Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Soul Truth

The blues are all right...especially when they're storming so powerfully...from the body and soul of Ms. Shemekia Copeland.

The daughter of legendary bluesman Johnny Copeland is the real deal. Her new album kicks off with a take-no-prisoners trifecta powerhouse bluesy soul singing at its finest: the aptly-titled leadoff track "Breakin' Out", the unflinching ballad "Poor, Poor Excuse", and the wonderfully rocking and utterly scathing statement on the sorry state of radio, "Who Stole My Radio?" (which, in a better world, would be booming out of radios all over this summer.)

When she follows those gems with "All About You", a pointed and funky kiss-off to an egocentric lover, you're just hooked.

From the sassy self-affirmations of "Uptown Train" and "Givin' Up You" to the swampy black magic of "Honey, Do That Voodoo" to the wistful "Used"(a bittersweet duet with Dobie Gray) Copeland's supple, full-bodied voice is used to dazzling effect (she's a blues shouter who knows when bring it down as well as when to let it rip.) This woman is the real deal.

There are a couple of awkward lyrical patches here and there but those are easily forgiven and quickly forgotten when you're being totally engaged by real heartfelt real honest-to-Aretha soul music.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Battle of the Network Reality Stars

Somebody please make them stop.

Will somebody sit these reality TV "stars" down and tell them that for the VAST majority of them their showbiz "careers" began and ended with whichever reality TV show they were on?

It was kind of cute at first to watch these folks try to parlay a stint on Survivor, Big Brother, The Real World, Temptation Island, etc., etc. into a real Hollywood career but as their number continues to grow it's not so cute anymore and the straws they're grasping this retread of the Battle of the Network Stars series of specials from the 70's (featuring TV stars...real honest-to-goodness actors!... of the time) which had a certain cheeseball charm to them (watching Welcome Back, Kotter's Gabe Kaplan needle The Wild, Wild West's ever-petulant Robert Conrad into sputtering fits of rage was worth the time spent watching in and of itself)...are increasingly flimsy.

Look, I really like some of "reality" TV...but only for what it is (that being wholly contrived exercises full of what David Letterman would call "stupid human tricks".)

And I even have a certain amount of fondness for some of the people participating in Bravo's Battle of the Network Reality Stars (Charla, Chip, and Kim from Amazing Race, Ryan from American Idol, and the charmingly gonzo "Dr. Will" from Big Brother, for example)...but, that said, I really had no need to see any of them participating in faux athletic events.

(And to be sure I never needed to see most of these desperate would-be celebrities in ANY context ever again...and yes I'm looking at you Richard Hatch, Omarosa, "Bachelor Bob", Amazing Race blowhard Jonathan and his spousal-abuse-victim-to-be Victoria, the ever-charming Sue Hawk, the conniving Project Runway designer Wendy Pepper, and "Joe Millionaire".)

Of course it could be worse I suppose. The folks over on E!'s Kill Reality are making a real "we're-gonna-put-it-in-the-multiplexes-(or-failing-that-on-DVD)" movie...a horror movie (insert your own joke here)...with another group of reality TV "stars" (including "Johnny Fairplay", Ethan, and one of the many Jennas from Survivor as well as, again, "Bachelor Bob" Guiney as a crazed slasher.)

*Sigh* I guess it's too late to make them stop...the celebrity bug has bit them and they're not going to stop until they make it to the top! Or at least to the bottom of the middle...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Tristan Prettyman's debut CD is like a cool breeze on a lazy summer's day. Her voice doesn't have great range but it has remarkable expressiveness; if pressed, I would say that her music something like a sprightly, very appealing, blending of Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, and Edie Brickell. But, that said, her voice is her own and wonderful enough at that.

Her songs for hopeful romantics still free from cynicism about affairs of the heart... lope along pleasingly, anchored by shimmering acoustic guitars and her heartfelt vocals. She is equally at home on the midtempo songs that dominate the disc and on the ballads interspersed along the way.

