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Rebels with a Cause: a â€¦
John laforge and bonnie Urfer
Q & A
War & Peace
Henry A. Giroux
Jennifer baumgardner and amy Richards
Slippin' & Slidin'
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Best of 2000
The pop world of 2000 was a dreadful mess, still dominated by boy band bromides, naughty sweet boy toys, rap-metal meatheads, and gangsta nihilism. Against that backdrop rises the sensational Eminem whose critically hailed and mass selling The Marshall Mathers LP may cleverly reflect the confusion and stupidity of our time, but does it with a hate-filled party gang mentality that surely makes the world less safe for women and gays. But with searching ears you could find gems of critical and enlightened inspiration. As with past years, there are fewer comments on music previously reviewed in this column.
Rage Against The Machine,
This audacious reinvention of the rebel spirit of rap and rock blows apart originals by Erik B. and Rakim, Cypress Hill, Afrika Bombaataa, Springsteen, Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the MC5. Zack de la Roca spews rhyme with life or death conviction, drums and bass supply earthshaking rhythm bedrock, and Tom Morellos guitar launches huge and majestic sonic bombs. Perhaps the greatest cover band of all time.
Patti Smith, Gung Ho (Arista)
Hope, idealism, anger, and compassion course through this no-frills rock call to activism. One of her great albums and a wonderful link between the 1960s, Seattle, and beyond.
Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
With its brooding electronic atmospheres and vocalist Thom Yorkes delicate tenor singing, Kid A offers a moody, but pleasant surface. Beneath the gorgeous dark sheen, however, youll find the disturbing normalcy of fragmented souls floating through the world with little sense of identity or meaning. No answers here, only the scary provocations that we dont get from the evening news and advertising.
Sleater-Kinney, All Hands On The Bad One (Kill Rock Stars)
The gender and corporate critique remains acute and the voices and guitars of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker keep soaring to new heights.
Billy Bragg and Wilco, Mermaid Ave. Vol. II (Elektra)
The second gem culled from the unheard lyrics of Woody Guthrie. Bragg and Wilco continue to display a knack for matching Guthrie words to catchy roots sounds. The results are revelatory, enlarging our appreciation of Guthries humanity and genius.
Common, Like Water For
Dead Prez, Lets Get Free (Loud)
A new political and moral sensibility is on the rise in hip-hop and Common and Dead Prez are in the vanguard. Common works his rhymes over an artful backdrop of jazz, soul, and world sounds, while Dead Prezs Stic.man and M-1 bust their anti-capitalist Black Panther flavored lines to raw, molten grooves fostering delirious agitation. Different methods for turning heads and actions toward political and cultural change.
P.J. Harvey, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (Island)
An aggressive celebration of the joys and insecurities sparked by new love. Harvey has never sounded so up or accessible. But with her Dylan snarl and hard driving guitar attack, rest assured Stories is not your typical mush.
U2, All That You Cant Leave
Finally getting the news that their experiments with irony and assorted studio tricks were a dead end, U2 returns to melodic, yearning rock and roll. This one deepens with each listening, affirming life and love through a grand swirl of sonic nuances and Bonos impassioned vocal grace.
Jill Scott, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 (Hidden Beach)
Erykah Badu, Mamas Gun
Poet/songwriter/singer Jill Scotts debut album laces hip-hop flavored R&B with swoony shades of Marvin Gaye and Billie Holiday, but her poetic stories of bittersweet (and often ugly) real life love are the heart of her appeal. One of the freshest breakthroughs of 2000. Kindred spirit Erykah Badu opened a door for this brand of truth-telling on 1997s Baduizm. Like Scott, Badu likes to talk and sing atop easy flowing funk, jazz, and soul. But Mamas Gun finds Badu exposing fears and vulnerabilities not present on her debut album. Issues of single motherhood, romantic loss, and loneliness give this set a hard edge of female urban blues.
Richard Buckner, The Hill
One of the most unusual and ambitious records of the year, The Hill draws lyrics from the dark poetry of Edgar Lee Masterss Spoon River Anthology. First published in 1915, Masterss 214- poem masterpiece ripped away the phony veil of small town life by allowing the dead to speak openly of their pained and tragic earthly lives. Buckners selection of characters and words mirrors Masterss intent, but through an uninterrupted half-hour roots-rock song cycle that plants the drama in the here and now. Brilliant and sadly true to life.
