Saturday, September 21, 2019

Don Lifted Takes His Vision Coast To Coast in 'Sub-Urban Tour'

Posted By on Sat, Sep 21, 2019 at 6:59 AM

In American culture, "urban" has long been a weird code word for African-American, but Lawrence Matthews, aka Don Lifted, has never been complacent about the traditional signifiers of race in this country. Gleefully drawing samples and inspiration from eclectic sources for his compositions, he mixes and matches as he sees fit to convey a wholly personal experience.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that now, as he takes it to the next level by hitting the road, he's dubbed the series of shows his "Sub-urban Tour." And in his promotional materials, he makes a point of noting that "sub" is a prefix "indicating that the element is secondary in rank, falling short of, less than or imperfect." This is all in keeping with the niche he's comfortably occupied for some years now, that of the outsider individualist living in a netherworld somewhere between hip hop and shoe-gaze rock.

Last year's Contour confirmed that vision, and this year he's taking it on the road — not just as a record, but as a "visual album," compiling the videos produced for every track on Contour. Today, that visual album will be revealed in a big way. "I've been holding it pretty close to my chest," he notes. "Last year we did a screening at the Malco Studio on the Square for the Contour Visual Album, and I didn't talk about it anymore after that. We released 'Poplar Pike' and 'Muirfield' and 'Pull Up (Duratec V6)' as music videos from the album. But we actually made music videos for every single song on the album. Put together, that's the Contour Visual Album. So nobody's seen that but maybe 50 people who came to the screening last year. The new DVD also comes with the album in CD form. That's eight or nine videos that Nubia Yasin, Kevin Brooks, my brother Martin Matthews, and myself all put together in 2018."

Taken as a whole, the visual album promises a good deal of variety. "We shot every single video using a different technique," he notes. "Like, 'let's use a cell phone for this video.' 'Poplar Pike' has VHS combined with analog lenses. We'd take a lens converter from a film camera and put it on a digital whatever. So there's a lot of freestyle experimentation using different video, different editing techniques, and different styles, all woven together."

The tour, which includes dates as far flung as Brooklyn, Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Jackson, Mississippi, and Memphis, will also mark the official release of the DVD over the coming weeks, as he brings physical copies to every performance. And it all starts here at home, with a unique performance in a private yard known as The Barton House (419 N. Willett Street) on Saturday, September 21 at 8:00 pm.  Fast on the heels of that will be his show for the River Series at the Harbor Town Amphitheater on October 6. And finally, he'll play the Green Room at Crosstown Arts in November.
Lawrence Matthews, aka Don Lifted
  • Lawrence Matthews, aka Don Lifted
Every one of the shows promises variety and not a few surprises. "I'll use video like I've used in previous shows, with a whole bunch of footage of the neighborhoods where the stories take place," he notes. "That footage will be playing in the background. Images of fields and trees and street signs and neighborhoods, layered and edited together. Every single show I do on the tour is gonna be different. I'll constantly rearrange the set list and visual information. It'll be like performance art, in a way, because everything will be site-specific. If a site has a giant wall to project on, we'll use that. I want to make every single show different in some way."

And listeners can expect a good deal more than just the latest album. "I'm doing songs from Contour, songs from Alero, some covers, and some records that were released as singles. At the first show Saturday, I'm doing 'Wolf River,' but when I do the Harbor Town Amphitheater, I'll do 'Dexter Road.' Switching things around."

The experimentation developed on the tour will culminate in his homecoming gig at Crosstown Arts. "A lot of the dates will just be me and a laptop, but I'm putting together some other things. And then I have a Green Room show coming on November 16. I'm going to have a lot of assistance for that. I wanna beef it up, like with string sections. I'll just leave it at that. I'm excited for it. We're really gonna do some things with that space." 

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Friday, September 20, 2019

With Those Pretty Wrongs, Jody Stephens Does Everything Pretty Right

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2019 at 4:19 PM

Those Pretty Wrongs
  • Those Pretty Wrongs
One of Jody Stephens' most treasured possessions is a guitar once owned by Chris Bell, dating back to their years playing alongside Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel in Big Star. If you find yourself at Ardent Studios, the unassuming acoustic is easy to spot: it's the only guitar repaired with electrical tape.

Chris Bell's acoustic guitar
  • Chris Bell's acoustic guitar
As Stephens explains, “Andy and Chris had a fight while we were practicing at Alex's house, and Chris picked up Andy's Thunderbird bass and broke it into three pieces. So Andy stalked Chris. When Chris parked his car in a friend's driveway, Andy went up, opened the case and poked holes in it. So Andy wound up with the guitar, and then gave it to me. It's on the song 'Thirteen,' and it's an awesome sounding guitar. We used it with Those Pretty Wrongs in the studio. Back in the 70s, my brother covered the holes with electrical tape. Now I won't take it off.”

It's entirely appropriate that the guitar's rich sound lives on in the new record by Those Pretty Wrongs, the folk/pop/rock duo comprised of Stephens and Luther Russell, onetime member of the Freewheelers and a solo artist in his own right. While the band's latest, Zed for Zulu (Burger Records), is its own beast, the echoes of Big Star's quieter moments are undeniable. Foregrounding acoustic guitar textures with the crisply recorded approach that has become a hallmark of Ardent Studios, Stephen's vocals, surrounded by Russell's lush background harmonies, carry that unmistakable blend of innocence and bookish enunciaciation that has marked his singing ever since the Big Star days.

With the new album released, the duo is now launching a series of tours, beginning with last week's appearance at Americanafest, and headed soon to England and Scotland. Before they leave, they'll have a special show with guest performers at the Green Room at Crosstown Arts on Saturday, September 21st. I spoke with Stephens recently about this, the duo's second album, and the ways it echoes his past work at Ardent.

Memphis Flyer: Was your appearance at AmericanaFest the debut of material from the new record?

Jody Stephens: We actually debuted the new album live in Los Angeles for a autism benefit, for the Wild Honey Foundation. It was a smaller backyard thing for a great cause.

Do you guys assemble a band for your tours?

No, that's unaffordable. We're just a duo. Our load in is an acoustic 12 string guitar. Luther is an amazing guitar player. An acoustic 12 string and Luther is all it takes. He's really good, and fun and playful. The record was, to an extent, recorded as a duo on stage. Even if I played drums on a song, I wouldn't try to play like I was in a band, but just play to support the song.

When you do play them, you have a signature power to your drumming.

Thanks. I try to play in a real definite way. Sometimes kinda loose, but if I make a mistake, it's gonna be with such authority that nobody's gonna notice. And we're lucky to have Mike Wilson as our engineer, and all the great gear we have here at Ardent. Great mics, and the studio rooms sound incredible. And then Luther and Jason Hiller mixed this stuff. And I think they did a brilliant job of it. Listening to those mixes, there's a brightness to them. I'm excited about the new record.

I'm assuming that the arrangements came together when Luther did overdubs in LA. Is that how it evolved?

Pretty much, except for when we used Chris Bell's 335. On 'You and Me.' That was here at Ardent: Chris' guitar run through a Hi Watt amp that belonged to Big Star. It was either Andy's or Alex's. And there are some organ parts that he did here. Most of the arrangements are his, but I would say things like, 'Do you have a synthesizer for "Hurricane of Love?"' He said 'No, but I could use the bass pedals on an organ.' Then I came up with using clarinet and brought Jim Spake in. And what he did was so far beyond what I'd hoped for. Just so incredible. You can picture a butterfly tossed around by the wind. But all those guitar lines ad solos, the guitar tones, most of the arrangements, are all by Luther.

I'm primarily the lyricist and write a lot of melody lines, though Luther does contribute some pretty brilliant lines as well. Like on 'Hurricane of Love,' Luther came up with those chords and that was so haunting. He's great at cool changes.

I was imagining you strumming Chris Bell's acoustic guitar.

Luther is strumming it! It's on pretty much everything except maybe 'Time To Fly.'

Chris Stamey, who worked with Alex Chilton, and has participated in the Big Star Third concerts, arranged the strings on the first track. That's a beautiful touch, with echoes of 'For You' from Sister Lovers.

