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Posts Tagged ‘Prince’

By Joel Francis

Each day during the quarantine I’m going deep into my record collection and writing about what I pull out.

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Further Out (1961) Dave Brubeck’s groundbreaking 1959 release Time Out was so successful a sequel was inevitable. The point of these albums isn’t the complexity of each composition’s time signature. It’s how much fun the group seems to be having as they effortlessly skate through rhythms that would make prog rock bands break out in sweat. Take “Unsquare Dance” for example. On the face it seems simple enough – just handclaps and snare drum with Brubeck intermittently tickling the keyboard. The result is catchy and edgy enough to appear in “Baby Driver,” a mixtape masquerading as a heist film released a mere 56 years after the song was recorded.

Bob Dylan – Live 1966: Acoustic Set (1998) The first time I saw Bob Dylan in concert, in the late ‘90s, a friend asked me if he played acoustic or electric. The answer, of course, was both, but the aftermath of that plugged in Newport set warranted the question nearly half a century later. This archival release was recorded about a year after the firestorm at the folk festival. The seven songs that comprise this acoustic set are immaculate. Of course the songs are amazing, but what stands out to me is Dylan’s harmonica playing and the way he teases phrases and moments. This set makes a strong case that Dylan may be an even better performer onstage alone, without a net. Knowing that the arrangements will soon get turned up amplifies the solo performances even more.

Pete Townshend – White City (1985) After the death of drummer Keith Moon, Pete Townshend is often accused of holding back his best work for solo projects and delivering second-rate material for The Who. I disagree. “Face Dances” has just as many strong moments as “Who Are You,” Moon’s final album. By the time the band got to “It’s Hard” no one’s heart seemed to be in it. Besides, it is very difficult to imagine Roger Daltrey singing anything on this album beyond the bombastic (and excellent) opener “Give Blood.” I don’t see where John Entwistle’s bass would add anything, either.

There’s supposed to be a story in here somewhere. I once watched Townshend’s 60-minute film version of White City so long ago it was on videotape. The narrative wasn’t any more apparent after that experience, although it was nice to hear different and extended versions of the material. Don’t overthink this, just appreciate it.

Raconteurs – Live at Cain’s Ballroom (2020) I saw the Raconteur’s performance in Kansas City that immediately followed the shows in Tulsa, Okla. that form this album. It was … good. Nothing groundbreaking, but a solid night out. Unless something changes, I don’t think I’ll feel compelled to buy a ticket next time they come through. The same goes with this album. It’s great to have a document of that tour, but the performance doesn’t have the energy of their concert at the Ryman Auditorium on a 2011 tour (released in 2013). I think I’ll be playing that album more often.

Various Artists – Big Blue Ball (compilation) In the early 1990s, Peter Gabriel hosted a series of weeklong workshops at his home studio. Artists from all over the world were encouraged to add to existing recordings and develop and contribute original material. This collection, released in 2008, a brisk 13 years after the final gathering, is the culmination of those sessions. There are a couple Gabriel gems to be sure, but fun for me is scouring the musician credits and try to pick out how everyone interacts together. Living Colour axeman Vernon Reid lays down synth guitars on “Rivers,” a New Age track that wouldn’t be out of place at a spa (or at least what I imagine a spa would be playing). Gabriel corrals jazz drummer Billy Cobham, former Public Image Ltd. bass player Jah Wobble and onetime Prince foil Wendy Melvoin for the single “Burn You Up, Burn You Down.” The song “Forest” opens like an outtake from Gabriel’s Passion soundtrack before turning into something that might be heard at a dance club or upscale art gallery (or at least what I imagine an upscale art gallery would be playing). Most of the album stays in this vein of world music with modern elements.

