5/31/2011 2:10:28 PM
Minneapolis and St. Paul, despite their cold climates and reputation for Minnesota Nice, is the home of a large and influential hip-hop music scene. Since 2008, a year’s worth of local hip hop culture culminates in Soundset, a day-long festival organized by record label Rhymesayers Entertainment that exposes underground acts and brings superstars to the Twin Cities. Droves of stoned 14-year-old suburbanites (sporting squinty eyes, hooded sweatshirts, and braces), skateboarders, hip-hopsters (sporting flat-billed caps and overpriced beers), graffiti writers, photographers (sporting press passes and caffeine pills), car enthusiasts, and aspiring artists (sporting demos and new shoes) pack the festival. The Soundset 2011 lineup in particular was a lush cross-section of the genre and the community, truly a “state of the art” festival.
No matter what type of hip hop you enjoy—from glitzy East Coast to dirty South to ultra-chill tropicalia—there’s a little something for everyone at Soundset. The West Coast duo Zion I & the Grouch interwove themes of healing and heroics between threads of reggaeton flow and dubsteppy beats. Looptroop Rockers came all the way from Sweden for Soundset (imagine the Beastie Boys with Viking beards) and, more than any other artist at the festival, critiqued geopolitics—especially northern European conservatism. 2Mex, an L.A.-based emcee, managed to twist Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So” into blistering break-up confessional. Budo & Grieves rocked an actual bass guitar and an actual vintage synthesizer (surprisingly rare for a hip-hop festival, apparently), lending old-timey grooves to the young duo’s clever rhymes. Up-and-coming Minneapolis rapper MaLLy spat playful intellectualism at lightspeed, whereas Southern rapper Curren$y and his Jets crew spouted home-cooked swagger. Old-school hip-hop crews Dilated Peoples and De La Soul played classics from their 20-year back catalogs. And of course, who could forget the really big names: Doomtree, Brother Ali, Outkast member Big Boi, and Atmosphere.
(Check out photography from the entire concert at the
Rhymesayers Flickr stream
Perhaps the best example of the festival’s variety was embodied by Slaughterhouse, a supergroup with members who cut their teeth in Detroit, Brooklyn, Long Beach, and Jersey City. The group took some time out of their machine-gunning, bass-bombing set (they’re called Slaughterhouse for a reason) to pay homage to the music scenes that spawned them—their DJ spun subgenre-defining cuts from Naughty by Nature, Eminem, and the late Nate Dogg.
Soundset 2011 was among other things a memorial; more than a few of hip hop’s big names and influences have died over the past year. In March, Nate Dogg lost a long battle with strokes and heart complications. Less than a week ago Gil-Scott Heron, the spoken-word poet who brought us “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” died, which may be due in part to an HIV infection. Every tenth person, it seemed, was sporting an “R.EYE.P” t-shirt honoring Minneapolis rawk-sympathetic rapper Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen, who died last October. It was strange watching Larsen’s former cohort DJ Abilities spin alone. The day’s overcast skies seemed fitting.
My favorite performance of the festival came from a veteran of underground hip-hop: Blueprint. Artistry and legitimacy are the biggest concerns on Blueprint’s recent release, Adventures in Counter-Culture, where the rapper explores what he sees as the stagnation and celebritization of hip-hop. The Ohio-based emcee expresses his sentiments best on “Radio-Inactive,” a relentless, sci-fi-beat laden jam from the new album:
I made this in my basement, when you wasn’t even there
To express my feelings, not to be played on the air
So am I wrong or secure if I really don’t care
If this ever turns into something that anybody hears
Man I’m an artist, these other dudes shook
I write my album on my sidekick, no paper, no notebooks
Then rhyme for five minutes straight with no breaks and no hooksNo punch-lines, no similes, so I’m easy to overlook
Most of the artists at Soundset closed their performances with bangers, hits or golden oldies with teeth-rattling bass and memorable hooks. But not Blueprint. He closed his set with the sung track “So Alive,” a short hopeful piece about the bittersweetness of life.
Image courtesy of Rhymesayers Entertainment.
5/24/2011 1:03:51 PM
You may have heard: It’s Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. For many people out there this seems to be a tough milestone to grasp, leaving them incapable of figuring out just what it means for our life and times. Or, as Michael Hogan puts it at Vanity Fair, “Seventy isn’t that old anymore. So why is it that Bob Dylan, who reaches that milestone on May 24, seems so positively ancient—a feature of the cultural landscape itself, whose age should be calculated in geological eons, not anything so ephemeral as months and years?” It’s like when my mom read Chronicles: Volume One—she said it made Dylan, a hero of hers, mortal. And sometimes, she said, you don’t want your heroes to be human. I suppose each watershed birthday for the hero-who-never-wanted-to-be-a-hero (if you believe what he says) rings that same note: The man is human, he ages, and will eventually—just like all of us—age no more. Maybe that’s why 70 is a hard pill to swallow. It reminds us that the youthful “voice of a generation” will return to dust. And yet, Dylan today continues what often seems like a never ending tour.
Enough of all that. It’s a birthday, after all. Here’s a look around the web to see how folks are celebrating the man at 70.
