We’re all stars now in the dope show

Race and racism continue to be important factors in American life, but we should not reduce every problem facing people of color to race and racism. That’s just part of the overall problem.” – William Julius Wilson

Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson popularized the term “White Flight” in the mid-20th century as a way to describe the mass migration of white people from the cities to the suburbs. His work in the field was lauded by many and derided by others, but his ideas about poverty, job loss, and the effects of segregation on the Black community remain just as relevant today.

In the ’90s, another “White Flight” of sorts took place when millions of white teenagers flocked to malls across America to score cool points as consumers of hip-hop, a phenomenon that has been analyzed to death by scholars seeking to sum the whole thing up as a form of cultural appropriation. Whether that’s accurate or not isn’t nearly as important as recognizing the link between the exodus of the ’50s and the record sales of the ’90s, because artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, and Jay-Z were all rapping about conditions that were arguably a direct result of the decay brought about by white people leaving major cities behind. Young, white suburbanites were fascinated by the ghetto concept being marketed to them by record companies, but they had little to no understanding of either the history or long-term implications of said marketing.

I knew plenty of kids growing up whose sole exposure to Black people came from Black Entertainment Television (BET) and the images it disseminated over the airways, which is unfortunate given that a lot of the racial animosity we’re experiencing in 2020 feels as if it’s stemming from decades of separation. You don’t have to be a self-loathing white person to appreciate the fact that we function better as a society when identity politics and racial division aren’t killing us on a daily basis. I shared the above quote from Wilson, because we’ve reached a dangerous peak where everything is viewed through a racial lens regardless of context.

For example, the death of Breonna Taylor was both tragic and preventable, but athletes and celebrities using it to further the narrative that every police officer in America is racist is irresponsible. Sure, it’s natural to want justice in these situations, but jumping to the conclusion that the shooting was racially motivated when it’s known that Taylor’s boyfriend fired his weapon first isn’t productive. Were the cops reckless when returning fire? Probably, but wanting a murder conviction and being able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt are two totally different concepts.

If anything, this case should prompt people to rethink the execution of “no-knock” warrants and focus on allocating funds toward better police training. Operating under the assumption that all cops are racist is as senseless as thinking that all young, Black males are criminals, but, in a year where little else makes sense, what do you expect from people who wish to let emotions drive policy formation?

However, that isn’t likely to happen, because it doesn’t jell with the media’s ongoing mission to divide and conquer. In Shakespeare’s day, the play was the thing, but, in ours, social media is the thing and Twitter is king. Shaming people for opinions that deviate from the hive and establishing one’s brand through half-baked hot takes is the new normal, so don’t expect things to change any time soon. In fact, the upcoming election cycle will only amplify the hatred, because it’s essentially being framed as a good vs. evil contest despite neither party appearing interested in working together to bring this country back from the hell it has created for itself.

There’s a scene from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” in which Daniel Plainview says “There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking,” and I feel as if 2020 has aligned me with that outlook. I feel it every time I see someone get berated for wanting to send their child back to school. I feel it every time I see someone campaigning for social justice while wearing a Ché Guevara t-shirt. And, lately, I feel it every time I hear someone painting all police shootings with the same black-and-white color scheme, because jumping to conclusions is how destructive myths such as “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” are born.

The death of intellectual disagreement is real and the American media’s obsession with race has gotten to the point where certain cultural commentators have suggested that white writers should be disallowed from reviewing anything that wasn’t created another white person. If that’s where we’re at as a society, I’m afraid that multiple people have failed us on multiple levels, because I couldn’t imagine not being able to express my appreciation for the work of John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, or Colson Whitehead in a written context.

It could just be me, but choosing who can discuss what based on anything other than the strength and and cogency of their work is antithetical to the whole anti-fascist philosophy, don’t ya think?

A few years ago, I got caught up in the belief that music could bring people of all backgrounds together and hatched an idea to write a book geared toward white parents dealing with how to teach their children about hip-hop. My basic premise was that unfamiliarity breeds fear and, if we want our children to learn to respect everyone of all races, creeds, religions, sexual orientations, socio-economic statuses, we have to expose them to cultures other than their own in a responsible way. If the only images of people different from themselves our children see are coming from external sources, it’s not difficult to see why rage, unease, and stereotypes persist.

I may still write that book one day, but, if things keep going the way that they’re going, I may be barred from doing so.

Blues Comin’ Down: A conversation with legendary Bay Area bluesman Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker has seen some shit. He made a name for himself within the Bay Area music scene when he was just 16-years-old and played alongside luminaries such as John Lee Hooker, Buddy Miles, and Muddy Waters, so, when he speaks his piece on how COVID-19 has decimated the industry, he knows what he’s talking about.

As Walker himself would say, he has “skin in the game” and is fearful of what the touring landscape will look like whenever things begin to resemble “normal” again.

His excellent new album, “Blues Comin’ On,” was released on June 5, but, given the current state of the world, our latest conversation ended up being about more than just songs and solos.

MNOD: How have you been dealing with the quarantine?

JLW: I’ve been dealing with the quarantine a lot better than the shutdown of the touring industry. I don’t take it personally, though, because I’m in the same boat as everyone else. No one has a crystal ball that can tell them when things will ever get back to normal, but hopefully things start to open up a bit soon.

