Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quote of the Day: Jeanette Winterson

      "Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that wields together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.
      "Right now, human beings as a mass, have a gruesome appetite for what they call ‘real’, whether it’s Reality TV or the kind of plodding fiction that only works as low-grade documentary, or at the better end, factual programs and biographies and ‘true life’ accounts that occupy the space where imagination used to sit.
      "Such a phenomenon points to a terror of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative."

– Jeanette Winterson, The Weight

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quickly...

As an update to this post:

"White Girl" is not a cover of the X song.

"Love You Down" is a cover of the Ready for the World classic... and it's a sparse, lush, atmospheric, beat-heavy, gorgeous, pure fuck-groove, with Meshell in patented pillow-talk mode. Good shit.

More on the CD closer to its release date.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The First Cut...



      I really dig the clip above. No disrespect to the great, legendary Bo Diddley (who’s killing it) but it’s all about the women backing him: their slinky evening gowns; the way they break it down with pelvic thrusts and accompanying sweeping/brushing hand movements; those old-school raw, untrained soul voices; choreography that's synchronized but – unlike the cold, militaristic moves that fill music videos now – leaves room for individual, sexy personalities to shine through; and the clip's kicker: an actual musical instrument strapped on one woman’s shoulder, over her gown, and wielded with solid confidence.
      It really makes you think (again) about the ways historical representation (who did what, and when) is shrunken, cut off at the knees and made to conform to diminished options of existence and possibility. The images of black women musicians from the ‘50s and ‘60s run along pretty short rails. (I say that even as an unapologetic fan of the purely pop confection.) But what we have in this clip is the quintessential girl-group aesthetic (the exaggerated hair falls, the matching gowns and choreography) being plucked at the seams, foreshadowing something of riot grrrl and punk and hip-hop female sturdiness and self-sufficiency. And that's just from the margin position of back-up singers. I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent music video of Black women singers/musicians that is more… just cool.
      The Diddley clip was posted on Facebook a few days ago, just after someone else had posted a news item about Melanie Fiona, that long-hyped next-big-thing. It made me go back and re-visit this video:


      I didn’t get all the way through it. And I didn’t the first time I saw it many months ago. It makes me recoil. It’s a case study in too much of what is fucked up about current pop and (who stole the) “soul” music. Let me back up a minute: I’ve long been fascinated with the ways in which art retains and transmits something of the time in which it was created, even as it travels into the future. And I don’t just mean the slang or the fashion of the day (captured in film, music and literature), the sound of recorded music due to the production techniques or recording technology available at a given time, nor do I mean the stylistic innovations and revolutions of the visual arts in any given era. I mean something more ephemeral, intangible – something of the attitudes, values and sensibilities of an era that waft from its cultural artifacts and artists. Example: Madonna’s steely-eyed careerism and [once] signature anthem “Material Girl” marked her as a Reagan-era diva; similarly, Beyonce’s vapidity, steely-eyed careerism, lack of discernible humanity, and unfuckwitable shrewdness – which is not the same thing as “intelligence” – tag her as the consummate Bush-era diva.
      One of the reasons I have spent the last several weeks listening to almost nothing but a two-disc CD set of Elkin & Nelson’s greatest hits that Josh Kun picked up in Spain and was kind enough to burn for me is because the music carries forth a sense of wide-open possibility. In its early ‘70s fusion of genres, in its unbridled experimentation, its joy in creative expression and boundary-pushing, it has something of spirit. Though wholly accessible (my Spanish is atrocious and yet I feel like I am right there with them in every syllable) and “pop” in the best sense of the word, the music comes from a place unconcerned with chart positions, celebrity or world-domination synergy (celebrity fashion lines, endorsement deals, vanity labels, etc.)
      Contrast that with the Melanie Fiona video, which over-powers the music in its contrivance; you can all but hear some record label exec saying, “We need a Black Amy Winehouse.” (Yeah, think about that for a minute.) The video reeks of the market studies, fear-based repetition of what has already been done before, and toothless trendy "edginess" that define the music industry and American pop culture. Although Fiona’s vocal talent is appealing and undeniable, what comes through most forcefully in the clip is the heavy-handed, artless shaping of a commodity, acquiescence to formula. (And not just Fiona’s hair and clothing style; the whole video is a re-working of Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own” music clip.) Compare it to this just below, where Fiona kicks it in a stairwell and knocks it out of the park with surprising accompaniment:


      A few days ago, a former editor of mine with whom I’ve reconnected on Facebook posted a Youtube clip of cult soul singer P.P. Arnold singing her biggest hit, 1967’s “The First Cut is the Deepest,” a cover of the Cat Stevens classic. I hadn’t heard this in years. I'd relegated it to the darkest corner of my mind. After seeing the clip, I was sent scurrying to watch as much as I could of her on Youtube. (Including some relatively recent clips that reveal she still looks and sounds fantastic.) Again, check her amazing style, so very much of its time but so very now. She's not the Aretha-style soul shouter; not the Dionne or Diana glamor girl (though she’s very glamorous); and not a Tina Turner-style rock chick. She’s simply incredibly chic, modern in a way that a lot of her more famous, even iconic contemporaries were not. And from some angles looks a bit like Lauryn Hill:





And click here for a treat.

      I’m closing this post with a couple of hyper-modern remixes of classic Supremes tunes, and some rare rehearsal footage. The first video clip is actually an excerpt from an old promotional clip the trio shot; the re-touched music is a reggae overhaul of “My World is Empty Without You” that is absolutely sublime until it goes off the beat at around the 1:27 mark. Second, sans images, is Omar S’ chill House re-tooling of “Come See About Me,” in which a few key phrases are looped over and over, boiling the song down to its simmering emotional lament. I'd kill to hear it in a club. Last is what is tagged as rehearsal footage for Spanish language TV. Two things make it dope: its low-key performance energy, which translates into something approaching funky for the Supremes, and the fact that they’re wearing their own clothing, “street-wear,” and look amazing.





Friday, August 14, 2009

Meshell news...



Just got this press release:

Meshell Ndegeocello to release new full length vocal album - Devil’s Halo - October 6th on Mercer Street

Meshell's 8th album and her first for Mercer Street, Devil’s Halo harkens back to the way records used to be made: no click track or electronic synthetics, with a focus on musicianship and live band energy. Meshell feels that Devil’s Halo represents a return to a place that she truly appreciates, music that is created and performed by people's hands.

Produced by Meshell and guitarist Chris Bruce, and influenced by a wide breadth of sounds - from The Human League to Wu Tang to Yes – Devil’s Halo displays Meshell's vocals and diversity throughout.

Meshell Ndegeocello – vocal and bass
Chris Bruce - guitar
Deantoni Parks - drums
Keefus Ciancia - keys
special guests: Oren Bloedow (b/g vocals), Mark Kelley (b/g vocals) and Lisa Germano (cello)

Devil’s Halo track listing:
1. Slaughter
2. Tie One On
3. Lola
4. Hair Of The Dog
5. Mass Transit
6. White Girl
7. Love You Down
8. Devil’s Halo
9. Bright Shiny Morning
10. Blood On The Curb
11. Die Young
12. Crying In Your Beer

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Transition

Be sure to click the link in III.

I. (Apologies for the auto-start commercial tucked in this clip.)



II.



III.

Click here