Buzz Poole, writing for The Millions, tries to tackle the mythical lore and impact of Dylan and his work:
Dylan, like [William Carlos] Williams, [Walt] Whitman, and others of their poetic, patriotic ilk, sucks the marrow from America, gnaws on its bones and slurps – not so much concerned with decorum but getting the flavors – the grease stains on his sleeves, the gristle stuck in his teeth, evidence of the contact. These flavors he tastes are not always the same or always enjoyable, but they spring from deep-running sources, some of which are polluted or diverted, but their purity remains unquestionable. Unlike the aforementioned men of letters whose legacies have grown mythical after their deaths, Dylan has lived side-by-side with his own lore, equal parts his creation and the creation of others.
Imagine living a life where people think you did change the world, or that you have the power to change the world.
That last part might get to the point of Dylan better than anything I’ve read. While people still look to him to be something he has stated time and again that he is not, no one stops to wonder just what it must be like to have so many people—for more than four decades now—think you could do something as implausible as change the world with a song. No wonder he comes off curmudgeonly. If you’d been put in the same box since you were 20 you probably would, too.
At Vanity Fair “Ken Regan unveils a trove of never-before-seen images at New York City’s Morrison Hotel Gallery [and] Michael Hogan reflects on Dylan’s audacious refusal to give the people what they want.”
Ed Ward reviews “How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan” for Oxford American, admitting he didn’t expect to like it:
[W]hy was it, forty-five years later, that when I got Ace Records' new compilation How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan, my first thought was "This probably isn't going to be very good"? Simple prejudice. Bob Dylan's music was so important to my generation of white middle-class kids that it was hard for me to imagine how the soul singers on these twenty tracks could get inside it in a meaningful enough way to bring their art to it….
It turns out, of course, that my reaction was right and wrong.
Democracy Now! dedicated their show this morning to rare interviews from the Pacifica Radio archives, including an interview where Pete Seegar calls the young musician “the most prolific” song writer in America.
The Atlantic Wire has a Dylan round up of their own with stories from Rolling Stone, The Telegraph, Time, and more.
Source: The Millions, Vanity Fair, Oxford American, Democracy Now!, The Atlantic Wire
5/12/2011 10:02:04 PM
Editor note: Make sure to also check out an article from the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader on this topic, “Turning Suffering into a Still Life: ‘Ruin porn’ aesthetically disconnects human suffering from devastation”
Leave it to the French to find a strange and poignant beauty in the reeling and degraded remnants of the once-great American nation. This past April, after more than five years of exploration amid the back alleys, ruined halls, pot-holed streets, and emptied factories of the failing Queen of Midwestern Cities, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre released their photographic homage to the place, The Ruins of Detroit. And the results of these two French artists' prurient and somewhat sordid interest in the fallen city reveals—in much the same way that porn reveals—something about the hidden beliefs, latent habits of thought, and dark submerged impulses that exist in some subterranean place in the heart of our culture.
Detroit’s fall is poignant in both its rapidity and completeness. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, up until the 1960s, Detroit was widely acknowledged to be a key American manufacturing center. The city's population swelled mid-last century to become the fifth-largest of all American cities, and, as Detroit's rose, the local cityscape filled with beautiful monumental structures: The United Artists Theater, the Whitney Building, the Farwell Building, Michigan Central Station. As Edmund Wilson said of Detroit in the 1930s, as was quoted in Thomas Sugrue’s essay accompanying the book, “You can see here, as it is impossible to do in a more varied and complex city, the whole structure of an industrial society.” Detroit was famous for making cars of course, but also for its establishing a massive war manufacturing works during World War II, for producing a national musical sound, and for being a touchpoint for industrial caprice and the accompanying labor unrest. “There is no better place than Detroit to observe the dialectical forces of modern capitalism,” Segrue writes, “often in their most exaggerated forms. Detroit is a place of both permanence and evanescence, of creation and destruction, of monumentality and disposability, of place and placelessness, of power and disempowerment.”
The initial frontispiece (untitled) image in The Ruins of Detroit
shows a plastered, faded aerial photograph of Detroit at its height. Parts of the image-within-the-image are peeling away, revealing chipped and gouged paint on the wall underneath, and in the middle of the image someone has spray-painted, "You are here," with an arrow pointing to the top of a central muscular skyscraper. Despite the fading colors of the photographed city, the peeling paper and wall paint, and the spray paint, the image still clearly shows a once-regal city. The buildings in the picture are strong, ornate, erect—if somewhat overly muscular in that way of America during its 20th century rise to power and riches. The boulevards are wide, and they angle in toward several lovely open public spaces and walking plazas. Detroit at its height was as beautiful and golden a place as there was in the world, which is world's away from what the city is now.
y, all-but abandoned by a diminished industrial base (that moved off-shore) and all-but evacuated by the white middle-class (that fled to the suburbs), Detroit has become, symbolically speaking, an urban hooker with a heart of gold. Compare for instance the faded photo of Detroit at its apex to another look at the same landscape taken by Marchand and Meffre from inside a now-ruined downtown building, “View on Woodward Avene, Broderick Tower." In the latter image, the city's once-elegant buildings have faded to squalidness. They are cracked and crumbling, hard and gray. The wide boulevard is uninviting, almost devoid of the former bustle of the mid-20th century version of the city. And this doesn’t even begin to describe the cracked, dingy, neglected interior of the Broderick Tower. Detroit in this image is a clearly diminished place, whose strength and beauty has faded under sustained abandonment. The once-beautiful woman, at least in these artists' view, has been used up and cruelly cast aside.
