Soul music has lost a bit of the spark that fires it with the passing of Sharon Jones.
Jones, who publicly fought pancreatic cancer since her diagnosis in 2013, lost her battle to the disease on November 18. She was 60 years old.
It was reported that Jones was surrounded not only by loved ones, but also her musical family — The Dap Kings — a farewell befitting a queen who reigned as the modern soul and funk ringleader that helped steer the Daptone Records label to its current heights.
Onstage Jones was a fireball, mixing equal parts Vegas showgirl moves with gritty, soulful laments that dug deep into the brownstone foundations of her Bed-Stuy upbringing and years working as a corrections officer at Rikers Island. Laying your eyes on her, you were assured that not only should you not mess with this woman, but that she was a truth teller, a singer with a soulful voice that can only be birthed from experience.
Jones never shied away from her upbringing, her experiences as a woman, or her illness. The documentary Miss Sharon Jones!highlighted how her strength carried her through every peak and valley.
Sharon Jones taught us that with adversity comes regal acceptance, and that the love of music can deliver the purest soul of all.
Goodbye, Miss Sharon — you will be greatly missed.
Leonard Cohen, the inimitable singer/songwriter with a subterranean baritone, died November 10 at the age of 82.
A statement on Cohen’s Facebook page called him “one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.” A cause of death has not been released. A memorial honoring the musician will be held in Los Angeles; a date has yet to be announced.
A man of letters (between 1963 and 1966 he published two novels and a collection of poems), the Canadian writer turned to music in the late ‘60s and found like-minded songwriters in the burgeoning New York City folk scene. One kindred spirit, fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, cast a spotlight on Cohen when she included the hit song “Suzanne” on her 1966 album, In My Life. The cover introduced Cohen to a host of influential songwriters who never swayed in their admiration and often covered his music. In 1994, Jeff Buckley re-introduced the singer to a new audience with his brilliant cover of “Hallelujah,” which Cohen had released 10 years earlier. While Buckley may have enjoyed the most commercial success from his rendition of the soulful dirge, the song elevated Cohen to a new level; it has been estimated “Hallelujah” has been covered by no less than 300 singers.
While Cohen may have never enjoyed the commercial success that a number of his peers did, he was consistently cited throughout his career as being an intuitive interpreter with a masterful literary lyrical style that addressed humankind and plunged the depths of the soul through often haunting ruminations on war, sex, faith, love and loss.
“If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.” — Leonard Cohen
A spectacular performer, fans waited with baited breath for announcements of his tours. And it was a sight to behold: Cohen never faltered in his ability to mesmerize audiences with his halting incantations, uniquely structured arrangements and backing singers that lent a beautiful lushness to his harrowing songs. In between tours and recordings Cohen also continued to write, publishingDeath of a Lady’s Man (1978) and Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs (1993) and more, up through his final publication, the ebook Fifteen Poems in 2012.
Known as a ladies’ man, perhaps best illustrated in his iconic “I’m Your Man,” Cohen surprised many when he gave up everything in 1994 and entered the Mt. Baldy Zen Center outside of Los Angeles to immerse himself in the practice of Buddhism; he was ordained a Zen monk in 1996. Cohen also never eschewed his Jewish faith, and held the two were not in conflict since the practice of Buddhism did not worship any deity he was free to embrace the spiritual tenets of each.
After yet another extensive world tour, Cohen returned home and set about working on his 14th album, You Want It Darker, which was released on October 21. The record held some ominous hints that Cohen was winding down, particularly on the track “I’m Leaving the Table” — “I’m leaving the table/I’m out of the game,” he sings. The album marked a career that spanned 49 years and further served to cement Cohen as one of the most influential and relevant singer/songwriters of our time.
HONOLULU — Hoping to save taxpayers millions of dollars in welfare costs, Hawaii is going to offer some of the state’s estimated 17,000 homeless a one-way ticket back to the U.S. mainland.