From the summer pop swing of the opening "Love Love Love" to the beguiling lilt of "Shy That Way" (a duet with Jason Mraz)...from the subtly humid longing of "Electric" to the soft sway of the closing "Simple as it Should Be" (with some tasty harmonica work by G. Love)...Prettyman offers a solid collection of pretty and pure pop songs (and what more could you ask than that? :-)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Rolling Stones

Anyone who is now...or has ever been...a fan of the Rolling Stones can point to an album when they decided that the band had "jumped the shark". Where they say, with both sadness and resignation, that every Stones album since (fill in the blank) has been...oh let's be charitable and say "uneven". For me that album was Some Girls way back in '78. Since then, their albums have been mixed bags...flashes of brilliance surrounded by lots of lazy dross. They turned from a great album band to a good singles band. And so when the Stones decide it's time to churn out a new record and hit the road to fatten up their coffers, it's not something that brings the anticipation it once might have.

The announcement of their upcoming disc...A Bigger Bang...barely registered with me so when three "singles" were released online (, I listened to them not expecting that much. I was pleasantly surprised...though, that said, I remain cautious (they've suckered me in before :-)

The three songs are all different styles but they all show the old dogs in fine form...playing like the music really matters. "Rough Justice" is a balls-to-the-walls rocker that harkens back to the Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main Street era. "Streets of Love", an earnest power ballad, has a great vocal by Mick Jagger and a nimble solo by Keith Richards. "Back of my Hand" is a swampy blues number that works despite some awkward lyrical passages.

Three songs do not a great album presumes they're putting their best foot forward with the release of these tunes...but it makes me more interested in hearing A Bigger Bang than I would have been otherwise. We shall see.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Chavez Ravine

In the 1950's, Chavez Ravine, a relatively poor but vibrant Mexican-American enclave in the heart of Los Angeles, was co-opted by municipal authorities through the use of eminent domain. The thriving community was torn asunder by forces that wanted to redevelop the area. Eventually, Chavez Ravine became home of Los Angeles Dodgers (lured from Brooklyn in part because of the choice land upon which they could build their stadium.) Along with people being forced from their homes and their neighborhoods in the name of progress, things like the Red Scare of the 50's ("Don't Call Me Red", a song told from the point of view of Frank Wilkinson, an assistant director of the LA Housing Authority who got called before the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee) and even UFO sightings over the neighborhood ("El UFO Cayo") came into play.

On his dazzling, bittersweet, compelling new CD, Ry Cooder chronicles this tale with the help of an enormously talented assemblage of like-minded friends and comrades. Cooder has always followed his muse wherever it took him...pop music, soul music, "world" music, movie music, whatever appealed to him he immersed himself in it with exuberance and reverence.

On the triumphant Buena Vista Social Club collection, Cooder helped bring long overdue attention and acclaim to a host of Cuban singers and musicians; on Chavez Ravine, returns to Los Angeles community he knows so well with beguiling results.

Cooder is fine voice (several of them as a matter of fact, adjusting his vocals to suit the needs of the different songs that he sings) and, as always, his guitar picking is sterling as the song cycle plays out from the joyful "Poor Man's Shangri-La" (that being an affectionate nickname for the neighborhoods that made up the Chavez Ravine area) to the rueful "3rd Base Dodger Stadium" (about someone talking the place where he was born, his home having been where third base is now) and the bittersweet but hopeful coda, "Soy Luz Y Sombra".

The overall feel is distinctly Mexican inspired and flavored, of course, with some of the songs in English and others in Spanish. Among those joining Cooder on the vocals along the way are veteran singers Lalo Guerrero and Little Willie G. (among many others.) Instrumental contributions come from guitarist David Hildalgo (of Los Lobos), ace accordion player Flaco Jimenez, and accomplished session drummer Jim Keltner.

Despite the story, Chavez Ravine is full of joyful, triumphant, thought-provoking, utterly-engaging music. It's a wonder from beginning to end.