Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Is hi-res audio streaming ready to go upscale?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Vinyl and digital purists share a contempt for streaming music services. - M-SUR _ /SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • M-SUR _ /
  • Vinyl and digital purists share a contempt for streaming music services.

By the time CD sales eclipsed vinyl in the late ’80s, the rivalry between digital and analog music fans was in full swing. Compact disc advocates welcomed them as a technological leap in the quest for perfect sound, while analog enthusiasts extolled the warmth of vinyl LPs and dismissed the headache-inducing, high-end frequencies that could, and probably should, only be heard by a dog.

Musicians who fell squarely into the digital camp included the iconoclastic Frank Zappa. A revered artist whose music had previously been released on LPs, cassettes and 8-tracks, he dismissed the idea that vinyl’s limited frequency range was somehow a virtue.

“What the fuck is warmth?” Zappa once told a future Indy music writer. “Does warmth mean a lack of top end, or an extra bunch of frequency bulge at 300 cycles? How do you quantify that in audio terms?”

And besides, he argued, you can just use a broadband equalizer to get the sound you want. “You roll off the top end a little bit, and things start to sound, you know, warm,” said Zappa with a hint of disdain, “if that’s the kind of sound that you like. I don’t particularly care for that sound.”

Compact discs weren’t the first audio format to come under fire when they were first introduced. Back in the 1970s, while people were littering their car seats with clunky 8-tracks and killing the record industry by recording cassette mixtapes for their friends, serious audiophiles were vilifying both formats for their substandard audio quality. Before that, portable record players, long-playing albums, wax cylinders and even player pianos were all greeted with varying degrees of derision.
Still, no format can match the sheer persistence of contempt that continues to plague the lowly MP3. Introduced more than two decades ago, these highly compressed music files began spreading across the internet, as vinyl and CD advocates finally found common ground in their mutual hatred for the new medium. With their paltry bit rate of 320 kilobits per second — compared to the compact disc’s 1,410 kilobits per second — the high infidelity of streaming MP3s has been variously dismissed as lossy, swirly, murky and distorted. The fact that artists were receiving little to no compensation for their work didn’t help.

Soon, compressed formats like Ogg Vorbis and FLAC were being embraced by high-end audio enthusiasts, but largely ignored by everyone else.

Still, the battle is not over. Earlier this month, the studio-quality digital music app BluOS announced a deal with Neil Young to make tracks from his extensive catalog available to their subscribers. Young, whose own Pono streaming music service and devices met with only limited success, has been a longtime critic of MP3s, arguing that the quality of the format misrepresents the intent of artists, producers and engineers.

The classic-rock icon has been no less critical of the laptops that fans often use to access music, railing against the MacBook Pro in a recent interview with The Verge. “That’s Fisher-Price quality; that’s like Captain Kangaroo, your new engineer,” said Young. “You can’t get anything out of that thing. The only way you can get it out is if you put it in. And if you put it in, you can’t get it out because the DAC is no good.”

BluOS is not alone. Digital streaming services like Tidal, Qobuz, Primephonic and Amazon’s Ultra HD are all competing for their share of the high-end market, with bit rates that, in some cases, are more than six times greater than CDs.

But while even the most undiscerning music consumer will recognize the role that audio fidelity plays in our appreciation and enjoyment of music — I have yet to hear a Kendrick Lamar or Tame Impala album that sounds great on a vintage RCA Victrola — those factors aren’t necessarily what matters most.

The bottom line, when it comes down to it, is that you can hear the music and that the artists are getting paid for it. In fact, that’s a really great thing to say any time you want to bond with the high-fidelity purists in your social network, because it will show them just how much you’re interested in the same things they are. Try it and see!

Editor's note: This article has been updated to refer to BluOS as a "digital music app."
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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

K-Pop fans target Black Lives Matter deniers

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2020 at 1:00 AM

K-Pop fans hijacked #WhiteLivesMatter. - BOONTOOM SAE-KOR / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Boontoom Sae-Kor /
  • K-Pop fans hijacked #WhiteLivesMatter.

If you happen to be among the countless people who’ve dismissed K-Pop as vapid, saccharine and content-free — a kind of Korean dance-music answer to Japan’s Hello Kitty — you may want to reconsider.

Over the past few weeks, K-Pop fans have been leading the music world’s most effective campaign on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement. While Anonymous hackers have their “we are legion” boast, K-Pop fans actually have the numbers to prove it. With tens of thousands of Twitter accounts at their fingertips, they sent out no less than 6 billion tweets last year. As Esquire has pointed out, that’s approximately “three percent of all tweets sent by everyone in the world.”

But with great power comes great responsibility. And much to the chagrin of BLM deniers, K-Pop fans have been responsible for quite a lot lately. Here are a few highlights:

• K-Pop fans have hijacked far-right hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter, #WhiteOutWednesday and #MAGA with an endless stream of K-Pop videos, effectively rendering them useless for the reactionaries who rely upon them.

• K-Pop fans shut down the Dallas Police Department’s iWatchDallas app, which was designed for citizens to use as a “portal for videos of civil unrest.” When Grand Rapids’ police department released its own Big Brother app, K-Pop fan @ngelwy sounded the alarm: “You know the drill! SEND IN ALL OF YOUR FANCAMS!!! CRASH THE WEBSITE!!! MAKE THEM TAKE IT DOWN!!! PROTECT THE PROTESTORS!!!”

• K-Pop fans even ruined Donald Trump’s online birthday card. (UNFAIR!)
It gets better. Last week, after K-Pop idols BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter, their fans organized a fundraising campaign that, using the hashtags #MatchAMillion and #MatchTheMillion, raised an additional million in less than a day.

“Just like BTS,” they tweeted, “we were able to donate 1M dollars to help fund: bailouts for those arrested for protesting police brutality, black-led advocacy orgs fighting against systemic injustice, support for the physical and mental health of the black community.”

So is it possible that there’s more to K-Pop than its confectionary blend of choreographed EDM, hip-hop and bubblegum-pop? Granted, no one is going to mistake BTS and BLACKPINK for Bob Dylan and Public Enemy. But step beyond the linguistic and cultural boundaries, and you might be surprised at what you’ll find.