According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, Hawaii’s legislators voted recently to begin a pilot three-year “return-to-home” program in the state Department of Human Services budget.
To get a ticket home, homeless applicants must complete a background check, be mentally sound and have what the bill calls “sufficient personal hygiene.” An individual can only enroll in the program once.
Supporters of the program say it will allow homeless people to return to their friends and family on the mainland, while critics argue the program could be easily abused and that it’s not adequately funded to do any good.
Lawmakers acknowledge that it’s hardly enough money to run the program for one year, let alone three.
There is no word yet when the free trips will start.
The crowd at the Moore Theater in Seattle is eager. Warmed up. Ready. Music is piped through the PA and although the cheering has started, the stage remains dark. After a few minutes a sole, bright white spotlight drops on the stage. Eventually, out of the shadows emerges the-man-who-is-going-to-save-the-blues, the fedora-sporting, leather-jacketed Gary Clark Jr. Head slung low, a nearly imperceptible nod to the crowd, and then, the much-anticipated first chord.
With that one resonating note, Clark has the crowd in his clutch, and it’s not long before he’s driving them down a gravel road, churning out one crunchy note after another as he leads them to the bright lights of the big city. But as the Austin, Texas ax-slinger knows, those lights can be blinding — and damning.
“Bright lights, big city going to my head/I don’t care, no/’Cause you don’t care/Start off with the bottle/End it up with the bottle/Taking shots, waiting on tomorrow/Trying to fill up, was hollow/You gonna know my name”
The loud locomotion that’s taking place onstage with Clark and his band is a far cry from the muted, more personal appearance he made earlier in the day at Emerald City Guitars. Armed with a vintage acoustic, Clark wailed and brayed just as forcefully as he did in front of a theater full of fans, turning out “The Healing,” “Our Love” and “Church” with a cry that echoed the souls of a thousand bluesmen past.
His trailblazing band kicks up a psychedelic dust storm of monstrous proportions
While Clark could be viewed as part of the progeny of blues rock revivalists that span from the White Stripes and Black Keys to Alabama Shakes and Benjamin Booker, he boasts more authenticity than those acts. Seeing the two sides of him — solo and backed by his band — cements this because Clark seems keenly interested in keeping the tradition alive rather than simply stealing from it.
The bleeding, burning blues Clark delivers — echoed in the furious churn of “Travis County” (which could equally serve as an anthem for Black Lives Matter) and the dusty, sauntering rhythms of “Next Door Neighbor Blues” — sound as if Clark’s channeling the ghosts of a bevy of Delta musicians, but the blues isn’t his only, or strongest, artistic stroke.
You see, the man’s got soul. You can see it in the way his hips sway as he sidles up to the lip of the stage, grinning ever so slyly at fans, but the real killer is you can feel it. When Clark delivers the tender ballad “Our Love,” you can feel that soul echoing in the chambers of your heart, pulling it this way and that, never crushing it but swelling it with emotion. It’s this switch-hitting from back alley blues growls to high falsettos that marks the peaks and valleys of Clark’s best work.
Clark, who won a Grammy in 2013 for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Please Come Home,” laced his latest album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim with horns, organs, backing vocals and even a spoken word snippet that flits over the album’s opener like a firefly alighting on a cotton ball ready to burst.
None of those accoutrements are necessary when Clark is onstage. The hard funky edges of “Cold Blooded” and “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” have Clark coaxing sharp notes out of his six string, obliterating any need for a horn section.
The bleeding, burning blues Clark delivers sound as if he’s channeling the ghosts of a bevy of Delta musicians
By the time he launches into “When My Train Pulls In,” Clark kicks up a swirling squall. His trailblazing band leaves behind a psychedelic dust storm of monstrous proportions. And just when you think you’ve got a firm grip on that magic carpet ride, Clark spins on a dime and kicks it back to the juke joint for the chugging, boiling “Don’t Owe You a Thang.”
If Gary Clark Jr. is the future of blues and neo-soul rock, then the future is looking pretty bright.