Echo de Africa National – Récit Historique de Bobo-Dioulasso (unknown) I know absolutely nothing about this album. I couldn’t even determine the year when it came out. The two side-length songs aren’t even given titles. To my ears, it sounds like this was recorded sometime between 1965 and 1975. I can tell you that if you like African ensembles with multiple horn players, percussionists and guitarists, who like to stretch out, this is probably for you. I haven’t been disappointed by it.

Various Artists – Light on the South Side (compilation) Less an album than an aural art installation, Light on the South Side combines 18 obscure blues and soul cuts with a gorgeous 132-page hardcover book featuring sumptuous black-and-white photography of African-American working class adults in the 1970s looking to escape the pressures of everyday life in the dive bars on Chicago’s South Side. You can smell the polyester and cigarette smoke listening to Little Mack do the “Goose Step” or hearing about Bobby Rush’s “Bowlegged Woman.” Crack open a High Life tall boy and enjoy.

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(Above: Soul singer Anthony Hamilton takes a Midland Theater crowd to church in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The titles are almost identical, but the songs couldn’t be further apart. The pair arrived back-to-back about the one-hour mark of soul singer Anthony Hamilton’s Friday night concert at the Midland Theater.

“Prayin’ for You” was a jubilant gospel jam that found Hamilton singing and dancing in the middle of the crowd and featured a nice blues slide-guitar solo. A quick wardrobe change brought the mournful, contemplative “Pray for Me.”

The contrast displayed Hamilton’s chops as a songwriter, vocal abilities and his six-piece band’s versatility. The numbers also managed to capture the crowd’s complete attention in two very different ways. Several moments competed with “Prayin’ for You” as the night’s biggest party, but none was more intimate than “Pray for Me.”

hamilton_FYI_06062014_spf_0126fThe band arrived onstage like it had been shot from a cannon. The three backing vocalists also served as hype men, lathering the crowd for Hamilton’s appearance and opening number “Sucka For You.” A bit of Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That” let everyone know the historic theater was hosting a block party tonight. A well-placed piece of “No Diggity” at the end of “Woo” cemented the give-and-take between stage and crowd. Hamilton’s dancing during that number produced many squeals of delight.

Most of the performances extended well past their album length. Hamilton let the band stretch out, incorporating bits of Philly soul, Stevie Wonder, Prince Earth, Wind and Fire and hip hop into his original material. He also wasn’t shy about sharing his band. Everyone in the ensemble got a moment to shine.

One of the two keyboard players dropped some nice “Talking Book”-era talkbox on “Woo.” The bass player sported an impressive Mohawk and prowled the stage like he was the headliner. His bass and the bass drum were the focus of the mix. At times they drowned out the keyboards and guitar and threatened to swallow the vocals as well, but the mix improved as the show progressed.

Hamilton closed the 90-minute set with his breakthrough hit “Charlene,” which segued into the Dells’ “A Heart is a House of Love.” By the time Hamilton started introducing his band people were heading to the exits like someone pulled the fire alarm. They were either hurrying for the announced photo op with Hamilton in the lobby or eager to take the evening’s energy to another environment.

Keep reading:

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(Above: Author Greg Kot discusses his book “Ripped” in this 30-minute radio interview.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

When I was in graduate school I wrote my précis – an abridged thesis – on how the internet was changing the music industry. It was an exciting time. Napster was in full swing and Metallica’s lawsuit was not only breaking news, but new research ripe for my writing. (Incidentally, the record industry’s great hope at the time was to create a new type of CD that could not be copied or ripped to computer.) I was praised for my paper, but the research did not age well. Barely two years after graduation, its findings were horribly outdated.

Greg Kot fares much better in his recent book “Ripped” How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music.” Published in 2009, he takes the long view on the digital evolution of the past decade. The book opens with an overview of how the major labels wound up on the wrong side of their consumers at the turn of the century. In the first three chapters, Kot covers the consolidations that homogenized commercial radio and placed extra emphasis on the major labels’ profit margins; the labels’ revolt against the payola system they built and established; and how labels quashed their artists’ efforts to embrace the Internet.

