Monday, March 30, 2009

Britain gets ‘The Wire’

David Simon’s HBO series “The Wire” is a big deal in the U.K. Fewer than 150,000 Brits watched “The Wire” when it was shown on satellite TV... but somehow the DVDs are selling like crazy over there.

And starting tonight, the BBC will broadcast all five seasons of “The Wire,” from start to finish, five nights a week. (Yay, BBC!)

Below you’ll find Charlie Brooker, a British comedian and broadcaster, raving about “The Wire” back in 2006.

Playlist: WWOZ is the shit.

As a city that treasures its musical heritage, New Orleans is probably second only to Nashville.

I’ve been listening to WWOZ in recent weeks. WWOZ is a free- form community radio station that’s become a linchpin of the New Orleans music scene.

WWOZ rocks ass. Below are just a few recordings to which I’ve been introduced by ’OZ’s dedicated volunteer deejays. Click the track titles to listen on my Vox blog.

(The track that’s missing is Eddie Bo’s “Stink Bomb.” I’ve turned the Internet upside down trying to find an MP3 of that hard-funkin’ instrumental. Couldn’t even locate it on disc at the Louisiana Music Factory. Can anybody hook me up with a sound file?)

1. “Trick Bag” – Earl King

The late Earl King, a native New Orleanian, recorded his first R&B singles in the mid 1950s. He cut this side for legendary producer Dave Bartholomew in 1961. It’s pretty damn funky for 1961.

2. “Don’t Smoke Around Susie” – John Boutté/Paul Sanchez

John Boutté is probably the top nightclub singer in New Orleans right now. On certain songs, his voice is reminiscent of Sam Cooke. Paul Sanchez is a popular guitarist and songwriter and was a founding member of the band Cowboy Mouth.

Boutté and Sanchez collaborated on a new CD: “Stew Called New Orleans.”

3. “Frankenstein” – Po’ Boys Brass Band

The Po’ Boys Brass Band is a white group based in Rochester, N.Y., but its vibe is black New Orleans. Its sound was influenced by the Rebirth and Dirty Dozen brass bands.

The twist here is that the Po’ Boys cover classic rock tunes... like this Edgar Winters monster jam.

4. “Stop What You’re Doing to Me” – Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

Roots-music titan Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown was raised in Texas and made his reputation there. But he moved to New Orleans in the late 1970s, and the city now claims him.

Brown’s home in the suburb of Slidell was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and Brown died soon thereafter from multiple pre-existing conditions.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Am I wrong to laugh?

A free Alexandra Burke download

Meet Alexandra Burke. She was the winner last year on Simon Cowell’s U.K. talent show “The X Factor” (the show that launched Leona Lewis).

Alexandra’s first single is available as a FREE MP3. It’s a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and it was a No. 1 smash in Britain last Christmas.

Click here to stream the track on my Vox blog. If you want to download it, follow this link to

Simon Cowell has a knack for making money. But making good music? Not so much.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Still hip: Stephanie Courtney

“You smell like freedom” is the new “big tricked-out name tag.”

Blackout in the French Quarter

So here’s what happened:

I was on the set of “Treme” yesterday afternoon, and shortly after 5 p.m. (close to “lunch” that day) I asked David Simon if I could leave early. I’d been the writer on set Thursday night when it rained buckets on us. The crew had to hustle to flee an approaching lightning storm.

Anyway, Simon was cool, and to the hotel I went, expecting to catch up on cable news. (I’ve been out of touch for the past seven weeks. Obama’s still president, right?)

So there I am in my hotel room, surfing the Web, thinking about some room service. Then, around 6:30, the power goes out. In the whole building. Including my Internet connection.

Looked out my window and concluded that some portion of the French Quarter was in the midst of a blackout. (So much for cable news and room service.)

Thought about going outside to see what a Friday evening blackout on Bourbon Street would be like. (Nutty, I bet.) But I wondered whether my electronic key would even work when I got back.

So I figured I’d just go to bed, catch up on sleep, and everything would be normal in the morning.

Here’s something funny, though. Just a few minutes before the power went out, I had a knock on the door. A server was holding a small tray of fresh fruit, candy bars and a bottle of wine... a gift from the hotel to mark the upcoming end of my long stay.

Only thing missing was a damn corkscrew. Server said he’d fetch one and bring it right up. That’s when the power went out (including, of course, the elevators). Couldn’t even drink myself to sleep.

Cut to this morning. After 12 hours of restful, dream-filled sleep, I awoke to discover the power was still out. On top of that, no hot water.