On a rainy afternoon, Anderson East leaves his tour bus, crosses the slippery cobblestone street, and slips into a vintage guitar shop in Seattle’s historical district. He doesn’t draw any attention to himself as he wanders around — he looks like any other tousled-haired, sleepy-eyed basement player — but his gaze is intent as he eyes the weathered axes hanging on the store’s walls.
“I think they’re from the ’20s and ‘30s,” he says of a few of his finer picks. “They have stories in them. It may be some kind of placebo thing that’s in my head [to play them] but there’s a spirit to ‘em, for sure.”
“Anderson East’s Alabama-bred, soul-stirring sound is a far cry from the booming twang of Music Row”
He eventually edges into a side room to scope out the stage he’s about to set upon and makes himself known to a small flock of fans gathered for a one-off acoustic performance.
He seems shy, or maybe he’s just a tad weary, as he settles in and launches into “Devil in Me.” He sings a raspy, soulful dirge about the age-old conflict of good and evil (she’s an angel, he’s got a bit of the devil in him), but his voice calls up ghosts of a bygone era — a bit of Southern folk, battered barroom soul and a plaintive gospel wail that sucks you right into swirling, swampy waters.
These seemingly disparate elements all come together when you trace East’s background. His heels might be hitting the curbs of Nashville these days, but his Alabama-bred soul-stirring sound is as far away from the booming twang of Music Row as you can get.
The 27-year-old singer/songwriter, whose given name is Michael Cameron Anderson, grew up in a place where most had a bible tucked into their belts, or at least stuffed in the glove box (his grandfather was a preacher, his father performed in the church choir, and East’s first audience was a congregation), and his distinct Southern soul is a wicked stew of blues and gospel, praise and damnation. It’s also what makes Delilah, his major-label debut and fifth release, such a joy.
Recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the sonic history of the room bleeds into East’s every song.
“The smell of the place — it’s just in the walls — there’s some kind of spirit there. Those rooms were built so perfectly,” he says.
“We don’t ever really care about what’s going on or what anybody else is doing, we’re just trying to go out and have fun every night”
From the salty lessons of a ne’er do well father that there’s just never, ever, any such thing as enough in “Satisfy Me,” to the funky, liquid bass that infuses his cover of George Jackson’s “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em,” and the fat, sexy horns and shooby doo of “Delilah,” East sounds not only far removed from his current Nashville environs, but also this century. In fact, he would make Wilson Pickett damn proud with his rough, roadhouse vocals and hip-thrusting grooves. But East also knows the power of a caress and tries on a little tenderness for the forlorn “What a Woman Wants to Hear” and “Lonely.”
It’s curious that such a throwback as East would find a safe haven in Nashville, but Dave Cobb, the city’s current go-to producer, not only twiddled the knobs for East’s album, he was the reason East was propelled from the indie fringe to the majors when Cobb signed him to his Low Country imprint. The leap makes sense because Cobb is notorious for his authenticity and East’s music carries an undeniable honesty — and every track on the album proves it.
“If you’re trying to be delicate with a song, with production or something like that, you’re just making art out of a fearful place,” East says. “The things I love are just wild and wrong and flawed. I think that’s where the beauty of it is.”
Cobb met East when he was performing at Nashville’s infamous Bluebird Cafe; the two met up afterward and, well, one thing led to another. Seems simple enough, but keep in mind that East had been knocking around Nashville since he dropped his debut album, Closing Credits for a Fire in 2009 — under the distinct name of Mike Anderson, no less.
While country music stars grab headlines (one of them, Miranda Lambert, has been by East’s side of late), East seems more inclined to embrace the city’s musicality rather than its spotlight.
“Nashville, from the outside, seems pretty one-sided, but it’s actually a pretty diverse landscape,” he says. “We don’t ever really care about what’s going on or what anybody else is doing, we’re just trying to go out and have fun every night.”