That’s a lot to cover in 50 pages, but Kot is wise not to belabor these points. Other books – notably Steve Knopper’s “Appetite for Self-Destruction,” which appeared a few months earlier – cover this ground in far more depth. Kot’s summary provides a nice launching pad for the real meat of his book, namely how the net has allowed artists and fans to connect in unexpected ways with unexpected results.

Today Prince is a punching bag for declaring the internet “completely over,” but his actions in the mid-‘90s laid the groundwork for the path Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and other bands currently follow. Walking away from his contract with Warner Bros., Prince built a network with his fans where he would release music directly to them, at a pace he dictated. Without the modern digital infrastructure, distribution was often slow and frustrating. It is puzzling that yesterday’s visionary opted out just when technology became the most accommodating.

Kot also discusses how the internet helped Wilco and Death Cab For Cutie develop an online cult following and how that translated to mainstream success. Another chapter is devoted to the impact of Pitchfork and other online tastemakers. The book ends with the stories of Lily Allen, Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor and Radiohead and how their business models have turned the industry on its head.

A music critic and reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Kot draws on his day job to incorporate first-hand quotes delivered in the heat of the moment. Putting the reader in the speaker’s mind in real time keeps the stories fresh and makes the linear exposition more exciting. Very little is revealed through hindsight; the reader gets everything as it occurs.

“Ripped” shares many traits with Thomas Freidman’s 2006 exploration of the online paradigm “The World is Flat.” Both books hold few revelations for readers who followed the events unfold in real time, but are also handy encapsulations of everything that has occurred. At the same time, they are immensely in explaining to the uninitiated how we got to where we are. Whether “Ripped” deserves a spot on the bookshelf or a visit to the library depends on the reader’s level of knowledge. Either way, it is worth reading.

Keep reading:

Review – “Record Store Days”

Radiohead Rock St. Louis

Review – “King of the Queen City”

Review: Wilco returns to the Crossroads (2009)

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(Above: Morris Day and Jerome riff on Abbott and Costello in this scene from the 1984 film “Purple Rain.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The original members of the ‘80s funk band the Time, including Morris Day, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Jesse Johnson, will have an album of new material out within the next year if Day has his way.

“The original members get together when we can,” Day said. “It’s getting to the point where we can put something new out within the next year.”

After dropping three classic albums in the early ‘80s, the band briefly reunited in 1990. A group appearance at the 2008 Grammys kicked off the latest reconvening, Day said.

“What happened was we’ve been getting together and doing tracks for fun,” Day said. “It so happens Jimmy Jam is chairman of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), the company that does the Grammys. They found out he was an original member of the Time and thought we needed to come out together. So we did that, which lead to a string (of shows) in Vegas at the Flamingo, then we decided to keep on going.”

Just don’t expect Jam, Lewis, Johnson or any new cuts on Morris Day and the Time’s current tour.

“We’re holding up on that (playing new cuts). We’re going to launch it in a way that makes sense at the time,” Day said. “I do know we sound even better than the old records. You’ll be surprised how good everybody looks and sounds. There are still a few original members. We still have Jellybean (Johnson) on drums and Monte (Moir) on keyboards. “

In 1980, Prince culled the best musicians from local Minneapolis bands Flyte Time, the Family and Grand Central to be in his pet side project, the Time. Although the Time’s 1981 debut album featured Prince on most of the instruments, the other musicians gradually had more input.

“On the first record, Prince played a lot of the instruments, but I played drums,” Day said. “Every time he was in the studio, I was down there with him working just as much. We cut the tracks together. With each album, the musicians played larger roles. You can see it from all the spin-off careers. Everyone became very efficient in the studio.”

Jam and Lewis made their name as producers working with Janet Jackson. The pair brought in Jellybean Johnson to help produce Jackson’s 1989 hit “Black Cat.” Jesse Johnson also worked with Jackson and has written music for several movies, including “The Breakfast Club,” in addition to recording as a solo artist.