Chris offered to do strings for us and we selected that song. It was so easy, 'cos I knew he would put a lot of heart and care into it. And we both love those string arrangements. And he sent the arrangements to Jonathan Kirkscey, so we'll have a string quartet at the Green Room this Saturday. And we'll do 'For You' and 'Blue Moon' as well. Jonathan's going to write string arrangements for songs that don't have them already, possibly adding strings to more songs with drums. I'm thrilled about that. And Jenny Davis is a pretty remarkable flautist, and she's gonna join us on 'A Day at the Park.'

Just for the record, it is you singing lead on all the tracks?

It is, 'cos I wouldn't have anything else to do. Luther sings all the harmonies. Luther's got his solo career. It started out with Luther saying, 'Why don't we get together and do some writing, and you could do a solo record.' And the more we got into it, the more I realized how far from being a solo record it was. It's such a collaborative effort.
Has your sound changed much since the debut?

They're pretty sympathetic records. With this second one, we have a bit more of a sense of who we are and what we wanna do. Though that is pretty much defined by our musical influences. I think Luther's talented enough to do anything, and adapt. But I'm not that clever, so whatever I do is what it is.

Luther and I are certainly like-minded in that we both like melodies. He would send me a message saying, This is what I did today, and it would be like a Christmas present, because I couldn't imagine anything better, 'cos he's just that creative with sounds. On 'The Carousel,' that guitar break is like, Wow! The sound is kind of biting and digs in a little bit, without being rock.

I believe we are building an audience, and the more we play live the more we'll be able to do that. At the end of the day, that's what we're in it for, the connection to people. Other than that, you're just sitting around in your living room. 

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Listen Up: Sunweight

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2019 at 3:26 PM

Sunweight: Patrick Mulhearn, Nathan Woloshin, and Allen Wade - ALEX BROADNAX
  • Alex Broadnax
  • Sunweight: Patrick Mulhearn, Nathan Woloshin, and Allen Wade

“Sunweight” is the new name for the band formerly known as “Geist.”

The group also has a new single, “Birth,” which was released September 20th from their upcoming album, Feral.

“It’s the same band and we all do the same things,” says guitarist Nathan Woloshin. “We literally changed our name to just have artistic credibility, really. There are other ‘Geists’ that were active bands.”

And, he says, “We’re coming out with this new record. It’s not a new sound, but it’s more of a honed-in, original sound. I’ve been calling it a ‘vintage sound for the future.’ I feel like rock music has been on the back burner as of late with hip-hop and pop being really popular.”

Sunweight also includes bass player Allen Wade and drummer Patrick Mulhearn.

Why the name “Sunweight”?

“We worship the sun and, in my opinion, the sun is the most important thing because we all kind of succumb to what it wants to do whether it rises or falls. It’s the heat, the light, the energy, what gives us life other than water. So, when you have a lot of sun weight, it’s just a lot of energy.”

“Birth” is about “having a connection with your mother in the womb and feeling what she feels,” says Woloshin, who writes their lyrics.

And there’s a double meaning, he says. “You could could go through a traumatic time or go through something that makes you feel like you’ve been lied to or you’ve been led on by other people, so you feel like from the beginning of birth you need to, more or less, question everything.”

They also simultaneously released a music video (see above) to go with the song. “I’m in it. I directed it all. Basically, it’s a woman who stumbles upon a guitar and makes love to the guitar, gets impregnated by it, and then gives birth to the electric guitar and rock music. The woman is me. I’m dressed as a lady wearing a wig.”

They began by recording four songs in 2017 at Made in Memphis Entertainment with Mike Wilson as producer. “We did the first four songs fairly quickly as far as main tracking with drums and guitar and bass.”

One song on the album was recorded at the recording studio at the University of Memphis.

Woloshin’s brother, Jacob Woloshin, plays organ on one song, “Leap of Face.”

Sunweight plans to release three singles in two week increments, Nathan says. The complete album will be released in late October or early November.

So, what do people think of “Geist” becoming “Sunweight”? “People just think, honestly, I started a new band,” Nathan says.

Sunweight will play a free show from 7 to 9 p.m. September 27th at Saddle Creek Beer Garden, 7605 West Farmington Boulevard in Germantown.

Artwork by Meredith Potter
  • Artwork by Meredith Potter

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Katharine Hedlund: Soul, Standards and Rhythm in a Live Recording Session

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2019 at 6:01 PM

Katharine Hedlund
  • Katharine Hedlund

Paul Taylor, the local multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire who manages the recording studio at Crosstown Arts, recently approached me about a project he was particularly excited about: a live jazz recording session, open to the public, that would be held in the Green Room listening space this weekend. The band would include Taylor on drums, Carl Caspersen on bass, and Jim Spake on saxophone.The band leader? Pianist and singer Katharine Hedlund, who lived and played in Memphis for a few years before relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Intrigued, I spoke to both Hedlund and Taylor about jazz, soul, show tunes, and the unique experience of playing and recording with a Steinway in the Green Room.
Paul Taylor
  • Paul Taylor

Memphis Flyer: How did you start working with Katharine?

Paul Taylor: Year before last, right before Katharine moved, we started playing jazz together and we just locked really well. It was super fun, and I immediately regretted that we hadn't been playing together for the entire time she'd been in Memphis. So when she came back to visit last year, I invited her to come record in my residency space, before I was hired at Crosstown Arts. We made some recordings that I thought were really fantastic, but the only limitation was that it was a digital piano. So I asked her, when are you coming to Memphis? I thought we could book a show at the Green Room and record it live, because they often have a real piano up there. Right now they've got a Steinway baby grand which sounds fantastic. 

So it really worked out. All the elements came together perfectly for us to make a more authentic-sounding record. And she's one of the best pianists and vocalists I've ever worked with. So I'm thrilled that it could work out. She was making waves on the scene and we really hit if off. Sometimes when you're playing music with people, especially jazz, it can get really cerebral and really academic really fast. And she is extraordinarily well-educated, but it's always a blast to play with her. The rhythmic things we wind up doing together are always super fun. That just doesn't happen with everybody. That's an important part of it. 
Katharine Hedlund
  • Katharine Hedlund

So Katharine, you're not from Memphis?

Katharine Hedlund: No, my family's from Connecticut, the New York metropolitan area, essentially. My brother went to Rhodes College. He loved it here and stayed after Rhodes. I started working at the same company he was at and ended up here for three and half years or so. Now I'm in the Bay Area, playing music and back in school studying computer science. It's kind of a transitional career shift. Basically, I put all of my free time into music, but I'm not trying to do it for money. That way I get to put my time into music that I really care about, which is awesome. You can really be fully present for the music then, and it doesn't feel like as much of a burden.

So you recorded with Paul Taylor and this Memphis band last year?

Yeah, it was just kind of a casual recording session he put together, all first takes.

I heard some of the tracks. There were some cool choices of soul tunes and a nice arrangement of "Skylark."

Thank you! Yeah, I feel like every Hoagy Carmichael song is this little musical gem. Tomorrow night, that's definitely the energy we're going for: soul tunes and standards and a few that will just be us jamming out. But quite a few are arranged with a Katharine perspective, you could say. It's gonna be really fun.

What's your musical background?

started off playing classical music, but I always really liked singing, and I was really into musical theater. So when I discovered jazz — and standards are basically songs from musical theater that jazz musicians decided to start playing around with — I got really into it. I started listening to Ella Fitzgerald and joined the jazz band, and my musical affinity shifted towards jazz. And I also loved playing with other people. I loved the social aspect of it. The collaborative aspect of it.

After high school, I went to Northwestern University and studied jazz piano and economics there. It was a great experience. I was able to play in small jazz ensembles all around Chicago. And I did fun original bands with friends from Chicago. So it was really a great experience.

When I moved to Memphis, I was a total jazz nerd. I hate to admit it, but I totally was. And I started playing at the Zebra Lounge at Overton Square. I thought, 'This'll be fun.' I had never played in a piano bar. Though I had played and sung before, I never played all the pop and soul and everything under the sun. That turned out to be the most amazing gig ever. I actually got really into it. My singing got better, and I started learning all these soul and pop songs and doing fun arrangements, and talking to the audience. It just ended up being this amazing community and an amazing musical experience. That was awesome. So a lot of what I'm playing on Saturday are these songs that I'd been playing for years at the Zebra Lounge. I had these arrangements in my mind and just had to write them out for the rest of the band.