Lou Reed, Ecstasy (Reprise)
With pristine electric guitar noise, Al Green-inspired horn arrangements, and a diary of bitter and tender romantic memories, Reed leads listeners on another of his disturbing excavations of the male human heart. The difference this time, consistently strong writing and exquisite minimalist sound.
Marianne Faithful, Vagabond Ways (Instinct)
Her raspy voice and dark-themed tunes will never win a wide audience, but when song arrangements and production balance the mood and message, Faithfull weaves powerful, incisive blues. With a few lapses, thats what happens on Vagabond Ways.
Steve Earle, Transcendental Blues (E-Squared)
Earles rough edges remain, but in these Beatlesque roots-rock love songs hes taking stock of a newfound peace of mind. One exception to the rule, Jonathans Song, another of Earles eloquent pleas against the death penalty.
Mekons, Journey To The End Of The Night (Quarterstick)
The smartest Marxist band to emerge from the 1977 British punk upsurge, the Mekons for two decades have given us personal/political tunes that critique, despair, and defiantly resist late 20th century capitalism. Another batch of bleary, tough tunes that see through the crap and wont give up the fight.
RZA, Ghost Dog: The Way Of The
Samurai (Razor Sharp/Epic)
RZAs edgy soundtrack to Jim Jarmuschs film Ghost Dog is a spare, lonesome urban mood piece evoking the fear and risk of young black male existence. The best movie music of the year.
Johnny Cash, Solitary Man
Merle Haggard, If I Could Fly
Although virtually abandoned by the country music mainstream, Cash and Haggard are now finding sweet inspiration with record companies that dont box them in. Cashs third album for American is an acoustic-based stare down with mortality as honest and poig- nant as anything hes ever done. Haggard, working for the first time with the left-oriented Epitaph, reveals old wounds and a tender new opening of the heart in his strongest set of tunes in years.
Steve Young, Primal Young (Appleseed Recordings)
A woefully underappreciated singer-songwriter, Steve Young sings and writes only from the purity of his muse. Not an attitude that produces fame and fortune, but one that has created a gorgeous body of songs. Primal Young is one of his masterpieces, a stunning mix of original and traditional material rooted in working class toil and struggle and the idioms of folk, blues, and country.
Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Tony Rice, The Pizza Tapes
This two-night acoustic jam exploring folk and bluegrass roots features the fluid interplay and inventive solos of three extraordinary musicians making music for the sole pleasure of creative play.
Allison Moorer, The Hardest Part (MCA)
No country album released in 2000 expressed the struggles and complexities of romance more powerfully than The Hardest Part. Allison Moore sings and writes with a naked honesty that is sorely absent from the bulk of Nashville product. On a hidden track, she is even willing to confront the harrowing murder of her mother by her father. A document of pain and survival aptly titled.
James Talley, Nashville City Blues (Cimarron Records)
Talley speaks with a clear class consciousness that is not acceptable in the mainstream country music biz, so search this one out. Bleak and tough working class blues contradicting the glories of our great economy.
Various Artists, Harry Smiths Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four (Revenant)
The two-CD Volume Four contains 28 traditional hits by the likes of Robert Johnson, the Carter Family, Lead Belly, the Monroe Brothers, Bukka White, the Blue Sky Boys, and Sleepy John Estes, to mention a few. Essential oral history for anyone interested in tracing the connections between traditional and contemporary peoples music.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, One Endless Night (Windcharger/Rounder)
With his sweet, natural nasal twang voice, Gilmore covers a set of solid tunes by fellow Texas songwriters (Butch Hancock, Townes Van Zandt, Willis Allan Ramsey, Walter Hiatt, Steve Gillette), along with a few odd surprises by Jerry Garcia, Kurt Weill, and Bertolt Brecht.
Kasey Chambers, The Captain (Asylum)
Another refreshing new country voice, Australian Kasey Chambers pulls her style from a wide range of heroes and heroines (Hank Williams, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Wanda Jackson, Dolly Parton, and Lucinda Williams) and like them sings with straight-to-the-heart passion.
Mark Olson & The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, My Own Jo Ellen (Hightone)
The ex-Jayhawks singer-writer finally steps forward for a solo album, but one so unassuming and homespun its not likely to get its due. Olson sets his small stories of rural daily life against a backdrop of graceful low-keyed country rock slowly and unpretentiously evoking values of friendship, love, and community.