“I knew we had something special right away from the first song the band had to learn,” Day said. “When we played our first big show at the 20 Grand in

08-24-2009.ngl_24MorrisDay_Product.GH72M5BFB.1

Day performs onstage in Ft. Worth, Texas in August, 2009.

Detroit, I started out with my back to the crowd and I could hear the people going nuts. Then after the show I saw the response from the musicians and people into music and knew we had something special.”

The Time found their biggest success after appearing in “Purple Rain,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

“When we made ‘Purple Rain’ we weren’t thinking the movie would be a blockbuster, we were just having fun,” Day said. “I’ve only seen once in its entirety and that was at the premier. That said, I think it’s held up well because I always end up running into people who can quote my lines like they wrote the script.”

Unfortunately, the band was no longer intact to enjoy the results.

“What happened was Jimmy and Terry missed a show in Atlanta. They were somewhere producing for S.O.S. Band, missed their flight and because of bad weather couldn’t get out,” Day said. “Because we were signed to Prince’s production company, he fired them. The band never felt the same to me after that. I wasn’t feeling it any more so I decided to start a solo career.”

Day continued to work with Prince, though, appearing in the film “Graffiti Bridge.” Eventually Day realized he liked music more than movies.

“Acting is not an easy gig. It takes a special talent that not just anyone can do it,” Day said. “It takes a lot of memory and concentration, things that don’t come easy to me. I like to work an hour, hour and a half, and be able to go into the studio at my leisure.  The musician has more control over life than an actor.”

After a lengthy absence, Day returned to the big screen for the “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001.

“That’s an interesting scenario, because apparently (director) Kevin (Smith) wrote the script with us in mind before he contacted us,” Day said. “It was a good experience. I had teenage kids at the time, and they just thought of me as the guy who dropped them off at school. But after ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ so many kids were coming up to me. It set young eyes hip to what I do.”

(Note: This article was written in advance of a scheduled concert by Morris Day and the Time on Nov. 6, 2009, at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo. Unfortunately, Day cancelled the concert hours after the piece was submitted. It is published on The Daily Record for the first time.)

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rock hall dvds

By Joel Francis

When the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, a tuxedo-clad Mick Jagger famously announced “Tonight we’re all on our best behavior — and we’re being rewarded for 25 years of bad behavior.”

That irony is on full display throughout eight of the DVDs in a new collection of induction ceremony performances released by Time Life and the Rock Hall this month. (A ninth disc features highlights from the 1995 Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held in Cleveland.) Despite white tablecloth banquet tables and austere surroundings, great music frequently prevails.

The “Rock Hall Live” discs each run between 75 and 90 minutes and have a loose theme of soul, punk or ‘50s pioneers and the performances span the first ceremony in 1986 to this year’s Metallica induction. The performances tend to fall in two camps.

The early ceremonies were all-star celebrations of the inductees’ songbooks shot with on a couple video camera. Through fly-on-the-wall footage we see Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry swap verses on “Roll Over Beethoven” and Little Richard rejoice through “I Can’t Turn You Loose” as Jagger, Bob Dylan, members of the Beatles, Beach Boys and other rock royalty stand shoulder to shoulder, holding mics and strumming instruments. It’s fun to play spot the artist during these early presentations. Sometimes the results are shocking, as when Stevie Ray Vaughan appears – playing a Les Paul, no less – during “Beethoven.”

As the ceremonies grew in stature, the performances were better preserved and choreographed. The past 15 years of inductions play like one massive VH1 special, makes sense as these events have been a spring broadcast staple on that channel for better than a decade. Although the production is smoother, the spontaneity is retained when Jimmy Page casually strolls onstage to join Jeff Beck on “Beck’s Bolero” and Queen jam with the Foo Fighters on “Tie Your Mother Down.”