Dozens and dozens of images in The Ruins of Detroit explore this loss of vitality and beauty. And many reveal the violence inherent in such decay and ruin. In "Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel," the irrevocable destruction is fully on display. The once-luxurious, excessively ornate decor of the ballroom—all the plaster and marble and gilt that once covered the arches, vaults, recessed window bays, and doorways—is now cracked, crumbling, and turned to dust. The walls and floors are coated with ghost-white and dingy residue as thick as after a nuclear winter. And in the middle of the room, resting on its side as if violently cast aside, a grand piano gives another hint at the space's former grandeur. It looks, in its toppled state in this image, much like the "Dying Gaul," if that sculpture had been left out on the field of battle. These ruins, this decay—the dying piano seems to be saying with its wrenching last words—this is a death not just of a city and its monuments. This is the death, the piano gasps, of an entire culture.
On their website, Marchand and Meffre justify their sordid interest in Detroit by saying that "ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes ... the volatile result of the change of eras and the fall of empires. This fragility leads us to watch them one very last time: to be dismayed, or to admire, it makes us wonder about the permanence of things." What this means is scores of images of imploding or exploding buildings, blown-out, windowless, and element-ravaged; suddenly abandoned and ruin-strewn spaces, including schools, libraries, theaters, ballrooms, churches, and other sad remnants of a formerly thriving culture; and emptiness and squalor where a beautiful and vibrant city once existed. These photos of a shockingly ruined Detroit illustrate how transient and fleeting are youth, beauty, power, wealth—especially in a nation unwilling or unable to protect or care for such virtues.
Fascination with the ruin of Detroit, of course, is not particularly new. Books and photographic projects started appearing just before the turn of the last century, when what was happening to the city was becoming more apparent to observers. The DetroitYes web project, for example, has chronicled the decline of Detroit online since late 1997. The website, run by the artist Lowell Boileau includes thousands of web images, descriptions of lost and ruined historical and cultural treasures, and a discussion forum. And in Camilo Jose Vergara's book American Ruins parts of Detroit are featured alongside the ruined and decayed areas of other cities like New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Gary, and Los Angeles. Still, the fascination with Detroit as the emblematic paragon of American decay has accelerated in recent years, coinciding with the recessionary times since 2008. In the past year alone, three large-format coffee table books depicting the squalor and ruin of Detroit have been released by major publishers. These include Marchand and Meffre’s book, as well as Lost Detroit by author Dan Austin and photographer Sean Doerr and Detroit Disassembled by Philip Levine and Andrew Moore.
To understand why Detroit so fascinates us today, we’d have to look back to what the “hooker with a heart of gold” archetype, which, while nearly as old as literature itself, continues to fascinate a variety of cultures. Characters as diverse as Mary Magdalene (from the New Testament) and Vasantasena from an ancient Sanskrit drama, Fantine from Les Miserables and Violetta Valery from La Traviata, and Vivian Ward from the movie Pretty Woman, Latika from Slumdog Millionaire, and pretty much any Heather Graham role (Boogie Nights, Hangover, etc…) are typically seen as a symbolic representations of good people (women) forced into desperate life situations by powers beyond their control. These characters serve as gentle warnings that even good people sometimes end up—despite their best intentions, despite their natural goodness—in less than savory life situations. Detroit has been degraded, debased, and turned to a shadow of what she once was, not by any inherent fault of her own—or, more to the point, by any fault of our own—but just because that’s the nature of the world.
Some cities in this world, in this heartless country of ours, are meant to be treated and feted like royalty. And others are meant to sell themselves off piecemeal to keep from starving. That’s just how it goes.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications. Read his previous posts here.
All photos, which originally appeared in Marchand and Meffre’s book The Ruins of Detroit, are included here courtesy of Steidl Press.
5/11/2011 11:07:14 AM
When I discovered last month that Sonny Rollins would close out the 2011 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, I started making plans to get there from Minneapolis. After listening to him play five songs over 90 minutes Sunday night in the WWOZ Jazz Tent, the experience was worth every penny. Money is fungible. But being exposed to such profound artistry generates an impression that lasts a lifetime.
I thought age had inexorably worn Rollins down. He turned 80 last September, and the last few times I have caught him over the past ten or twelve years, he had seemed unable to plumb his sources of inspiration as deeply and continuously as he had when I first started attending his concerts in the mid-1980s. But Sunday was vintage Rollins, a jaw-dropping display of improvisational gusto made all the more spectacular and poignant by its Lion in Winter dynamic.