MNOD: Did you feel hesitant at all about releasing a new album in the middle of a pandemic?

JLW: I talked it over with my record label, but you can only play the hand that you’re dealt. People need music in these times and I’ve had a lot of time to really get familiar with these songs during the past five years. Normally, the record would come out and I’d be playing a ton of shows, but now drive-in shows appears to be the immediate future. I’ve got a couple coming up in Plattsburgh, NY as well as in Derry, NH at a place called the Tupelo Music Hall. It’s great to have something to look forward to, because most shows were postponed and all of the festivals were pushed back until next year. The only thing about that is no one really knows what this planet is going to look like next year. It’s discouraging to read the article about Live Nation in Rolling Stone this morning, because what they’re proposing is terrible.

MNOD: “Feed the Poor” is a stunning way to open the record. Do you feel as if a lot of these songs fit the current social climate?

JLW: I think it definitely fits the time now. A friend of mine writes poetry and he wrote this one when he was 19-years-old. I read it and he was talking about people lying in the gutter and I said, ‘This is deep.’ I don’t like to get too preachy with songs, because I’m not Bob Geldof. I like him, but I’m not him. B.B. King had a song called “Help the Poor,” so he wanted to do his own version of that.

MNOD: You have an impressive lineup of musical guests on this album. How difficult was it to get everyone’s schedules to align?

JLW: That was the hardest thing to do. Everyone was busy with their own projects such as plays and having books written about them, but I was fortunate to get everyone to work with me. I had Dion and John Sebastian, who are both in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I had Charlie Harper, Waddy Wachtel, and Mitch Ryder. Everyone who played on this record trusted me with the music and I was able to accentuate what each artist does best. The point wasn’t for me to bring them in just to play solos, because I wanted to have a song that fit each style without one person dominating the music. I remember playing with Billy Gibbons and Eric Gales before and thinking why should all three guys solo when one guy could get both feet wet and really dig in. Waddy was almost like a third producer on this album, because he would always help out whenever I had an issue with sound or technology.

MNOD: Was there anyone that you hadn’t worked with before?

JLW: I had never worked with Carla Cooke before. I had heard the name before. but, when I heard her sing, she sounded so good. She made me sound good.

MNOD: Given how volatile society has become as of late, do you feel as if music will play a significant role in the movement again?

JLW: I don’t know. I mean, music has always played a role in social movements. We had ‘We Shall Overcome’ and Bob Dylan singing before Dr. King’s speech in 1963. We had Stephen Stills with ‘For What It’s Worth.’ The difference between then and this moment is the fact that we can’t have concerts. Back then, we had events like the No Nukes Concert with Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and Bonnie Raitt to galvanize people, but today we can’t even gather together as a group due to the pandemic. Not being able to come together is terrible. Things are never going to be the same. We can’t even rehearse or do anything together. So many of these music clubs aren’t going to come back from this and that’s sad. Drive-In shows are the thing at the moment, but there are 200 drive-ins in the United States and Live Nation wants the buy them all and monopolize. They want to pay musicians 20% less, which is a way to kick people when they’re down. Back in San Francisco when I was younger, we had venues like the Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland Ballroom. Bill Graham had a vision, but he also had his favorites. You’d see the Grateful Dead one night, then Santana, then Jefferson Airplane, then Bo Diddley. Music has always been able to define a movement, but it doesn’t have the same effect when we can’t gather as a whole group. In San Francisco, we used to set up a flatbed truck with speakers and shut an entire street down almost like a block party. Any musician who says they’re not affected by this is lying, because music is our life and our life is music. My wife is out gardening right now, but you can only do so much gardening before you have to get back to doing what you do. I used to tell a lot of the younger kids I played with that they can’t get upset about things unless they truly have skin in the game. People of all backgrounds need something to come along to get everyone moving in the same direction, which is difficult in this country. You know that there’s going to a jailbreak for gigs once things start to open up, because, if Live Nation is offering 20% less, there will be someone willing to work for 50% less just to get a gig. People are discouraged right now and it’s pretty scary. We’re not the masters of our own fates. I’m 70-years-old and I’ve never known a situation where everyone had the rug pulled out from under them at the same time.

MNOD: As someone who lived through the protests of the ’60s, are you optimistic that the current uprising will bring about real change?

JLW: I am optimistic, because the young people are dedicated to the cause. They’re sick of the way things are and how the older people in power are leaving them with such a screwed up world. Change isn’t created in a vacuum and it ain’t going to be easy. We have Greta (Thunberg) making her voice heard on climate change and Malala fighting for an education after being shot in the head. They’re not backing down. We had two people, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, get murdered and that’s not something that you can just get out of your head. Bob Marley didn’t become Bob Marley by going to school, he went to the University of Life. John Lennon went to the University of Life. He became who he became, because he played all those crazy places in Hamburg. I know, because I’ve played them, too. People are sick of being kicked around and beaten down. You have a 75-year-old guy pushed to the ground and he’s bleeding out of his ear, and all some people want to talk about is how he might be Antifa. In the ’60s, we had three students get killed in Mississippi for trying to fight against the system, so today’s young people need to stay the course and not get discouraged. How do any of these politicians expect to leave a positive legacy when children are being kept in cages just for being in this country? How can we hold them responsible for not being here legally when they’re just kids? All of these elections come down to fear. There’s always something to be afraid of. How many walls can you build? I hope and pray that young people stay the course and continue to have skin in the game. With 40 Million people out of work, who knows what things are going to look like later on? We have iconic venues like The Troubadour possibly closing for good and people being gassed and shot with rubber bullets for trying to fix a broken system. People need to put their thinking hats on, as John Lennon said, come together and fight the problem. Young people can’t fall for the divide and conquer tactic that so many politicians use.

