Need gift inspiration? Try Baltimore arts scene

Across the nation, consumers snapped up TVs, toys and other mass-produced goodies last week, as the holiday shopping season expanded into "Black Thursday" (aka Thanksgiving).

But closer to home, authors, artists and musicians have been toiling over works that, given as gifts, are more apt to say, "Baltimore pride" than "Doorbuster special!"

In the spirit of local enterprise, we've rounded up locally themed gift ideas that sample the offerings this year from Baltimore's arts and culture scene.


A bewitching tale from Newbery winner Laura Amy Schlitz. A posthumous compilation of Lucille Clifton's poems. A soon-to-be released Thurgood Marshall biography from University of Baltimore law professor Larry S. Gibson. Baltimore's literary scene has been humming this year with poetry, biography and children's books — along with notable novels and general nonfiction.

'Baltimore Sounds,' Joe Vaccarino

Local musician and general music lover Vaccarino released the first edition of his well-received nostalgia trip back in 1994. This year's second edition gives an update of Baltimore's ever-expanding — and influential — music scene, covering a period through 2000 and doubling the size of the first edition. It's an important time capsule of the collective tunes in Baltimoreans' heads. List price: $30.

'And When She Was Good,' Laura Lippman

The ever-reliable Baltimore author's latest acclaimed work is a twisty tale featuring a single mom and escort business owner who's also caught up with a drug dealer. You can relate. List price: $26.99.

'Big Ray,' Michael Kimball

The Baltimore resident has gathered a devoted following, thanks to his excellent novels "Us" and "Dear Everybody." The emotional and yet funny "Big Ray," about a son dealing with the death of his pretty darn awful father, was an Oprah Winfrey book of the week. List price $23.

'Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing,' Rob Kasper

It's not all Boh. Kasper (a former Baltimore Sun reporter and columnist) drinks in the city's brew history, from old-school craft brewers to ... well, new-school craft brewers. Bonus: recipes! List price: $19.99.

'Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America,' Heather Kim Lanier

OK, so it's not the most holiday-ish gift. But Lanier's work is engrossing, chronicling her time at Southwestern High School from 2000 to 2002. If you haven't guessed from the title, it was a little tough. List price: $19.95.

Jordan Bartel

Classical music

Despite innumerable death notices, the classical recording industry is still very much alive, if not necessarily kicking. That means there are lots of products worth considering for the classically inclined folks on your holiday shopping list.

Among this year's recordings are several featuring artists from our own classical community, so your gifts can come with a support-local cachet.

Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor. (Naxos)

The BSO's first commercial Mahler recording holds up firmly in a crowded field. Marin Alsop's straightforward, sensitive conducting is especially effective at bringing out the primordial mystery at the start of the symphony, the nostalgic charm in the middle of the scherzo and the blazing emotion of the finale. The CD, recorded at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, captures vividly charged playing by the orchestra.

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor. (Naxos)

This release also covers much-recorded repertoire and also finds Alsop and the BSO making an admirable showing. They are on the same taut wavelength in the Concerto for Orchestra, which emerges with lots of rhythmic snap and finely detailed coloring. The performance of the intricately layered Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is even more impressive.

Chaconne: A Baroque Recital. Manuel Barrueco, guitar. (Tonar)

Manuel Barrueco, who teaches at the Peabody Institute, has long been recognized as one of the world's finest classical guitarists. On this just-released CD from the Baltimore-based Tonar label, he performs his own transcriptions of pieces by Bach, Scarlatti and Weiss. Barrueco's refined technique and richly expressive phrasing generate particularly eloquent results in Bach's profound D minor Chaconne.

Jonathan Leshnoff: Chamber Music. (Naxos)

With commissions from the likes of the BSO and Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore-based composer and Towson University faculty member Jonathan Leshnoff has steadily made a name for himself. This release is devoted to vividly communicative chamber works from the past decade, including the percussion piece "… without a chance," Leshnoff's haunting response to 9/11. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for the CD.)

Works of Larry Hoffman. (DBK)

Baltimore composer and former Peabody faculty member Larry Hoffman started out self-taught, playing folk, blues and bluegrass on the guitar in the 1960s. Those roots can be keenly felt throughout this colorful album of pieces, especially in String Quartet No. 1, subtitled "The Blues," a big, juicy score with a kinetic beat performed by the Atlantic String Quartet (made up of current and former BSO members).

Gretry: Le Magnifique. Opera Lafayette; Ryan Brown, conductor. (Naxos)

The Washington-based Opera Lafayette has emerged as a major force in the early music movement, which its latest recording, made at the University of Maryland, reconfirms. Ryan Brown leads a lively cast and polished orchestra of period instruments in a charming rarity from 1773 by the prolific Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry. The plot of this genteel comedy involves freed captives, a horse, a rose and, of course, love. The music sparkles.

