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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Cam'ron brings the weird, the catchy and the bad with his latest album, Crime Pays.

When Cam’ron released “I Hate My Job” a number of months ago, I was very impressed, but as single after single from his latest album, Crime Pays, leaked (of course they weren’t real leaks), I held less and less hope for the the album. And then, yesterday, it came out, and it was about as strong as I could have hoped for, but with some real stand outs.


There was a lot of build-up for this album, but as it turns out, Cam’ron was just hyping the album with weird lies. It’s like when he claimed that “Killa Season” the movie was going to be a musical, it was most certainly not (I think there was one performed song in the movie). Cam’ron came out with some big talk - that none of the songs that had leaked (“Bottom of the Pussy Hole”, “I Hate My Job”) would be on the album (they are); that there would be no guest spots (there are); that he was going to release a video every week until the album came out (he didn’t). And so, what we get is another sort of good Cam’ron album.


It’s certainly better than Killa Season, as he’s gone away from the darker beats and has returned to some of his old playfulness, but it’s not what it could’ve been. I write this, but for me, Cam’ron is still the most exciting character/lyricist (I am not a lyrics purist or aficionado) in hip hop, but like a number of fans, I want Cam to return to his Purple Haze days.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Though I could not put a name to this queerness then, I knew that my ability to be free-to-be me was somehow connected to Michael Jackson’s ability to be free-to-be as bizarre as he wanted to be and still have people respect his life’s work.

I love Michael Jackson.  I would like to say that I appreciate his artistry, his mad song writing skills or his fantastic musical arrangements, all of which is certainly true. I would rather just say that I respect the sacrifices he and his family made for fame or fulfillingness’ first finale. For whatever reasons Joe and Katharine—sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson—did it, they discovered magic and/or cultivated it (most likely the latter with Tito!).  If you have ever been to Gary, Indiana you can imagine that it takes a surreal level of blood, sweat and tears for anyone, let alone a black family, to rise up out of that place. Mind you, I have never visited Gary, yet have passed by that old industrial city several times. My folks would regularly drive that route up I-65 between Louisville and Kenosha, Wisconsin to visit family. On the bypass around Gary, all my aunt would ever say is “Oh, that’s not on our way”, in response to my pleas to at least drive by the Jackson’s home, or at least see how the city has acknowledged its undoubtedly most famous offspring—or at least the ones most relevant to me. 


It was only years later that I understood that my folks just got in the habit of not stopping in any odd town along American highways, as a result of conditioning from segregation in the Jim and Jane Crow South—like so many of us, my folks hail from ‘Bama, hence real-life experiences with that chapter in American history are plentiful. It was forbidden and dangerous when they were younger to stop in unknown places. By my early teens, however, they had replaced aluminum-foil-wrapped fried chicken—no, not from that fast food chain, we fried our own and Colonel Sanders’, too—with a pit stop at Cracker Barrel. From the highway, Gary, Indiana looked mighty industrial, grey, dismal and virtually deserted. To me, Gary looked like one of those places that black people should avoid; it was clear that the Jackson family had more than a side order of We gotta get up out this place, behind some of those high “hee, hees”, snaps and slides across the floor.


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Thursday, May 7, 2009
Snoop Dogg and Donna Summer, doo-wop and disco. Brooklyn Dreams have had an anything but predictable career trajectory since their 1977 debut. Nearly 30 years after their last album, Bruce Sudano and Joe "Bean" Esposito remember the long, winding, and sometimes bumpy road from Flatbush to Hollywood.

Nostrand Avenue (Brooklyn, NY) and Sunset Boulevard (Los Angeles, CA) could not be more geographically incongruous, yet the members of Brooklyn Dreams know both streets intimately. Over a four-year period in the mid-1970s, Brooklyn-born and bred Bruce Sudano, Joe “Bean” Esposito, and Eddie Hokenson recorded for a label that virtually defined the colorful characters that resided along the Sunset Strip.


Their street-corner harmonies landed on Casablanca Records, home to P-Funk, Village People, and a Viking-outfitted Cher. Brooklyn Dreams was something of an anomaly on the roster, with New York-centric lyrics and doo-wop and rock and roll-influenced melodies dressing their songs. After a one-album stint produced by Skip Konte (Three Dog Night) on Jimmy Ienner’s Millennium, which Casablanca distributed, Brooklyn Dreams was matched with a pair of unlikely producers—Bob Esty, who produced numerous disco acts on Casablanca (Roberta Kelly, Paul Jabara, and D.C. LaRue), and Juergen Koppers, best known as engineer for Giorgio Moroder. The gambit to sell Brooklyn Dreams as a disco-pop act worked for a moment when the group appeared with Donna Summer on “Heaven Knows” from her Live and More (1978) album, which earned them a Top 5 gold single. The group also co-wrote “Bad Girls” with Summer, which became the most commercially successful single of her career.


At their core, Brooklyn Dreams was not a disco act, and a faithful return to their influences on Won’t Let Go (1980) made little movement in the marketplace.  Concurrent with the shift in style, Casablanca encountered seismic executive changes when company founder Neil Bogart sold the company to PolyGram and many artists either left or were released from the label.  Caught in the shuffle, Brooklyn Dreams disbanded shortly thereafter. Eddie Hokenson returned to New York while Bruce Sudano recorded a solo album back on Millennium, Fugitive Kind (1981), and co-wrote a number one country hit for Dolly Parton, “Starting Over Again” with Summer.  Joe “Bean” Esposito worked extensively with Giorgio Moroder, including the Flashdance (1983) soundtrack and the duo’s full-length Solitary Men (1983) collaboration, and became something of a cult figure when his recording of “You’re the Best” from The Karate Kid (1984) was adopted by the athletic world.


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Wednesday, May 6, 2009
by PopMatters Staff
Ken Stringfellow is a well-known figure in the world of smart pop music, having worked with the likes of the Posies, R.E.M., the Minus 5, and Big Star. These days he's playing with the Disciplines and their new album Smoking Kills released just last week.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
ALL Movies make me cry. I am that kind of guy. From The Terminator to soft porn to, of course, It’s a Wonderful Life, I start crying during the damn previews, for fuck sake.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Pretty much was feeling like Randy the Ram in The Wrestler when I saw that film… old, fucked up never-has-been, “he’s a loser but he still keeps on trying” as the Little River Band would say.


3. The greatest album, ever?
Hard to call. The Shaggs album? It’s really a tough call. The Shaggs is perhaps the most extraordinary. Greatest, maybe Farewell to Kings by Rush.


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Monday, May 4, 2009
Dylan's new album of rough-and-ready love songs, Together Through This, is proof that he needs a little nudge back onto a darker path.

“There’s a new Dylan album coming out,” my father announced, at the end of our weekly conversation.


“Have you heard any of the songs?”


“No. It’s supposedly an album of love songs.”


For me, growing up amidst the ‘60s hangover of small town Northern California, Bob Dylan was always one of those artists whose work provided a bridge back to the lost Eden of the ‘60s. He never seemed to date himself or to become a novelty: his classic albums were always digressive and angry enough to keep their relevance and cool from one generation to the next.


Thus, when Dylan began his mighty comeback with Time Out of Mind, I bought it right alongside albums by Radiohead, Pavement, and Tori Amos. I’ve followed him fairly closely ever since, and, like parents and friends, I’ve taken an interest in the new Dylan books and films, including Chronicles, I’m Not There, and Scorsese’s No Direction Home.


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