Consider, for instance, BTS bandleader RM’s collaboration with Nigerian American rapper Wale on 2017’s “Change,” a hit single with lyrics about conspicuous consumption, cyber-bullying and racial profiling.

“In America, they’ve got their situations and we’ve got ours in Seoul,” RM told Teen Vogue at the time. “The problems are everywhere, and the song is like a prayer for change. He [Wale] talks about the police, and problems he’s faced since he was a child. For me, I talked about Korea, my problems, and about those on Twitter who kill people by keyboards.”

RM’s bandmate Suga — whose Agust D solo project debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Rap Album chart earlier this month — echoed RM’s comments in a BTS press conference later that same year. “It isn’t a BTS album,” he said, “if there isn’t a track criticizing society.”

That was three years ago, which in the world of teen-pop is the better part of a lifetime. So at this point, there’s no telling what trends today’s K-Pop fans may be following three years from now.

And in a larger sense, that doesn’t really matter, because these online activists aren’t going away anytime soon. They’ve already proven that they’re more clever and resourceful than their counterparts on the right. They’ve shown up the hypocrisy of a culture that’s more interested in virtue signaling than meaningful change. And, like it or not, they are legion.

Editor's note: This article originally misspelled RM's name. We regret the error.
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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Five musician-hosted podcasts that deserve your attention

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2020 at 1:00 AM

  • Sarah Piantadosi
  • Dream Wife

Did you know that 47,124,947 households who buy juice are fans of music podcasts? Or that 59,181,265 households who buy milk are fans of music podcasts? Or that 57,274,911 households who buy cereal are fans of music podcasts?

Most likely not. And I wouldn’t have either, had I not pored through Nielsen Media Research’s A Marketer’s Guide to Podcasting.

But while the report is a vast treasure trove of useful information, it’s scant on details when it comes to exactly which music podcasts these households are listening to as they tuck into their motel-style continental breakfasts.

Fortunately, we know which music podcasts they should be listening to. And here are five of them, all hosted by actual musicians, that are guaranteed to keep your household happy all quarantine long.


Questlove Supreme

Who: Roots drummer, Tonight Show bandleader, NYU professor, and 2010 Super Bowl deejay.

What: As Michelle Obama said after Questlove gave her a 1,200-song play-list to take on her Becoming book tour, “Life’s a little better when we live it to Questlove’s beat.” The former First Lady subsequently returned the favor by appearing on the Questlove Supreme podcast, adding to a wildly diverse roster of guests that includes A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, yacht rockers Michael McDonald and Huey Lewis, and film directors Kathryn Bigelow and Spike Lee. He’s also talked to Jack White about dumpster diving, and to the Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson about his claim to have taught Michael Jackson how to do the moonwalk. And don’t forget Questlove’s 179-minute interview with Chris Rock, which is nothing short of priceless.

Why: Because a “nerdy black NPR” is better than a white CNN.

Dream Wife’s So When You Gonna…

Who: London-based art-punk trio whose 2018 debut album drew comparisons to Le Tigre, Garbage and, wait for it, The Spice Girls.

What: Dream Wife’s So When You Gonna… podcast features lead singer Rakel Mjöll, guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec each taking turns as they conduct “one-on-one deep-dive conversations” with women and non-binary musicians. While exploring the cultural and political intricacies of the contemporary music and arts world, the three musicians also aim to motivate their listeners to explore a broad range of interests. Episodes of the podcast, which made its debut on April 22, have included “So When You Gonna… Get Into Music Production,” “So When You Gonna… Get Into Coding,” “So When You Gonna… Get Into Songwriting,” and “So When You Gonna… Get Into Magic.” Not coincidentally, Dream Wife’s forthcoming sophomore album will be titled So When You Gonna...

Why: Because this is the only place you’ll find interviews with feminist rapper Girli, Italian producer Marta Salogni, and non-binary witch/musician/artist Ayesha Tan Jones.

Joe Pug’s The Working Songwriter

Who: Austin-based “songwriter’s songwriter” whose repertoire of originals includes “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” “Lock the Door Christina” and “Bury Me Far (From My Uniform).”

What: Americana musician Joe Pug is no stranger to Colorado Springs after playing two MeadowGrass Music Festivals and teaching a workshop here called “How to Steal Songs.” As host of The Working Songwriter podcast, Pug has spent the past four years talking shop with a who’s who of top-flight songwriters. Given Pug’s penchant for folk and country music, it’s no surprise that his guests have included Steve Earle, Tift Merritt, Joe Ely, Lee Ann Womack and Gregory Alan Isakov. But he’s no less adept at interviewing more unexpected artists like The Killers, Amanda Palmer, The Milk Carton Kids, and Minor Threat/Fugazi frontman Ian Mackaye.

Why: Because it’s safer to write your own songs than steal them from others.

Big Boy Bloater’s The Blues Podcast

Who: Guitarist for Imelda May and Paloma Faith, frontman of Big Boy Bloater & The LiMiTs, and, in the words of Jools Holland, “one of the great blues men of our time.”

What: A British blues-rock bandleader who took his name from a Southern California hamburger chain, Big Boy Bloater is too young to have interviewed his childhood heroes Jimi Hendrix and Elmore James. So he’s doing the next best thing by talking all things blues with musicians like Walter Trout, who has played guitar with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex. The Blues Podcast is just a few months old, but landing guests like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Beth Hart and Robin Trower suggest that he’s off to a good start.

Why: Because we get to hear guitarist Bernie Marsden talk about writing and recording Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.”

Henry Rollins’ The Cool Quarantine

Who: Former Black Flag and Rollins Band vocalist, spoken-word artist, survivor of Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization.

What: Anyone who’s seen one of Henry Rollins’ spoken-word tours knows that the iconic punk singer can talk. A lot. So it only makes sense that Rollins was quick to take advantage of the burgeoning music podcast medium. Back in 2015, he joined forces with his manager Heidi May to co-host “Henry & Heidi,” in which they talked about themselves, each other, and other areas of interest. Now, Rollins has embarked on his more socially distanced The Cool Quarantine Show, in which he talks about his favorite records and plays them too. The show is four hours long.