Rollins came out with a quintet that included guitarist Peter Bernstein, percussionist Sammy Figueroa, drummer Jerome Jennings and his bassist since 1962, Bob Cranshaw. He opened with a song Cranshaw later told me was called “Don Cherry,” after the former Ornette Coleman trumpeter who also played with Rollins. It was classic mid-level Sonny: He quickly established a brief phrase as a motif, a placeholder to which he could return after exploring ten or fifteen second variations off it literally twenty or thirty times, with each improvisation a unique construction. These variations were by turns incredibly fast, technically gymnastic and tonally elastic, from a well-deep honk to an ascension just below a shriek. The song lasted nearly half an hour and likely amazed anyone who hadn’t previously seen Rollins perform.
A ballad—Cranshaw called it “JJ,” presumably in honor of trombonist J.J. Johnson—gave Rollins a chance to showcase the resonant, nasal tone that he first acquired by emulating Coleman Hawkins. There were some rewarding tempo shifts and a good dialogue with Bernstein. By Rollins’ standards, nothing special.
But then came a calypso, Sonny’s preferred rhythm for pinwheeling pyrotechnics. Entitled “Global Warming” and composed by Rollins in 1998, it followed by 40 years his legendary “Freedom Suite” in support of the Civil Rights Movement—and in fact Rollins himself has made the association, referring to global warming as an issue of similar urgency for the 21st Century. But the torrent of music that came out of his horn rendered politics and everything else moot for the next twenty minutes, as Rollins cavorted in near-vintage splendor, as potent and visceral as a waterfall—you can choose to be spellbound by some of the particular details or awestruck by the general effect.
After a strong rendition of Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” that gave the sidemen room to express themselves (particularly a section where Rollins “traded fours” with the drummer Jennings), it was time for “Don’t Stop The Carnival,” the calypso which has become Sonny’s standard closer. But this “Carnival” was unforgettable, as Rollins entered another zone, a wayback machine to his vintage potency. When he is in this mode, the phrases tumble out in scintillating, geometrically perfect shapes, as theoretically implausible as movie special effects and yet utterly organic in the way they land in your soul—and they keep streaming until you have to dance and tears start coming out of your eyes. Most of the capacity crowd was on its feet and more than a few were crying.
Rollins knew he had entered that golden palace in his muse: He uncharacteristically started mugging for the crowd; swaying one way and then sway-backed pivoting the other way (he walks and stands with a stoop, as if he has bad hips); thrusting his right fist up in the air or punching it forward even as he keep changing keys with his left hand; going straight on at the cell phone photographers and professional picture-takers down front; and prowling the stage from side to side. It was long past the 7 p.m. closing of the Festival when he finally finished the tune, but the ovation was so long and vociferous that he added a brief coda for an encore, a two-minute re-entry back to reality. Then the performers and the audience levitated from the scene.
(This concert review is the third installment of a three-part series. Read the first installment here. Read the second installment here.)
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5/10/2011 10:28:19 AM
Okay, folks, I’m going to try not to be as lengthy nor as breathless as my initial post from the Fairgrounds Racetrack here in New Orleans. By now you get the gist that the Jazz & Heritage Festival puts a gallon of music in a quart’s worth of time, and that every day spent here is suffused with iconic moments. Watching Beausoleil, the premiere Cajun band in the world, play in their natural stomping grounds is a quintessential experience that can’t be captured by a blog post.
But there is some other useful information that can be effectively passed on. For example, the Nicholas Payton Sexxxtet has a provocative name, a renowned jazz trumpeter for a frontman, and no recorded music to its credit. The ensemble’s set in the WWOZ Jazz Tent featured many of the slow-motion fireworks that characterize Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew period, which Payton previously explored on his 2003 disc, Sonic Trance. But the Sexxxtet feels more organic and like less of a dabble than that brief foray. The rhythm section is top notch, with bassist Bob Hurst and drummer Karriem Riggins (both headliners in their own right) and an elderly percussionist named Rolando Guerro. A very young-looking, long-faced cat named Lawrence Elliot Fields was a master of pixie dust on Fender Rhodes, and the female singer Johnaye Kendrick was deployed mostly as a colorist, with wordless vocals.
Along with late ’60s Miles, the group evoked such fusion stalwarts as Weather Report and the early Return to Forever with Airto and Flora Purim. Payton—impeccably attired in a suit and fedora on a day so hot Hurst’s white cotton shirt was entirely plastered to his upper torso from the sweat—is an ideal trumpeter for the sort of long, ascending blasts that roll over an audience like an unbreaking wave. But this is also a band that emphasizes grooves over melodies, and allows Payton to indulge in some vocals alongside Kendrick. There has been a renaissance of the Fender Rhodes lately, and Fields’ solos demonstrates that he belongs in the forefront of that movement. And Guerro was a revelation, timing the chimes and triangle for maximum effect and creating a riveting percussion solo that had him playing a gourd surrounded by a mesh of shells first by hitting it with his knees as he jogged in place, then swirling it so hard that the mesh pulled away and snapped back against the gourd via centrifugal force. I felt welcomed into 21st Century jazz fusion.