With are more than 100 performances across the nine discs, some unevenness is expected. Some this is because of the health of the performers. These discs capture some of the final appearances by The Band’s Rick Danko, Ruth Brown, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Billy Powell and Johnny Cash. Brown and Powell are fine, but Danko and Cash labor through their sets. Sometimes the pairings misfire, as on Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose’s duet through “Come Together.”

These missteps are minimized by the tight pacing of each disc, which moves from artist to artist like a well-paced soundtrack, with occasional snippets of introduction and induction speeches. (Complete version of selected speeches are available as bonus features.)  Despite the loose themes, each disc boasts a variety of guitar heroes, singer/songwriters, tributes and hits.

The best moments come when the performers reach beyond the formal atmosphere, like when Patti Smith spits onstage, or two kids bum rush the stage to help Green Day commemorate the Ramones. There is an impressive display of solos from guitar heroes Beck, Page, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Joe Perry, Carlos Santana, Peter Green, and Kirk Hammett, but the greatest six-string moment is Prince’s searing tribute to George Harrison on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Anchored by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Harrison’s son Dhani, the immaculately tailored Prince soars on an jaw-dropping solo that is long on both melody and style.

Each disc contains about a several bonus features, which highlight backstage moments like watching Steven Tyler and Joe Perry induct Led Zeppelin from the wings of the stage with the band (and Willie Nelson!). It’s fun to watch Robbie Robertson, Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty work out “Green River” and to eavesdrop on Hammett and Perry talk about guitars, but one viewing is probably enough.

One downside to this set is the packaging and sequencing. Each disc is housed in its own separate, full-sized case. This takes up a lot of shelf space. It would have been nice if they all came bundled in one compact, cardboard and plastic unit like seasons of TV shows.

The greater inconvenience is the sequencing. Cream’s three-song reunion from 1993 is spread across three discs. Ditto for the Doors’ 1993 set with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (three songs over three discs) and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street revival from 1999 (four songs on four discs). Culling the best moments is understandable, but it would have been great to get the multi-song sets in one place. It is also puzzling that less than two hours of the six-hour Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are included.

Oversights aside, any of these discs stand alone as a fun romp through rock history and celebration of its greatest songs and players across most genres and eras. At $120, this set isn’t cheap, but it’s a heck of a lot more affordable – and easier to come by – than the ticket that gets you a plate at one of those sterile, banquet tables. You don’t have to dress up, either.

(Full disclosure: The Daily Record received a complimentary review copy of “Rock Hall Live.”)

Keep Reading:

Rock Hall Celebrates 50 Years of Motown

Rock Hall Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock

George Kalinsky: Painting with Light (Rock Hall photo exhibit)

Bruce Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part one)

Bruce Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part two)

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(Above: Neil Young sets the record straight with a live performance of “This Note’s For You” from 1988. Thanks to Viacom, clips for Roca Pads and Redman’s Potty Fresh were unavailable.)

By Joel Francis

Earlier this week, Billboard reported the booklet in the new Mariah Carey CD will contain “lifestyle ads.”

The 34-page “mini-magazine” will be co-produced by Elle magazine and house ads for Elizabeth Arden, Angel Champagne, Carmen Steffens, Le Métier de Beauté and the Bahamas Board of Tourism. The booklet will also contain Carey-centric articles with the enticing titles like “VIP Access to Her Sexy Love Life,” “Amazing Closet,” “Recording Rituals.”

Evidently the music wasn’t enough.

Annoying as the ad campaigns may have been, there have been no Chevy ads in Bob Seeger or John Mellencamp albums. Other artists have been less scrupulous about whoring their album space, but were never this brazen. Master P turned the booklets for all his No Limit artists into mini-catalogs, and Outkast frequently squeezed ads for their pit bulls alongside lyrics and musician credits. At least those performers had a stake in the products in question.