Why: Because this is the closest you’ll come to spending the rest of eternity in quarantine with Henry Rollins.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Jon Snodgrass releases a free kids record that will appeal to all ages

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Jon Snodgrass, Prost Mijos, free download at
  • Jon Snodgrass, Prost Mijos, free download at

For many artists, especially those who are musically self-sufficient, recording a low-key collection of kid-friendly songs can serve as a rite of passage. For Jon Snodgrass, who’s best known as co-founder of the Colorado alt-country band Drag the River, it was mostly just a fun way to pass the time.

Living the sheltered-in-place life with his wife and kids in Fort Collins, Snodgrass decided to write and record his newly released Prost Mijos, which he describes as a “free record for kids, parents, and regular people.” With titles like “Clean Hands & Feet Too,” and “Jumpy Jumpy Whee & Whoo, Also,” it might be natural to assume that repeated listenings would fray adult nerves even more than they already are. But listen to songs like “Mama Tired” (a play on Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”), and you’ll find that’s far from the case. In fact, if you set aside a handful of lyrics, and instead focus on the artist’s resonant tenor vocals, well-crafted melodies and understated arrangements, most of the music here would fit perfectly well on a Drag the River album.

“It’s not really a kids record,” says Snodgrass of the largely acoustic EP. “It’s as much for their parents as it is for the kids. I’ve had the idea for some of those songs for a long time. They’re just the silly things I always said I’d do if I ever wrote a kids record, a bunch of titles and maybe a little melody in my head. So that’s why I decided to do this minimalist lo-fi kids record type thing.”
Prost Mijos also features some between-song patter from the musician’s young daughter Tanner Lee and her brother Hopper “Rocket from the Crypt” Snodgrass. (And yes, Hopper’s middle name is a tribute to one of Jon’s favorite bands.) The record also conveys a generosity of spirit that reflects Jon’s current state of mind.

“Now that I have kids, my ego is just gone,” he says. “It’s such a small time that we’re here, and so many things just don’t matter, you know? That doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s kind of like a positive nihilism.”

While family and music remain the artist’s No. 1 priorities, he also has a lifelong love for baseball. He recently wrote the theme song and bumper music for the Colorado Rockies-obsessed Purple Dinosaur podcast, which takes its name from the team’s mascot. He even books his solo tours to coincide with his team’s away games. It’s basically the baseball version of being a Deadhead.

“I was supposed to be in San Diego for opening day back in March,” he says of what now seems like the distant past. “And then I was going to go to Los Angeles to see them play the Dodgers that Monday and Tuesday. And exactly a month after that, I was gonna go back out and see them in San Francisco. So I’ll go to an afternoon game, and then I go and play a show that night.”

That didn’t happen, of course, but at least the musician was able to finish recording a full-on rock band album, with some well-known guest artists we can’t reveal, before the whole world moved indoors. Still, he’s going to hold off on releasing that one until there are live music venues to tour with it. “I just don’t want to put out a rock record,” he says, “until I can go out and rock.”

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Alicia Keys, Ben Gibbard, Neil Young and The Rolling Stones turn pandemic anxiety into art

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Neil Young, in his Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young days — still telling the truth. - JOEL BERNSTEIN
  • Joel Bernstein
  • Neil Young, in his Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young days — still telling the truth.

Fifty years ago this week, Neil Young and his bandmates recorded “Ohio,” a haunting response to the Kent State shootings where Ohio National Guardsmen fired 67 rounds of ammunition into a crowd of anti-war demonstrators, taking four lives in the process.

A haunting anthem that captured the despair of the moment, “Ohio” was made all the more poignant by Young’s plaintive delivery, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s uncharacteristically mournful harmonies, and heart-rending lyrics like “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground / How can you run when you know?” Listen to it today and you’ll still be hard-pressed to detect a single note of opportunism or exploitation.

Not all torn-from-the-headlines singles are quite so convincing. Tom Petty’s “Peace in L.A.,” which was rush-released to radio during the 1992 Rodney King uprising, didn’t quite hit the mark with its repeated “Stay cool, don’t be a fool” refrain, although he does deserve credit for donating the single’s proceeds to local charities.

All of which brings us, inevitably, to the rapidly increasing number of songs inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as Kent State brought the Vietnam War home to America, the virus that most Americans assumed would be confined to China is prompting many of us to reconsider basic assumptions about our government, our economy and ourselves.

This time around, the first wave of rapid responders went heavy on novelty tunes, taking to YouTube with amateur versions of pop hits like The Knack’s “My Sharona,” which became “My Corona,” a parody that’s fast-approaching 7 million views.

It wasn’t long before high-profile musicians followed suit. On “Corona Virus (COVID-19),” reggae’s controversial, i.e., homophobic, performer Sizzla took the opportunity to reprise the sentiments of his 2014 “Ebola” single, once again placing the blame on Babylon while encouraging proper hand-washing habits. American singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, meanwhile, reworked his “Sweet Caroline” hit to include lyrics like “Hands, washing hands, reaching out / Don’t touch me, I won’t touch you.”

But comic relief and novelty songs only go so far in a pandemic, which is why recent offerings from Alicia Keys, Ben Gibbard, The Rolling Stones, OK Go and, yes, Neil Young, deserve no less attention.

In the case of OK Go’s “All Together Now,” released last week as a single benefiting Partners in Health, the motivations are especially personal. Lead vocalist Damian Kulash and his family all contracted the virus, his wife severely enough to require a hospital stay. After she was released, Damian took care of their 2-year-old twins as his wife’s symptoms gradually subsided. “There were times when her breathing was so labored,” Kulash told Rolling Stone, “that I worried she just wouldn’t wake up.”

In contrast to OK Go’s clever indie-pop singles and stunt-driven videos, “All Together Now” is musically stripped down and undeniably heartfelt. “All those harmonies we sang yesterday, they all sound so different now,” sings Kulash. “Though they’re all still the same, everything’s untouched but forever changed.”

Alicia Keys’ new “Good Job” single pays direct tribute to health care workers and others who are battling on the front lines. Taken from her forthcoming album Alicia, the song is also part of a campaign encouraging people to send thank-you messages to the essential workers in their own lives.

Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones have released their first single in eight years. “Living in a Ghost Town” is a welcome return to form, though its topicality is a bit contrived. The song was written before the virus hit, with Mick Jagger subsequently tweaking the lyrics to suit the moment: “Life was so beautiful, then we all got locked down,” he sings. “Feel like a ghost, living in a ghost town.”