Fun is right. Later that evening, East and his crew, a collective of longtime buddies/roomies, take to the Tractor Tavern’s stage. The stage barely exceeds that of his previous performance, but now there’s plenty of cold brews being passed around, the audience is also imbibing and the sweat is dripping off the walls, probably not unlike the juice that summons the spirits at Fame.
East is loose, there’s a lopsided, charming toothy grin pasted on his face and it’s infectious — the entire room is goading him on and smiling along with him. It’s no surprise he’s got a friend in town — he strikes you as the kind of guy who has a far-flung network — and Brandi Carlile hops up on stage and the two do a version of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” that doesn’t bring you to your knees like the original, but instead knocks you on your ass.
It doesn’t stop there — the two go on to slay The Faces’ “Stay With Me” and segue into Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” By the end of the set, East — sweating, smiling and with a firm grip on his cold, longneck beer — throws his arms out to embrace the audience and launches into “Satisfy Me.” As he pleads for “more, more, more,” it seems as if he’s found satisfaction — for now.
The iconic recording artist Prince has died at the age of 57, the Star Tribune reported. Authorities were called to the musician’s Paisley Park recording studios Thursday morning in Chanhassen, Minnesota, which is located in a suburb west of Minneapolis.
A cause of death has not been released.
Minnesota’s non-profit music radio station The Current is streaming Prince’s music non-stop, beginning at 1 pm CST. You can listen to it here. On the West Coast, Seattle’s KEXP is also streaming Prince’s music here.
Prince, whose full name is Prince Rogers Nelson, was on tour just last week. On April 7, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported he postponed two concerts due to illness. However, after performing a second rescheduled show in Atlanta on April 15, his private jet made an emergency medical landing in Illinois. He was rushed to the hospital, but released a few hours later. He performed the following day and announced that he had been suffering from the flu.
Born and raised in Minneapolis, Prince was not only known for forging new sounds wrapped in funk, R&B, pop and rock, but also his flamboyant, sexual style.
His 1978 debut, For You, cracked the Billboard Top 200 and in the following three years he released three more landmark records: 1979’s Prince, 1980’s Dirty Mind and 1981’s Controversy. But it was the next two albums — 1982’s 1999, featuring the hits “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious,” and 1984’s Purple Rain, which included “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and the anthemic signature tune “Purple Rain,” that catapulted him into stardom.
The Purple Rain film, which featured Prince and then-girlfriend Apollonia tooling around the Twin Cities on his motorcycle, dipping into Lake Minnetonka, one of the city’s most celebrated lakes, and performing at the legendary First Avenue night club, sealed his image as one of modern music’s most interesting and influential artists.
With the release of 1987’s Sign O’ the Times, and in particular its title track, Prince cast a jaundiced eye on some of society’s plights, including addiction and AIDS. But it seemed a final salvo as many felt his work after that point, while often still delivering some of his well known sexual come ons (“Cream,” “Kiss”), did not seem to be in touch with the social landscape’s peaks and valleys as much as his previous work.
By 1992, Prince, often referred to as the “Purple One,” eschewed his given name for a unpronounceable glyph. For the next few years he was also in a bitter struggle with his label, Warner Bros., and by 1998 he had largely stopped recording even though it was well known he has hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings that to this day remain unreleased.
In a 1999 interview I conducted with Prince, in advance of the release of his album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic and his first outdoor performance in his hometown, Prince talked about his new music, songs he had written for The Time (some of which he said he wished he would have kept for himself) and discussed freeing himself from Warner Bros. and finding faith as a Jehovah Witness.
“I know that people want to talk about the past,” he said. “But we’re not at Purple Rain anymore. We don’t look like that, we don’t dress like that, we’re different people now. If you talk about that, the next thing you know, people start writing things like the Revolution is going to reunite!
“I can’t really tell you why I decided to do things, because they’re decisions in the past and to go back and try to remember why I agreed to things before is difficult. I am living in today and looking forward.”