“Blues Comin’ On” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

http://www.joelouiswalker.com

Blues For a King: Why Shirley King’s time is now

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While Shirley King admits that being the daughter of a blues legend has had certain advantages, the amount of time, energy, and hip shaking that she has put into establishing her own career can’t be denied. She turned to the blues in 1990 after spending 21 years as a dancer, and, three decades later, finally feels poised to get the individual recognition that she deserves.

Her latest album, “Blues For a King,” is set to drop on June 19 and King’s excitement was palpable when I spoke to her via telephone this week. Her husky wail has never sounded better and each track further propels her out from under B.B.’s intimidating shadow.

At a time when America can use more people with an uplifting artistic presence, Shirley King has answered the call yet again.

MNOD: You’re closing in on 30 years as a blues singer, but it feels as if you’re finally on the verge of being appreciated for your career. How did this new record come about?

SK: Cleopatra Records actually came to me with this batch of songs and it’s something I never really thought would happen. I can’t tell you the feeling that I have when I think about how excited I was by this offer. I was amazed, because I’ve been fighting to break out of my father’s legacy for my whole career and I think this is my chance to establish myself as my own person. I think about how my father was 69 when he reached a new level of fame and now, at 70, I feel blessed that my time is finally coming. I had no idea that Cleopatra would present me with such a phenomenal lineup to play on this record. I’m just so happy with the way things worked out.

MNOD: Did you have any input as to what songs would be included or was the selection random?

SK: They were all chosen by Cleopatra. A lot of these songs were tracks that I had heard before and was quite familiar with, but I made a conscious effort to sing them in my own way. I sang them and the label sent them to LA for the instrumental portion to be laid down by a list of wonderful guitar players.

MNOD: Growing up, singing the blues was never something that you envisioned for yourself. What inspired you to finally launch your own music career? 

SK: I kinda hated it as a kid, because it was responsible for keeping my dad away from me. It was often believed that you had to live the blues to be able to sing it convincingly, but I later learned that it wasn’t all depressing. I had danced for 21 years and knew how to entertain, so I wanted my presentation of the blues to be happier and more uplifting than what people were used to. Living in Chicago exposed me to a lot. I hung out with Willie Dixon’s daughter and I started going to clubs where anybody who was anybody would play. I didn’t want to ride my dad’s coattails, because I wanted people to see me as separate from what he did.

MNOD: What were your early days on stage like?

SK: I was honored to be a woman in the blues and I was sitting like a dog waiting on a bone during one of my first nights on stage. I didn’t know the words to every song at first, but I knew how to work the crowd by shaking and dancing. I got a standing ovation that night and realized that I was meant to sing the blues. I admit that I was able to get into certain clubs based on who my father was, because people wanted to use B.B. King at a cheaper price. Once they heard me, though, I was able to prove that I could make it on the strength of my own voice. I had an album released in Japan called “Jump Through My Keyhole” in 1992 featuring Jimmy Dawkins on guitar, but I’m even more excited about this new CD.

MNOD: Because most people only know your dad from his music, I’m curious as to what he was like as a father when you were growing up.

SK: Since he died, I haven’t been able stop thinking about him and what people knew about him. Of the 15 children that he claimed on paperwork, I was the only one that was actually raised by him, so he taught me a lot of valuable lessons. I wanted to be just like him. It’s clear why I chose this pathway, because, before I never had to do anything but be B.B.’s daughter. By carving my own path in the blues, I’ve been able to get out from his shadow and do it my way. I remember asking him once if he wanted me to be a boy and he said ‘No, I want you to be who you are and only get into music because you want to.’ People used to ask me during interviews if I played Lucille on stage and I would tell them that I don’t play Lucille, but I shake a mean hip. I developed my own unique presence on stage and he was always encouraging me to be myself. When I would go teach kids in schools, kids who didn’t even like the blues would be trying to sneak back into the assembly after they saw what I did on stage. Some of them were hoping that my dad would eventually show up at some point, but they admired what I did.

MNOD: I really enjoy your take on “At Last” from the new record. What role did the legacy of Etta James play in your career?

SK: I was scared to death to sing that song, because I saw Etta when I was 13 and she’s had a tremendous impact on me. It makes me happy when people say that they like my version, because it was a challenge and I sang it the way that I could do it. She was my idol as a kid and my dad knew how much I admired her, so he had her call me on my birthday one year. It’s one of my most memorable moments of being B.B. King’s daughter and she made me feel good by just being on the phone with her.

MNOD: Has the shutdown of the touring industry left you disappointed to not be able to share this CD on the road right away?