Unlike the Stones, Ben Gibbard’s “Life in Quarantine” was actually written under quarantine. Musically sparse and lyrically poetic, the Death Cab for Cutie frontman’s moving ballad describes everyday life in the new normal, from its opening lines — “The sidewalks are empty, the bars and cafés too / The streetlights only changing, ‘cause they ain’t got nothing better to do” — to its closing evocation of the National Guard being on their way to protect us from our neighbors.

Which brings us back, appropriately enough, to Neil Young. His in-your-face rock anthem “Shut It Down” is as emotionally powerful as “Ohio,” with an accompanying video that artfully edits footage of empty streets and bridges, the pope alone in Saint Peter’s Square, and health care workers wearing trash bags as improvised hospital gowns. “Have to shut the whole system down,” Young chants between lyrics about people working in meat factories and our need to save the planet from an ugly death.

Ironically, the song itself appeared on Young’s album Colorado, which was released last October. Its prescience is altogether eerie, a stark reminder that our current condition calls for systemic changes that, as Young put it back in 1970, should have been done long ago.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Western Jubilee Recording Company acquired by Smithsonian Folkways

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Western Jubilee founder Scott O’Malley, left, with cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.
  • Western Jubilee founder Scott O’Malley, left, with cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.

One great legacy deserves another, and Smithsonian Folkways’ newly announced acquisition of Colorado Springs’ Western Jubilee Recording Company underscores that point. Both labels have a long and storied history of preserving and expanding upon musical traditions that might otherwise be lost to history.

For the past 25 years, Cowboy-Western music devotee Scott O’Malley has run Western Jubilee out of a former railroad warehouse in downtown Colorado Springs. During that time, the label has released some 75 albums by a prestigious roster that includes acoustic bluegrass legend Norman Blake, yodeling Country-Western balladeer Don Edwards, singer-songwriter Katy Moffatt, and cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.

“I can’t think of a better home for our artists,” enthuses Dave Olsen, who has managed Western Jubilee for the past nine years. “I’ve been hearing the word ‘perpetuity’ mentioned throughout the three-year process the acquisition has taken. And the idea that the music and poetry will live on, and be made available to the public long after we’re all gone, well, that is perfect.”

Western Jubilee’s new parent label boasts an enduring legacy that dates back to 1948, when producer Moses Asch launched a nonprofit label in order to document and preserve what he referred to as “people’s music.” Over the course of the next four decades, he would put out more than 2,000 records, ranging from cantorial synagogue music to Angola prison work songs. Other historic releases included an album of readings by pioneering African American poet Margaret Walker, early recordings by Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, and sprawling heritage collections like ethnomusicologist Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.

After Asch passed on in 1986, his family donated the entire Folkways catalog to the Smithsonian, which has continued to build upon that legacy. In the last month alone, the label has released a new album by Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei, a collection of bilingual children’s music by José-Luis Orozco, vinyl reissues of three experimental electronic albums, and a collection of previously unreleased music by Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton that was privately recorded back in 1946.

Smithsonian Folkways marketing manager Jonathan Williger echoes Olsen’s view that the two labels are a perfect pairing.

“When we look at bringing new labels into the Smithsonian Folkways family, we always ask how it will complement our already extensive catalog,” he explains. “Western Jubilee’s incredible catalog of cowboy music epitomizes a certain vision of the American experience that we felt would be a valuable addition to our collection and would also be well loved by our fans.”

Currently, the full catalog of Western Jubilee albums, most of which had long been out of print, are available in all digital formats on the Folkways website. The label has also released a 20-song compilation called Take Me Back to the Range: Selections from Western Jubilee Recording Company.

So what happens next? “In August,” says Williger, “we’ll be releasing a new album by Norman Blake through Western Jubilee and its old-time offshoot Plectrafone Records. We’re very excited and we’ll be sharing more details on that in the coming months.”

In other good news, O’Malley’s railroad-side studio will go back to hosting concerts for live recordings, as well as holding vintage collectible sales, once it’s safe to do so. We can also expect at least a few Western Jubilee releases to start showing up on vinyl. After all, Folkways is the label that made its debut with Drums of Haiti, a collection of field recordings that were pressed onto four 10-inch shellac discs.

“Scott says that Smithsonian Folkways Recordings are famous for their love of vinyl, so I’m hoping it’ll happen,” says Olsen. “I would get a solid sense of joy holding Western Jubilee and Plectrafone LPs in my hands. Everyone knows yodeling sounds so much warmer on vinyl.”
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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

50 Cent, Rakim, and Questlove write hip-hop self-help books without the cliches

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 1:00 AM

A surprisingly readable self-help book opens a new chapter for rapper 50 Cent.
  • A surprisingly readable self-help book opens a new chapter for rapper 50 Cent.

‘It’s very easy to run through a million in this country,” writes Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in his newly published self-help book Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter.

And he would know. 50 Cent is, after all, the only rapper to have been named one of Forbes’ “Five Wealthiest Hip-Hop Artists” — with combined assets of $155 million — and then filed for bankruptcy three months later. But while 50 Cents’ finances have had their share of seismic ups and downs, there’s no questioning his talent as an artist and entrepreneur.

Jackson has a long history when it comes to the art of the deal. A New York City crack-dealer’s son, he was arrested for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer while still in high school, and earned his GED while serving six months in boot camp. Afterward, he redirected his energies toward rapping, chose the stage name 50 Cent as a metaphor for change, and — after mentoring from Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay, Eminem and Dr. Dre — found international fame thanks to No. 1 singles like “In Da Club” and “21 Questions.”

With his intelligence and charisma, Jackson also presents well under a wide range of circumstances, from multimillion-dollar vitamin-water endorsements to swapping chairs with Stephen Colbert and proving himself a worthy candidate for hosting his own late-night TV show.

All that said, Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter ranks among Jackson’s most unexpected accomplishments to date. Published earlier this week by HarperCollins’ multicultural Amistad Press, it’s an eminently readable compendium of life lessons that will have use-value even for those of us who haven’t been shot nine times at point-blank range or been described by Mike Tyson as scary.

