Finally breaking into the Top Ten with three sprawling somewhat-personal album picks and an all-hip-hop singles list.
This epic album from the Wu-Tang Clan's greatest MC artist comes at you in movements. In the first third, Ghostface proves he can spin gripping drug-trade yarns better than any new jack while never once trying to convince you he didn't long ago rise above that world. The middle third is pure show-off: Luther Ingram-sampling endorsement of child abuse Ghost remembers as good parenting, Willie Hutch-driven battle of the sexes, explosive Pete Rock-produced rave-up. The final third he goes all "Old Jeezy" on us, bringing deep-soul wisdom and moral center to a newly resurgent subgenre (coke-trade rap) desperately in need of it. Throughout, you get a dense collection of grimy crime stories, offbeat boasts and exhortations ("Y'all be nice to the crackheads!"), soaring '70s soul samples, random bursts of reality (our hero opens one song kicked back at the crib watching Larry King Live), and extravagant production that splits the difference between Bomb Squad and Kanye West. If you're not a pretty serious hip-hop fan, you might struggle to find a point of entry. If you are a pretty serious hip-hop fan, you can get lost in it. Thirteen years after the debut of the posse classic Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers and 10 years too late, here's the best Wu-Tang album since the first one.
Sample Song: "The Champ"
Tomorrow, Knowledge Bowl kicks off another season of local trivia competition. A staple of Memphis Saturday mornings on WREG News Channel 3 now about to start its 23rd year, Knowledge Bowl pits teams of area high school smartypants against each other, in tournament fashion, stretched out over the school year. Thirty-two high school teams start the season. One stands victorious in May. (This season's final airs May 29, 2010.)
Across the Mid-South this fall, teams have been built at each participating school. One of the fun things about watching Knowledge Bowl is getting to meet these talented young adults, and, for the winners, seeing them grow and change throughout the season. The best of the best get more confident and comfortable on TV as the tournament progresses.
They don't play for nuthin. Scholarships and bonds are given to every kid on every team, the amount increasing as the team advances. This year, each member on the winning team will get a $5,000 scholarship.
This year, consider SING ALL KINDS to be your Knowledge Bowl headquarters. We'll be providing game-by-game analysis; absolutely nobody has requested such in-depth coverage, but if high school football can soak up so much time and devotion in the local media, ain't it time for the nerds, geeks, cool-kids-who-are-also-smart, and every other brave soul who goes on the air to get their due? It's way past time.
The headliner is alt-rock heavyweight Mitch Easter, whose rich varied career — from fronting indie cult band Let's Active to helming classic R.E.M. albums — is profiled in this week's paper by Andrew Earles. Setting the stage for Easter are a couple of local notables: The New Mary Jane pairs former Grifters partners Dave Shouse and Scott Taylor in a new form. And another signature early ’90s Memphis band, The Simple Ones, lead by Shangri-La Records owner Jared McStay, will also perform.
Memphis Pops starts at 6 p.m. and has been moved indoors due to our never-ending rain. It'll now take place in the back room at Earnestine & Hazel's, at 531 S. Main.
After being victim to the rain a few weeks ago, the Goner Records installment of the Downtown Alley Jams series has been rescheduled for next Wednesday, November 4th, in the Barbaro Alley near Main and Peabody. The show begins at 5:30 p.m. and will feature a packed triple bill of Mouserocket, Magic Kids, and Harlan T. Bobo.
Moving into the Top 15 and coming close to wrapping this little project up.
The year's most beautiful record is a reunion album from this great Senegalese pop band of the '70s and '80s that has been accurately but insufficiently described as an Afropop Buena Vista Social Club. Co-produced by countryman and onetime spotlight-usurper Youssou N'Dour, this dispatch from the other end of the Afro-Cuban continuum is more commanding and more supple, led by guitarist extraordinaire Barthelemy Attisso and saxman Issa Cissokho.
Song Sample: "Bul Ma Miin"
From THR: "Delta, from Clooney and Grant Heslov's Smokehouse Pictures and Warner Horizon, was penned by Liz Garcia (Cold Case) and Josh Harto. It centers on an outstanding but unusual Memphis cop who moonlights as an Elvis impersonator and lives with his mother. Delta was put in development at TNT about a year and a half ago and was included in the cable network's development slate during its May 2008 upfront presentation."
George Clooney is, of course, Batman. No word at all about where the pilot will shoot, thought one suspects somewhere Memphis-y like Vancouver or Paraguay.
And there's more from The Hollywood Reporter: Pau Gasol! MIami! TV!
Some more personal picks on the album list, sandwiched between the previous heavyweights and the coming heavyweights.
