Shot Of Rhythm

[ Friday, May 19, 2006 ]


Bruce, Nick and the Cajun two-step

Think sampling and re-mixing is a phenomenon only of hip-hop, or at least not of "singer/songwriter" rock and roll types? Check this:

Here's Bruce Springsteen's original version of "Ramrod," a tough rocker off of THE RIVER: "Ramrod", 1980

Now, here's Nick Lowe doing "Half A Boy And Half A Man," one of the great man's best records: "Half A Boy And Half A Man," 1984

Now, take the original Springsteen version of "Ramrod," add in the Nick Lowe cut, and then shake with a heavy dose of "Diggy Diggy Lo", the classic Cajun song done here by Doug Kershaw, and - voila! - you have this:

Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band, "Ramrod," Milan 2006

Easy as 1-2-3...

On the box right now: T-Bone Burnett, TWENTY TWENTY: ESSENTIAL, Disc 1.


Dove With Claws [4:07 PM]

[ Monday, May 15, 2006 ]


And it don't stop

Today, I thought I'd feature a little local music, namely some of the best hip-hop coming from Madison, Wisconsin, a city not immediately associated with the genre, but the home nonetheless of a fresh group of MCs and DJs who rock the party on a regular basis. The four tracks I chose are far from the only examples I could've, but - for more music, info and opportunities - check out Madison Hip-Hop for these and other artists. (I've also linked to the featured artists' homepages, so do your duty and check out their corners of cyberspace.)

First off is Dumate, then Jon Henry, then El Guante, and finally a group based in Chicago whose MC is currently making us all wiser up in Dane County, Bass Is Loaded Coalition, whose Katrina track ranks with anything that any artist (local, national or otherwise) has come up with so far.

Dumate - "Mercury Rising"

Jon Henry - "War Crymes"

El Guante - "If"

Bass Is Loaded Coalition - "Louisiana 2005"

Make sure you read my take on the Stephin Merritt controversy below, should that interest you. Otherwise, I'll see y'all in a couple days.

On the box right now: Various Artists, TROUBLED WATERS: DEEP SOUL FROM THE DEEP SOUTH.


Dove With Claws [11:44 AM]


Merritt at the EMP

David Cantwell over at Living In Stereo wondered the other day if I'd throw in my opinions on the whole controversy that's erupted over Stephin Merritt's keynote comments at the Experience Music Project conference a couple weeks ago, a conference (and keynote) that I attended. I'm not terribly interested in throwing my meager hat in the ring with some of the highest-profile critics in the country (Sasha Frere-Jones, Jessica Hopper, Jeff Chang and others) who have commented on this issue, but I will try to say a few things based on my recollections of the event.

(I don't use that many quotes, partially because I couldn't find a transcript of the event, so I'm going by memory. Assume all quotes are paraphrases, and I'll be happy to refine or retract if the record shows I'm wrong. I'm also gonna assume y'all have some familiarity with the issue, and - if not - just type in "Stephin Merritt EMP" or something such like in Google, and you'll find it. Anybody with particular favorite articles or blog entries should feel free to post them in a "Comment" here.)

First and foremost, I want to say that I will not be commenting on the whole "poptimist"/"rockist" controversy which has also been discussed in particularly Jody Rosen's coverage in Slate, primarily because my misreading of those very demographics at the actual EMP conference led to a few missteps in my presentation, where I erroneously assumed that the dynamics I've felt in many a meeting of music critics weren't ultimately echoed by at least the vocal conference attendees and participants. I was basically wrong on one plank of my presentation, although I stand by the others, and I'll be the first to admit it. Since I've hopefully learned not to make the same mistake twice, I'll refrain from comments in that arena. (Anyone who's particularly interested can contact me off-site, and I'll fill y'all in.)

Now, as to Merritt, what has surprised me throughout this whole back-and-forth is that the very comment that got him in so much trouble in the first place (his affection for "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah") barely registered with me at his actual presentation, perhaps because I was too astounded by some of the other semi-outrageous statements he made at the same keynote. His take on race in music went wrong far before, and much deeper than, the "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" remark. He repeatedly defined gospel as being a process of personal humiliation, failing to recognize the affirming qualities in the African-American tradition (and others) that make gospel anything but humiliating. He sniffed at the concept of celebration and catharsis in music, and at one point left the audience floored by declaring that (paraphrasing) "Black singers have not had to face the same expectations of authenticity as white singers." This conclusion goes against perhaps the one thing that all of us who study race in American music can agree on, and - thankfully - several people in the audience (including the fine author Ken Emerson and yours truly) vocally disagreed. He later, quizzically, kept referring to Celine Dion as a "non-white singer," and basically refused to take hip-hop into account when discussing these authenticity politics (or anything else, for that matter.) When I pushed Merritt during the Q&A to explain how his suggestion that gospel catharsis is humiliation fits in with the mountain of evidence to the contrary in black cultural traditions, he failed to answer to my satisfaction, although he at least seemed interested in trying to work through the contradiction. (He also called Aretha Franklin's AMAZING GRACE "perhaps the best recorded music ever," something that the harshest attacks on Merritt's taste as it relates to race have failed to mention.)

In closing, I didn't really find his comments to be racist, per se, although I certainly see many of the arguments among those who did. At their worst, I found Merritt's ideas to be somewhat ignorant of the history of race and music in America, and prone to the blinders of white privilege, crimes for whom there are many offenders among us. What they deserve - like most race issues in this country - is more discussion, which I hope the controversy has promoted.

Beyond his comments about race, though, I must admit that I was far more taken aback by his repeated refusals to acknowledge that - like me and others - many of his fans actually appreciate his music unironically, finding a beauty and power in his best work that renders it a cut above. At one point, when moderator Ann Powers asked Merritt what she should say to her friends who put his song "The Book Of Love" on their "love tape" or wedding mix, Merritt drolly replied that she should "get some new friends." Later, he rather mockingly suggested that people who write him letters saying that they love his music and even that it helped them come out of the closet makes him want to vomit. I was stunned by this remark far more than any of his comments on race, and wondered how it is that such a talented pop songwriter could so dismiss those (like me) who hear something in his gentle, affecting melodies beyond the intellectual deconstruction that he seems far more comfortable discussing. For a keynote speaker at a conference theoretically devoted to pop music, and even "Guilty Pleasures" (highly debated terminology itself that weekend), Merritt's remarks made for a strange overture.

That's all I've got to say, and I've simply not got the time or energy to refine them further. I hope that this conversation stimulates more debate generally, although I hope that the comments remain respectful (and, judging by the slurs thrown at Jessica Hopper on her website, it's threatening to get nasty).

Come back later today for what we're really here to do: listen to some records. I've got Madison, Wisconsin hip-hop on tap, so stop by this afternoon to get some real live beats, rhymes and reality from Dane County.

On the box right now: Keith Richards, THE VAMPIRE STRIKES BACK: LIVE IN 1993. Check out a new link on the left, IckMusic, for this and other good stuff.


Dove With Claws [8:13 AM]