Next door in the Blues Tent, Walter “Wolfman” Washington was holding sway. An unsung hero at the crossroads of blues and southern soul, the singer-guitarist has two endearing traits that make him a must-see whenever your schedules and budgets allow, First, the Wolfman has the capacity to rasp a falsetto without shaving too much tonality from his voice, a truly electrifying sound that he thankfully doesn’t overdo (unlike, say, Al Green these past five or ten years). Second, he always stocks his eight-piece Roadmasters with four quality horn players, turning the band into a reasonable facsimile of the days when the Stax and Malaco labels reigned. Imagine Otis Redding or Sam and Dave, only with the Wolfman and his stinging guitar and energetic vocals topped by that inimitable falsetto, and you get the idea.
I was going to watch former Fugees thrush Lauryn Hill next, but the crowd was so large that those of us at the very back were hearing Jimmy Buffett bleed over from the stage behind us. If there is something Lauryn Hill fans don’t need to hear, it’s Jimmy Buffett.
So I went to see the Strokes on the Gentilly Stage. They were solid—less Velvet Underground or garage rock these days than the Cars or Spoon—but the younger, rock-oriented audience was bobbing happily. Frontman-vocalist Julian Casablancas has always provoked a like-dislike feeling in me (love-hate is too strong), and this gig was no exception. In upper-80 degree weather, he wore his black leather jacket (which irked me more than Payton’s suit, so there you go). He also kept on harping on the word “jazz” in the festival’s name, and, of everyone on the roster these seven days, lamented that he didn’t catch Willie Nelson’s show. But, more to the point, he was in fine voice, at various points invoking the doomed croon of the Smiths’ Morrissey (but alas, without the lyrics to fit the mood) and the patented growl of Billy Idol on “White Wedding.” Fried from so much good music—did I mention Beausoleil?—I left early to beat the traffic.
(This concert review is the second installment of a three-part series. Read the first installment here. Read the third installment here.)
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5/9/2011 12:32:09 PM
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival takes place on the grounds of a racetrack, which makes perfect sense as you’re wending your way through the teeming crowds along the hard, dirt oval where the horses usually run, moving from the Gospel Tent to the Fais Do Do Stage to the WWOZ Jazz Tent to the Gentilly Stage—there are a dozen venues in all—trying to catch as many of the stupendous but simultaneously playing musical performances as possible. No other festival is at once so resplendently diversified and yet so utterly parochial. A dazzling array of musical styles have either been rooted or crucially hybridized in the Crescent City, and they transform the Jazz & Heritage Festival into a live, organic jukebox of bliss.
On Friday I came to the fest for the last three of its seven days, returning after more than 30 years, and the delirious gumbo of music felt instantly familiar. Within my first hour, I’d stumbled upon a stunning, accordion-fiddle-washboard group—the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band—I’d never heard of but who have been playing the fest for the past 31 years. Moving on to catch pianist David Torkanowsky’s Fleur Debris in the Jazz Tent, I was waylaid by the peacock costumes and call-and-response of the Golden Sioux Mardi Gras Indians on the Jazz & Heritage Stage, and interrupted by a raucous, indigenous parade through the interior grounds (one of four that day) by the Divine Ladies and Original Big 7 Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs with the Original Pinettes Brass Band.
When I finally arrived, Torkanowsky just happened to have as guests the fabulous rhythm section from New Orleans’ seminal funk band, the Meters—bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste. He brandished what looked like an outsized football helmet but was in fact the old civil defense helmet once issued to the late Crescent City pianist Professor Longhair. For the final two numbers, he introduced trumpeter Nicholas Payton—clad in Drew Brees’ #9 New Orleans Saints jersey, a Saints cap, and nerdy glasses—who blew long and hard with rising saxophonist Aaron Fletcher.
I’ll skip the sets by new country outlaw Jamey Johnson and the always engaging Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers (one of the few acts that can parlay an insipid pop song like “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday” with the classic “St. James Infirmary” and get away with it) and get to the hard decisions and inter-stage rambles that confront most festival goers in the final 90 minutes. (The fest ends at 7 p.m., so folks can either keep the party going elsewhere in New Orleans or rest up for tomorrow’s roster of acts). Here are some snapshots of the stretch run to the finish line.
My only son is named after the late bassist-composer Charles Mingus, so it was easy to lead off the stretch drive with the Mingus Big Band. The 14-piece ensemble launched into the stop-and-go bustle of “GG Train” (from the Mingus album Ah Um), reveling in the Mingus signature move of chromatic horn voicings when the group pulls up short, and lands before it lurches. Then the group delivered “The Children’s Hour of Dream,” the 18th movement from Mingus’s 26-movement opus, Epitaph, which featured a phalanx of flutes that soared and circled like birds chasing a grain truck down a rural highway.
Over in the Gospel Tent, Irma Thomas was paying tribute to the 100th birthday of Mahalia Jackson. Thomas, officially designated “the Soul Queen of New Orleans” a few years back, completed her transformation from the gruff and bawdy young belter to a more dignified mien as she and her band were all dressed in white vestments for the occasion. Highlights from Mahalia’s treasure trove of spirituals were the rockin’ declaration “I Found the Answer,” the good-time lilt of “Come on Children Let’s Sing,” and especially the bravura vocals on “How Great Thou Art.”