Carey’s move is more egregious on several levels. First, retailers have already found ways to cross-promote. According to the Billboard story, Walmart will display Carey’s album next to her Arden fragrance Forever, which has an ad on the back cover of the CD booklet. Even more disturbingly, Island-Def Jam, Carey’s label, has eyed Rihanna, Bon Jovi and Kanye West to follow suit if the initial venture is a success. Carey has never been a bastion of artistry, but if the major labels can turn a buck from this experiment, expect ads in CD booklets to become the norm.

“The idea was really simple thinking: ‘We sell millions of records, so you should advertise with us,’” Antonio “L.A.” Reid, chairman, Island Def Jam Music Group, a unit of Universal Music Group, told Billboard.

If an album is more valuable as an advertising vehicle, why not give the music away? In 2007, Prince gave away copies of his album “Planet Earth” in the Sunday edition of a London newspaper. Two years before that he included his album as a door prize at concerts. This year, fans who bought tickets for No Doubt’s summer concert tour were gifted with the band’s entire catalog.

Fans who buy the album digitally through iTunes or Amazon will also be subjected to the advertising. The ads will also be included in the electronic PDFs accompanying download sales. The only way to circumvent the booklet blights is the easiest and cheapest solution: ignore Carey or steal the music. Until the major labels start respecting the listeners, there is absolutely no reason to respect them.

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(Above: Picture this on the 50-yard line: the Flaming Lips, “Race for the Prize.”)

By Joel Francis

The five years since Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime “wardrobe malfunction” two things are clear: Nipple shields have not become the must-have fashion accessory everyone predicted; and halftime shows have never been better.

It would be easy to get tired of all the blue-chip baby boomer performers if they didn’t put on such compelling shows. The Rolling Stones abysmal 2006 act aside, it doesn’t get much better than hearing “Drive My Car” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” at halftime. Yeah, they’ve been done to death, but they’re a lot better than whatever song Janet and Justin Timberlake were singing and Aerosmith’s pairing with Britney Spears. Does anyone remember those songs today?

Even fans tired of the oldies can’t argue with the energy that propelled Prince’s set in 2006 and Bruce Springsteen’s show last night into the top echelon of pop music performances.

Which is exactly why it’s time to change things up. The canary is choking; there’s not much more ore in the vein the NFL has mined these past five years. Let’s stop now, before Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles are serenading us with mid-game naps. It’s time to take the halftime show in a new direction. A direction hinted at in 2002 when U2 were brought in to play: dynamic bands that can connect with a huge audience, playing high-energy hits written within 20 years of their performance.

The Flaming Lips are the perfect band to open this new era. Imagine frontman Wayne Coyne rolling over the crowd in his giant hamster ball as “Race For the Prize” blasts through the stadium. Lasers penetrate the clouds of smoke as confetti, streamers and balloons rain on the crowd. Did we mention the Lips also come with their own space aliens and super heroes? Oh, and a flying saucer?

In their 25-year history, the Lips have twice rocked the massive crowds at Bonnarro and will have no problem connecting to the fans in the upper deck or on the couch. Their songs may not be as universally known as “American Girl,” but “She Don’t Use Jelly” was an MTV staple big enough to land the band on “Beverly Hills 90210.” And the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” will have as many people signing along as the outro of “Hey Jude.” The biggest obstacle will be cleaning up all the joyous debris on the field (lay down a tarp) and getting everyone to settle down enough to concentrate on the resumed game.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Blues Brothers (minus John Belushi) and Miami Sound Machine were given center-stage at the world’s biggest intermission. But there is a midway point between dinosaur bands and Top 40 vapidity. Once the Flaming Lips remind the audience of this territory, bands like the Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire and Robert Randolph and the Family Band are perfect future candidates.

Inoffensive doesn’t have to be the antonym of adventure. The Flaming Lips are the embodiment of the party atmosphere the NFL wants the Super Bowl to inhabit. It’s time to let them take the stage. Book them for 2010.

Read The Daily Record’s coverage of the Flaming Lips at Wakarusa in 2006 and 2008.

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