So, coming from playing jazz in college, I saw it as coming back to my original love, which was singing these songs. I love the performance of it. So I'm taking all that musical knowledge and all that nerdy stuff you learn in college, but making it more accessible and fun and a real performance — combining all that together. That's really my home: playing jazz and standards, making them musically interesting for everyone to play, but the audience doesn't feel alienated, 'cos it's fun, and I'm talking to people. That's the energy I'm going for.

Learning jazz academically can get kind of cerebral, as Paul said...

Definitely, when you study it in school. So what I'm doing with these soul songs is kind of like what jazz musicians were doing with musical theater songs back in the day. Just putting your own energy into it.

Tomorrow's show will be music in three categories: one is arrangements of soul-oriented stuff, and the second will be standards I've arranged, and the third category will be me playing with really great musicians, just playing some instrumentals and having a really fun time. I mostly wanted to reconnect with people I've played with here. I'm sure we'll do another one next year sometime. That size of room, like the Green Room, is my favorite kind of space to perform in and even to see music in. It's big enough that you can feel the energy of the audience, but you're close enough to the musicians that you feel you're a part of it. I'm so happy that Memphis has that space, it's so awesome.

Did you play out much with a band like this when you were living in Memphis?

Not at first, but I came to that point where I realized, 'Everyone's making it up and I'm gonna make it up too. Let's just see where this goes.' Then I started playing with Daniel McKee and Paul right before I left. And Jim Spake and Carl. That was three or four months before I left. And just as we started getting going, I was like, 'Sorry guys, I'm leaving.'

Are you forging ahead with music in the Bay Area?

It's been good so far! But during this visit, it's gonna be great playing with good friends and good musicians in a really wonderful place. And I feel like, now that I've been away from Memphis I have even more love for Memphis and what Memphis is. It's gonna be great. This is going to be a long-overdue concert.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Where's Joe? That's A Question for Detective Bureau

Posted By on Wed, Sep 4, 2019 at 6:17 PM

Joe Restivo's new debut album on Blue Barrel Records asks the musical question, Where's Joe? But a better question might be, where is he not? The seasoned guitarist and native Memphian keeps busy with a cornucopia of projects, notably the Love Light Orchestra, the Bo-Keys, the City Champs, and more, but since the album dropped a month ago, his own group, the Joe Restivo 4, has been revving into high gear. 

And yet there's another project with the Restivo stamp on it that, while not having released any product, has been turning the heads of jazz aficionados in this town for years. Detective Bureau may not play as often as some of the aforementioned groups, but the level of the players is such that the group guarantees a fascinating and danceable performance.

This weekend will witness an even more rare event than a mere Detective Bureau gig. This Friday at the Green Room at Crosstown Arts, they'll be accompanying the very Japanese gangster film that inspired the band's name in the first place. I gave Joe a shout between woodshedding sessions to hear the details on his venture into the world of live film soundtracking, and more. 

The Memphis Flyer: Seijun Suzuki's Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!, aka (探偵事務所23 くたばれ悪党ども, must be dear to your heart, as the namesake of this band. Out of all of Suzuki's B-movie 'yakuza' films, what's the significance of this particular one?

Joe Restivo: I think it's Suzuki's first film with Joe Shishido, the chipmunk-like lead.They went on to make films together that culminated in Branded to Kill, which was his existentialist crime drama, where the studio was like, "What? No, this is not what we wanted you to make. You're fired."  They wanted him to make campy B movies. I don't know, what do you call that kind of movie? 

This one we're doing has elements of James Bond. The first time you meet him, he's at a poker table. And they have a shot coming at him from behind, and you expect him to turn around and order a martini. He's kind of goofy. He's also a bit of Phillip Marlowe. There's no narrator, but he's a detective. A wacky private eye who goes to the local hard nosed police chief to tell him he's the only one who can infiltrate this yakuza clan. There's a yakuza war going on, and he can straighten this all out. Using his wit and his savvy and his chipmunk cheeks... he had plastic surgery, the actor. That's why he looks like that. To look more leading-man-esque, I guess.

Anyway, I fell in love with these movies years ago, even back when we were doing a lot of City Champs stuff. I actually wrote a piece of music on our second record, "Shishido Joe," after the great actor. We're gonna use some of that music in the score on Friday.

I talked to Crosstown Arts about doing a live score, and asked about a couple films. I actually was thinking about doing Branded to Kill. And that wasn't available, so we did this one. And that's cool, 'cos it's the first Suzuki film with Joe Shishido, and hopefully one of the first of these that we do, with more to come. 

Aside from digging the film generally, were you inspired by its original soundtrack?

The original score is jazzy, and pretty sparse. There's a lot of flute, baritone saxophone, organ. We are using a couple of elements from the original score, including the main theme; and there's a love interest, and we're gonna use her theme.But there's actually not a lot of music in the movie.

We're not doing a silent film, and you can't really separate the score from the rest of the audio; you can't have stems, in other words. So we're gonna be playing 90 minutes of continuous music while the film is shown with the subtitles. It's a live score, but it's almost like we're playing a Detective Bureau show with a visual element. We're playing continuously through the whole film. Marc Franklin and I developed cues from our book of music ,and it seems to be working. A lot of it was original music that me and Marc have written. Because a lot of the vibe of the band has been influenced by great B film composers like Morricone, Piero Piccioni , who's a big hero, Lalo Schifrin, and Henry Mancini, of course.

Elmer Bernstein?

I'm a huge fan, but I wouldn't say we've pulled a lot from him. Maybe some of his later stuff. We tend toward some of the campier movies.

And there's a huge Cuban influence in this genre and your sound as well.

Yeah, we have a great conguero [conga player], Felix Hernandez, in the band. And the band is a band. We've played live and done a lot of music from the CTI Label, Creed Taylor's label, which has a lot of Brazilian and Afro-Cuban influences. Some of the boogaloo artists. Willie Bobo is a big influence on the band. And Felix is the heart and soul of the band. He's a real, sanctified Puerto Rican conguero. And we absolutely learn from him. We were at rehearsal the other day and he was giving us a lesson on the samba. 'Cos he knows the Brazilian stuff and the Cuban stuff. He's just a master of rhythm.

He'll say, "This is what the rhythm feels like. This is what it is, and this is how it should be interpreted." 'Cos it's one thing to analytically diagram what a samba rhythm is, but there's a whole other element to how these things are supposed to feel. That's why it's cool to have him in the band. His pocket, his feel is incredible. Especially in Memphis, where we have our own pocket and feel.

And he knows that stuff too, he's been here so long. I was in a band with him for years called A440. We played every Friday night. I sat next to him. We were playing R&B. He brings this incredible rhythmic knowledge and experience to any group I've been in with him. He's all over the score for Craig Brewer's new film, Dolemite Is My Name. I was there the day he cut his parts and everybody was going crazy, 'cos he's so good and adds so much flavor to a project. So we're really lucky to have him.

Who else is in the group?

Our regular drummer is on tour so we're having George Sluppick. Our regular drummer is Clifford "Peewee" Jackson. He's fantastic, but couldn't make it. Nearly everyone knows George. He was my partner in City Champs. Landon Moore is on bass, who's in a million projects and an incredible first call bass player here in town. Pat Fusco, a great keyboard player who's been in the band from day one, plays all the analog keys: Rhodes, organ, etc. And of course Marc Franklin, who's our trumpet player and resident arranger. We sat and sussed out the score together and he actually arranged it into a written score. So he's our resident professor. And then we have a special guest, a guy named John Lux. He was at the University of Memphis in the early 80s. He's an incredible doubler, playing baritone saxophone, alto, and flute. So we're excited to have his skills.

And Landon brings such a creative energy to anything. He has a producer brain. For instance, I'm in this group the MD's, and we're doing this Beatles thing, "The MD's perform The Beatles' Revolver," that he totally conceived of and arranged. He's always got something to offer creatively, besides getting the right sound and feel. He just gets it immediately. 
Art Edmiston, Mark Franklin and Joe Restivo at Rhythm on the River. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Art Edmiston, Mark Franklin and Joe Restivo at Rhythm on the River.

It's a busy weekend for you. You'll also be playing the River Series at Harbor Town Amphitheater on Sunday afternoon.

