Latest Blog Posts

by Sean Murphy

3 Feb 2012

A genuine American icon has left the planet.  People born during or after the ‘80s might know Soul Train creator and host Don Cornelius mostly from name-checks in interviews, songs, and clips on YouTube. And there is nothing wrong with that. But for us older folks, we knew the man. Some of us grew up with him.

If a picture can sometimes speak more eloquently than words, a video can function as a truth bomb that tells you all you need to know. Check it out:

I only have a handful of comments. The Hair. The Glasses. The Shirt. The Pants (did you see those Liberty Bell Bottoms flowing when he moved up that line?). And The VOICE.

by Alexander Heigl

25 Jan 2012

Etta James died last Friday, and the outpouring of praise and tributes came as usual. That’s not to say she wasn’t deserving of the various titles that came up, like Jerry Wexler’s famous coronation “the greatest of all modern blues singers”. But for James, she’d been hearing it for a while, and for someone like her, it was quite a thing to be memorialized before she felt she was done.

Despite recording some of the most indelible, iconic R&B tracks of the 1950s and ‘60s, James never achieved the same level of fame or recognition that some of her peers did. She consistently charted on the R&B charts and remained a top concert draw, but crossover success eluded her; she never became an Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross. Not that her disposition and habits would have let her—James lost good portions of her career to her drug habit, and her forceful personality would prove as much a drawback as an asset.

by Elias Leight

23 Jan 2012

Etta James famously remarked, “When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life.” And her life was blue in many ways—she had troubles with drugs and men; she never knew her dad.  But the greatest tragedy of James’ life was probably her interactions with the music industry, which rarely gave her the outlet she deserved.  James came up with the help of Johnny Otis, who also died last week.  He gave the woman born Jamesetta Hawkins her stage name and helped her get her first recording contract with Modern Records.  But it was her second contract, with Chicago’s famous Chess Records, that catapulted her to fame.  Her debut album at Chess, At Last!, contained a number of hits: the famous title track, of course, but even better were the smooth, mournful rendition of “Stormy Weather” and the yearning “A Sunday Kind of Love”.

by AJ Ramirez

23 Sep 2011

Upon learning that R.E.M. announced it was disbanding yesterday, my reaction was a mixture of dull acceptance and a steadily increasing, wistful sadness. Although the landmark, three-decade-old alternative rock group has somewhat stealthily become one of my favorite bands over the last decade (one day you’re walking around your apartment and you realize you own four out of the first five full-lengths and a best-of, and then decide it’s time to get more), after 30 years and its best work long behind it, the end of R.E.M. is an eventuality that would’ve been coming sooner than later. Judging from the information currently available, the breakup was amicable, which at least allows the band to be put to rest on a peaceful note.

Instead of laboriously laying out in meticulous detail what R.E.M. (first as a quartet, then continuing as a trio of singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, and bassist Mike Mills ever since drummer Bill Berry retired in 1997) has accomplished and what it has meant to music, I’ll give you the quick hits. R.E.M. was not the first alternative rock band—there really was no such thing, as the genre’s messy birth out of punk and post-punk landscapes resulted in simultaneous, like-minded strains that would meld together to form the basis of a broad style—but it might as well have been. In the early 1980s, the (then) quartet’s ringing Rickenbacker guitar jangle, intertwined yet arching harmonies, and obtuse lyrics and artwork were a refreshing contrast to punk’s straightforward anger, New Wave’s slick kitsch, post-punk’s dour demystification, and hard rock’s feel-good macho swagger—and a definite portent of things to come.

by Christian John Wikane

23 Aug 2011

From day one, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson had the real thing. No matter the era or style of music, the compositions of Ashford and Simpson were porous with emotional acuity. Whether “I’m Not That Tough”, “Is It Still Good to Ya”, or “Gimmie Something Real”, their voices illuminated the kind of intimacies that only lovers share in private moments. As the primary lyricist in a songwriting partnership that’s spun nearly 50 years, Ashford plumbed the depths of the human heart. The circle to that decades-long partnership closed when Nickolas Ashford—a poet of exceptional insight and perspicacity—passed away on 22 August 2011.

Upon meeting at Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church in 1964, Ashford & Simpson cultivated a synergy that bred one of the most enduring and successful catalogs of songs in the history of popular music. They first debuted as “Valerie and Nick” that same year, selling a series of sides to the Glover label for a mere $75. (“We were pretty excited that we could make $75 just by sitting down and writing songs,” Simpson recounted to Ebony magazine in 1979.) As songwriters, their melodies graced the rosters of Scepter/Wand, Vee Jay, and ABC, where Ray Charles earned the duo their first pop hit with his recording of “Let’s Go Get Stoned” in 1966. Soon after, Ashford recorded a number of solo singles for Verve Records, including “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and “California Soul”. The latter song was later popularized by artists ranging from The 5th Dimension to Marlena Shaw to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article