Reviews

Okayplayer Holiday Jam: 9 December 2013 - Brooklyn Bowl, NY (Photos)

Reggie Watts

Going into their 15th year, Okayplayer celebrated the milestone with lots of great music at its annual star-studded affair led by the Roots.

Okayplayer Holiday Jam

City: New York
Venue: Brooklyn Bowl
Date: 2013-12-09

If you are attending Okayplayer's annual Holiday Jam, you don't need to arrive already feeling festive. The amazing gathering of musicians that cross the stage will provide all the dazzle you need to raise your spirits... through the roof. This year's Jam marked the 15th year of Okayplayer and there was little advance notice as to what would go on except that the Roots would be performing as the backing band to many artists and comedian Hannibal Buress would be the master of ceremonies. But the musical guests that followed were almost too numerous to count.

But first, as the crowd filled in, they heard the sounds of the first few bands which included some Philly (the home of the Roots) natives, like Gizmo, Donn T and Mozaic Flow. The latter was a brass-driven party group that had the audience bouncing up and down with a crazy blend of musical genres. DJ J Period was keep the party going between sets from his mixers tucked away on the side of the stage.

Following the Flow, comedian / musician Reggie Watts performed a couple of his oddball pieces and Rahzel dropped some crazy phrases from his powerful voice box. After that, some members of the Roots, excluding ?uestlove and Black Thought, grabbed their instruments and became the backing band to the first act, Mr. Vegas whose persuasiveness turned Brooklyn Bowl into a dancehall. It may not have been holiday-themed, but it was energetic and exciting to see him jump around the stage. The island rhythms continued after with Christopher Ellis, Addis Pablo and Bunji Garlin though the reggae vibes did temper the energy, if not the spirit.

The next two artists were rather unexpected, Tennessee's Valerie June performed "Working Woman Blues" from her 2013 label debut, Pushin' Against a Stone within a quieter dynamic range. Her distinctively mature voice belies her age and she sings of troubles that echo older blues and Americana songs. Then after June, Sufjan Stevens appeared from his hoodie already on the stage -- I hadn't even noticed him till then. Many people in the crowd near me didn't understand who he was and thought Questlove, now on stage, was rolling his eyes at Stevens, but the indie-darling had earned his place, his song "Redford" inspired The Roots' undun. After performing "Holland", Stevens decided to dip his toes into the seasonal music with "Holly Jolly Christmas" as The Roots backed him. It was a couple more artists before hip-hop took over. Following the song "Sirens" from Adrian Younge, the crowd cheered wildly for Bilal. He worked in a cover of Radiohead's deep and dark grooved "Everything in its Right Place" that many in the audience took to even if it was something less understandable as a selection.

The Roots brass fired up as Big Daddy Kane took the stage to perform a few tracks including "Just Rhyming with Biz", with Black Thought doing his best Biz Markie, and "Set It Off". The amped crowd would have been more than okay if this had been the end of the evening but in a surprise to even the publicist, Raekwon from the Wu-Tang hopped onto the stage to close out the night. His songs included "Incarcerated Scarfaces" and "Ice Cream" with Black Thought again doing a great job pulling off the rhymes from the Wu members not present. One knew the Holiday Jam was all over when Questlove bounded from the stage, but as the rest of the band took their bows, as the tinsel decorating their stage reflected back the camera flashes. Finally, Black Thought let the audience know the party wasn't over -- the hip-hop extravaganza would continue with more DJ sets -- the spirit of the season wasn't willing to give up the many bodies it had claimed.

Visit PopMatters' Facebook page to see an extensive gallery of images!

Gizmo

Donn T

Mozaic Flow

Mr. Vegas

Addis Pablo

Valerie June

Sufjan Stevens

Adrian Younge

Bilal

The Roots

Big Daddy Kane

Black Thought

Raekwon

Partial setlist:

Mr. Vegas "Heads High"

Christopher Ellis "Still In Love"

Addis Pablo “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown”

Bunji Garlin “Differentology”

Valerie June "Working Woman Blues"

Sufjan Stevens “Holland” “Holly Jolly Christmas”

Adrian Younge “Sirens”

Bilal “Sometimes” “Home” “Everything in its Right Place” (Radiohead cover)

Big Daddy Kane “Ain't No Half Steppin” “Set It Off” “Just Rhyming with the Biz”

Raekwon "Incarcerated Scarfaces" "Ice Cream" "Guillotine (Swordz)"

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image