Over the course of 304 pages, 50 Cent emerges as a study in contradictions, which is something he routinely uses to his advantage, particularly in the public arena. He’s become legendary for his high-profile fights with other rappers, who are, in some cases, secretly grateful for the publicity.

Some of those battles have been lighthearted: Jackson uploaded a video of himself being taken to the hospital and almost dying after getting “noise poisoning” from Fat Joe’s album. In another post, he said he bought 200 tickets to a Ja Rule concert, for no other purpose than to keep the seats empty.

But other 50 Cent feuds, including one with Vanderpump Rules’ Lala Kent and her producer/fiancé Randall Emmett, have gotten downright vicious.

So it may come as a surprise to find 50 Cent giving advice about how to control a room simply by speaking softly. It’s a trick he picked up from actor Bruce Willis during a cigar break while filming The Setup, a heist movie the rap impresario produced back in 2011. “As we smoked,” writes Jackson, “I asked him about what I’d observed [in meetings]. ‘Say, man,’ I said, ‘How come every time someone asks you something at dinner, you answer in damn near a whisper? You’re not talking like that now.’”

Willis told him that when you’re around a lot of people where everyone’s trying to be heard, the trick is to speak as softly as possible. “When someone speaks like that,” said the actor, “our natural reaction is to lean in to them as close as possible. We don’t realize it, but when we do that, we’re transferring all our power to them.”

Jackson was soon taking that approach in his own negotiations. “Executives always respond to nonverbal cues when they’re talking to a room,” he explains. “If they make a point, they expect something from you in return. It could be a laugh, a slight nod, a raised eyebrow, or even just a shift in your seat. Something that communicates to them, ‘Yes, important person. I’m receiving your information.’ Even if we’re not conscious of it, we usually give them that affirmation that they’re looking for.”

For Jackson, whose celebrity status put him on a fairly level playing field with the network execs, it was easy to do otherwise.

“When they looked to me for that affirmation, I’d just sit there stone-faced. No nod. No laugh. I would not offer them anything. It would completely throw them off. They became very flustered. Once I had them off their game, it was much easier to assert my agenda and move the conversation in a direction that was beneficial to me. I was hustling harder, but literally without moving a muscle.”

At the same time, the rapper emphasizes the importance of maintaining eye contact, to show that you’re listening, as well as holding up your own end of the bargain afterward.

That’s something Jackson manages to do throughout Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, providing a wealth of clear insights, colorful anecdotes and realistic strategies for reaching those elusive goals — overcoming fear, recognizing your value, being assertive — that have spawned countless self-help books. Better still, he does it from a perspective that’s far removed from the world of motivational speakers, moonlighting psychiatrists and terrible writers.
For another perspective, self-help seekers can turn to Rakim, the supremely poetic hip-hop artist who has been justifiably described as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” Released last September, his Sweat the Technique: Revelations on Creativity from the Lyrical Genius was also published by HarperCollins’ Amistad. And like 50 Cent, Rakim combines autobiographical anecdotes with plenty of useful advice, although his focus is more on artistic creativity than business acumen.

Rakim structures his advice around what he calls the Five Pillars of Creativity: purpose, intention, spirituality, consciousness and energy.

“I draw from my knowledge and add the tricks of my technique to slip in messages that range from subtle to unavoidable,” he writes. “I wrap around wordplay and push boundaries of form. I stay focused on my intentions. Make something original. Outdo what I’ve already done. Write something to force the conscious listener to think, the music lover to clap, and every other rapper to turn their head and say, ‘Damn.’ I want to build monuments of monologue that stand the test of time.”

No small feat, to be sure, but Rakim took on that challenge straight out of the gate with Eric B & Rakim singles like “Paid in Full” (check out the Coldcut remix with Yemenite singer Ofra Haza, if you haven’t already) as well as a trio of stellar solo albums.

Questlove and Rakim’s books focus more on creativity than business acumen. - A KATZ / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • a katz /
  • Questlove and Rakim’s books focus more on creativity than business acumen.

Another essential entry in the hip-hop self-help genre is Questlove’s Creative Quest. The 2018 book finds the Roots co-founder exploring the creative process in the context of an industry that makes the bottom line its top priority. While much of his advice is practical, Questlove doesn’t hesitate to weave in a mix of eclectic concepts, ranging from Maimonide’s negative theology and Shelley Carson’s cognitive disinhibition to Einstein’s cigarette butts and that age-old question: “If a train leaves Georgia at midnight, how many Pips are on it?”

While all three hip-hop artists come at their subject matter from different directions, none of them fall back on the “If I did it, so can you” approach that permeates shallower attempts at the celebrity self-help genre, including rapper/producer Russ’ It’s All in Your Head. Whether driven by good intentions or false modesty, such claims are the self-help equivalent of millionaires insisting that the poor have no money simply because they don’t work hard enough to earn it.
Questlove, Rakim and 50 Cent’s books, by contrast, offer something much better, including the prospect that, given the opportunity, we can do the same.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gifted or not, you can still lend your voice to the World-Wide Tuning Meditation

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 1:00 AM

World-Wide Tuning Meditation, Saturday, April 25, 3:50 p.m., Your computer or phone, for Zoom meeting link and password, see -
  • World-Wide Tuning Meditation, Saturday, April 25, 3:50 p.m., Your computer or phone, for Zoom meeting link and password, see

Back in 2007, when more than 85 percent of Americans still had operational landlines, Pauline Oliveros was already envisioning a world in which music and technology would help foster a sense of community during a time of extreme social isolation.

“Musicians are leading the way to global development with a conscious way of connecting non-violently,” the electronic music pioneer wrote in From Telephone to High Speed Internet: A Brief History of My Tele-Musical Performances. “As the technology improves exponentially and ubiquitously, then eventually there will be no reason not to perform music at a distance. Globalization gives us more reason. Making music together makes friends.”

Since you’ll probably be at home this coming Saturday afternoon, you can prove Oliveros right by participating in the upcoming World-Wide Tuning Meditation. Regardless of your experience or ability, the Zoom-driven “interactive sound-along” event will give us the opportunity to come together online with participants from around the world in a live performance of Oliveros’ influential “Tuning Meditation” composition.

The work has been performed each Saturday in April as part of the Music on the Rebound festival, an ongoing initiative that’s designed to help support musicians during the current pandemic. The first event drew 600 quarantined participants, all singing single notes into their computers together in real time.

