Chicagoans were lucky to experience the treat of seeing Toronto’s The Hidden Cameras after so long. Unfortunately the band had to cancel their last tour date here due to visa complications. For over an hour, and with no lack of energy, lead singer Joel Gibb and his entourage brought a vigorous set with guest appearances by openers, and fellow Canadians, Gentleman Reg.
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In the press materials accompanying her debut release Bible Belt (S-Curve Records), singer/songwriter/pianist Diane Birch says this about the album’s title:
“The idea of Bible Belt has a layered kind of meaning for me. Because my dad was a preacher, the very religious upbringing I had made a huge impact on my life, in a very restraining and constricting way. I’m constantly talking about heaven, angels, and forgiveness. I’m hugely inspired by church hymns—their chord structures, their colors. It was a form of constraint for me as a child, but now I see that it has fueled my creative fire.”
Thus, the clever reclamation of a term commonly used to describe an area of the United States with a large evangelical Christian population becomes both a symbol of the ties that bind (literally and figuratively), as well as an acknowledgment of roots that run too deep to deny. It’s a finely calibrated balance of soul and craft, that title, a delicate dance of substance and showmanship which can also be felt in the music and aesthetic on the record itself.
The songs on Bible Belt were all written by Birch and feature an earthy, keyboard-driven pop-soul sound that has critics everywhere name-checking songwriting heavyweights like Carole King, Laura Nyro and Carly Simon. The detailed production (which sonically telegraphs some of the comparisons mentioned above), was handled by Steve Greenberg, soul legend Betty Wright, and Michael Mangini. With a savvy, proven hit-maker like Greenberg (Hanson, Jonas Brothers) and a boatload of session ringers in her camp, it would be easy for lazy cynics to only locate the powerful industry push at work here, and that would be a shame. Even a cursory listen to the record, and a reading of recent interviews, reveals a talented young artist with an interesting mix of influences and a thoughtful way of articulating her ideas.
In this episode of The Jeffersons, the tragic mulatto speaks out, embodied in Jenny’s brother who drops in for this episode to trace out the race line more acutely than George Jefferson in his taunts towards the bi-racial couple upstairs, the odd, old-world neighbor. The show regularly shores up ratings via those slapstick/teachable moments when George, Louise, or their maid Florence falter over the class line—they’z done moved on up. Into this steps the half-blood neighbor’s kid returning home from life beyond this culture’s particular color line, and what he says is phenomenal.
According to Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum, the tragic mulatto “is the antithesis of the mammy caricature” who knew her place on “the bottom rung” of the gender, race, and class hierarchy in America. Moreover, in the system of slavery, mixed-race slaves as cotton and tobacco pickers of North America were considered “pure Black”, whereas the cane cultivators of the rest of the New World established a wider, more nuanced racialized gender and class hierarchy. Whatever the case, this new racialized body of the mulatto was ripe for subordination into the sickest of racist fantasies: “All slave women (and men and children) were vulnerable to being raped, but the mulatto afforded the slave owner the opportunity to rape, with impunity, a woman who was physically White (or near-White) but legally Black.” Ferris State’s comprehensive website corroborates an oft mentioned opinion expressed by my own grandfather—a former sharecropper from Alabama—who dismisses the mass worship of fair skin, dismissing tragic mulattos as “symbols of rape and concubinage”. Much of the tragedy around which pop cultural portrayals of mulattos inevitably rotate around tropes of sexual exploitation, and a lack of understanding and acceptance of one’s ordained place in society. It is here where The Jeffersons attempts to dislodge this common portrayal and open up public discourse to own own fantasies rather through allowing the mulatto to speak directly on these issues.
Always distinguished by the relative quality of their shameless borrowings, Coldplay stole a march from Abbey Road for their fourth -– and best –- album, and adapted the spirit of “Here Comes the Sun” into this pristinely nostalgic ditty. Jonny Buckland’s guitar lead melds seamlessly into the subtle percussion and rhythmic backing strings as Chris Martin muses on endless summers lost. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the music video mixes amazing visual innovation with sheer silliness (Superhero Martin matches wits with a giant squirrel), but even without the attendant eye-candy, this song positively glows. Ross Langager
Merging the LEGO brand with the Rock Band franchise might not seem like the most obvious idea, but it works rather well by adding some engaging elements to the gaming franchise. With a greater emphasis on unlockables and collectibles, the interests of the toy brand is well served and replaying songs is given greater purpose. Adding wacky performances in which the band must demolish a building or battle a giant octopus using the power of rock also demonstrates a commitment to the imaginative qualities of the LEGO brand. Focusing on family friendly rock while still paying homage to good music, the game is ideal for bridging the generation gap between both large and small would be rockers. We think that Freddy Mercury would have been delighted to see himself in LEGO form. And we certainly know that we are.