SK: Not at all, because it’s given me time to really acquainted with these songs and study the words. I’m proud of the opportunity that Cleopatra has given me with this CD and I want to work on putting together the best tour possible. I’m focused on becoming a better artist all the time as well as getting my podcast up and running. I’m hoping to get some of the musicians that played on this album to come out on tour with me when the time is right.

Shirley King: Blues For a King will be released on June 19.

https://www.facebook.com/shirley.king.102

If there’s a new way, I’ll be the first in line

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Western New York is in the process of entering “Phase Two” this week, but does anyone  believe that we’re going to emerge as a kinder, gentler society as a result of our government-mandated isolation? Does anyone really feel as if the time apart will inspire us to rethink our approach to social interactions moving forward?

I’ve had nothing but time to reflect on those questions and more during the quarantine, but the latest murder of an already subdued black male at the hands of someone whose mission should have been to protect and serve has left me no closer to an answer than I was three months ago.

Like many of you, the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death have left me feeling sick, sad, and angry to the extent that the imminent reopening of public spaces  doesn’t sound all that appealing anymore. I’m sick of people acting as if black lives only matter when they’re making money for multi-billion dollar corporations (i.e. athletes, actors, musicians etc), I’m sad about the fact that certain protests have been hijacked by individuals whose agenda has little to do with justice for the victims, and I’m angry that it took days before the officer in question was formally charged despite the video evidence being so clear-cut.

The reality is that America has been a live grenade for a while now and Derek Chauvin appears to have finally pulled the pin.

We may never know what was going through his mind during the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that he spent kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, but I think it’s safe to say that responding to the pleas of bystanders to stop was not. He made a choice and will hopefully pay for his actions accordingly, but, until tangible changes are made, the issue will always be bigger than putting a cop with 18 prior complaints behind bars.

What we’re seeing manifest itself in these uprisings isn’t just a response to what happened in Minnesota, it’s a collective exasperation from a community fed up with always being on the wrong end of history. I can’t condone the violent and irrational destruction of businesses that had nothing to do with the initial incident, but it’s easy to see what happens when politicians on both sides fail to come together to reckon with generations of institutionalized racism.

I’ll never pretend to understand the challenges of being black in America in 2020. All I can offer are the words of someone who grew up next door to a house that had a Confederate battle flag flying high for all to see. Regardless of the flag’s original intention, I knew it was wrong, and, given what I knew about the person responsible for putting it up, there was no confusing its purpose in that moment for anything other than promoting white supremacy.

Because I have no control over how anyone else chooses to see the world, all I can do is make sure that my son learns to respect people of all races and understand that this country wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of everyone involved. I don’t know about you, but my sociocultural experience wouldn’t be nearly as rich if voices such as Miles Davis, James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Spike Lee, and Kasi Lemmons were barred from sharing their gifts with the world.

When I interviewed Chuck D from Public Enemy back in 2010, we had a long discussion about how education is one of the greatest weapons in the ongoing fight against oppression and he told me that the cheapest price anyone can pay in today’s society is attention.

That line has stuck with me ever since, and, after seeing what has transpired lately, perhaps it’ll begin to stick with others, as well.

 

 

 

Ten Years Gone: Vinny Appice pays tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio on the 10th anniversary of his death

 

VINNY LIVE

“This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame won’t last forever?
This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical”

When Ronnie James Dio sang those words in 1996’s “This Is Your Life,” he couldn’t possibly have imagined how affirming they would be to a kid from Western New York whose friends never shared his love of heavy metal. He was simply delivering another sermon of hope and self-reliance just as he always had, but, to me, his sentiment was exactly what I needed to hear at a time when my lifelong struggle against The Extrovert Ideal was reaching its boiling point. I was beginning to shed whatever adolescent desire for acceptance I had left while the music of Dio, Black Sabbath, and Motorhead provided the soundtrack, which meant that plenty of futile exchanges with middle school teachers were on the horizon.

Despite the establishment’s attempt to frame the genre as something that people grow out of once they transition from the classroom to the boardroom, Dio’s work was a shining example of how to make mature metal that had just as much to say about man’s inhumanity to man as any protest music from the 1960s. He wrote about a cruel world where people in power blind your eyes and steal your dreams, and displayed such a versatile vocal range that he deserved to be mentioned among the greatest singers of his era regardless of style. His physical flame may not have lasted forever, but the legacy that he left behind for his family, friends, fans, bandmates, and the heavy metal community at-large is indeed magical.

I caught up with his longtime drummer/friend/collaborator Vinny Appice this week to discuss a tribute video that he and his brother Carmine put together to honor Ronnie on the 10th anniversary of his death. I know that we’re all suffering from concert withdrawal at this point, so, if you want to pay your respects from home, feel free to watch the video with your horns up.

MNOD: How did the idea for this tribute video come about?

VA: I was talking to my brother about 10 days ago and we decided to use a song we did from a few years ago called “Monsters and Heroes,” which was all about Ronnie. It was the most commercial song from the “Sinister” album and it fit the concept well. May 16 marks the 10th anniversary of his passing, so we decided to release the video that day as the perfect tribute.