“As a composer, performer and electronic music pioneer, Pauline understood the fundamental ways in which technology could be used to bring people together,” says UCCS music professor Jane Rigler, who is currently in Ireland on a Fulbright scholarship. “In the World-Wide Tuning Meditation, we connect at a distance through the simple act of projecting, on the exhale, a single tone. We send a tone. We receive a tone. There’s no need to judge any tone, each one arrives just as it is, unique and pure-hearted. And by joining in, even if it’s only to listen, our presence is an act of giving.”

Oliveros first recorded her piece “Tuning Mediation” in 1988 under much different circumstances. She and her Deep Listening band traveled to Port Townsend, Washington, where they recorded it in a huge underground cistern with natural reverb that took a full 45 seconds to fade away.
Three years later, Oliveros organized her first livestreaming performance, a six-city improvisation in which she used a video-telephone bridge to connect musicians in Oakland, New York City, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles and Kingston, New York. In the decades leading up to her death in 2016, Oliveros continued to utilize new technologies to push the boundaries of long-distance artistic collaboration.

Along the way, she also created a celebrated legacy as a composer. Oliveros is, and forever shall be, the only artist whose compositions have been performed by both John Cage and Sonic Youth. She collaborated with Morton Subotnick and DJ Spooky. She pioneered ambient electronic techniques that would be adopted by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp a decade later. In 2012, the electronic label Important Records released a 12-CD set of her early recordings, Reverberations: Tape & Electronic Music 1961-1970, to commemorate her 80th birthday.

Oliveros also has a Colorado Springs connection. Back in 2013, Rigler and her colleagues in the Peak FreQuency Creative Arts Collective persuaded her to come to UCCS for a series of teaching seminars and performances. Rigler, who is one of the few certified instructors in Oliveros’ “deep listening” practices, is certain that the composer would be delighted with the current use of her philosophy and techniques at a time when our computers have become one of our sole bridges to the outside world.

“We’re also listening to the technology itself, the way that it alters our voices and transforms the ways in which we interact,” says Rigler of the World-Wide Tuning Meditation experience. “As a participant, I’ve found myself wondering how we can use this time — being separated and yet connected — to become more acutely conscious beings.”
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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Artists who’ve come down with COV-19 speak their minds

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Ellis Marsalis and John Prine’s music will still be with us as long as there’s some way to hear it.
  • Ellis Marsalis and John Prine’s music will still be with us as long as there’s some way to hear it.

On the final afternoon of the 2019 Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, the pianist Ellis Marsalis joined his son Delfeayo’s Uptown Jazz Orchestra onstage in the cool shade of a crowded festival tent. Together, they played “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” a bittersweet song once performed by Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong that had become all the more moving in the years since Hurricane Katrina. Never in my life had I seen so many people smiling and crying together at the same time.

And it’s happening again now, just not all in the same place. On the first evening of April, the patriarch of the Marsalis family passed away due to complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The news spread rapidly throughout social media, as people from around the world shared their memories, grieved his passing and celebrated his music. That same day, the pandemic also claimed the lives of Fountains of Wayne co-founder Adam Schlesinger and swing guitarist John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli.

April 1 was also the day that Asleep at the Wheel bandleader Ray Benson announced that he’d finally been diagnosed with COVID-19 after three weeks of suffering headaches, fever and dizziness. His doctor had ruled out other flu viruses, but told him that no coronavirus tests were available. It would be another 10 days, during which time his condition worsened, before the musician was brought back in for bloodwork and additional testing. “It took basically testing for everything else,” said Benson, “to acquire a COVID-19 test.” The good news is that the musician posted a video update on Facebook on April 7, saying that he was feeling a lot better and sending his best wishes to everyone watching: “I hope that y’all will be well, help those around you that you can, and we’ll be back playing some music as soon as this blows over.”

On April 3, Pink took to Instagram to share her own story. She and her 3-year-old son Jameson had begun showing symptoms of the virus two weeks earlier. Both tested positive, continued to shelter at home, and subsequently tested negative. The pop singer-songwriter, whose mom worked in a hospital for 18 years, then donated $1 million to support emergency health care professionals on the front lines.

“It is an absolute travesty and failure of our government to not make testing more widely accessible,” wrote Pink, nearly a month after President Trump falsely claimed that anyone who wants a test can simply go out and get one. “This illness is serious and real.”

On Tuesday, April 7, John Prine passed away from double-pneumonia, after fighting the coronavirus for two weeks in the ICU at a hospital in his hometown of Nashville. “We have no words to describe the grief our family is experiencing at this time,” wrote Fiona Whelan Prine of her husband, whom Bonnie Raitt once compared to Mark Twain. “John will be so missed, but he will continue to comfort us with his words and music and the gifts of kindness, humor and love he left for all of us to share.”

This past December, Prine received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an appropriate recognition for a singer-songwriter who’d earned a Best New Artist nomination with early songs like “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Slade,” and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”

While it’s a shame we’ll never hear what John Prine, Ellis Marsalis and others might have said about our current pandemic, it’s still comforting to know that their music will be with us as long as there’s still some way to hear it. Prine’s classic “Hello in There,” which went viral on social media in the aftermath of his death, ends with some advice that may serve us well in the near future: “if you’re walking down the street sometime/ And spot some hollow ancient eyes / Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare/ As if you didn’t care / Say, ‘Hello in there, hello.’”

Like much of the music that continues to bring us together, that final verse can serve as a reminder that, just under the surface, we have more in common than we once thought.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

From Dartmouth to deadmau5, a guide to online music courses

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2020 at 1:00 AM

  • Rob Marmion /

Back in my days of working low-paying office jobs, I hit upon the idea of taking some evening music classes at the local community college. At the time, it seemed like an ideal way to get away from the tedious routines of the corporate underclass, and maybe even learn something. Soon, I was making my way through rush-hour traffic four evenings a week to attend two-hour classes in music theory and keyboard technique. Meanwhile, I got to reacquaint myself with the forgotten art of homework, showing up late for class, and falling so far behind that you can never catch up.

But that was then, and this is now. With virtually all of America under some level of quarantine, many of us have a lot more time on our hands and a lot less to fill it with.