Over the course of his career Prince was nominated for 32 Grammys and won seven. Prince, who had remained elusive and performed infrequently over the course of the last dozen years, had begun performing more regularly and this year embarked on a series of surprise shows in intimate venues throughout North America on the “Piano and Microphone” tour. It was reported that at a March 26 concert in Toronto, he performed 57 songs, five encores, and a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”
The 58th Annual Grammy Awards weren’t as full as surprises or upsets as they have been in years past, but the event still managed to entertain and sometimes puzzle us. (Who was it that dressed Stevie Wonder and Beyonce?)
Kendrick Lamar, the favored win of the night — he had no less than 11 nominations — didn’t walk away with the coveted Best Album of the Year or Record of the Year awards (those went to Taylor Swift for 1989 and Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for “Uptown Funk,” respectively), but he did take home five golden gramophones for his outstanding work on To Pimp a Butterfly. On top of that, his performance was, bar none, the best moment of the evening.
To find out who did what, and when, check out our play-by-play Grammy coverage.
8:26 pm: Pitbull shakes things up with “Taxi” and is quickly followed by Tay-Tay’s return to the stage, who closes the show.
8:21 pm: And the winner for Best Album of the Year is… 1989, Taylor Swift. Clutching her gold-plated award, TSwift took the opportunity to make a swipe at Kanye West, imploring women to never give up — no matter who stands in your way.
8:11 pm: From the Los Angeles Times: Hollywood Vampires: 185 years of rock among them onstage
8:09 pm: Common introduces the Grammys youngest nominee, 12-year-old piano prodigy Joseph Alexander. The kid dazzles the crowd as his fingers fly across the keys.
7:55 pm: Dave Grohl, no rock slouch, introduced the Hollywood Vampires, the rockin’, black-clad outfit that features Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp (joined by Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum). But not before he payed tribute to rock god Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, and admitted Lemmy’s influence led him to get an “Ace of Spades” tattoo. While Lemmy was largely indifferent to the Grammys, he would have been proud of the Vampires tribute to his signature song.
7:50 pm: Alabama Shakes bring the esoteric rock of their Grammy-winning song “Don’t Wanna Fight,” to the stage. And you’ve got to love Brittany Howard’s opening scream to the song — now, that’s rock ‘n’ roll.
7:25 pm: Lady Gaga‘s tribute to David Bowie kicked off with “Space Oddity,” and quickly segued into a medley that featured “Changes,” “Spiders From Mars,” “Suffragette City,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Fame,” and other hits from our beloved Starman.
7:20 pm: And the winner for Best New Artist is… Meghan Trainor. A teary Trainor seemed genuinely surprised to have won, although she was so choked up that it was hard to understand what she was saying in her acceptance speech.
7:10 pm: First-time Grammy-winner Justin Bieber took the stage for a heartfelt “Love Yourself” and then was joined by Skrillex and Diplo for “Where Are Ü Now.” Regardless of what you think of the Biebs, he delivered a strong performance that far outshone some of the evening’s previous acts.
6:59 pm: Hello! Adele is onstage. But my oh my, seemed like the British songstress was faltering there a bit. (Los Angeles Times later reported that her performance was plagued by technical issues.)
6:55 pm: And the winner for Best Rock Performance is… “Don’t Wanna Fight,” Alabama Shakes. The award makes this the first-time nominees third win.
6:47 pm: And the winner for Best Musical Theater Album is… Hamilton. And Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s rapping acceptance speech was the best of the night. Things are heating up. Finally.
6:39 pm: Actor Don Cheadle, who recently played Miles Davis in the documentary Miles Ahead, quoted the jazz master when introducing Grammy-winner Kendrick Lamar: “Sometimes you have to play a long time to play like yourself.”
Lamar and his troupe, shackled in chains and decked out in inmate uniforms (an apt follow to the cast of “Hamilton”), are nothing but themselves and delivered the best performance of the evening so far. They owned that stage, driving home why Lamar’s pointed narratives about our current life and times are so compelling.