Lupe Fiasco is my favorite young rapper, but the mix was muddy as Lupe and his full band (live drums, guitar, keys) hit the Congo Square Stage all dressed in camouflage gear. The hit “Superstar” was a natural sing-along for the crowd, and then Lupe continued his recent policy of trying to cash in on the masses and hold on to the purists by simultaneously denouncing and promoting his new record, Lasers, introducing his new single, “The Show Goes On,” by sheepishly saying, “I needed to pay my bills.” The masses loved it anyway.
At this point there was maybe 15 minutes left, and without high expectations I swung by the Blues Tent for Gregg Allman. Good move. There he was, transplanted liver and all, with his trademark ponytail, playing guitar instead of keyboards but growling his way through “Whipping Post” from the classic Live at the Fillmore East album by the Allman Brothers. He followed that up with another Allmans gem, the crooning “Midnight Rider.” And after the raucous blues, “Sweet Feelin’” he closed with a third cut from the live disc, “Statesboro Blues,” with the band’s guitarist wisely choosing to go low-key to avoid comparison to Dwayne Allman’s incendiary solo. Otherwise it was vintage Allman Brothers—Gregg even had two drummers—and a glorious way to end the day.
(This concert review is the first installment of a three-part series. Read the second installment here. Read the third installment here.)
Images by robbiesaurus and eugeneflores, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/5/2011 1:01:56 PM
It’s well established that social media platforms and blogging software have encouraged us to open up about our personal lives in unprecedented ways. But under the deluge of too much information, we’re still left with a sort of digital anonymity, a textual unreality. For all of those shared details, audiences aren’t privy to the environment that inspired the melodramatic outburst, pithy sideswipe, joyous affirmation, or dark confession.
Two photographers aim to reconnect place with pronouncement. Urbanite’s Cara Ober tipped us off to the ongoing project of Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman, who are obsessed with the anonymous, occasionally profound ruminations of Twitter users. “We think of these photos as historical monuments to small, lived moments,” Larson told Urbanite. “It also grounds the virtual reality of social networking data streams to the physical world, while examining how the nature of one’s physical space may influence online presence.”
Interesting ideas, but how were they executed? “Fascinated by the ability of digital media to simultaneously isolate and unite people,” writes Ober, “they have used geographical coordinates embedded in Twitter updates to document tweet locations in downtown Chicago, the California desert, up and down the East Coast, and in rural England.”
More simply, the process works like this: When Larson or Shindelman come across an evocative tweet sent from someone’s smartphone, they note the recorded geolocation and—GPS in hand—hunt down where that 140-character dispatch originated. Once in location, the photographers snap a shot of the surroundings and present the image and text side by side. “The messages run the gamut from sexy to angry to depressing or shocking,” writes Ober. The juxtapositions cryptically and powerfully speak for themselves.
These first few pieces are a sneak-peek at Larson and Shindelman’s forthcoming “Desertscapes” collection.
The following pieces are from previous collections.
Images courtesy of Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman.
5/5/2011 12:25:52 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best arts coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
A celebration of handmade objects and the people who create them, American Craft brings to life the work of glassblowers, woodworkers, jewelry makers, and artisans of all stripes. Published by the American Craft Council, it covers its inspiring subjects from workbench to gallery.
Forget box-office battles and vapid celebrity chatter: Film Comment focuses its lens on cinema’s substance. Drawing on a deep, experienced pool of critics and feature writers, the magazine gets off the red carpet to explore the wonderfully diverse film omniverse.
Even after surviving Katrina and suffering BP’s incompetence, New Orleans is still as undercovered as its native musicians are unknown. Offbeat, a free fanzine turned nationally distributed glossy, solves both problems by offering intimate, intelligent stories about Louisiana’s music, food, and culture.
Steeped in the South but continually redefining just what that means, the Oxford American is a literary exploration of life and culture below the Mason-Dixon Line. Calling itself “the Southern magazine of good writing,” it has encompassed topics ranging from “the wide world of eating dirt” to “gun-lovin’ environmentalists.”
The world of public art now ranges far beyond the familiar large-scale outdoor sculpture to street art, land art, and myriad other forms. Public Art Reviewnimbly covers this shifting terrain with rigor and verve, enhancing the critical conversation and drawing crucial connections.
With its Asian roots and global consciousness, Theme is driven by—and inevitably instills—a zest for fresh looks, sounds, and ideas. Each issue of this sleek quarterly features a guest curator and a thematic thread that writers, photographers, and designers explore via features, interviews, and lush visual spreads.
Cracking the oversized cover of Vintage Magazine opens a window on a bygone world, one where nostalgia and artistry trump bland commercialism and immediacy. Various weights of paper, a thread-stitched binding, throwback design, and pop-out articles demonstrate that a biannual journal covering antique arts and handcrafting can be tactile as well as visual.
A labor of love, the Brooklyn-based Wax Poeticsis a geeked-out fanzine dedicated to unearthing the grittiest funk, coolest jazz, and smoothest soul ever pressed into a groove. The writers proselytize, the editors keep the mix fresh, and the archival album art and concert footage are beatific.
our complete list of 2011 nominees
Image by my dog sighs, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/5/2011 11:52:54 AM
When the Jayhawks came along in the late 1980s, playing twangy rock with a sweetly folky side, they weren’t exactly in step with styles: As singer-guitarist Gary Louris points out, “We were swimming upriver, playing country music in the grunge era.”