The good news today is that, especially for those who live and breathe music, there’s a world of educational opportunities just waiting for us online. Even Ivy League universities are currently offering classes for free, and you don’t even have to come from a good family to take them. Before long, you’ll be starting every other sentence with “Back when I was studying at Harvard” (or Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, etc.), and people will love you for it!

Two of the easiest ways to shop for your Ivy League education is through one-stop-shop search sites like and, where you’ll find all sorts of tuition-free courses in music theory, practice and appreciation.

As you may have guessed, the more high-brow schools go heavy on classical music and opera. Harvard, for instance, has its First Night series of “modules” that range from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots.

And while we’re on the subject of riots, you may also want to pay a virtual visit to Yale, where you can check out its Music and Social Action course. While the syllabus doesn’t specifically advocate musicians taking to the streets — something you wouldn’t want to do at the moment, anyway — it does cover several artists who, over the past century, have shown their commitment to political and social issues, as well as government initiatives like the WPA’s Federal Music Project and the various ways in which our artistic outlook can change the way we see the world.

Also for do-gooders, there’s the University of Florida’s Healing with the Arts and the University of Melbourne’s How Music Can Change Your Life, both of which explore the values and practices of music therapy.
Meanwhile, have you ever wanted to deconstruct music through the lens of European philosophers like Pierre Bourdieu, Theodor Adorno and Jacques Attali? Of course you have! Which is why the University of the Arts The Hague offers its course in The Importance of Music and Power in Our Society. There, you’ll find classes devoted to topics like music and the state, music and subversion, affective tonality, fetish character in music, and the regression of listening.

For those who prefer more depressing subjects, West Virginia University is now offering a multi-part course called Today’s Music Industry, which includes classes on concert promotion, music publishing and record contracts.

Or maybe you actually want to make music. Many people do. To help out with that, the Berklee College of Music — whose graduates range from Levon Helm to St. Vincent — offers online students a broad spectrum of specializations that include DIY Music, Electronic Music Production, Developing Your Musicianship, and the Business of Music Production. You can also take classes taught by award-winning musicians on subjects ranging from musical improvisation to funk-rock and R&B guitar soloing.

Along the way, you’ll also find no shortage of opportunities to spend money. does offer some 250 music instruction classes, ranging from beginner to intermediate levels, that you can take for free. But for those who want to dig deeper, there are a few thousand more priced from $19.99 to $199.

Of course, if you take any of those courses — or maybe even just think about taking one — expect to find deeply discounted, limited-time-only offers showing up in your Facebook feed for the remainder of your natural-born life. (Not lying: Within hours of scrolling through their catalog to write this, Udemy sent me a sponsored Facebook ad offering 90 percent off on their $199 beginner’s piano course.)

Or you could just fall under the spell of those beautifully lit ads in which celebrity icons like Neil Gaiman, David Lynch and Steph Curry promise to tell you the secrets of success in everything there is to succeed at. Most of those come from, where musicians can seek out words of wisdom from Timbaland, Reba McEntire, Itzhak Perlman, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, composers Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, EDM artist deadmau5 and Armin van Buuren, with more to come.

And finally, of course, there’s an ever-growing array of musical instruction apps (Yousician, Fender Play, Simply Piano, Tunefox), live music tutors (Lessonface, LiveMusicTutor, Musika), and countless video lessons on YouTube and Vimeo.

Whatever route you take, there may be no better time than this to change the way you play, hear and think about music, and to eventually share it in the company of others.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Don’t Stand So Close To Me: A social-distancing playlist

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 1:00 AM


Now that Howard Hughes has become our national role model, what better way to chase away those social-distancing blues than a carefully curated collection of thematically appropriate songs?

Sure, you could just put Neil Young’s “Oh, Lonesome Me,” Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” or Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” on infinite repeat, but you can only spend so much time curled up on the floor in a fetal position before you weird out the cats.

So instead, we offer for your consideration a more diverse collection of songs that, if you don’t fixate too much on the lyrics, are really kind of fun. We’ve also included one lesser-known track that we honestly believe will leave you feeling more inspired and optimistic, which, given the current state of the human condition, is no small task. But we’ll get to that later.

“Ghost Town”
by The Specials
“Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town,” sings Terry Hall in one of the more wistful parts of The Specials’ hauntingly tuneful take on rampant unemployment and closed-up clubs in Thatcher-era England. Written and recorded shortly before the seminal ska band called it a day, the song’s dub-influenced arrangement also showcases the deeply resonant vocals of Neville Staple, whose West Indian patois rivals that of Linton Kwesi Johnson. The result is one of the few political protest songs that’s actually fun to sing along to.

“Can’t Feel My Face”
by The Weeknd
“I can’t feel my face when I’m with you, but I love it,” declares The Weeknd on his runaway hit from 2015. Given the Canadian R&B crooner’s youthful indiscretions, it’s widely assumed that he’s singing about the numbing effects of a controlled substance. Or maybe the song is just about getting high on life. Either way, you’ve got to give him credit for putting an upbeat spin on an uncomfortable predicament.

“Germfree Adolescents”
by X-Ray Spex

While their politely titled “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” single fell on largely deaf ears, X-Ray Spex’s follow-up single went on to become the British agitprop band’s best-known song. “Germfree Adolescents” also turned frontwoman Poly Styrene into a feminist-punk icon, as she deftly skewered an antiseptic society where you could almost imagine people hoarding toilet paper and soap: “Her phobia is infection, she needs one to survive / It’s her built-in protection, without fear she’d give up and die.” Not recommended for the faint-hearted or those who don’t trust anyone under 30.

“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
by The Police
It’s amazing that the CDC hasn’t used a single song by The Police for its social-distancing PSAs. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is of course the obvious one, but there’s also the multi-platinum “Every Breath You Take” as well as the clearly plaintive “So Lonely,” in which Sting sings the song’s title no less than three dozen times, which is more than enough to fill a 30-second spot.

“Behind the Mask”
by Michael Jackson
Which came first: the silver-sequined glove or the black surgical mask? No one can really say for sure. But we do know that the reclusive King of Pop wore his mask at a rehearsal on the eve of his death, because Jackson’s personal bodyguard said so right before putting it up for auction. In any case, the posthumously released “Behind the Mask” is an unjustly overlooked electro-funk single, with lyrics like “You sit around behind your mask, and you control your world” that are just about as unsettling now as they were back then.

