-length album debut. On Aug. 5, Partisan Records will put out Christopher Denny's "If the Roses Don't Kill Us." Both are must-buys for anyone who appreciates rock 'n' roll-flecked country and folk, sharp songwriting and distinctive voices. At different times, Denny and Montgomery have been the toast of the Little Rock music scene, talents friends tell friends about, that attract multigenerational audiences, that lead to talk of "when they will break out." Denny, a North Little Rock native with an otherworldly voice that can recall Roy Orbison, has been flirting with fame for a while. He's toured nationally, had his songs licensed by advertisers and TV shows and hung out with Rick Rubin. But he got mired in addiction and depression. More than half a decade later, he's mounted a comeback. By all indications, it's going to be a success. Early press for "If the Roses ..." has been glowing. NPR is currently previewing the album on its website. Montgomery, a Searcy native, is a classically trained composer and opera singer, whose operetta about Bill Clinton's boyhood received attention from the New Yorker and international press. But lately she's made her living on sweetly sung, timeless-sounding country-folk ditties, playing just about every venue in Central Arkansas and touring the globe opening for Gossip, the internationally beloved pop band cofounded by her high school classmate, Nathan Howdeshell, whose guitar stylings often give Montgomery's songs a nice rockabilly punch and whose Fast Weapons Records is putting out this record. If there's any justice in the world, this album will put Montgomery on a path to a wider audience. LM

BEST TIME KILLER Though there's plenty to see in the abyss of the Internet, one of my guilty pleasures in recent months has been the "Missed Connections" pages on Craigslist Little Rock, which allow those who saw somebody somewhere to shout into the electric Grand Canyon on the off-chance that the person they're talking about might respond. Never has there been assembled a greater collection of near-poetic regret, hope, remorse and lust than in that space. For example: "Cajun's 7/20/14: You were there with a group of women. Dressed very attractively. Never got a chance to get over and introduce myself. Hope you see this." That, friends, is damn near a haiku of longing, not to mention one of the widest nets ever cast for womankind. Nice try, Cajun's Guy. Nice try. DK

BEST ARKANSAS ACTIVITY TO FINALLY GET AROUND TO DOING WHEN YOU HAVE OUT-OF-TOWN GUESTS My wife has been wanting to go crystal digging ever since we moved to Arkansas, but it took a German buddy coming to visit to actually get us out on a quartz hunting mission. (German buddy: "What do you do in Arkansas?" Us: "We dig for crystals!") We took the pleasant hour-and-a-half drive to Jim Coleman Crystal Mines in Jessieville, just northeast of Lake Ouachita. So there are no surprises, let's be clear about what's involved: You go out to a big pile of red dirt that has been hauled in from the mines and dumped. You climb up the dirt and wade through the mud. You pick and hack at the dirt and the mud with crappy tools. That doesn't sound promising, but it's surprisingly addictive. Is it magical vibes from the crystals? Or just the pleasure of frequent rewards for repetitive labor? (It's kind of like playing the slot machines if you won more often, and were — sort of — in nature.) Whatever it was, I got the fever. Only our heat-exhausted German buddy could pull us away. We still cherish our best finds, clear and perfectly shaped, Earth's own knick-knacks. Next time we'll wear more appropriate shoes. DR

BEST GRAPE I've managed to convince my kid that fruit is an acceptable dessert thanks in part to grapes as sweet and delicious as Jupiter, a seedless table grape bred by the wizards at the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture Fruit and Breeding Program. "It's our most exciting grape currently," says Dr. John Clark, professor of horticulture, in a not-very-exciting YouTube video that the U of A's Agricultural Experiment Station put out last year that's still worth watching if only to see the purple delights swaying gently in the breeze. That video, and Jupiter Grapes in general, are good reminders that Arkansas is still the Wonder State. We buy our Jupiters from Cleveland's Cedar Rock Acres at the Argenta Farmers Market. Cedar Rock's Sheldon Sturtevant says he expects to have some to sell through early August. LM

BEST MEMOIR OF LITTLE ROCK IN THE '80s Acclaimed Little Rock novelist Kevin Brockmeier made his first foray into nonfiction this year with "A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade," which is precisely what it sounds like: a poignant, elaborately rendered account of Brockmeier's seventh-grade year, in 1985-86. "There's this idea that only big lives, momentous lives, are worthy of memoir," he said earlier this year in an interview with the Times, "and I remember thinking, well, maybe, but isn't every life momentous — or at least wouldn't it be if you approached it with enough care, enough perceptiveness? Take any one year of any one life, recount it with clarity and sympathy, and shouldn't it matter?" He said the book also marked his "hardest effort to capture Little Rock as it actually exists, or at least as it did back in 1985," and it succeeds on this front as well, with an evocative sense of place that can't help but trigger nostalgia in even the most jaded Arkansans. WS

BEST PLACE TO BUY A WIDGET While we're all about supporting our local hardware stores, there are times when you're in the middle of a project and you just don't have the dough to buy a $30 hammer or a $9 paddle bit for your drill, no matter how good the service. When that happens, put on your hang-dog face and head for the Little Rock outlet of Harbor Freight Tools in the shopping center with Big Lots at the corner of University and Colonel Glenn/Asher avenues. Sure, it smells like Shanghai took a polyurethane dump in there, the tools are around the quality that they give to laborers in South American prison camps, and nothing in the joint is some great heirloom you're going to lovingly cradle in a mahogany box and hand down to your grandkids, but when you have your toilet ripped out some Saturday afternoon with $12 in your pocket, and you find that you REALLY need a ratsafrackin' pipe wrench that must be no less than 19 inches long and no more than 22, it's a good name to know. Also, they've just got a lot of interesting stuff, like vibrating rock tumblers, super-long hemostats, tool boxes, crazy strong magnets, hydraulic presses, tarps, power tools (nothing you'd want to make a living with, but maybe OK for light duty), dollies and floor jacks, all of it dirt cheap. You get what you pay for, but if all you have to pay is a little, sometimes you have to go to Plan B, for Broke. DK



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