Yeah, that will be the other group that made my record. Tom Lonardo, Tim Goodwin and Art Edmaiston. We're honored to play this series. It's a really cool outdoor space. We're excited. If anybody didn't go to the release party, this will give you another chance to see the group in a really cool setting. We'll play all the music from the album. It's been getting a really great response, and the band is tighter than ever. We always have a lot of fun. We've been playing a residency in Oxford, at Proud Larry's, and on September 19th we'll be on Thacker Mountain Radio down there, followed by an after show at Proud Larry's. So we're reaching to our Mississippi brethren. 

This is the same band you appear with every Sunday afternoon at Lafayette's, isn't it?

Yeah, the Joe Restivo 4. We've been together for five years this week, playing every Sunday. Now, sometimes I'm on tour and the great Dave Cousar has filled in admirably. Sometimes the other guys can't make it and we'll have others as guests. But we've held that gig down for five years. It's crazy to think about. It's been really great, and an opportunity to develop a sound. Because I don't think you can really develop a band's sound unless you play a lot of gigs. You have to hash it out on the bandstand and find your group dynamic and group sound. That's what I wanted this thing to be and that's what it turned out to be. And when we got to the point of saying, "This is our sound," that's when we recorded. So my philosophy is: have a band, play a bunch of gigs, find your sound, and then document it. That seems to be a good process, you know? 
That's why it's great to go right into a recording studio after a tour.

Exactly, yeah. I heard an interview about Chess Records the other day, I think it was Buddy Guy. And they would record at 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 in the morning, after the gigs. 'Cos Leonard Chess wanted that energy from the live shows on the records.

And speaking of documenting a band sound, Detective Bureau's got future plans. I'm in talks with a local label, so hopefully we're gonna be releasing a 45 by next year. We have the compositions, and they're gonna be very film score-oriented. One piece of music is "Apollonia's Sunday Drive."  Apollonia's from The Godfather, Michael Corleone's love interest in Sicily, who one day got in the car, and shouldn't have gotten in the car. I wrote a theme for her, and I think we're gonna record it. So we'll have that 45, something to show for ourselves as a group.

You do have a knack for starting and picking cool projects.

Well, I'm lucky. Just to play with the really fantastic musicians we have here. I've been really lucky to work with Marc Franklin. He's an incredible figure in the scene here. His arranging and organizational skills are fantastic. He brings a really creative and focusing energy to a project. He's been huge for this band.

Detective Bureau's Live Score to Seijun Suzuki’s Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! happens Friday, September 6, 7:30 PM at the Green Room at Crosstown, $10.

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Alex da Ponte's This Is Ours

Posted By on Wed, Sep 4, 2019 at 11:41 AM

Alex da Ponte - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Alex da Ponte

After making her start with indie band Yeah, Arturo, Memphis-based songwriter Alex da Ponte released her first solo album, Nightmares, in 2012. Since then, she has remained an active member of the Memphis music scene, releasing new albums every few years, like clockwork. She released her newest album, This Is Ours, recorded at High/Low Recording with Toby Vest and Pete Matthews, in July of 2019.

Memphis Flyer: You’ve been active in the Memphis music scene — and pretty regularly releasing new music — for a while. Has your relationship to making music changed over time?

Alex da Ponte: It's still so bizarre to me that I've been here in Memphis making music for 13 years and playing shows for 11. My first show was at the old Galloway Church in Cooper-Young in 2008. It was so shaky and uncertain. I talked too much between songs. It's so hard for me to be vulnerable, it still is, but I stood up there with my band because I had these songs and the songs just kept coming. I just reached a point where I didn't know what else to do. It felt like a waste to just keep them to myself. That much hasn't changed. The songs continue to come. I love to sing and I love to write so I've found myself in this sort of permanent-yet-casual relationship with making records.

The new album’s opening feels very cinematic to me. There’s space in the arrangements on “Girls,” and I can visualize the scene - the road, the “feet on the ground.” Is that what you wanted?

"Girls" was inspired by the HBO series Girls. I started the song as a letter to creator/actress Lena Dunham, but I address her by her character's name, Hannah. I was a fan of the show and happened to catch an interview where she answered questions about being a female in the industry. It was easy to see the parallels between her personal life and the show she'd created. She inspired a lot of people and this was all in the midst of a very political climate, when Hilary [Clinton] was running for president, a topic the interview also touched on. So, the song ended up being, for me, a very political statement.


What was it like working with Krista Lynne on Jana Misener? They’re some talented players.

Krista and Jana are wonderful. So easy to work with, obviously super-talented and really kind people. They came in and took the song "Work to Do" to another level. This is another example of Memphis at its finest. Look how much talent is in our area. I wanted to bring as much of that together as possible.

To me, “Work to Do” is a particularly mature song. Even as you say “you’ve got work to do,” there seems to be an understanding there that suggests a more nuanced emotion than you get in most pop songs. I think the switch to first person at the end really underscores that.

Yeah, "Work to Do" is such a raw song for me. My little brother died a couple years ago, just a month shy of my son — my first child — being born. That was a whirlwind time — emotions all over the place, as you can imagine. It was such an intense experience to watch my child be born and go home with a newborn all while in the thick of grief. So, the song, too, is both sad and really full of hope.

Your father, siblings, and nephew contributed to “Sibling Song.” What was it like working with family? Had you done that before?

I've never been able to pull my family into the studio before, but I've always wanted to. After so much tragedy in our lives I finally thought, "What am I waiting for?" So, we made it happen.

My parents and my older sister in particular have really great voices. My mom's mom sang opera and my dad's mom has always sung in her church choir. It really was such a special moment having them come in and sing on this song.

And at the very end of this track you can hear my little brother say, "We're related to Alex da Ponte. She's aight," and then laugh. Had to incorporate him in someway. Any excuse to hear his voice. Part of grief, for me, has meant finding ways to keep him alive. Now he'll forever be chuckling at the end of one of my songs, and I love that.

Is that your nephew on the cover of the album?

That's my son, Oz, on the album cover with me and my wife, Karen. My best friend, a transplant from Missouri who has become a Memphis staple in the local film scene, Breezy Lucia was the photographer.

Is music a big part of your family life?

It is. When my dad's side of the family gathers we end up singing a lot or sharing music we like. Sometimes it'll just be my dad, his sister and his mom singing harmonies a cappella while the rest of us sit and swoon.

Alex da Ponte - BREEZY LUCIA
  • Breezy Lucia
  • Alex da Ponte

I really like the tone of the record, “Memphis” in particular. There’s a very Memphis inflection to the sound, but it’s subtle. Clean guitars, tight rhythm section, a little bit of shuffle to the drums. How much of that influence is Toby and Pete?

Oh, man, Toby and Pete. That duo. I did my very first record with them back when High/Low Recording was on Cleveland, near the Crosstown Concourse. And Pete was in my band for a long time.

I have so much love and admiration for them and what they bring to the projects they work on. My songs just don't feel complete until they've had their hands on it. Sincerely. I've learned so much from Pete in particular. He has had such an impact on me as a musician. Forever my stage brother and wise Yoda mentor.

You co-produced the record, right? Can you tell me a little about that?

I have accidentally co-produced every record I've done. I'm very hands on, and I always have a vision of how I want things to be. I know what kind of sound and vibe I'm going for. I'm so lucky to work with producers who are so open and even encouraging to spit-balling ideas together. That's another thing that I learned from Pete — you put ego aside and do what's best for the song.

Talk a little about that “we got a fire inside us” line. What does that mean in relation to being a Memphian to you?

In high school, I hated it here. I thought I needed to move to a bigger city to be able to thrive but then I found myself in Midtown and making connections with so many like-minded people. Dreamers that were making things happen. Small business owners like Kat who owns Muddy's Bakeshop, the Choose 901 crew, Outdoors, Inc., where I worked for a few years. Everybody was doing something. It was and is so inspiring.

Now, I feel like I'm an advocate for this place. I'm in love with it. When we did the music video for this song, I wanted to hit some of these places that inspire me and help make this city the place I love so we filmed a bit at the new indoor skatepark over on Broad called Society and the climbing gym that opened up in Soulsville called Memphis Rox.

Can you tell me a little about your songwriting process?

