In an earlier incarnation, this column didn't have much of a sense of humor. Every Friday, I'd call up a publisher and nod off as he/she spouted about how his/her title was working to better resonate with younger readers--to become, in essence, the Maxim of shopping/gardening/home décor/home computing/shuffleboard. It caught me quite unawares, then, when one of the fine folks at Harp suggested that maybe youth wasn't the end-all for magazine publishing, that maybe folks in their 30s and 40s have a few more dimes to drop on music- and entertainment-related effluvia. I know, I know--dontcha just hate it when other people make sense?

Since that conversation, I've read the mag regularly, owing in part to its literate, witty presentation and in part to indulge my status as a beyond-hope music dork. If you're anything like me--and I pray for your own sake that you're not--you often find yourself force-feeding below-the-radar songwriters like Freedy Johnston to your acquaintances and snorting derisively, as if an involuntary reflex, whenever somebody unites the words "Dave," "Matthews" and "Band." You are, in short, a musical imperialist--and the reason why Harp is the best pure music-and-music-only title out there is that it appeals to sad cases like you and me as well as to considerably less psychotic corners of the listening universe.

The November issue highlights just about all of what Harp does so well. There's a feature or two on bands who are poised to make the so-called next step (My Morning Jacket), a glut of quick-hit mini-profiles (Nada Surf's return from One-Hit-Wonderland), revisionist takes on lesser-known older acts (Detroit noisemongers Black Merda) and gazillions of reviews. The mag also offers the requisite artist playlists and Q&As (Sinéad O'Connor, among others).

What distinguishes Harp is the way it makes most of those aforementioned music-mag staples feel fresh. Too, the title ups the ante a bit by offering sporadic jabs of humor, such as predictions for the proposed Jann Wenner reality show (the mag posits challenges like "how to cover the music of Fred Durst, P. Diddy, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan with a straight face") and a look at the "(Not-So) Great Moments in Rock," including ABC's Battle of the Alt. Rock Stars ("Ani DiFranco defeated Liz Phair handily in ping-pong"). Whether or not a nod to the late, great Creem, these bits serve as a refreshing counterbalance to today's thy-music-shall-be-taken-SERIOUSLY rock journalism.

It doesn't hurt that Harp employs writers who dodge commonplace angles and know their way around a word processor. For an example, check out the "Screentime" feature on "Walk the Line," an upcoming Johnny Cash biopic. Rather than the expected gosh-can-Reese-Witherspoon-sing-and-if-so-is-she-still-married? story soon to flood Sunday newspapers, Harp explores how director James Mangold went out of his way to avoid merely rehashing any number of Cash myths. The reviews also sing, replete with subtly descriptive nuggets like "Elizondo's touch leaves the space around her brooding croon more open and better brings to life the personal drama of her words." Them's good music criticism.

The November issue's flaws aren't especially egregious. Anytime a headline poses a question like "America's Greatest Living Rock Band?", my hyperbole detector starts to click as if a Trump publicist has wandered into the room. Too, the mag seems a bit eager to crush on comely gals-with-guitars acts like, um, The Like. Plus there's not enough Springsteen--of course, for my money, there's not enough Springsteen in the November editions of Real Simple or American Baby, either.

But back to Harp. Simply put, it contains every element, especially passion and intellect, that magazine muckety-mucks have been hyping as industry selling points for the last 18 months. If you're an adult with a scintilla of musical taste, it deserves a spot in heavy rotation.

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