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Albuquerque Pop Culture

New Mexico's film industry—aka Tamalewood—is booming, and Albuquerque has been the backdrop in numerous films and TV shows in recent years. Unfortunately, most of them—"Breaking Bad" (about a meth-cooking ex-teacher), say, or "Sunshine Cleaning" (about crime-scene cleanups)—conjure a cityscape so bleak that you might consider canceling your Albuquerque vacation immediately. The city fares a lot better in Oscar-winning "Crazy Heart," in which Jeff Bridges co-stars with dramatic mountain vistas. The sound of Albuquerque is a lot more positive. El Gringo, from a town just south of Albuquerque, is a white ranch hand turned norteño singer who can belt out a Mexican-style ballad like he was born to it. Even if you don't understand the words to his corridas, you might recognize his Spanish-language versions of Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar" and other country hits. He plays bigger venues in town when he's not touring. The city also fosters serious mariachi, with Los Reyes de Albuquerque among the stars. And don't overlook Albuquerque's slow but steady indie-rock scene—The Shins formed here in 1997 before heading to Oregon a few years later. If you're driving in, be sure to have "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66" on a mix, to capture the exuberance of neon-lit road-tripping, and once you're in town, set your dial to KANW (89.1 FM), which focuses on New Mexico musicians. And on Sunday afternoons, tune in to KUNM (89.9 FM) for Singing Wire, a Native American music show. For your reading list, put Rudolfo Anaya's 1972 coming-of-age novel, "Bless Me, Ultima," in the top slot, then dip into Tony Hillerman's Lt. Joe Leaphorn detective series. They're not set in Albuquerque, but they convey the strength of Chicano and American Indian culture here.