Head Butler: Corinne Bailey Rae, Carlo Ponti

Cultural concierge Jesse Kornbluth recommends British pop sensation Corinne Bailey Rae's music, and takes a moment to remember legendary Italian film producer Carlo Ponti.

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Our cultural advisor, Jesse Kornbluth, prides himself on introducing us to the lesser known pleasures of the world of music, literature and film. But today, Jesse, you bring us a pop singer who's been nominated for three Grammy awards. Going soft on us?

Mr. JESSE KORNBLUTH (Headbutler.com): And I'm embarrassed. This is the sort of thing, however, that I really like to do because several of my readers write me and tell me I'm a snob. And then here I've now discovered something that's like in the top ten, that people like, that's in Starbucks. And it just shows that I am, in fact, not just on the side of the people, but a man of the people.

ELLIOTT: So who is this that's gotten your attention?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, and of course, I backed into it. I didn't find out in a usual way. I was watching this fantastic film called "Venus" with Peter O'Toole and Vanessa Redgrave about aging actors in London. I mean a film you must, must, must see. So halfway through, Peter O'Toole is in the limo with this young model, and of course it's an opportunity for a song. And there's this song that comes on and it's got a nice lilt and then there's a bit more thrust and suddenly I'm thinking, wow, Norah Jones, she can rock. But it's not Norah Jones, it's Corinne Bailey Rae. I go off to Amazon thinking, wow, my big discovery, and I find out my big discovery's got all these nominations. She's won everything in England and she's number 15 on Amazon.

ELLIOTT: Corinne Bailey Rae.

(Soundbite of song "Put Your Records On")

Ms. CORINNE BAILEY RAE (Singer): (Singing) Maybe sometimes, we've got it wrong, but it's all right. The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. Oh, don't you hesitate.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: What gets your attention is first that it's a very sweet voice. I don't want to say vanilla, I just want to say non-threatening. And the second thing is, the lyrics of the song are really kind at a time when everything is harsh and it's the middle of winter. Here's a woman who says, put your records on, tell me your favorite song. Go ahead, let your hair down. You're going to find yourself somewhere, somehow. And you know, all you want in life is to take a philosophy from a pop song. You know, to have your life so simple that, you know, put on the music and there you are. And so you get this kind of instant happiness. She closes the circle for you. She does it -

ELLIOTT: I think you are going soft on us, Jesse.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, I'm going soft, but you know, every love, every first love, every infatuation has a half life, so the question is, Debbie, in a few months, will I listen to this and think, oh, what could I have possibly been thinking? But actually, I think not. I think for at least the one song, "Put Your Records On," it will become one of those pop classics that will make us feel good and remember this moment, you know, whenever.

(Soundbite of song "Put Your Records On")

Ms. RAE: (Singing) Don't you think it's strange? Girl, put your records on, tell me your favorite song. You go ahead, let your hair down. Sapphire and faded jeans, I hope you get your dreams. Just go ahead, let your hair down.

ELLIOTT: Okay, so Jesse, tell me why she's standing out to you more than every other pop singer we've been hearing over the past few years?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, actually, she's a little bit better. She actually plays the instruments. She writes or co-writes the songs. She comes from a tradition of singing in church. She's actually got the chops to do this. Most of these other singers are just, you know, creations of some marketing department and they're there because they look good or somebody took a shine to them. This woman was a hatcheck girl in a jazz club who got to sing, you know, after the club was closed. And then, you know, fought her way onto the bill. She's actually for, you know, a kid, she's paid her dues. And she's, you know, she's at least the real fake thing. She's a genuine zircon.

ELLIOTT: Jesse, before I let you go today, I have to ask you about Carlo Ponti, the Italian producer who died this past week.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, this is a greatly misunderstood man, because he had the misfortune, if that's what it is, of falling in love with Sophia Loren when she was about 16 years old. And in America for a film producer to do that sort of thing suggests that he's the sort of guy with a cigar and a big car and not much taste. This was an amazingly tasteful producer. He was one of the godfathers with Dino De Laurentis of Italian neo-realism. He produced 150 movies, and of those many are classics. He worked with Fellini, Antonioni, Godard, DeSica. His love was for greatness, rather than for money. And he represents really the pinnacle of what Italian filmmaking could make. It's an actual loss. It's an actual life to be celebrated.

ELLIOTT: And he and Sophia Loren ended up staying together, even though what started was an illicit affair. They had a long-term relationship. Were they married?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: They were secretly married. It was so complicated, at one point lawyers pretended to be them and got married in Mexico, standing in for them. I mean it's a classic story with lots of complications and one enduring love that lasted for 50 years.

ELLIOTT: Jesse Kornbluth, our head butler. You can find his suggestions for movies, books and music at headbutler.com. Thanks, Jesse.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Thank you, Debbie.

(Soundbite of theme to "Doctor Zhivago")

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