It seems odd in a year so desperate — and desperately contentious — that there was so little music that acknowledged the colossal mess the world is in, as if all of pop music colluded to deal with it by dancing our troubles away. And there was no greater house party than Kish Kash. Brit DJs Basement Jaxx decided to make one thing we could all have when it all crumbles down, and they invited a jumbled assortment of friends — young rappers and old punks, second-tier teen-poppers and garage-rock soul belters, art-funk chanteuses and (literally) the girl next door — to help them do it. The result: the most ecstatic and warm-hearted party record in recent memory.
Song Sample: "Hot N' Cold"
Yesterday, a friend pointed me to this YouTube video of French singer/actress Vanessa Paradis — better known on these shores as the common law wife of Johnny Depp — performing a Euro pop rendition of Big Star's "The Ballad of El Goodo," which has also been reinterpreted by the likes of Ted Leo, Matthew Sweet, the Counting Crows, and the Lemonheads.
Guess there's nothing like knowing, "You don't have to, you can just say 'no'!" Unfortunately, Paradis didn't listen to her own advice.
See also: Scarlett Johansson's take on "I Am the Cosmos", released last month.
Moving into the Top 20 with the first mentions of some of the decade's signature artists: Jay-Z, M.I.A., the Hold Steady, and TV on the Radio.
Song Sample: "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)"
The foundation has also partnered with Live From Memphis to create a free downloadable collection of contemporary Memphis music that will became available today. The 28-track download features local artists both established (Amy LaVere, Charlie Wood, Al Kapone) and emerging (Teflon Don, Sore Eyes, Battle Victorious).
October 23rd. See MemphisMeansMusic.org for more information.
The countdown continues with hip-hop both old school and really new school, with three towering smash singles and an underrated rock record.
Though Brighter Than Creation's Dark peaks at the very beginning with the saddest, loveliest song Patterson Hood will ever write, it holds its shape for an epic 19 songs and 75 minutes. Hood takes the toll of the Iraq war from two vantage points, ruminates on road life, spits in the wind of recession, and tips his cap to printer-of-legends "the great John Ford." Musical life-partner Mike Cooley spins one wonderful, low-rent character sketch after another, several of them probably autobiographical, led by a definitive metal-to-grunge saga he's old enough to have lived and a shaggy confession that outs country storyteller Tom T. Hall as this great band's biggest influence.
Song Sample: "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife"
Brooks was a past president of the Beale Street Blues Society, which, among other things, sponsored local blues acts in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge, including hometown winner Richard Johnston. In addition to Johnston, Brooks was involved in the careers of many area blues artists, including Blind Mississippi Morris and Daniel "Slick" Ballinger. Most recently, Brooks had been promoting concerts at Neil's in Midtown.
A public "Friends of Dennis Brooks" Facebook page has been set up in his memory.
Moving (finally) into the upper-half of the list. Here Africa gets a big nod, hip-hop gets pissed, and Todd Snider and Kimya Dawson slip sweet, funny songs into the atmosphere.
A History of Township Music — Various Artists (Wrasse)
The Best of the Classic Years — King Sunny Ade (Shanachie)
The Best Best of Fela Kuti — Fela Kuti (MCA)
Wamato — Les Amazones de Guinee (Stern's)
Pirate's Choice — Orchestra Baobab (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
The Voice of Lightness — Tabu Ley Rochereau (Stern's)
Giants of East Africa — Orchestra Super Mazembe (Earthworks)
Song Sample: "Tika Kondima Na Zolo"
After a long silence the voice returned. “We've still got a big stack of them,” I was told and so I hung up without so much as a thank you and was out the door headed for Memphis Comics & Collectibles.
"Hey Playa (Moroccan Blues)"
[Editor's Note: Frequent Flyer contributor Stephen Deusner is a former Memphian now living in New York City.]
For one thing, Webster Hall is enormous, and while the balcony was roped off as VIP only, the floor itself holds more than just about any venue in Memphis save the Orpheum or the Shell. It was surprisingly spacious, even for a band touring behind a major label debut that ranked 114 in its first week on the Billboard charts. Could Lucero even fill half of Webster Hall, especially with an early show that started at 7 p.m.?
Openers Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm opened to a handful of early concertgoers, and the crowd slowly trickled in throughout their set and Amy Lavere’s impressive show. As a revue, there wasn’t much interaction between the artists — Lavere didn’t duet with Ben Nichols, and Malcolm didn’t jam with Brian Venable — but the lineup did expose some of the musical veins (specifically the juke joint blues from North Mississippi) running through the songs of all three acts.