I can go without bathing, and I can go without TV. But lack of Internet access puts a serious crimp in my lifestyle. So I packed my laptop, hit the stairwell, got my car from the hotel garage, and drove to the “Treme” production office where, through the magic of wireless, I now put before you these words.

Power’s expected to be restored in the Quarter later this afternoon.

UPDATE (03/29/09): Turns out the blackout was caused by an underground fire. Supposedly all fixed now. I shall soon find out.

Saturday morning cartoon

The first time I saw this clip (on justjudith’s blog), I cracked up laughing. Never knew MC Hammer used to have his own Saturday morning cartoon.

But that’s not the hilarious part. The lyrics to the theme song... oh lordy...

You see, when a television theme song literally explains the premise of the show – as with “Gilligan’s Island” or “The Brady Bunch” – that’s called an expository theme song.

“Hammerman” had the expository theme song to end all expository theme songs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random hotness

Siskel & Ebert on ‘Dice Rules’

I don’t like talking bad about people. But Andrew Dice Clay was the worst thing to happen to standup comedy in my lifetime.

(Second-worst thing: Dane Cook. Third-worst thing: Carlos Mencia. I could go on. But I don’t dwell on negativity.)

I remain baffled by the fact that Dice used to fill coliseums. I bought a few of his albums just to try and figure out why anyone considered him funny. (I failed.)

Gene and Roger didn’t like Andrew Dice Clay’s 1991 concert movie. To say the least.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What could possibly be more cute than...

... an 11-year-old Korean guitar prodigy rocking out?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why YouTube is better than television

Reason #8: Musicians without arms.

A free Jessica Williams download

Might seem strange that a white woman would distinguish herself as an interpreter of the music of Thelonious Monk. But Jessica Williams is the one.

During her 30-year recording career, Ms. Williams – a native of Baltimore – has explored the entirety of Monk’s canon, including such obscure pieces as “San Francisco Holiday” and “Raise Four.”

(Click here to hear her rendition of “We See.” This is from her 1994 live album with bassist Leroy Vinnegar.)

Jessica Williams has also composed tunes in the style of Monk. Let me present a FREE MP3 to illustrate the point.

Click here to check out “Monk Funk,” a Williams original, on my Vox blog. To download it, click the title below.

“Monk Funk” (MP3)
Album available at iTunes Music Store
Album available at eMusic
Album available at Amazon MP3

Random hipness

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Super Sunday

Yesterday was a special day in New Orleans. Every year, on the Sunday before St. Joseph’s Day, tribes of “Mardi Gras Indians” parade through the streets in all their finery.

The occasion is known as “Super Sunday.”

This year, the Sunday before St. Joseph’s Day was rainy. So Super Sunday was postponed till yesterday.

And I was too lazy to get out there and watch it! I heard today from Eric Overmyer (co-creator of “Treme”) that Dr. John marched with the Creole Wild West, the oldest of the Indian gangs. That would’ve been cool to witness.

Someone uploaded the following Super Sunday video to YouTube today:

Still hip: Natalie Dee

natalie dee

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Playlist: White singers, hip-hop songs

What say you about this cultural phenomenon? Is it cute ’n’ clever? Or played out already? Is there a whiff of insincerity and disrespect... or is that a case-by-case situation? Which of these tracks do you like? Which not so much? I’m still trying to sort through my feelings...

1. “Straight Out of Compton” – Nina Gordon

2. “Hey Ya” – Obadiah Parker

3. “Gin and Juice” – The Gourds

4. “Nothin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” – The Escape Frame

5. “Mama Said Knock You Out” – Royal Crescent Mob

6. “Baby Got Back” – Jonathan Coulton

Random hotness

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A free Fareed Haque download

One of the cooler bands I’ve discovered lately is Garaj Mahal, a funky/fusiony jam band led by Fareed Haque.

Mr. Haque, a virtuoso jazz guitarist, has a new album out under his own name. The title is “Flat Planet.” A 10-minute track is available as a FREE MP3.

Click here to hear “Big Bhangra” on my Vox blog. To download it, click the song title below.

“Big Bhangra” (MP3)
Album available at iTunes Music Store

Still hot: European guys with basses

Enjoy these clips while you can, because YouTube doesn’t tolerate “play-along” videos. Because of, you know... copyright laws and shit.

Saturday morning cartoon

This one isn’t for everybody... to say the least. If you’re squeamish about blood, or if you don’t think cartoon gore is funny, skip this video.