MNOD: What do you remember about the first time that you met Ronnie?

VA: The first time I met him, I was struck by how nice and down-to-earth he was. How much he cared for his fans and the music was amazing to see. We were playing arenas and he always wanted to take time out for the fans. I remember one time Ronnie and I were in a limo and there were a bunch of fans hanging out by the gate trying to see the band. All of a sudden, Ronnie said ‘Stop the car’ and he got out to sign autographs and take pictures with everyone out there. It was cold out, but he didn’t care. He wanted to meet and talk to everyone, which was how he was all the time.

MNOD: Did you find it intimidating at all when you first stepped into the Black Sabbath fold given that they were already established as legends?

VA: Not really. I’ve always had a professional attitude and I knew that I had a job to do. I had to learn the songs and be ready to deliver them on stage every night. The process is the same with anything I do, because it’s about doing the best job that I can do.

MNOD: What were the differences between Ronnie’s approach to Sabbath and how he worked once the original Dio band took off?

VA: Both groups were easy, because he was so creative and always had ideas flowing about how a certain song should be. With Sabbath, there weren’t as many suggestions obviously, because they already had an established sound and vibe. He would always be singing along with us while we played to give us that inspiration. We would usually lay the drums down first and then bring the bass in. The goal was to make it sound dark and evil. With the original Dio lineup, he was always open to input from all of us and we were always trying different things to see what worked.

MNOD: Of the seven Dio studio albums that you were a part of, which one stands out as your favorite?

VA: “Holy Diver” is definitely the one. The songs were so high energy, the band was playing really well, and we just had a great time making that record. I think the music reflects that. It’s almost 37-years-old and it still sells and people still play it everywhere.

MNOD: The 2007 reunion tour for Black Sabbath under the Heaven and Hell moniker is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Was it easy for you guys to find that chemistry again after being apart for a while?

VA: It was like the band never ended. I went to Tony’s house in England and pretty soon we were getting along just like old times. I started recording some stuff that was already written and then we had a bunch of dates booked in addition to the new material. That tour was fun, because we were playing great and all getting along really well. Then, Ronnie got sick and we weren’t able to continue for as long as we wanted to. I would spend a lot of time with Ronnie as he was going through treatment and we all thought that, if anyone could beat this, it was him. He had such a big personality and was always full of life, but, sadly, he never got better.

MNOD: Do you remember the last time that you spoke with him?

VA: I remember talking to him on the phone and his voice was raspy, which was odd, because he always had such a powerful voice. He fought it with everything he had and  always tried to remain positive throughout.

MNOD: I know that you’re involved in a number of different projects other than this, so how have you been dealing with the shutdown?

VA: I’ve been doing some drum lessons on Skype and catching up on a lot of movies. I’ve never watched so much Netflix. I’ve also been finding stuff that I didn’t know I had like boxes of stuff from the road and scrapbooks. Anything that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, I’m now getting to do, because I’m not on the road. I had some dates scheduled with Last in Line, the band I’m in with Vivian Campbell, but those have been pushed back until the end of the year. I’m also still doing the Resurrection Kings project with ex-Dio member Craig Goldy, so I’m hoping that things will get back to normal soon and everyone can get back out there.

The Appice Brothers will release their video tribute to Ronnie James Dio on Saturday, May 16, 2020 on YouTube and the Internet in general. 

http://www.vinnyappice.com

 

The Quarantine Collection Part II

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Last month, I shared a list of pop culture items that I felt could make your time in isolation a little less maddening. Not much has changed since then, so I’ve decided to offer another one to hopefully carry you through until the government decides what the next step is.

Enjoy.

Movies –

“Videodrome” – David Cronenberg’s 1983 television satire was ahead of its time then and remains one of his finest works.

“Match Point” – Regardless of how tarnished Woody Allen’s personal reputation has become, this 2005 psychological deconstruction of the British upper crust is a late-career gem.

“Uncut Gems” – I first saw this back in early December, but watching it again made me appreciate Adam Sandler’s performance that much more.

Albums –

Fiona Apple – “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – Best thing I’ve heard yet in 2020.

Pearl Jam – “Gigaton” – I know plenty of people who dislike everything after the first three albums, but Vedder’s urgency on this one really grabbed me.

The Flying Burrito Brothers –  “The Gilded Palace of Sin” – I rediscovered this one while doing research for an article and it proves that The Eagles cashed in on a lot of what Gram Parsons had already done.

Books – 

Liz Phair – “Horror Stories” – An unconventional memoir from a woman whose contribution to the ’90s alternative scene doesn’t get talked about enough.

Machiavelli – “The Prince” – A perfect encapsulation of what living in America feels like in 2020.

Jim Ross – “Under the Black Hat” – I ordered my copy last week and can’t wait to dive in.

TV – 

“Dark Side of the Ring” – Even if you’re not a fan of professional wrestling, the creators of this docuseries tackle each story with such unflinching humanity that you’ll be thinking about it well after it’s over.

Any of George Carlin’s HBO specials – They’re all on Amazon Prime Video and each one is a gift that keeps on giving.