But time has treated the Jayhawks well, and the albums from their rich early heyday—particularly Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, which have just been reissued by Sony Legacy—now have the ring of classics.
When those albums came out, “It was a bit of a detriment not being attached to any particular trend or sound,” Louris says, “but now I guess slow and steady wins the race. We age well because we were not of a particular time or place. That’s why our music still sounds good.”
Louris, who is unabashedly proud of the Jayhawks’ work, praises the albums’ production quality, which he describes as “solid and thick and vibrant,” and the band members’ performances, which they honed meticulously.
“They’re really tight records,” he says. “Reallytight.”
Each album also tells a piece of the Jayhawks story and signals a key turn in the band’s development. 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall was the group’s major-label debut after they jumped from Minneapolis’ Twin/Tone Records to Rick Rubin’s American imprint, and it has a guitar-heavy Crazy-Horse-meets-the-Flying-Burrito-Brothers vibe. 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass marked the end of Louris’ original partnership with vocal foil Mark Olson, as Olson left the band soon after—and that album, ironically, features the duo’s best singing yet, particularly on the album-opening “Blue,” their most memorable song.
If you suggest to Louris that “Blue” and the other best-known tunes from the reissues—such as “Waiting for the Sun” and “I’d Run Away”—are approaching the status of classics, he’ll quickly correct you.
“They’re not approaching it; I think they are, personally,” he says. “I’m cocky at this point, because I listen to them and they sound great.
“There’s just no denying ‘Blue.’ I can dance around it all I want, but if it’s not the best song we ever did, it’s pretty darn close. There are different songs that are better for different reasons, but as far as a straightforward classic pop song, start to finish, simple—it’s the best.”
The reissues come with extra tracks from the Jayhawks vaults that are bound to appeal to fans: Each album has five bonus songs, and Tomorrow the Green Grass has an entire second CD with 18 tracks billed as “The Mystery Demos.” Louris says he and Olson are incredibly prolific songwriters, and that there are many more songs where those came from—namely, boxes of tapes in his basement.
All this reissue activity might seem like the work of a band in retirement, but it’s not so. The Jayhawks have reformed with Olson back in the fold, and a new album is coming—one that Louris says is their best ever. Of course.
Image © Steven Cohen, courtesy of Sony Legacy.
5/5/2011 11:02:58 AM
The California four-piece Dawes has captured audiences with its low-key folk rock sound, especially their anthem “When My Time Comes.” We caught up with front man Taylor Goldsmith via e-mail. The band is currently finishing up work on a new album.
“When My Time Comes” is a really compelling song, and it looks like it’s doing pretty well on YouTube. Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the song?
“When My Time Comes” has definitely been the song people have drifted to most. If I had to guess, it’d be because it’s a bit quicker; it’s a coming-of-age song that doesn’t get too specific, allowing everyone to potentially relate; and also because part of the chorus is wordless, and that is always easier to sing along with.
As to the genesis of the song, I was 22 when I wrote it and I definitely felt aware of the fact that there wasn’t too much life experience I was drawing from to base my material on, so this song was more about admitting that and trying to open myself up to whatever’s in store, rather than pretend I already have a handle on it.
A lot of the press about you compares the band to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, but I hear a lot more post-punk undertones in the way you put songs together. Does the comparison annoy or flatter you?
It’s very flattering. CSN+Y is on every classic rock station and are responsible for some of everyone’s favorite songs, so that isn’t a comparison we mind. The post-punk thing is interesting. I definitely am into coming off that way, but I am always listening to the structures of more classic songwriters’ work. Guys like Bob Dylan, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson—who use simple structures and therefore find different ways to make the songs unique through the lyrics or arrangement of that simple structure. But my key influences are always changing. I’m willing to give anything a listen and try to wrap my head around why or how it moves anyone.
Which comes first: melody, lyrics, or song structure?
I always get the structure and the melody worked out and always need a complete idea before I can start any lyrics. Sometimes I have the title before anything and will hold on to that until that leads to the rest of the song.
The kind of group harmonies you guys rock can be pretty challenging. How do you put them together in rehearsal?
I write the harmonies as I’m writing the rest of the song. Griffin [Goldsmith, Taylor’s brother] is maybe the most musical guy in the band, so he often elaborates on harmonies and sometimes adds new ones and has a real good understanding of my melodic sensibilities. He and I have been singing together since we can remember, and our progress with Tay has been quick. For a guy who wasn’t really a singer before this band, he’s really doing great.
The digital age has both increased exposure and also hunger for authentic experiences like live shows. Do you have any thoughts about where Dawes fits in that range, from a living-room old-time square-dance to the club scene to Taylor Swift? Where do you put yourself in the musical tradition?
It’s sort of a scary time for real live music, I think. At this point when people can create sounds that are more unbelievable and larger than life, why would a kid who’s brought up into that world get off on hearing Mike Campbell play a true rock and roll guitar solo? Now that there are so many more ways to be expressive (but debatably by lesser and lesser degrees), something that’s more direct, like a rock and roll instrument, might not feed someone’s need.