“U Can’t Touch This”
by MC Hammer
The first MC Hammer single to reach the Top 10, “U Can’t Touch This” has absolutely nothing to do with maintaining personal space and everything to do with pumping beats and billowing parachute pants. Granted, the ’90s rapper let the opening riff from Rick James’ “Super Freak” do the musical heavy lifting, and the accompanying video’s hyperkinetic choreography makes Psy’s gangnam style seem subtle by comparison. And yes, rap rivals 3rd Bass did refer to MC Hammer as “MC Household Tool.” But when it came to unadulterated fun, “U Can’t Touch This” was tough to beat. Or as Hammer put it back in his hip-hop heyday, “Why would I ever stop doin’ this / With others makin’ records that just don’t hit?”

“You Can’t Go Outside”
by Kool Keith
“Now you’re famous, but guess what? You can’t go outside.” In Kool Keith’s song about a self-quarantined rapper who’s taken to canceling gigs for fear of becoming the next Biggie or Tupac, the former Ultramagnetic MC approaches his subject matter with a curious mix of sympathy and derision: “Request to have the chicken and fried rice / Chinese cat at your door on the bike / You doin’ the same thing you did last night.” The song’s chorus, which samples The Dramatics singing “You can’t walk outside... With your girl in the rain” drives the point home.

“Song to Humanity”
by The Lovetones
An ode to hope and redemption, The Lovetones’ 2008 “Song to Humanity” is as close to a sacred hymn as any secular psychedelic-rock band is likely to come. Led by Matthew J. Tow, a singer, songwriter and guitarist whom Rolling Stone has compared to The Kinks’ Ray Davies and The Beatles’ Lennon and McCartney, the Melbourne band employs ringing guitars, sweeping synthesizer and subtle vocal harmonies in service of lyrics that are both timely and heartfelt: “Take care of them all, the old and the small, the sick and the poor, take care of them all.” It’s a gorgeous track and a thoughtful reminder of our need to show kindness and compassion as we get through all this together.

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Good vibes with Tribal Seeds, KBong, The Expanders at The Black Sheep

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 8:46 AM

The Black Sheep had concertgoers feeling irie on Saturday, Feb. 15, for a sold-out reggae show. We do not have any photos of opening act The Expanders, but we were able to capture electrifying and chill performances by Hawaiian solo artist KBong and San Diego, California reggae rockers Tribal Seeds. Check them out!
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Friday, February 28, 2020

Tejon Street Corner Thieves, The World/Inferno Friendship Society, Bridge City Sinners at The Black Sheep

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2020 at 1:22 PM

Bridge City Sinners bassist Scott Michaud at the Black Sheep - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Bridge City Sinners bassist Scott Michaud at the Black Sheep
The term "punk rock hootenanny" came to mind on Monday, Feb. 17, when locals Tejon Street Corner Thieves joined Portland, Oregon folk/bluegrass squad Bridge City Sinners and Brooklyn, New York genre-shifting punk cabaret circus The World/Inferno Friendship Society at the Black Sheep. Check out our photos of this killer lineup!
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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Soulfly, Toxic Holocaust, Madzilla bang heads at The Black Sheep

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 5:14 PM

On Feb. 4, 2020, The Black Sheep hosted a stacked lineup of heavy metal bands, featuring Soulfly, Toxic Holocaust, Madzilla LV, and more. The Indy sent photographer Griffin Swartzell to capture the show. Check it out below!
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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Valentine’s Day playlist for lovers who love love

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Love, as The Captain & Tennille once sang, will keep us together. Were truer words ever spoken?

Granted, people may stay together for other reasons, like, for instance, the children, or financial considerations, or codependency.

But since you love Valentine’s Day every bit as much as we do, let’s just set all that aside for the moment and enjoy this lovingly curated holiday playlist:

“Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo
It’s only fitting that the most soulful contender for this year’s Best New Artist Grammy would record this single for Atlantic Records, a label that will forever be associated with Aretha Franklin. Lizzo’s churchified vocal performance, which contemporizes the Queen of Soul’s sound without compromising it, combined with X Ambassadors’ brass-heavy arrangement, add up to an R&B love song that’ll surely stand the test of time.

“Je t’aime” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
Once described as the pop equivalent of the softcore film Emmanuelle. “Je T’aime” was banned in America and other countries where virtually no one speaks French. But the two singers’ whispers, sighs and moans make it obvious that lines like “Je vais et je viens, entre tes reins” are anything but platonic.

“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
In which the consummate soulman makes an unimpeachable case for love and longevity. According to legend, Al Green wrote the lyrics in 15 minutes, then recorded the song in a room full of neighborhood drunks. But it still sounds like he’s singing it just for you.

”Computer Love” by Zapp and Roger
Before Autotune, there was the Vocoder, which Zapp leader Roger Troutman took to appropriate extremes in this musically and lyrically prescient electro-funk tune. Key lyric: “Oh won’t you keep me warm tonight / You are such a sweet delight / I will cherish the memory of this night / Yes I found my computer love.”

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys
“That’s not a love song, it’s a suicide note,” said Brian Wilson’s father when his son first played it for him. He was wrong. Regardless of whether it’s sung by Brian sitting alone at his piano — or by his brother Carl in the baroque-pop rendition that appears on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds — this is still one of the most beautiful love songs of all time.

“Ben” by Michael Jackson
Forget the Captain & Tennille’s “Muskrat Love,” this is the only rodent song that truly matters. A sweetly romantic ballad, it was recorded for the soundtrack of the comparatively creepy film Willard, but taken out of context, you’d never guess that Michael Jackson was singing to a rat.

“I Feel Love” by Donna Summer
Although this wasn’t Donna Summer’s first hit about love — that came earlier with “Love to Love You Baby” — it’s arguably the best, with Giorgio Moroder’s arpeggiated sequencers and Summer’s breathless vocals soaring into the disco stratosphere. In the decades to come, the dance floor diva would release more than two dozen songs with “love” in the title, including “Cool Love,” “Unconditional Love” and “Supernatural Love,” but none of them can surpass this one.

“Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse
Because Juggalos need love, too.
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