I've written songs in a lot of different ways, but it always turns out best when the lyrics come first and I put guitar to it later. I'm a writer before I'm a musician. In fact, my great-great-grandfather was Lorenzo da Ponte, librettist for Mozart. He wrote the words to Mozart's operas. Writing, by blood, is my strong suit I think.

I think you have a real flair for telling stories. What are some of your influences?

My greatest influence is writer John Fante. Hands down. I've read everything he's ever written, and the influence has permeated my entire being. Musically, though, there's a band called Shovels & Rope that swept me off my feet about seven years ago at the Hi Tone. I've never seen a cooler couple. They give 110 percent every performance. Worth checking out if you haven't already. Their latest song "Mississippi Nuthin'" is one of my very favorites.

Are there any concerts coming up or anything else I should promote?

We don't have anything booked at the moment but we do have a music video out for the song "Memphis" that we'd love for people to check out. Also, all the songs are on Spotify, iTunes, and Apple Music.

Is there anything else you want to talk about?

I'd like to mention my band boys. Kris Acklen played bass (and some keys) for me on this record. He has been really fun to work with. Joe Austin is my go-to guy now days. Amazing guitarist. Added a lot of cool lead guitar stuff that totally makes the songs shine. And Mark Petty II played drums. You've probably seen Mark in the Smiths cover band around town. They are super tight. I was very lucky they all signed onto this project. I hope to keep them around!

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Looking Back at the Continuum Music Festival 2019

Posted By on Sat, Aug 24, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Project Logic, with DJ Logic, Vernon Reid, MonoNeon, and Daru Jones - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • Project Logic, with DJ Logic, Vernon Reid, MonoNeon, and Daru Jones
The Continuum Music Festival has come and gone once again, leaving many reeling from over two solid days of innovative sounds. Here, we present a slideshow of some highlights, by photographers Jamie Harmon and Jillian Baron.

Your faithful correspondent was able to witness one highlight of the weekend, Opera Memphis' staging of the modern opera As One, by composer Laura Kaminsky and librettists Kimberly Reed and Mark Campbell. Since its premier in 2014, this has become the most produced new opera in North America, and upon seeing the performance at Continuum, it was easy to see why.
Blythe Gaissert, mezzo-soprano, and Michael Kelly, baritone, in As One - JILLIAN BARON FOR OPERA MEMPHIS
  • Jillian Baron for Opera Memphis
  • Blythe Gaissert, mezzo-soprano, and Michael Kelly, baritone, in As One
Featuring Blythe Gaissert, mezzo-soprano, and Michael Kelly, baritone, singing with the  Blueshift Ensemble String Quartet (Marisa Polesky, Jessie Munson, Beth Luscombe, Alisa Horn), the piece tells a heart-wrenching saga of a transgender person grappling with her identity. The two singers orbit around each other throughout, each furthering the tale of a young boy's struggle with, and gradual acceptance of, his often secret female identity. The effect of the two singers inhabiting different aspects of one life is indescribably captivating; coupled with the string quartet, it is gripping.

The music ranges from the hypnotic or pastoral pulses of childhood, to ever more strident and dissonant harmonies as the dual protagonist, Hannah after and Hannah before, confronts misunderstanding and threats from the world at large.

For impressions of the remainder of the festival, I asked Paul Taylor, aka New Memphis Colorways, to describe his impressions of the festival's second day.
New Memphis Colorways - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • New Memphis Colorways
Paul Taylor: There was a restorative yoga thing led by Sean Murphy and Anne Froning. That was a nice addition to both days. Sean does a really interesting looping with a bunch of wind instruments and delay pedals. Pretty cool.

The Theremin-Lap Steel duo was super beautiful and tranquil. It was really refreshing and surprising. They took it in a direction that was totally not directly linked to the expected sounds of those instruments.

Then I played my set, which was a re-imagining of my New Memphis Colorways Vignettes. That's a project I'm doing on social media this year, releasing little 60-second video clips that are intended to exist only on social media. They're not advertisements for anything else. They've just reached their destination and I'm done with it when they wind up on social media, as art intended to live there.

But I decided, for this show, to reanimate them into longer versions by mapping out sections of each of the videos to a MIDI controller, so I could trigger start points in the video and audio in each of them, and spontaneously improvise longer compositions. And that sort of created new chord changes and beats by utilizing different start points as they were not originally intended to be. And I think I survived relatively unscathed.

Directly after me it was the Blueshift Ensemble playing music by ICEBERG. And the pieces they played were just astonishing. I was absolutely blown away at the breadth and scope of those tunes. They're really challenging, they're really enlightening.

And after that was Project Logic. That was a really interesting show, in that I think a lot of people expected Vernon Reid to just be a shredder, which he is, but man, he was playing the holy hell out of funky neo-soul repetitive groove guitar, and those guys were in a trance for, like, two hours straight. They had the audience completely entranced. And the venue and lights were fantastic.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Gonerfest 16 is Booked — In Every Sense of the Word

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 4:52 PM

The main outlines of this year's Gonerfest 16 have been known for some months now, but it wasn't until Friday that the full lineup was announced. It's the usual grab bag of stylistically unpredictable delights, with sound emanating from the garage, the squat, the lab, and everywhere in between. And something about this year's lineup has hit a demogaphic sweet spot, for ticket sales are through the roof. "We're already 100 tickets over where we finished last year," Eric Friedl tells me, implying that they might even sell out. Or, as the event website puts it, "We will make individual night tickets available if we have room — but it does not look like we will have room. Those Mummies have driven everyone crazy!"
"Those Mummies have driven everyone crazy!" - Goner spokesperson
  • "Those Mummies have driven everyone crazy!" - Goner spokesperson

Indeed, it appears to be a case of Mummies fever, possibly related to the virus behind zombification, but with a better back beat. Not to mention a heaping key-spoonful of Farfisa. Friedl assures me that Goner is doing the extra footwork required to ensure that a genuine Farfisa organ, essential to the band's sound, will be available for their gig. Since 1988, the band has presented a reliably lo-fi, weird and groovy sound for go-go-ers the world over. Though having technically broken up in 1992, their reunion shows since 2003 have only grown in popularity, and their debut album, which they refused to put on CD, has grown in stature. Considering that they play dressed as mummified corpses, one wonders if they still use the same bandage wrappings that they began with, or are they now high-end, rock-star-grade bandages? Only a visit to Gonerfest can answer that for sure.
Another highlight will be the pairing of the Oblivians with Mr. Quintron, who have collaborated on both the celebrated 1997 gospel-punk album, The Oblivians Play 9 Songs with Mr. Quintron, and on a standout track from 2013's Desperation, "Call the Police" (which also features Quintron's accomplice, Miss Pussycat). 

Many other surprises are in store as well, such as a separate appearance by Greg Cartwright's revival of the band he fronted between the Oblivians and the Reigning Sound, the Tip Tops. As is often the case, a healthy cluster of bands from New Zealand and Australia will also be on hand, including the much-anticipated 'all-girl' group from Australia, Parsnip.
  • Parsnip


Opening Ceremonies at Cooper Young Gazebo- Free
5:30 Limes (Memphis, TN)

Thursday Night
Hi Tone
MC Bob McDonald (SF, CA)
Anthony Bedard (Leather Uppers / Icky Boyfriends / Best Show band)
Mitch Cardwell (MRR, Raw Deluxe Records, Budget Rock Festival)

1AM King Brothers (Osaka, Japan)
Midnight Simply Saucer (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)
11:15PM Trampoline Team (New Orleans, LA)
10:30PM Sweet Knives (Memphis, TN)
9:45PM Hussy (Madison, WI)
9PM Green / Blue (Minneapolis, MN)

FRIDAY September 27
At Memphis Made 1-6PM $10

5:00 Fuck (Memphis / SF)
4:15 Lenguas Largas (Tuscon, AZ)
3:30 Static Static (New Orleans, LA)
2:45 Vincent HL (Auckland, NZ)
2pm Kool 100s (Kansas City, MO)

Memphis Made Solo Stage
Performers to be announced

Crosstown Arts
Miss Pussycat Art Show Opening
"The History Of Ancient Egypt" Puppetshow Performance

Hi Tone $25
MC Sarah Danger (Baltimore, MD)
Tom Lax (Siltbreeze Records) & Byron Coley (Forced Exposure mag, Feeding Tube Records)