R. L. Burnside, Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (Fat Possum)
On this incredibly haunting blend of north Mississippi hill country blues and eerie trip-hop, R.L. Burnside tells lived stories of hard times, murder, love, and loss. The grooves are absolutely hypnotic and Burnsides words and singing resonate hard, bitter truth. Unquestionably the most powerful blues album of the year.
Robert Belfour, Whats Wrong With You (Fat Possum)
Another North Mississippi master, Robert Belfour creates blues steeped in the oldest rural traditions. Whats Wrong With You, if not for its clean sound, could easily pass for long lost recordings of some forgotten blues player from the 1930s. But with original songs, fluent guitar, and sinister vocals, Belfour brings country blues into the new century with vital, contemporary authority.
North Mississippi All-Stars, Shake Hands With Shorty (Uni/Tone Cool)
Sons of noted Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, Luther and Cody Dickinson work the Mississippi hill country trance boogie through a blues rock sensibility akin to the Allman Brothers and Cream. Not for purists, but their rough and loose covers of Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, and R. L. Burnside have the right ingredients to spawn a new and younger blues audience in the 21st century.
Chris Smither, Live As Ill Ever Be (Hightone)
Singer-songwriter Chris Smither is a blues-rooted fingerpicker extra-ordinaire and one of the most poetic soul searchers working the folk circuit. Studio recordings have never fully captured Smithers artistry or intensity, so this live one is a must. A sampling of some of his strongest writing and a beautifully recorded voice and guitar immersed in the traditions of Robert Johnson, John Hurt, and Lightnin Hopkins.
Corey Harris and Henry Butler, Vu-Du Menz (Alligator)
Harriss guitar and Butlers piano stew a unique blend of New Orleans meets Delta blues. Gritty call and response vocals, barrel- house party romps, gospel soul, and slashing slide guitar displaying the traditions resilient optimism. One of many highlights is the spellbinding Mulberry Rowa tune named after and evoking Thomas Jeffersons slave quarters on his Monticello plantation.
Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Everybodys Talkin Bout Miss Thing! (Fat Note)
Rekindling the flame of pre-rock jazz and blues, Smith and the Skillet Lickers give Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Basie, and Ellington modern feminist interpretations that are hilarious raucous fun, sexual, and subversive. Outstanding eight- piece band musicianship to boot.
Jimmy Scott, Mood Indigo
At the age of 75, and after 5 decades of professional singing, Jimmy Scott remains one of the great interpreters of popular song. Unfortunately, his high-pitched, feminine voice has never garnered a wide audience. Gender ambivalent, nakedly emotional singing is not a mainstream cup of tea. Still, jazz, pop, and rock singers, from Nancy Wilson to Madonna to Lou Reed, proclaim his artistry and influence. In recent years, Scott has started to enjoy a small comeback. His newest release is an intimate masterpiece fully showcasing his brilliance. Supported by sterling players such as pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist George Marz, and saxophonist Hank Crawford, and working in sparse, slow paced arrangements, Scott infuses standards like How Deep Is The Ocean?, Blue Skies, and Mood Indigo with profound yearning and anguish. The jazz vocal album of the year.
James Carter, Layin, In The Cut (Atlantic)
Chasin The Gypsy (Atlantic)
The most versatile, ambitious, and least conservative saxophonist of the younger generations, James Carter produced two astonishing releases in 2000. Paying homage to guitarist Django Reinhardt on Chasin The Gypsy, Carter burns through a set of vintage swing material showing off blazing chops, superb supporting players (violinist Regina Carter and drummer Joey Baron), and passionate conviction. Layin In The Cut is something altogether differenta funk/jazz/rock fusion bursting with brawling energy and irreverent invention.
Chico OFarrill, Carambola
One of the great pioneers of Latin jazz again demonstrates a magnificent sweep of creativity drawing from big band jazz, Stravinsky, mambo, and Afro-Caribbean folk forms.
Danilo Perez, Motherland (Verve)
Perez is a young and hugely talented pianist who keeps pushing jazz toward a wider inclusion of Latin musical forms. This one embraces strains from South America, the Caribbean, and his homeland Panama while holding true to lessons of Monk and Bud Powell.