So far there have been enough people to still appreciate what it means to play rock and roll, and I hope they all stick it out with us, but there was a time when a rock-and-roll band coming through town was easily the coolest thing anyone could think of doing that night. Now with iPads and the Internet and any movie available at any time and all these other qualities of the age we live in, a rock and roll show has a lot more to stand up against.
5/5/2011 10:47:06 AM
“Don’t expect any backup.” That’s the gist of a secret message sent during the Civil War to the commander at Vicksburg, Mississippi, the day the city fell to Union forces.
The note was never received and never even decoded until last year, when conservators at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond cracked the code.
The black absurdity of the message struck a chord for musicians Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave, collectively known as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, who borrowed it for the title of their latest recording, No Help Coming (Transdreamer).
“It was a pointless message in the first place,” Golightly says. “If they’d have been able to break the code at the time it wouldn’t have made any difference. The city was in ruins.”
Gallows humor is a theme of the new album, and it has been a constant among the dozens of releases from prolific London-born singer Golightly, who cut her teeth on that city’s punk scene. She recently relocated to a hobby farm in Georgia, where we caught up with her.
Do you still collect vinyl? What kinds of stuff do you buy?
I don’t collect records anymore. I had a big collection, which I sold. I needed the money—I lived on a boat and it needed relining with steel. They weren’t bought as an investment, but it’s all I had. I was involved in London with the club scene and was into dancing years before I started making music. I started buying soul gospel 45s, and the more I got into it the more I wanted the choice records. I spent a lot of money, which is not very sensible, and got together this collection of ’60s soul and ’50s R&B.
Why American music? A lot of your recordings have very strong American roots, yet you’re from London.
Well, I think gospel music and early country music are really just hymns. I don’t think they come from a different source.
In England, most people grew up listening to the radio, and it was British radio that pioneered American black music, whereas it wasn’t played so widely in the States at that time. We had an affair with Motown that didn’t happen in America. We had an affair with Stax and Motown in the late ’60s, and that’s what raised us.
In the north of England, the “Northern Soul” phenomenon began with DJs flying to Philadelphia to bring back dance music.
What’s your recording process like?
We sit at the table and listen. We make the lyrics together, so if we’re doing something that’s a duet, we can both sing the words.
Dave has a studio here, and we travel around to interesting empty places nearby. Last time we borrowed a church. This time, we found this abandoned building with a huge sign that said ‘RAR.’ Of course, for us it became the ‘rock-and-roll’ building.
Do you bring other people into the sessions?
No, it’s just us. We don’t like people. We didn’t move out here to rural Georgia because we like people.
How’s the homestead coming? Are you self-sufficient, or working toward that?
We can get whatever we need from local farmers within a spit of the house. We’re really just dabbling because we have equine interests. The point for me was to have the space so that I could breed a horse that I’d wanted for a very long time, and so that I could ride locally. We did plant a vegetable garden. The watermelons did really well. That’s the only thing that grew.
5/4/2011 5:05:26 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18 at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best Social/Cultural Coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an especially exceptional job.
The only print magazine dedicated to feminist critiques of pop culture, the exuberant, indestructible Bitch enlists dauntless writers to carry out its mission by combining serious study and a healthy sense of humor. The Portland-based quarterly also showcases indie art, music, film, and literature.
invites “thinking mothers” to share everything—the joys of parenting, the sorrows, the hiccups—in each exquisitely written, sharply edited issue. There’s no sugarcoating here, but neither is there complaining: just reflection and wisdom to spare.
is a magazine about food, but it brings much more to the table—from scholarship on cuisine-related culture, history, and literature to provocative visual imagery. Like the best kind of dinner partner, the magazine is sophisticated and charming, a skilled conversationalist, and always introduces us to something new on the menu.
The editors at Goodbring a fresh eye to a diverse range of weighty subjects—like the rebirth of New Orleans, the reinvention of our neighborhoods, and the renewal of a meaningful workplace—and wrap them all up in a snappy package. Serving a progressive community motivated to move the world forward, this magazine is beyond good.
tagline is “feminisms in motion,” and they whip through the pages of this biannual like an intellectual storm. Each issue hosts bold, one-of-a-kind arguments and creates a lively community of writers, artists, and activists who stretch the boundaries of gender politics.
The editors at Mental_Flossamaze, astonish, and educate with the quirkiest of topics and attention-grabbing headlines to make The Onion envious. (Our favorites: “How Lasers Can Protect You from Pirates” and “Amish Baseball: The Greatest American Pastime”) Masters at the art of magazine making, the irreverent but ever intelligent editors always give us something to talk about.
Striving to change lives and transform communities, Oregon Humanitiesgives us blissfully clear, thoughtful reportage on the things that make us human, including history (ancient and contemporary), literature and language, ethics and philosophy, and various cultural, religious, and folk traditions. No matter its subject, the insightful quarterly challenges us to reconsider the day’s most vital issues.
Some of the things This Magazine was about in 2010: bamboo, Iraqi cartoonists, the Black Panthers, and pirate snobs. With those topics and cover stories ranging from Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan to voting reform, This Magazine finds a way to cover a vast swath of territory intelligently and accessibly.
our complete list of 2011 nominees
Image by Nimbuzz, licensed under Creative Commons.
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