1 AM Oblivians w/Quintron (Memphis, TN / New Orleans, LA)
Midnight NOTS (Memphis, TN)
11:15 Thigh Master (Brisbane, Australia)
10:30 M.O.T.O. (Eastern Seaboard)
9:45 Richard Papiercuts et Les Inspecteurs (NYC, NY)
9PM Mallwalker (Baltimore, MD)

SATURDAY September 28
Murphys $10

6pm Greg Cartwright & The Tip Tops (Asheville, NC)
5pm Resonars (Tuscon, AZ)
4pm Total Hell (New Orleans, LA)
3pm Dixie Dicks (Memphis, TN)
2PM Cindy (Auckland, New Zealand)

5:30 Michael Beach & The Artists (Melbourne, Australia)
4:30 Aquarian Blood (Memphis, TN)
3:30 Warm Leather (Auckland, NZ)
2:30 Tire (Memphis, TN)
1:30 Priors (Montreal, Canada)
1PM Opossums (Memphis, TN)

Hi Tone $25
MC Drew Owen (New Orleans, LA)
DJs Bazooka Joe (Slovenly Records) & Russell Quan (Mummies)

1AM Mummies (SF, CA)
Midnight Tommy & The Commies (Sudbury, Ontario, Canada)
11:15 Hash Redactor (Memphis, TN)
10:30 Giorgio Murderer (New Orleans, LA)
9:45 Parsnip ( Melbourne, Australia)
9PM Teardrop City (Oxford, MS)

SUNDAY September 29
Closing Ceremonies at Cooper- Young Gazebo - Free
2:30 PM Sharde Thomas & The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band

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U of M's Fall Schedule is a Classical Cornucopia

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 1:00 PM

University of Memphis' Sound Fuzion performs October 24th and November 1st.
  • University of Memphis' Sound Fuzion performs October 24th and November 1st.
The Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music's fall schedule of performances at the University of Memphis is a mix of concerts, recitals, and events with an emphasis on classical music (very loosely defined), but also with plenty of jazz and occasional dollops of pop, rock, and avant garde.

The 90th birthday of composer George Crumb will be celebrated at the U of M's Harris Concert Hall on October 22nd. - BECKY STAROBIN
  • Becky Starobin
  • The 90th birthday of composer George Crumb will be celebrated at the U of M's Harris Concert Hall on October 22nd.
Highlights include a George Crumb 90th Birthday Celebration with pianist Kevin Richmond performing in honor of the composer (October 22nd); the three-day Octubafest (October 16th-18th); the local Luna Nova Ensemble performing 20th-century works (September 16th); the East Coast Chamber Orchestra presented by Concerts International (October 23rd); and appearances throughout the semester by the U of M Wind Ensemble, the U of M Symphonic Band, Southern Comfort Jazz Orchestra, Memphis Reed Quintet, 901 Jazz Band, Sound Fuzion, University Singers, and others.

Many performances are free, even to non-students.

Go here for the complete schedule.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Counting Down Elvis: His 100 Finest Songs Offers a Deep Appreciation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2019 at 11:47 AM


Here at the Flyer, we're all about the art of songwriting, as evidenced in our June 27th cover story, but we also appreciate what both the Rolling Stones and Alex Chilton told us: "It's the singer not the song." And surely no artist embodies that truism more than Elvis Presley, who wrote precious little during his career, but excelled at making others' handiwork his own.

Author Mark Duffett, Reader in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Chester in England, is no stranger to Elvis, and no stranger to Memphis. In 2017, he and Amanda Nell Edgar, Assistant Professor at the University of Memphis' Department of Communication and Film, organized the international conference New Perspectives on Elvis. They and the speakers they assembled were true fans of the King and Memphis generally, who's enthusiasm led them to delve deeper than your typical music journalist.

This was evident again this March, when the pair hosted a more wide-ranging conference, Balancing the Mix, wherein scholars and deep listeners dove into such topics as "Hip Hop Resistance Across Time and Space," "Justice from Blues to Soul," "Music and Erasure," and "Beyond the Music: The Sounds of the Street and Social Justice in Britain and France, 1970-1990."

The latter had an exploration of the U.K.'s Northern Soul movement, and associated indie zines, that would have made any Memphis vinyl nerd swoon. And presentations like "Pocahontas, Ira Hayes and Me: Popular Music and the fight for Native American Civil Rights," by Johnny Hopkins of Southampton Solent University, shed unaccustomed light on long-neglected pockets of musical resistance.

If that all sounds a bit ivory-towerish, I would only direct you to Duffett's study of the King, Counting Down Elvis: His 100 Finest Songs (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), which is one of the most entertaining meditations on Elvis' work of the decade.

While many Elvis writers focus on one or the other phase of his career, this book is notable for its all-embracing appreciation of every stylistic shift the King made. Done in true countdown style, you will see many surprises along the way, including Duffett's choice of number one. But, as Duffett himself notes, the point is not so much the specific order but the dialogue that the list is meant to jump start. And along the way, we read some keen observations of the nuts and bolts of each number.

For starters, Duffett is remarkably thorough about the songwriters that supplied Elvis' material, especially in a book devoted primarily to an interpreter rather than composer of music. "They tried a new number by Giant, Baum, and Kaye," Duffett writes. "'Power of My Love' ranks in any Elvis compilation for the simple reason that it showcases him at his most masculine, adult, and effortlessly bridges between the raw urgency of the Comeback Special and virile confidence of his early 1970s shows."

Duffett is well-versed in every phase and detail of Presley's career, allowing him to make free-ranging comparisons between songs. And, unlike many critics, he embraces the kitsch of Elvis in the 70s as something just as vital as "Good Rockin' Tonight."

Thus, we are treated to a deep reading of Elvis' version of "Let Me Be There," better known as a hit by Olivia Newton-John. "Compared to Newton-John's breezy rendering, Elvis' cover is a tour de force. The joy of community reigns supreme." And he notes that the song "was so cherished that he kept it in his live set on a fairly regular basis until early 1976. The 20 March 1974 Mid-South Coliseum recording was even dusted off to round out the first side of what became his last will and testament, the LP Moody Blue."

Clearly, this book takes into account many deep cuts that dabblers would miss. Indeed, it could be an invaluable companion to the excellent Elvis Radio on Sirius XM, hosted by the erudite Doc Walker. Duffett's writing, too, is impressively unaffected by the jargon and abstractions of the academy, making this a fun and entertaining read. Often, one is either an Elvis fan or one is not. But delving into the details with Duffett might make you sit up and listen to songs, and see sides of the King, you never knew were there.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"Black August" and Black Oppression

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2019 at 2:36 PM

Ronald Herd II, Najee Strickland, Jeanelle 'TBJ' Jones, and her daughter, Sonnet Rose.
  • Ronald Herd II, Najee Strickland, Jeanelle 'TBJ' Jones, and her daughter, Sonnet Rose.

“Black August” will explore the fight against black oppression through music, art, poetry, and dance.

“It’s a show that includes theater with all-original scripts I wrote, dance choreographed by me, and poetry,” says producer Jeanelle ‘TBJ’ Jones.

“Black August,” which will be held at 7 p.m. on August 17th at JamRackBar & Lounge at 630 Madison Avenue, also will feature guest artists.

“There is an actual resistance movement called ‘Black August,’” Jones says. “It’s a combination of freedom fighters and socio-political fighters who are against racial oppression.”

During August, events around the country focus on “different things that have happened, whether freedom fighters’ deaths or their births or different resistances and attacks against the community.”

Events around the country will highlight the Nat Turner Rebellion, the Haitian Rebellion, and anti-apartheid fighter Steve Biko.

Jones took some of those historical events and people and “created productions around them.”

Director and creative founder of Afrotense, Jones produces live shows and films. Her “Black August” will include “scenes about Black Lives Matter and a response to that. And some scenes about Michael Jackson: ‘What happened to the black Michael Jackson?’”

“Black-on-black crime” is one of the topics. “Sometimes we’ll ostracize black celebrities. We’ll put them on a pedestal, but do one thing wrong, and we’re ready to tell them they no longer have a black card.”

Also participating in “Black August” are Najee Strickland, who will feature paintings from his “Black Fist” series, and J. Bu$y, who will perform his cover to the song ‘Be Careful’ by Cardi B. “But it’s not anything that song is about,” Jones says. “It’s about Black Lives Matter and fighting racial oppression.”

