Joe Henry's 'Reverie': An in-demand producer who collects Grammy nods the way some collect stamps, Henry may be best known for the warm glow he's cast on award-winning records by Solomon Burke and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. But he deserves as much notice for his own work as a singer-songwriter. Colored by rich acoustic instrumentation and Henry's lyrical literary flourishes, this 2011 album is a great place to get to know Henry's voice.
'How It's Made': A fixture on the Science Channel, there's something strangely meditative about this program's steady diet of bustling factories churning out random ephemera, including artificial eyes, scuba gear and hockey skates. In its soothing world, manufacturing jobs have never been outsourced, everyone's hours are fair, and a perfectly assembled product rolls off the line every time. Short of the Rose Parade, this may be TV's best hangover remedy.
Van Halen, again: For all the hype about the past-its-prime return of this L.A. band, there's something very "Voodoo Lounge"-feeling about the news that Van Halen has recorded a new album. The single "Tattoo" is underwhelming, and the rest of the album's promised takes on vintage material will still be heard on tour as beer breaks between "Unchained" and "Panama." The band already reunited in 2007, so this is just a convenient excuse for another lucrative tour.
'Star Wars' in 3-D: With all due respect to "Star Wars" fanatics, is anyone truly excited about the prospect of a third-dimension return of Jar Jar Binks, a wee Anakin Skywalker and a cast of co-stars so wooden that the film could've been sponsored by a lumber yard? Barring another round of post-production effects that includes an entirely new screenplay, eye-popping visuals can compensate for only so much. (Though this technique did wonders for "Avatar.")
— Chris Barton