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Out this week: new music, classic films

Joe Gross, The Stuff

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Welcome to The Stuff, a new column surveying what's new in the world of books, music, DVDs and sometimes more. Let's get started.

Austinites who feel burned by his last local appearance yet remain fans should know that R. Kelly's "Write Me Back" (RCA) hits stores today. Whereas his 2010 album, "Love Letter," shows Kelly's chops within the framework of 1950s and '60s R&B, "Write Me Back" sets the wayback machine to the '70s, the era of Philly soul, conscious funk and the smooth, smooth sounds of Mr. Barry White.

Alternative country act Beachwood Sparks releases its first album in 11 years today with "The Tarnished Gold" (Sub Pop). Speaking of country, be aware of brilliant dobro player Jerry Douglas' new album, "Traveler" (eOne Music).

Austin band the Eastern Sea's "Plague" (WhiteLabBlackLab) is officially out, and fans of French metal that sounds a bit like Mastodon would do well to check out Gojira's "L'Enfant Sauvage" (Roadrunner).

Three veteran acts from different eras have new albums out. New Waver Joe Jackson's "The Duke" (Razor & Tie), a tribute to Duke Ellington, joins "Rooster Rag" (Rounder), Little Feat's first original album since 2003, and pop-punks the Offspring's "Days Go By" (Columbia).

A few stellar DVDs and Blu-rays out this week, including the traumatic, often brilliant noir "Bullhead" (Image), the unflinching Belgian film about cattle smuggling that blew minds at Fantastic Fest last year (and was distributed by Drafthouse Films in the United States). It also contains one of the most stomach-churning acts of violence I have ever seen on a movie screen (though no blood is involved). Consider yourself ... warned!

Criterion this week releases "The Samurai Trilogy," Hiroshi Inagaki's trio of 1954's "Musashi Miyamoto," 1955's "Duel at Ichijoji Temple" and 1956's "Duel at Ganryu Island," all of which star timeless hell-rasier Toshiro Mifune.

Also look for Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 movie "The 39 Steps," one of the master's early triumphs, from the fine people at Criterion.

This week in beach reading (assuming you don't mind a little depth to your beach reading): Janet Groth's "The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker" chronicles, well, her time at The New Yorker, where Groth was assistant to some of literary culture's true movers and shakers, including poet John Berryman (a name many hipsters know from the Hold Steady song "Stuck Between Stations"), Muriel Spark, Calvin Trillin, Renata Adler and Charles Addams.

Karen Thompson Walker's "The Age of Miracles: A Novel" is this week's literary fiction pick, a debut working in the slipstream between science fiction and literary fiction — perhaps for fans of Charles Yu, Lev Grossman and Colson Whitehead.

Shawn Francis Peters' "The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era" dives into one of the seminal nonviolent, antiwar actions of the Vietnam era.

Then there's Marissa Bennett's "Fifty Shades of Pleasure: A Bedside Companion: Sex Secrets That Hurt So Good." You probably already know if you want this book, but if you didn't, well, there it is. Will it become the best-seller everything else with the phrase "Fifty Shades" has been? Entirely possible, as long as you don't mind being seen buying it.

Then again, isn't that what Kindles are for?

Contact Joe Gross at jgross@statesman.com or 912-5926