“The Last Dance” – Michael Jordan is my favorite athlete of all time and this project actually made me want to watch ESPN again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The legacy of The Burrito Brothers lives on

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Gram Parsons died in 1973, but the legacy of what he and the rest of the original members of The Flying Burrito Brothers created on their first two studio albums is impossible to deny. Everyone from Glenn Frey to Elvis Costello to Emmylou Harris has cited Parsons as an influence and his contribution to the annals of American music serve as a reminder of what country rock can be when it isn’t filtered through the prism of pop sensibility.

Their 1969 debut, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” is a bona fide masterpiece of any genre, so, upon hearing the band’s latest release, “The Notorious Burrito Brothers,” I was pleased to hear that they remain committed to keeping the spirit of that album alive. I caught up with current vocalist/keyboardist Chris P. James recently to discuss the new project and whether or not the current pandemic has hindered the band’s ability to reap the benefits of all their hard work.

Even if you’ve never heard of them and are just in need of something to immerse yourself in while stuck at home, The Burrito Brothers have got you covered.

MNOD: How have you been dealing with the isolation thus far?

CJ: This is definitely a weird time. It’s almost science fiction-like, because we’ve pretty much been isolated since the whole thing began. My wife and I are both slightly older, so we haven’t had any visitors and have only left the house for groceries a few times. She has Crohn’s Disease, which puts her at a higher risk than other people. A lot of people are suffering out there, but, hopefully, we’ll all get through it OK.

MNOD: Does it feel odd to have a new album out at a time when fans aren’t going to shows or having a lot of extra money to spend on entertainment?

CJ: I’m just glad that we were able to finish the album before everything went down. We’ve always been more of an album-oriented band, so not playing live every night doesn’t really affect us that much. We’d like to play certain dates here and there, but regular touring isn’t our thing. The band is based out of Nashville now and just having the support of a label behind this album has been amazing. We’re proud of the finished product, because this record fits in nicely among the first two albums that The Flying Burrito Brothers ever released.

MNOD: Were you guys able to record all in the same room?

CJ: Yes, we had to. There’s a feeling you get from all being together that can’t be captured any other way. I always look to the drummer to set the groove, which doesn’t work when you’re playing to a click track.

MNOD: How did you first come to join the band?

CJ: I officially joined the band in 2010, but I started playing with them back in 1986. I was a part of the Nashville Tribute to Gram Parsons. No one has ever auditioned for this band. Vacancies were always filled by guys that the band was already familiar with and knew would be the right fit. When the deal was struck with Curb Records back in the ’80s, the encouraged the band to drop the ‘Flying’ in the title and adopt a shorter, catchier direction with pop hooks. Marketing was a big thing and the songs that were released on Curb were different than the original sound, so this new album is definitely more akin to “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” I’ve always considered The Burrito Brothers to be a progressive rock band that incorporates country music, which is exactly what this new album is. Something happened in the ’80s with MTV where everyone wanted to be on the charts and present a certain image, but we’re in the mindset of making classic concept albums. It’s a complete statement and a fully conceptualized piece. When I finally joined, they all said ‘What took you so long?’ and, since then, we’ve returned to the original sound. There have been so many members of this band over the years that I think they’ve had different personnel on every album.

MNOD: Who were some of your influences as a younger musician?

CJ: I was 13-years-old when “The Gilded Palace of Sin” came out, so I was in the perfect age group for that record. I also loved The Byrds, The Beatles, and The Monkees. It’s funny, because a lot of talk at the time was about how The Monkees shouldn’t be taken seriously as a band. Now, people have acknowledged just how much talent there was in the band and how the songs were quality records. That era of the ’60s and ’70s was really the golden age for music.

MNOD: Are there any current bands that you believe carry on the tradition of The Burrito Brothers?

CJ: I don’t know if I’m the best person to judge that, because I don’t really listen to a lot of new stuff. A lot of younger people will listen to something and think it’s good, but their frame of reference isn’t necessarily as wide as mine. It’s hard to hear something that hasn’t been done before, because so much of what comes out today is derivative. I don’t want to say that I’m jaded. I’m just not the target audience for a lot of what is popular today and I’ve never paid much attention to trends. We were all influenced by something and we came together to create our own hybrid of those influences. I’d like to direct people to the band’s web site, which contains a song-by-song blog for the new album and dives into what a lot of the hidden meanings behind the songs are. We’re really proud of this album and how it takes the listener back to the classic era of the band.

Check out http://www.theburritobrothers.net for more information regarding the band and how the new album fits into the overall catalog.

“The Notorious Burrito Brothers” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

 

 

 

 

Sass Jordan hits the sweet spot on “Rebel Moon Blues”

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My relationship with the music of Sass Jordan began when I was a teenager. Rather than indulge in whatever drivel was being peddled by Top 40 radio in the early ’00s, I sought out artists whose work reflected a deeper understanding of what really matters in the grand scheme of things. Thus, the uncompromising rawness of Jordan’s 1994 album “Rats” became an ideal alternative to the tedium of Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head.”

Her voice was a revelation, and, the more I listened, the more I found it  incomprehensible that she wasn’t huge in America. I only discovered “Rats” and then 1992’s “Racine” later on, because I happened to live in a border town that had access to Canadian radio. Here was one of the finest rock singers, male or female, I’d ever heard and the amount of acclaim she received was but a fraction of what the inconsequential pop stars of the day were getting with very little effort.