6:29 pm: From NYC, the cast of the Broadway play “Hamilton” deliver the potent theme, “Alexander Hamilton.” The historical hip-hop account of Hamilton — adviser to George Washington, and a Founding Father who was shot and killed by his Vice President Aaron Burr — is incredibly compelling musical theater.
6:25 pm: Tori Kelly and James Bay perform a medley of “Let It Go” and “Hollow.” The performance is keeping with the rest of evening’s mellow performances. Betting Lady Gaga is going to change that.
6:11 pm: And the winner for Song of the Year is… “Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran. In accepting the award, Sheeran thanked his parents for flying to L.A. for the past four years he’s been nominated and their relentless optimism in telling him, “Well, maybe next year.”
6:02 pm: Ryan Seacrest introduces Little Big Town‘s performance of “Girl Crush” with the uplifting reminder, “Some songs fly to the top of the charts — this is not one of those songs.” The country act’s performance was top-notch, and the song’s delicately jaunty rhythms reveal exactly why this song did eventually make it to the top of the charts.
5:53 pm: Awesome shot:Dave Grohl grooving in his seat to “She’s a Brick House.”
5:49 pm: The medley tribute to Lionel Richie is nice and all, but it would have been great to let John Legend finish the Commodore’s “Easy Like Sunday Morning” because he was killing it.
5:41 pm: And the winner for Best Country Album is… Traveller, Chris Stapleton. Accepting the award, Stapleton first thanked Taylor Swift for glitter-bombing him before he thanked his wife (and co-singer) Morgane. What we really want to know is if there’s any plan to give us another performance like the one he and Justin Timberlake did at the Country Music Awards.
5:28 pm: We all wish we could sing like The Weeknd. But why so low-key?
5:25 pm: Ariana Grande introduces The Weeknd, joking “he earned it,” before breaking into song echoing the sentiment. @karrieraspberry nailed it in her tweet: “I applaud @ArianaGrande for owning that corny line some professional writer stuck her with.”
5:12 pm: And the winner for Best Rap Album is… To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. “This is for hip-hop,” he said upon accepting the award. It’s no secret Butterfly eloquently addresses a number of social and political ills plaguing the country, and Lamar seems intent to carry on the real messaging that started with some of his Compton idols. Not a surprise win, but a deserved one.
5:10 pm: HostLL Cool J‘s opening monologue included shout outs to past performers (Adele, Lady Gaga, Elton John), a nod to David Bowie and a reminder that “with all that divides us today, our shared love of music unites us — all of us.”
5 pm: In front of a spooky backdrop and sporting a black sequined jumpsuit, Taylor Swift kicks off the 58th Annual Grammy Awards with “Out of the Woods.” Taking her seat after her performance, Swift got a warm hug from one of her BFFs, Selena Gomez.
4:50 pm: Andra Day gets mad props from CBS announcer on the red carpet. The soul songtress will perform in tonight’s telecast.
4:45 pm: The goodie bags are ready!
4:30 pm: The red carpet is heating up as nominees and other notables arrive at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There’s been chatter about Tay-Tay’s new ‘do (a sassy bob) and crop top while Charlie Puth did a little beat boxing and Justin Bieber and James Corden were shown rolling down the road singing “Uptown Funk.”
Carrie Underwood flashed some big and beautiful bling her husband gave her for Valentine’s Day, Tori Kelly chatted about her upcoming performance with James Bay and Lionel Richie said he was on the prowl to find Adele. His first words to her? Well, “Hello,” of course.
3:40 pm: Talk about charm, Tony Bennett humbly accepts his 18th Grammy with a smile and a chuckle.
3:30 pm: This year, it seemed like the Grammys just couldn’t wait to start handing out awards, and a handful of nominees walked off with a gold-plated gramophone before the televised event began.
Those nominees included first-time winners Chris Stapleton (Best Country Solo Performance for “Traveller”) and Alabama Shakes (Best Alternative Music Album for Sound & Color” and Best Rock Song for “Don’t Wanna Fight”).