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Friday, Sep 11, 2009
Almost nine years after racking up nine top ten hits, two members of New Kids on the Block had top ten hits of their own as solo acts.

Both singles from New Kids on the Block’s self-titled debut album, “Be My Girl” and “Stop It Girl”, failed to chart. But on October 8, 1988, their first charting track, “Please Don’t Go Girl” (from their follow-up album, Hangin’ Tough) also became their first top ten hit on Billboard’s Hot 100. In less than two years, they’d have eight more top ten smashes, including three that went all the way to number one (“I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”, “Hangin’ Tough”, and “Step by Step”).


And then it was over. In the next few years, they’d chart three more singles, but none of them would climb higher than #53. Their time had seemingly come and gone.


Then something unusual happened. More than eight years after New Kids on the Block’s last major hit, Joey McIntyre (one of the members of the group) released a single that, like “Please Don’t Go Girl”, peaked at #10. Five weeks later, “Give It to You” by Jordan Knight (another member of the group) also peaked at #10.


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Thursday, Sep 10, 2009
Remembering Joe Maneri and Rashied Ali

You don’t have to be a jazz fan to appreciate that picture. But it helps.


Most people have never heard of Joe Maneri, so not too many folks are mourning the August 24 passing of this great musician. In addition to being a beloved teacher and father of jazz violinist Mat Maneri, he is rightly considered a pioneering figure in music. His inclusion of Turkish and Klezmer music into a more free jazz (think Ornette Coleman playing with one of Sun Ra’s bands covering traditional European music at a Greek orthodox wedding and you begin to get the picture) helped liberate and expand the possibilities of jazz improvisation. Like Coleman and Sun Ra, Maneri was an astute and original composer: his work is not immediately accessible, but patient ears quickly identify a very consistent logic and style.


Anyone who has seen the excellent American Splendor (a film celebrating the life of curmudgeonly comic book artist Harvey Pekar) has heard Maneri: his impossibly cool ”Paniots Nine” accompanies the opening credits. Pekar allegedly insisted that Maneri’s music be used, and this stands to reason as Pekar (himself a jazz critic) championed a largely obscure Maneri back in the ’90s. Indeed, it was John Zorn who helped release Paniots Nine (the title of the first track is also the title of the album), which makes all the sense in the world considering Zorn effectively took up Maneri’s baton in the ’80s and began cleverly integrating traditional Jewish music into his own compositions. It’s fair to say that Maneri, though lamentably overlooked for entirely too long, was the first major composer to actively bring those disparate elements and influences into free (but still swinging) jazz.


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Thursday, Sep 10, 2009
Sometimes imitation breeds excellence.

For the longest time, I thought “Oh Sheila” was a Prince song. It wasn’t until sometime in the mid-‘90s that I discovered that it was actually by a group called Ready for the World, an ensemble that consisted of multiple people who emphatically weren’t Mr. Unpronounceable Symbol. Regardless of who actually made it, I always loved the song to death. Even when I forsook R&B and rap in the late ‘90s to delve into the rock genre, I would get unreasonably excited whenever this song aired on the “old school oldies” radio station my mom liked to tune to in the car.


Ready for the World was one of a slew of workmanlike yet indistinguishable mid-level R&B hitmakers that swarmed American radio in the mid-1980s. The six-piece from Flint, Michigan notched several hits on the Billboard R&B Charts, but I dare you to even name a single band member.  There of the band’s singles reached the Billboard Top 40: the aforementioned 1985 number one hit “Oh Sheila”, the oddly Mute Records-esque follow-up single “Digital Display”, and the 1986 slow jam “Love You Down”. But only “Oh Sheila” has the infectious energy and unstoppable hooks to warrant repeated listens. And you can bet like hell I’ve listened to this song constantly ever since finally I bought it on iTunes a few months back.


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Wednesday, Sep 9, 2009
Yoshie Fruchter convincingly distills the essence of jazz improvisation into his rock-meets-klezmer workouts.

Following my ardent endorsement of Rashanim (the great trio who have just released what may well be the best album of the year: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/109489-rashanim-healing-music-for-unrighteous-times/), I would be remiss to not also mention a new name we can hope to hear much more from in the years ahead. Yoshie Fruchter, also a guitarist, released his debut on (John Zorn’s label) Tzadik entitled Pitom in late 2008, and it is as indispensable as any of the Rashanim releases (”Pitom”, incidentally, means “suddenly” in Hebrew). It is similar in that it’s (mostly) rocking jazz with an explicitly Jewish sensibility, but where Madof’s traditional roots are always discernible, Fruchter sounds somewhat like a precocious younger brother who found the stash of ’70s prog rock albums and never put them down. In a (very) good way. Indeed, the kinship with the great King Crimson outfit of the early-to-mid ’70s is undeniable, not merely because both bands feature the same instrumentation (drums, bass, guitar and viola): there are songs on Pitom that recall some of the more adventurous tracks from Red and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.


Check it out:



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Tuesday, Sep 8, 2009
Pop Heroism, One Song at a Time

“Where Does the Time Go?” - the innocence mission
Written by Karen Peris
From Birds of My Neighborhood (Kneeling Elephant/RCA, 1999, a remaster was reissued by Badman Recording Co., 2006)


Whether entranced by the intricately-balanced poetics of Leonard Cohen, the artful turns-of-phrase of Smokey Robinson, or the PhD-in-lonesome of Hank Williams, I always seem to fall in love the hardest with songwriters who carve out their own distinctive place in the tower of song (to cop a Cohen phrase). If one counts their 1986 limited-edition debut EP, the innocence mission, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based group, has been making singularly lovely records for over 20 years. It’s a damn shame that their primary songwriter, Karen Peris, although well-loved by a loyal fan base and countless musician/songwriter peers, is not yet heralded far and wide as one of the most gifted pop/rock lyricists ever, because she most undeniably is. A poet at heart, Karen Peris’ lyrics are achingly beautiful, and she delivers them in a sweet and wise voice that is somehow both familiar and otherworldly at the same time.


“Where Does the Time Go?” is the opening track from the group’s fourth album, Birds of My Neighborhood, which introduced the stripped-down acoustic-folk sound the group has thoroughly explored for the past 10 years. The instrumentation is a delicate calibration of shimmering guitars, acoustic bass, and quiet-in-the-mix churchy organ, which lends the song a hymn-like quality. This musical framework is set in a lilting light-waltz tempo, a perfect pocket for the first few lines of Peris’ first verse: “We will walk on a hill / Red hats and blue coats / And everything still / Snow will cover until / We can’t tell the sky from the ground.” The chorus creeps up soon after, mantra-like in its insistent simplicity and repetition: “Waiting for you to arrive / Where does the time go? / Where Does the time go? / Where does the time go? / Where does the time go?”


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