It is my hope that her new project, “Rebel Moon Blues,” will bring her the respect she deserves beyond just the longtime fans. I spoke with her via telephone recently about the album and how she’s been navigating through these crazy times, so, if her Oct. 10 date in Buffalo goes down as scheduled, it promises to be one hell of a show.

MNOD: With the world in a constant state of flux due to COVID-19, how have you been dealing with the isolation?

SJ: Well, you know, it’s not really that different from what I normally do during a break from the road. I live such an outward life when performing, so, when I go home, I like to collect my thoughts and have time to myself. This is just an extended period of that. If you pay attention to the news or any mainstream media, there’s a constant barrage of information that can make you squirelly after a while. It’s really challenging to know what’s true and what’s not, because we’re living in such a surreal reality.

MNOD: How frustrating has it been to have this stellar new album out and not be able to share it with people in a live setting?

SJ: Not really. What I like about it is that it’s giving people time to get to know the album and become familiar with it. That way, when I do return to the live shows, the songs will be more fun for the audience and they’ll feel like an old shoe that they’re used to. I want to do a live stream soon, but it’s hard to predict when that will be.

MNOD: What inspired you make an entire blues record this time?

SJ: I was asked to do it. I was initially resistant, but then I said ‘Who gives a crap what anyone else thinks?’ Never Mind the Bollocks, as they say in England. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that it’s not all that far removed from what I’ve always done. The style is something I’m extremely close to. “Still Got the Blues” is the song that started the whole thing, because I started discovering all these other songs that never occurred to me before. There were no hard and fast boundaries.

MNOD: How did you decide which songs to cover?

SJ: They just sort of came to me. I would be driving, hear a cool song, and then do some research on YouTube, which of course is a rabbit hole. The more songs that I looked up, the more suggestions it would give me as to other songs I might enjoy, so I followed that. There are eight songs on the record and seven of them arrived almost with a light around them to signal that they were perfect for me.

MNOD: What did you bring to this material as a female voice that is different than the original versions?

SJ: I would say that it’s more about my personality than gender, because anyone singing these songs would bring themselves to the process. The energy is what comes through the most, so the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t affect it that much.

MNOD: “One Way Out” became popularized when The Allman Brothers Band released a live version of it on 1972’s “Eat a Peach.” What did you do to make the song your own?

SJ: I’ve always loved that song, so I think the same answer applies here. I chose it, because I like it. I brought my own personality to the song.

MNOD: “The Key” is the lone original composition on this album, but it’s a knockout. How did this one come together? 

SJ: I wanted to write at least one original song for the album and this one came together so quickly. Derek (Sharp) came up with the chord progression and the words just sort of happened. The whole thing only took about 30 minutes to take shape. A lot of people think that successful songs take a long time, but that’s not always the case.

MNOD: Have you found that your other successes followed that same philosophy?

SJ: 1000% yes. Things that work or become really successful are usually things that come together incredibly quickly. They just sort of happen out of nowhere. For me, I know that, if I spent ages working on something, I would start to second guess myself the longer the process went on, so it’s better to just go with your instinct. The thing about this album is that there were no obstacles or impediments along the way. Everything fell into place for an extraordinary experience.

MNOD: “Am I Wrong” is a track that not a lot of people are familiar with, but I loved your take on it. How did that wind up on the album?

SJ: My guitar player and I have a disagreement as to who discovered it first, because he claims that he suggested it and I believe that I found it on YouTube first. He says that he sent me the link, but, in my reality, I found it while researching.

MNOD: Because of how well this album turned out, would you like to do another blues collection in the future?

SJ: 1000% yes. I love it, because, right now, having the album out there is the best way for me to reach as many people as possible. Sometimes, things happen during the course of an album that you have to figure out or find your way around, but nothing like that happened here. It all came together perfectly. Even the picture on the cover was perfect. It was taken by a Dutch photographer who happened to be taking pictures during a show. I didn’t even know he took it, but then he shared it on Instagram. Normally, I can’t stand pictures of me while performing, because they either get you with your tonsils hanging out or looking like 50,000 tons, but this photo is fantastic. I told my manager about the shot and we agreed that it would be perfect for the cover, so the photographer sold it to us and it worked. With the smoky blue color scheme on the vinyl release, it looks like an old-school blues or jazz record, which I love.

MNOD: Your Buffalo date appears to have been rescheduled for Oct. 10, so hopefully we’ll see you then.

SJ: Yes, I look forward to seeing you and everyone else who wants to come out to the show when all of this craziness is over.

Sass Jordan plays the Showplace Theater on Oct. 10 with special guest Jessie Galante.

See http://www.sassjordan.com or http://www.theshowplacetheater.com for details.

“Rebel Moon Blues” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

 

What Happens When Things Fall Apart?

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A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”
― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

How we handle ourselves in a crisis tells the rest of the world everything it needs to know about us as people. Times of trouble have a way of bringing all of our ethics, morals, hopes, fears, and latent insecurities to the surface, leaving us with nothing but a “deep, dark, truthful mirror” to gaze into and determine whether or not we’re proud of what we see. While most of us would like to believe that we’re inherently good, the onslaught of positive COVID-19 cases and subsequent shut-down of everything we’ve come to take for granted as a “First World” country have demanded that we prove it.