Diamond Long will dance to “Neo-Fight,” a poem written by Jones. “A lot of people think because we don’t hear about lynchings and things like that anymore, that they don’t happen. But they happen all the time.”

Ronald Herd II will be the emcee or “elder host” of “Black August,” Jones says. “Some of the things we did not touch on - because it would be a three-hour show - he is going to mention and talk about. Enlighten the audience while he hosts the show.”

Tickets to “Black August” are $15 per person or two for $25 and are available at Eventbrite. For information, visit

Ricky Willis, Freddy Ledlips Hodges, and Julius Nathaniel Hunt are in "Black August."
  • Ricky Willis, Freddy Ledlips Hodges, and Julius Nathaniel Hunt are in "Black August."

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

From Continuum Fest to A Change of Tone, Crosstown Keeps It Edgy

Posted By on Wed, Aug 7, 2019 at 11:09 AM

Jenny Davis plays amplified cacti in John Cage's "Child of Tree" at the 2018 Continuum Fest - BEN REDNOUR
  • Ben Rednour
  • Jenny Davis plays amplified cacti in John Cage's "Child of Tree" at the 2018 Continuum Fest
While several cities have renovated former Sears, Roebuck & Company warehouses/retail centers, including Minneapolis, Atlanta and Boston, Memphis' own Crosstown Concourse may take the cake in terms of grounding such projects in community art projects and concerts. And, far from curating softball 'pops' concerts and blockbuster movies, Crosstown Arts, the nonprofit that jump started the local Sears building's revitalization in 2010, has kept the "urban" in its original vision of a "mixed-used vertical urban village."

In this context, urban means bringing to Midtown the kind of pioneering music that one might find at world-class halls like the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) or C4 Atlanta’s FUSE Arts Center.  With three venues, an artist fellowship program, a recording studio, a music film series, and other resources for local and international musicians (and other artists), Crosstown Arts has become one of the nation's premier centers of innovation.

Case in point: the upcoming Continuum Music Festival, now in its third year, which, in hosting events in the Crosstown Theater, the Green Room, and the East Atrium Stage, may make the fullest use yet of all the old retail center's environs. As a festival of new sounds, from experimental to electronic, classical to multimedia, Continuum is beyond most precedents in the local scene. Headlining is Project Logic, featuring local bass wunderkind MonoNeon, guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid (Living Colour), and drummer Daru Jones. The festival also features Opera Memphis' staging of the transgender-themed work As One, a chamber opera created by Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and Kimberly Reed.


The kick-off show on Thursday, August 15th features the Blueshift Ensemble playing compositions by longtime collaborators from the ICEBERG New Music collective and is to be held at Crosstown Brewing Company.The festival will also feature a Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel, a concert by multi-instrumentalist New Memphis Colorways, and a performance of Sarah Hennies' 'The Reinvention of Romance' by Two Way Street.

Finally, like any good gathering of the tribes, there will be many interactive workshops and talks: Sweet Soul Restorative (Yoga with Live Music); The Quest for the Perfect Pop Song; The Metaphysics of Sound; Sheltering Voices: Impactful Community Storytelling; Breaking Boundaries: The Music of ShoutHouse; and The Sounds of 'Starry Night:' Writing Music to Van Gogh's Masterpiece.

But Continuum is really only among many examples of the cutting edge curation of the Crosstown Concourse space going on now. In addition to last year's Mellotron Variations or this spring's Memphis Concrète electronic music festival, more ideas are percolating in the wings. For example, musical artists who are pushing the very boundaries of how concerts are experienced will be featured in next spring's A Change of Tone concerts.  

Four such shows are planned for April 18th-21st, 2020, but we don't yet know what we'll hear. Musicians of any genre are applying to be featured as we go to press, and may do so until September 10th of this year. Click here to submit a proposal.

One thing they all will have in common is thinking outside of the music box, or rather, outside of the venue. Subtitled "In/Out of Sync," the concerts will be organized around a weirdly specific, yet open ended theme: Musicians will “exhibit” their music for a listening audience over loudspeakers in one venue as they simultaneously perform it in another, creating a non-traditional listening experience.

With a live-feeds between The Green Room music venue and Crosstown Theater, audio from the latter will be piped over to the audience in The Green Room to listen to, as the musicians, out of sight, perform their original work live in the otherwise empty Crosstown Theater auditorium. The second feed will video-capture The Green Room audience for the performing musicians in the theater to see on a screen, so that they may virtually watch their audience as they play. With such technological feats, concert organizers hope the performers "might achieve a vivid and seemingly living omnipresence." As the organizers further expound:

Similar to the experience of being inside of a haunted house or abandoned building, this spectral approach to auditory perception will be, among other things, a sonic experiment in vulnerability. It will be an attempt to enhance and heighten the audio-sensory experience for the listener, and perhaps will intensify the presence and impact that music can have when our fight-or-flight response is instinctively activated, giving the sounds we hear the power to demand our full attention.

It's an embarrassment of riches, really, for those hoping to reimagine their sonic art. In fact, the many series at the Concourse may be remaking the musical arts as Crosstown Arts remade the empty shell of an abandoned retail center only a few short years ago. 

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Friday, August 2, 2019

Robert Earl Keen's Countdown to Christmas Comes to GPAC in December

Posted By on Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 2:23 PM

As August appears and the kids brace themselves for the return to school, one thing looms large in their minds: Christmas vacation. Yes, they'll have many hours of homework, homeroom, and home games in store before then, but we know that it's the dream of a holiday break that keeps them going. And what applies to kids applies to parents and single folks too. In Amurica, it's never too early to dust off those Christmas decorations and start dreaming tinsel dreams.

The Germantown Performing Arts Center realizes this too, so today they've announced the holiday concert that keeps things real: Robert Earl Keen's Countdown to Christmas. Keen, of course, is the artist behind the all-too-real Christmas song of the not-quite dysfunctional American family, "Merry Christmas from the Family." It's worth a listen even if your stockings are yet hung with care, simply as a chronicle of what it means to be a modern extended family with, uh, issues.

With its good-natured evocation of everyday alcoholism, bland racial bias, and running out of tampons, it achieves, in the end, a kind of unsentimental sentimentality to which anyone who's had to listen to brother Ken's new wife Kay, who "talks all about AA," can relate. In fact, the song has resonated with audiences to such a degree since its release in 1994 that it's even spawned a sequel song and a book of the same name. It's in such demand that Keen has had to draw the line on when he'll perform it. "We get requests for it all year round," he's told NPR. "So, I had to create this rule, I call it the 'Linen Rule', where we don't play the song as long as you can wear linen. So it saves it and makes it fresh for the holiday season. So we start playing it around Labor Day and we play it on through the holidays. It's the big number particularly in December that we close with."
Of course, there's much more to Keen than this song. Having cut his teeth in the late-70s scene around Austin, Texas, he now has 18 albums worth of songs chronicling the foibles of everyday lives, much in the vein of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and other masters of Americana. While they may not all be kid-friendly, they do resonate with the struggles and joys of everyday adults going through life with open eyes. It's a refreshing way to digest the holidays at GPAC, a couple days after the gifts are all unwrapped, but before we must face the onset of New Year's Day and the inevitable return to jobs and school that follows.

Countdown to Christmas, with Robert Earl Keen and opening act Shinyribs, Saturday, December 28, 8:00 PM, Germantown Performing Arts Center (GPAC)

Tickets on sale to general public at 10 AM on Friday, August 9. See website for information on artist pre-sales and GPAC subscriber pre-sales.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"The George Klein Tribute Show" to be Held August 11th

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 2:28 PM

Jerry Williams and George Klein
  • Jerry Williams and George Klein

George Klein will be honored at “The George Klein Tribute Show” on August 11th at 4 p.m. at Lafayette’s Music Room.

It’s fitting that Klein will be honored during “Elvis Week.” He and The King were close friends from the 1950s until Elvis’ death in 1977.

Klein, who died February 5th at the age of 83, was a radio and TV personality. He was a deejay, had his own TV shows, made personal appearances seemingly everywhere, and was in Elvis movies, including “Jailhouse Rock.”

Jerry Williams, a friend of Klein’s for 71 years, put the show together. “He’s a Memphis icon,” Williams says. “He deserves it.”