Tim Smith

Visual art

Baltimore is bursting at the seams with a growing number of arts centers, studios and communities, so gift givers can find options for all styles and price points. Such a large selection can make the search overwhelming. Get started with some local artists who create inspiring (and rather inexpensive) work.

'Untitled,' screen-printed monoprints by Jordan Bernier

Bernier's bold graphic prints are based on traditional quilting patterns and will smarten up any room. Each detailed abstraction is one of a kind, because the artist combines screen printing with monoprinting, to create highly ordered hierarchies of color. $180 each, 30 by 22 inches, unframed. Nudashank Gallery. 405 W. Franklin St., 3rd Floor. 443-415-2139 or Artist site:

'Atrayente' (Attractive), collage on paper by Emily C-D

This artist is the consummate recycler — she collects images and objects in her travels from Baltimore to Mexico, and transforms them into memorable pieces. In her recent exhibition at Loyola University Maryland, C-D exhibited huge three-dimensional assemblages and tiny paper collages, like this one. $280, 19 by 24 inches, unframed. For purchasing, contact the artist directly at Artist site:

'Amitabha,' gouache painting on paper by Jack Livingston

This painting is warm and lively, with yellow and orange emanating from a mysterious blue core. Although it is abstract, this energetic work references cellular structures and cosmic energy. $200, unframed, 15 by 11 inches. Works available at Fleckenstein Gallery, 3316 Keswick Road, Hampden. 410-366-3669 or

'Talking Head 1,' giclee print on canvas by Vin Grabill

This digital composition at LUX, the new exhibit at Maryland Art Place, is a head-turner. In this optical illusion, geometric shapes advance and recede in competing ribbons of warm and cool shades. $500. 24 by 36 inches. Available at Maryland Art Place through Dec. 15. 8 Market Place, Suite 100, Power Plant Live, Downtown. 410-962-8565 or Artist site:

'White Rabbit I and II,' paintings on mylar by Rene Trevino

Although they appear to be printed, Trevino's bunnies, on graphic pink and red wallpaper, were meticulously hand-painted. These attractive images, which sport twinkling rhinestones, could work well singly, but a pair would be ideal. $700 each. 8 by 10 inches. Available through the C. Grimaldis Gallery. 523 N. Charles St., Baltimore.
410-539-1080 or Artist site:

— Cara Ober

Pop music

For years, the hype and accolades surrounding Baltimore's burgeoning music scene have piled on, and yet there are music fans who've somehow resisted the temptation to dive in. It's time to remedy that. We've rounded up five records released this year (available at the Sound Garden, Atomic Books or online) and a burn-it-yourself rap mix (most can be found free on mixtape websites such as or that should serve as a proper entry point to one of the city's fascinating communities:

Dan Deacon, "America" (Domino)

The earnest and weirdly brilliant electronic composer/singer released his most focused project to date back in August. The song "True Thrush" is his greatest pop effort.

Beach House, "Bloom" (Sub Pop)

The dreamy duo doubled down on the lush, atmospheric indie-rock that had become their calling card, and the result was this achingly gorgeous 10-track record.

Sick Weapons, "Birthday Gift" (McCarthyism/Reptilian)

Bratty and bitingly funny, this punk record allows its charismatic frontwoman (Ellie Beziat) to skewer celebrity TV hosts ("Anthony Bourdain's Earring") and herself ("I've Got Mental Illness").

Flock of Dimes, "Curtain" b/w "Apparition (Merge)

Wye Oak didn't bring out a new record this year, but singer Jenn Wasner's solo act sounds just as promising.

Dope Body, "Natural History" (Drag City)

To fully appreciate this Baltimore noise quartet's grimy and sludgy appeal, you should attend a live show. But this album from May makes an excellent (and far less sweaty) introduction.

Build-your-own Baltimore rap mixtape

1. Los, "Stroke of Genius" (from "The Crown Ain't Safe")

2. Caddy Da Don, "Countin' Up (from "Cut the Check")

3. ASAP Ant, "The Way It Go" (from "Lords Never Worry")

4. Rickie Jacobs, "Hey America" (from "Live Epic")

5. Greenspan, "Gourmet" (from "Collected")

6. Mullyman, "Take Da Hood (feat. Fat Trel)" (from "Fan Mail")

7. Rome Cee, "Black Ring" (from "Grey Area")

8. Bossman, "Hangover" (from "Swagg Killers")

9. Rye Rye, "Back It Up (from "Ryeot Powrr")

10. DDm, "Chinchilla"

— Wesley Case

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