For some, this is easy, as they just keep on doing what they’ve always done and commit themselves to trying to lift up their fellow citizens at a time when politicians on both sides are still trying like hell to keep everyone divided. For others, this has proven to be more difficult as of late given the amount of hoarding, price gouging, and general disregard for decency that has been widely reported.

Sure, it’s natural for humans to go into self-preservation mode whenever their way of life is being threatened, but there has to be a way to take care of your own without impeding others’ ability to do the same. The fact that companies have to limit purchases to ensure a level playing field is sad not due to the limit itself. It’s sad, because it never occurred to people to impose the limit on their own terms. I’m sure that some hoarders would make the argument that they’re simply taking advantage of preexisting loopholes in the system, but I highly doubt that they would be too happy being on the other end of that scenario.

Beyond the trials of everyday people like you and I, certain celebrities have revealed themselves to be desperate for attention by any means necessary. For example, Gal Gadot recently pieced together a well-intentioned yet tone-deaf video featuring stars singing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but listening to a bunch of millionaires ponder life without possessions when we all know that their conditions while in quarantine are different from the rest of us doesn’t come off well.

Musicians, however, have provided the most earnest form of respite I’ve seen yet, because many of them have begun streaming impromptu concerts via social media in an effort to elevate the spirits of those for whom live music qualifies as an “essential service.” Because someone’s creative drive or innate need to express themselves through art doesn’t just shut off during a work stoppage, the fact that they’ve found a productive way to keep the music alive at a distance should be supported just as any necessary retail establishment would be.

In the past week, I’ve seen Brad Paisley perform before a couch full of stuffed animals, Colin MacDonald of The Trews try to sing in his living room without disturbing his neighbors, and Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms use this time to recapture what it felt like to play before a sparsely occupied bar room. They may not be feeding off the immediate reaction of an audience, but they’re delivering performances worthy of a sold-out crowd simply because that’s what they do as artists committed to the cause.

Who cares if some of their events have been hindered by technological glitches beyond their control (i.e. Garth Brooks)? At this point, anything is better than nothing, so I implore you to continue to support them as much as you can.

Thinking, writing, and obsessing about music has been a significant part of my life for more than a decade. Just like the musicians I interview, my need to express myself through my work doesn’t stop during a moratorium on public gatherings. I’ve simply altered my coverage for the time being in an attempt to keep my audience engaged with what we’re all going through.

Chinua Achebe was right when he said that people don’t come together for any other reason than it is good to do so, because there are intangible benefits to be gained from positive social interaction that can’t be duplicated through a screen. Even a lifelong introvert like me can admit that. How long this quarantine lasts is ultimately up to forces greater than any of us, but we should take care of each other in the meantime so that, when things do get put back together again, the damage isn’t irreparable.

The Quarantine Collection

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Western New York has been effectively shut down for a week now, and, if you’re anything like me, you’re committed to doing whatever it takes to satisfy your craving for entertainment. Books, records, movies, shows, etc. Things have gotten so dire that I’ve even considered seeing what all the fuss is about “Game of Thrones” for the very first time, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Instead, I’ve been diving deep into my record collection and rediscovering albums that I haven’t spun in quite some time for whatever reason, which can be a cathartic experience in times of extreme social distancing.

Because of how uncertain the remainder of WNY’s 2020 concert season is, I’ve put together a list of pop culture items new and old that might make the next couple months a little more bearable.

Movies –

Disappearance at Clifton Hill” – An unsettling, old-school noir that was filmed just over the border at a place we all know.

Parasite” – The Academy named it the Best Picture of 2019 for a reason, so, if you still haven’t seen it, now’s the time.

Candyman” – Before Nia DeCosta and Jordan Peele’s update drops this                              summer, revisit the terror and caustic social commentary of the original.

Music –

Sass Jordan – “Rebel Moon Blues” – The Canadian songstress is back with one of the finest releases of 2020 thus far.

Etta James – “Queen of Soul” – I recently acquired an original copy of this on vinyl, and, in the immortal words of Rick Jeanneret, it’s scary good.

Ozzy Osbourne – “Ordinary Man” – Nothing about Ozzy’s present circumstances would lead one to believe that he’s capable of such vibrant work at this stage, but this one deserves your attention.

Books –

Phil Collins – “Not Dead Yet” –  Vital for fans of both Genesis and solo Phil.

Colson Whitehead – “The Nickel Boys” – I can’t decide what’s more devastating. The novel or the fact that Whitehead’s appearance in Buffalo was nixed due to COVID-19.

Keah Brown – “The Pretty One” –  Supporting a local writer is great, but it’s easy when the book itself is so full of life.

TV –

Twin Peaks” – We’re approaching the 30th anniversary of the two-hour pilot and it’s still unlike anything that’s ever aired on a major network.

How to Get Away With Murder” – As the series draws to a close, let’s go back and acknowledge the ongoing greatness of Viola Davis.

High Fidelity” – Nick Hornby himself has given this project his stamp of approval, which is really the only endorsement needed.