Many bands are content with learning the chords and melody of one of their favorite songs, then getting up on stage and pumping it out. The so-called faithful cover song is often a cop-out or just plain filler — but not in the hands of JT Nolan of the Lovely and Talented. He decided to put a hot-jazz spin on his nearly unrecognizable rendition of the Pixies' "Subbacultcha." It's such a radical reinterpretation, Nolan even gives himself co-songwriting credit with the Pixies' Frank Blank on the liner notes of the Lovely and Talented's latest disc, The New American Fable. That takes some chutzpah — but one listen to Nolan's version is enough to make you realize he's earned it.

Charlie Brown's Bar & Grill
Mark Antonation

Good karaoke bars need several things: cheap booze, a thick songbook, a DJ capable of inflating your ego, a no-cuts-no-butts-no-coconuts method of choosing singers and, perhaps most important, a loyal following of wannabe Axl Roses who will sing along to the lyrics of almost anything and cheer you on while you do the Vanilla Ice dance during instrumental breaks. Charlie Brown's has all this and more. The cheap booze flows from morning until night, and you can keep your pipes primed during the five-times-a-week piano sing-along. That way, when the karaoke starts at 9:30 p.m. on Sundays, you'll be ready to join in with the rest of the appreciative audience, encouraging every intoxicated rendition of "Ice Ice Baby." Word to your mother.

Meadowlark

When guitarist Cole Rudy started his every-other-Monday Jazz Expo nights at the Meadowlark, he was looking to re-create the backyard jams he'd enjoyed with his music-school friends. Some of those friends are now part of a rotating cast that includes gypsy-jazz guitarist M'hamed El Menjra, trumpeter Gabe Mervine and alto saxophonist Matt Pitts. Whether they're burning through standards or collectively improvising, these Jazz Expo musicians make some of the most exciting music you'll find in town — especially on a Monday night.

Yes, there was a man on stage in Calamity _ a musician supposedly hired by Calamity Jane for the crazed, disorganized Wild West show with which she attempted to eke out a living later in life — but he served primarily as a foil for the drunken, obscenity-spewing, self-pitying, self-destructive creature Jane had become. This was essentially a one-woman show, and Ethelyn Friend was unstoppable in the role of Calamity: singing, staggering, insulting her musician and the audience, cradling her bottle, and filling the small theater with gust after gust of insane energy.

The Thin Man
Danielle Lirette

The tiny, intimate Ubisububi Room, in the basement of the Thin Man, has quietly become home to the best free film series in town. Curated by Gio and Carmela Toninelo, the Ubisububi has turned Wednesday nights into a chance to see programs featuring everything from sci-fi classics to indie romances, frequently with a seasonal twist (expect to see horror movies come Halloween). The siblings' deep appreciation of cinema and eclectic tastes keep the selections fresh and engaging, balancing must-see favorites with more left-field fare. And since the series is free, you can spend those last few dollars in your wallet at the bar upstairs, which is bound to help your enjoyment of any movie.

University of Colorado at Denver

Residents of the Denver Women's Correctional Facility have a lot of time to think — and they show that they've put that time to very good use in Captured Words, a collection of poems, stories and essays that they wrote in the fall of 2009, when a group from the University of Colorado Denver visited the facility every week to work with the women. As Erika Baro wrote: "The skies are dark and gray/The rain won't stop falling/The lightning throbs and screams/Looking at the turmoil in my soul/I realize I'm not the only one/Who feels this way/The world also hurts/It just broke before I did."

San Francisco artist Rex Ray, who used to live in Colorado, has become a hot property over the past few years. Fortunately, Denver is one of the spots where his remarkable signature style is regularly highlighted. Ray's work riffs on mid-century modern, using organic shapes in cut paper arranged in the manner of abstract landscapes. For most of 2009, a Ray mural hung in the Promenade Space at MCA Denver, surrounded by wallpaper that he also designed. Both elements were created specifically for this show, a solo tour de force curated by former MCA director Cydney Payton, who returned to the museum to do it.

New York artist Barnaby Furnas, who's achieved international fame over the past ten years, made his local debut this year at MCA Denver in a show put together by new director Adam Lerner. Handsomely ensconced in the Large Works Gallery, Barnaby Furnas: Floods included a handful of the artist's remarkable — and sometime huge — acrylic paintings. Furnas considers himself a narrative painter in the tradition of the great European landscape artists, and if you squinted a little, you could almost see what he means — but these works clearly place him among the heirs to abstract expressionism, with his technique of pouring paint and his embrace of spontaneity and accidents, à la Jackson Pollock. Good show!

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Foothills Art Center typically presents group shows, but last summer the entire place — even the Carol and Don Dickinson Sculpture Garden — was given over to a fabulous solo that delved into the abstract and conceptual sculptures and installations of the legendary Charles Parson. The pieces outside were a trio of gongs in the form of hieratically composed tubular metal spires, while inside there were some surprisingly realistic landscape drawings, along with a facsimile of the artist's studio. The exhibit culminated with a group of interactive gazebos — some with audio components — that viewers were meant to walk through. It was a stunning departure for the Golden facility, and one of the best shows Foothills has ever presented.

Leonard Barrett is a jazz singer, which meant he brought new shadings to the familiar songs of Man of La Mancha, an old warhorse of a musical, soaring on the title song and giving "The Impossible Dream" just enough originality to make it unsentimental and fresh. Barely recognizable as Don Quixote in his thick, old-man makeup, yet masterful, powerful and tender, Barrett immersed himself completely in the role, dominating the stage whenever he was on it.

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