The lineup includes Carla Thomas, Joyce Cobb, Merrilee Rush, T. G. Sheppard, Ronnie McDowell, Kelly Laing, Wendy Moten, William Bell, Royal Blues Band, and Jason D. Williams. “I didn’t get one ‘no.’ When I would call them, literally every one of them had their stories about George and what he meant to their career - from playing their first record to putting them on the TV show. No conversation was without tears.”

Williams says he could have had 100 people perform, but he stopped at 10.

He specifically picked the date for the show. “It’s on August 11th, the first Sunday of Elvis Week. And, you remember, George always had his events on the first Sunday of Elvis Week. That was sort of George’s day.”

Klein did 37 “George Klein and the Elvis Mafia” shows and 42 “George Klein Christmas Charity Shows,” Williams says.

Williams met Klein in the spring of 1948 “because of the Memphis Chicks baseball team.”

Klein was 11 and Williams was 8. “When the Chicks would start spring practice for the season, we would make 30, 35 cents a day. We would shag balls. We were batboys. We got to know all the guys.”

Their friendship continued after Williams moved to California in 1964 to manage Paul Revere & the Raiders.

And it continued after Williams returned to Memphis. “I came back in ‘69 and built Trans Maximus (TMI) Studios. And from that we had TMI Records.”

TMI was a success. “We stayed on charts at TMI for seven years without coming off. Steve Cropper was in charge of production.”

They cut records for Poco and Charlie Rich, among others. They also cut Jeff Beck’s Going Down album, which was Beck’s signature album with the title song written by Don Nix.

Klein played those albums on his radio show, Williams said. “Absolutely. He played every one of them. George was fabulous about playing anybody local. Anything recorded by local artists and by international artists who recorded in Memphis.”

He and Klein would talk daily after Williams permanently moved back to Memphis in 1971, Williams says.

“Somebody asked me, ‘What do you miss most about George Klein?’ I said, ‘George Klein.’ The reason is very simple. He was always a what-you-see-what-you-get kind of guy. No airs to George Klein.”

Klein “didn’t really know he was important to the world-wide music industry. Did you know he was the first person with a live broadcast show to put an African-American on live in Memphis? Fats Domino."

He also invited African-American couples to dance along with the white couples on his TV show, Williams says.

“George Klein was a special guy because he did things he thought were right at the time that the world thought was wrong. And he went across the grain.”

Williams will host the “The George Klein Tribute Show,” which will be a first for him. “This is not a wailing wall kind of thing. This is entertainment.”

And, he says, “This is not a sad occasion. This is 10 acts who loved George.”

Tickets to “The George Klein Tribute Show” are $50. VIP tickets, which includes a “swag bag,” are $100. Tickets may be purchased at Lafayette’s Music Room. For more information, call (901) 207-5097 or go to

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

DittyTV Steps Up To Major Radio Markets & Beyond

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2019 at 5:48 PM

  • Courtesy DittyTV
Local heroes DittyTV, who have steadily grown their online music television streaming presence since 2014, made a major leap forward this week when they announced a new partnership with the New York-based Krantz Media Group/KMG Networks (KMG), which specializes in marketing audio-only content, chiefly in what is still broadly called "radio."

“DittyTV is the most robust video channel in the world dedicated to the diverse and growing Americana and Roots music categories,” said Gary Krantz, CEO of KMG. “Americana continues to grow exponentially and is the passionate choice for 18-34 and 25-54-year-old adults that are under-served by mainstream media, yet highly desired by brands and advertisers. KMG is very excited to build success with several projects in the works for all forms of radio and podcasts”. And while DittyTV already features a 24/7 Ditty TV audio channel, at, plans are now being made for daily and weekly podcasts, event and awards show coverage, and more.

I spoke with DittyTV CEO Ronnie Wright to see just what this meant for the company, and what new ways we could expect to hear its content in the future.

Memphis Flyer: So how did this partnership come about?

Ronnie Wright: Gary was pretty persistent, so we double checked with some mentors that we have before we decided to pursue it. It turns out this guy's been in radio his whole career. It's all about radio and audio. He reached out to us independently, and a couple people we know actually went to college with him. So they go way back. That gave us a level of comfort. He's identified this Americana movement and this under-served market. He knows how to monetize audio-specific assets.

What specifically does that mean, in terms of how people will hear your stuff?

There's a couple things he's gonna help us with, which is getting a radio, or audio-only version of DittyTV on something like Sirius XM or iHeart Radio. It would be its own channel where you could listen to Ditty on some other platforms, other than our own. And then there'll be a revenue split on advertising that they sell. That's one thing he does. And another thing that's growing are podcasts. Basically, what he does is bridge the licensing agreements, and then he has the advertising connections and machine to connect advertisers with our content. And we've already created a lot of our content, and we're sitting on it. So we have a 24 hour broadcast, and we already have an audio version of it, where I just strip out the video. If you go to, it's already live. You'll see all of our podcasts, and you can just listen to the audio. So Gary thinks we can get on other platforms and make some money out of licensing, and or selling advertising. And ironically, he says on the radio market, there's still people listening and people making money. Even on traditional terrestrial radio, AM and FM. They're still buying content. So what we're talking about putting together is a weekly Americana & Roots wrap up or countdown, something like that. And we'll produce a two or three hour show that we then syndicate to all these radio stations.
  • Courtesy DittyTV
It sounds like this will be a big move for you all in the domestic market. I know you're already pretty big internationally.

Yeah. And from our standpoint, it's just building general brand awareness. The more places we can get, whether it's on an app or a radio station, or iHeart radio, the better. Gary thinks there's a lot of opportunity with the audio-only part of our thing that we really have to explore. I've always been more interested in the television part of this. But he's right. All our teleprogramming is very easily turned into podcasts or radio programming. And since audio is cheaper to produce, there's so many more opportunities that we can create. So we're expanding our footprint into the radio podcast world, be it satellite or terrestrial. And we're thinking about specifically producing a radio show, which we've never really done before. But we have all the rights to the music. So there's no reason we couldn't just put together an audio version of what we're already doing.

What is KMG bringing to the table in this partnership?

Gary's got a lot of connections in the industry, with larger names in the Americana Roots world. He thinks we could get guest hosts and guest DJ's. Kinda like XM shows that have celebrity co-hosts. And since we're  a lot better at producing content than selling, he can help us with that. So it could open some doors. He's gonna do this whole market analysis. And our first goal is to get on a high profile radio network, like Sirius or iHeart. Just to raise visibility. And once we turn that corner, other things will come more easily. And it would be the same broadcast that we're already doing.

Will DittyTV continue to stick with Americana and roots music?

With satellite channels, it's usually genre driven. When it comes to Americana-Roots, whatever you want to call it, I think what Gary is realizing, which is what we realized, is there's a big smart global group that likes this stuff. They like the fact that it's not mainstream country. They like the fact that it's not pop music or electronica. There's a place for what we're curating on more platforms, so more people can get to it. If you like it on your television, why not stream it in your car? Or on your XM radio? Or on your iHeart app? And with DittyTV, the goal is not necessarily to make a lot of money, the goal is to be sustainable, self sustainable, and be a real resource and help emerging artists. If we grow, we can make a bigger impact. It would be great to triple the staff. Or to have an RV on the road, covering festivals, with a whole other camera crew.

I know you've recently opened a retail shop as well, Vibe & Dime, on South Main Street. What other new projects are cooking at Ditty?

We also formed a non profit, called the Ditty Foundation. Everything we produce goes back to the artist. We give them all the media for free, we promote the albums and the tours.

And we also just released DittyTV 2.0. We have a brand new app for all the set-top boxes like Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, Tivo, and now you can watch all the shows on demand, which is new. We'll always have the live 24/7 broadcast, but now you'll be able to pick your favorite shows. And we have so many episodes! You can also get daily news segments. And by the end of next week, we're gonna have our mobile apps. So you'll have all those same capabilities in an iPhone app and an Android app. The radio only, the on demand, the live broadcast. We're super excited about that.

And we're super excited about partnering with KMG. I think Gary really appreciates the entrepreneurship that's gone into DItty so far, the challenges that we've had to overcome. So hopefully DittyTV will be coming to a radio dial near you soon.

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