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Thursday, Jun 25, 2009
DNA made "Tom's Diner" into an international sensation but barely profited from their work.

The first time I heard “Marlene on the Wall” playing on the radio, I fell in love with Suzanne Vega. The song was catchy, her voice was soft yet defiant, and the image of a Marlene Dietrich poster passing judgment on a woman searching for love stayed with me long after the song finished playing. Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut was one of the best albums of the year, with tracks like “Cracking” (“my heart is broken; it is worn out at the knees”), “Small Blue Thing”, and the devastating “The Queen and the Soldier”. But none of the three singles A&M released from the album charted on The Billboard Hot 100.


Surprisingly, neither did “Left of Center”, her enigmatic but hypnotic contribution to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.


So I was happily surprised when, a couple years later, “Luka” became a major hit, spending three months in the Top 40 and peaking at #3. Finally, other people were discovering what a phenomenal talent Vega was. The Solitude Standing CD peaked at #11 on The Billboard 200 chart, and she was poised to become a major star.


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Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009

File this under “Two more reasons John Zorn’s Tzadik is one of the coolest record labels around” and “can’t an hombre kvetch?”


We’re only halfway through 2009 and Tzadik has seen the release of two of the most exciting jazz recordings of the year, courtesy of a surprising source.


Cuban-born percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez grew up in Miami and, like many children, was heavily influenced by the music of his surroundings. Many kids absorbed the Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms of south Florida’s communities. Others lapped up the strong Caribbean flavor running through the city. Still others took to Dade County’s burgeoning hip-hop and club scenes. In Rodriguez’s case, however, the music that moved him originated from an unlikely source: Jews. As a teenager in his father’s bands, Rodriguez played his fair share of Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. He became enamored with the sounds of Miami’s large Jewish population and eventually provided music for a local Yiddish theater. Over time, Rodriguez began to envision the union of Jewish folk aesthetics with the Cuban music of his ancestry.


Fast-forward a dozen or so years and John Zorn has finally allowed Rodriguez’s vision to become a reality—and we’re all better off for it. In February, Tzadik released Rodriguez’s brilliant soundtrack to The First Basket, a documentary film about the history of Jews in basketball. Featuring both traditional acoustic and modern electronic instrumentation, the soundtrack is a tasty stew of Sephardic melodies and Cuban rhythms filled with generous chunks klezmer, club, and blues. Then, last month Rodriguez did it again on Tzadik with the release of Timba Talmud, another exciting fusion of Jewish and Latin music. The album’s opening track, “La Hora,” a play on the traditional Jewish dance song, is a blistering, infectious jam. Rodriguez provides an astounding percussion foundation that makes you wonder if he has more than two hands. And his bandmates readily fall in line with excellent violin, bass, and horn lines. 


Tzadik is certainly no stranger to the fusion of traditional Jewish music with other genres. The label’s Radical Jewish Culture series has almost single-handedly revived/created an (secular) interest in traditional Jewish music (and not only among folk music aficionados, but with those in the jazz and rock worlds as well). Rodriguez certainly isn’t the first artist on the label to combine Jewish and Latin music. In 2007, David Buchbinder’s brilliant Odessa/Havana showed that klezmer melodies and Cuban rhythms were not mutually exclusive. And Zorn’s own Masada groups have merged countless styles and aesthetics. Tzadik’s experimental juggling of genres and styles has also seeped into the mainstream jazz world as a renewed interest in the melding of diverse styles can be seen far and wide.


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Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009

Where last week was a major drought, save for some stellar Americana from Ha Ha Tonka, this week is an embarrassment of riches. Even records that wind up being a disappointment like Mars Volta’s latest are still worth a listen or two. The week is packed with the sort of stuff that makes indie fans salivate (Sunset Rubdown, Dinosaur Jr., Tortoise), while still offering solid choices for middle of the road rock fans with new platters from Pete Yorn, the Gossip (digital only until October), the Lemonheads and Cheap Trick.


Dinosaur Jr. - Farm: J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph resurrected the original band line-up in 2007 for the critically acclaimed Beyond and they have stuck with it. Leaving the majors behind for a respected indie label, Jagjaguwar, the group continues their anthemic sound, underpinned by J Mascis’ guitar hero riffs.


The Mars Volta - Octahedron: The former members of At the Drive-In continue their prog rock explorations, albeit at a lower volume and slower pace. Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala have both labeled the album their “acoustic” effort that, while not entirely accurate, does hint at the intent here.


Tagged as: new cds
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Sunday, Jun 21, 2009
by PopMatters Staff

Master shredder Marnie Stern was lounging poolside with her sweet little dog when she spoke to PopMatters about her love of Hella, her current collaboration with Mary Timony, and many other subjects. Her current album, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That, is out on Kill Rock Stars.



Tagged as: marnie stern
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Thursday, Jun 18, 2009

In 1981, five gay men in Los Angeles suffered from an unknown disease that the press labeled GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention referred to as the “4H Disease” because it seemed to target Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexuals and heroin users.


By May 3, 1986, the disease had long since become known as AIDS, but was still the subject of much controversy and even more misconceptions. It would be another year before Ronald Reagan would even publicly acknowledge the disease (even though by May 31, 1987, more than 20,000 Americans had died from AIDS).


It’s interesting that a pop-rock group from England would decide to release a single pointedly attacking the anti-gay hatred fueled by the disease, but even more intriguing that the song became a major hit.


Tagged as: the blow monkeys
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