Fela Kuti, The Black President: The Best Best of Fela Kuti (MCA)
Nigerian Afrobeat innovator Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, three years after his death from AIDS-related illnesses at age 58, is finally getting the push for a U.S. crossover. Felas music is a hard pulsing blast of polyrhythms, horns, and guitars all working in service of an inflammatory attack on Nigerian elites. Best Best is a much needed introduction to this fiery voice of the poor and a democratic socialist Africa. One of the giants of world music.
Various Artists, Ken Burns Jazz: The Story Of Americas Music
If you watched the 10-part Ken Burns documentary Jazz on PBS in January, you know that Burns interprets the meaning and history of jazz from a liberal ideological bent that confronts issues of race but remains chummy with capitalism (his prime sponsor is General Motors). Nonetheless, the jazz tradition has never been treated with more intelligence and respect in hours of prime time visibility. The Jazz box set is, likewise, a respectfully packaged and authoritative overview of a vastly neglected art form. The 5-CD box connects dots following ragtime to now, including landmark tracks from early masters like Jelly Roll Morton on up to Wynton Marsalis. As with the TV series, however, insight and coherence begin to wane when the timeline reaches the 1960s. The musically and politically radical free jazz movement gets scant attention and women, avant garde, and younger players of the last two decades are virtually absent (Betty Carter, Carmen McCrae, Abbey Lincoln, Diana Krall, David Murray, David S. Ware, John Zorn, Joshua Redman, Don Byron, James Carter, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood, to mention but a few). Still, whats here makes for a state of the art primer for novices and a wonderful refresher for veterans.
Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Fives And Hot Seven
This 4-CD collection of 1925 to 1929 recordings captures a giant of 20th century music as he overturns the dominate ensemble format of the day by bringing the jazz solo front and center with his awesome tone and hot flowing lyricism. Decades later Miles Davis summed up the influence, You cant play anything on a horn that Louis hasnt played. I mean even modern. There are no more essential recordings in the history of jazz.
Charlie Parker, The Complete Savoy And Dial Recordings, 1944-1948 (Savoy)
At 8 CDs and a hefty price tag, the Parker box is marketed to the most serious jazz fans and Parker fanatics. But there can be no argument with the importance of the music. This is Bird at his peak inventing the sound known as bebop and opening the door to what is now called modern jazz.
Various Artists, Rhapsodies In Black: Music And Words From The Harlem Renaissance (Rhino)
Including music, poetry, and prose from an extraordinary Black artistic movement in the years 1918-1935, Rhapsodies is oral history at its finest. The music selections run through Bessie Smith, Eubie Blake, Ellington, Lead Belly, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson, Armstrong, and Holiday and the readings, by a cast including Ice-T, Gregory Hines, August Wilson, and Quincy Jones, cover works from Claude Mckay to Zora Neale Hurston. An expansive lesson in Black history and the most innovative box presentation of the year.
Various Artists, The Best Of
Broadside 1962-1988: Anthems Of The American Underground From The Pages of Broadside Magazine (Smithsonian Folkways)
A document of a remarkable and not too distant moment when a small band of songwriters and two staunchly dedicated visionaries, Gordon Friesen and Agnes Sis Cunningham, came together to create a united front of radical topical song. The musical protests include tracks from Dylan, Ochs, Seeger, Nina Simone, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Buffy Sainte Marie, and lesser knowns such as Peter La Farge, Richard Farina, and Bonnie Dobson. A treasure chest of inspiration.
Various Artists, Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection 1960-2000 (Arhoolie)
On 107 tracks spread over 5 CDs, Arhoolie founder Chris Strachwitz presents all manner of the nations musical roots, including blues, zydeco, gospel, cajun, Tex-Mex, work hollers, and hillbilly. Nothing particularly commercial or crossover here, just the unadulterated voice of hard working people releasing their woes and celebrating their joys. Among the stars, Mississippi Fred Mcdowell, Clifton Chenier, Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin Hopkins, Lydia Mendoza, and Big Mama Thornton.
Jimi Hendrix, The Jimi Hendrix
Culled from mostly unissued studio jams, alternate takes, and live performances, this 4-CD set is an amazing extension of an already amazing legacy. Hard to believe Hendrix packed so much experience into so few years.
Los Lobos, El CancioneroMas Y Mas: A History Of The Band From East L.A. (Rhino/Warner)
No other rock band gives the countrys experience as broad a social and musical range. Its all hereMexican and Tex-Mex traditions, roots to avant rock, R&B, jazz, blues, folk, and country. An American Dream expressing our most noble multicultural aspirations. Z