I can relate. I was always disturbed by Dan Aykroyd’s famous Julia Child sketch as well as Monty Python’s Sam Peckinpah parody, both of them drenched in fake blood. I’m just not amused by appeals to human cruelty. I don’t even dig “Itchy & Scratchy.”

Nevertheless, for those of you who’d like to see the “Itchy & Scratchy” joke taken to its sickest extreme, I present this:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Eddie Bo (1930-2009)

The New Orleans music community is mourning another fallen member tonight. Local R&B hero Eddie Bo (Edwin Joseph Bocage) has died at the age of 78.

I actually heard the news from a musician – drummer Derrick Freeman – who visited the set of “Treme” today.

The Associated Press obituary is here. The local Times-Picayune obit is here.

Ironically, Eddie Bo a few weeks ago posted on his website a tribute to Snooks Eaglin, the recently deceased New Orleans guitarist.

In Mr. Bo’s honor, I’m spinning one of his funkier cuts, the 1970 single “Check Your Bucket,” on my Vox blog. Click here to listen.

Siskel & Ebert on ‘Citizen Kane’

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Still hot: Natalia Lafourcade

She performed this week at the SXSW festival in Austin. She has a new album (“Hu Hu Hu”) coming out next month.

Here’s the video for her new single. Isn’t Natalia Lafourcade adorable?

Yeah, I used to be skinny...

... like, 30 friggin’ years ago. That’s me with Don Valyou and Dick Stone at the apex of our competitive scholastic careers, representing DuVal Senior High School on “It’s Academic.”

We won our first game, but then got crushed by Walt Whitman, if I recall correctly.

Thanks to Don for posting this on his Facebook page. (Click the pic for a larger look.)

Random wrongness

Watch it till the very end for an amusing twist. (It happens kinda quick... but I bet you’ll catch it.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Still hot: Goddess Glory

(Not Safe For Work.)

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘Penitentiary’

I never heard of the reggae artist Nigger Kojak. But with a stage name like that, he deserves some dap from UBM. This 12-inch single came out in 1980.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why YouTube is better than television

Reason #25: Foreign fast-food commercials. (This one is for Chicken Licken, the second most popular fast-food chain in South Africa... behind KFC.)

Random hipness

A free Chin Chin EP download

Brooklyn’s Chin Chin is another one of those groove bands with a fondness for the flavor of ’70s funk ’n’ soul.

Chin Chin has a FREE EP available for download. It features tunes off the band’s new album (“The Flashing, The Fancing”) as well as last year’s self-titled CD.

Click here to hear the new single, “Go There With You,” on my Vox blog.

To hear a 2008 cut called “Dontchusee,” click here.

If you’d like to download the six-song EP, follow this link, make your way through the ads, and find the tasty freeness... packaged as a ZIP file.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Still hot: Chicks with ukuleles

It’s for a worthy cause.

I was doing some driving today in New Orleans, listening to WWOZ... one of the best damn radio stations in the country.

They were interviewing a cat named Josh Charles, an indie musician who has recorded a new post-Katrina fundraising song.

Click here to hear “Healing Time” on my Vox blog. This MP3 is for sale at Amazon for 99 cents. Every penny of that goes to the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans to help rebuild the city.

So if you like the tune, by all means, follow this link and buy the download.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Siskel & Ebert on ‘Quiz Show’

“Quiz Show” is one of those movies which, whenever I stumble across it on cable, I must settle in and watch it for a while. (Other films like that for me: “Pulp Fiction,” “All the President’s Men,” “Bullets Over Broadway”... dang, not many more.)

Gene and Roger thought very highly of “Quiz Show” when it came out 15 years ago.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lorraine Hansberry speaks

Fifty years ago tonight – on March 11, 1959 – “A Raisin in the Sun” premiered on Broadway.

It was the first play by a black woman to be produced on the Great White Way. Lorraine Hansberry’s kitchen-sink drama is now an American classic.

Did you know that two original cast members from “A Raisin in the Sun” later found success as writers?

Lonne Elder III received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay “Sounder.” And Douglas Turner Ward co-founded the Negro Ensemble Company.

The Broadway cast also included a 12-year-old Glynn Turman... not to mention Sir Sidney and Ruby Dee and Lou Gossett and Ivan Dixon.

In memory of Lorraine Hansberry, I present a 3½-minute excerpt from a 1961 panel discussion in which she participated. It was called “The Negro in American Culture.”

Click here to stream it on my Vox blog.

(“The Negro in American Culture,” first broadcast on WBAI, is part of the Pacifica Radio Archives. You can download a half-hour of the program – which also features James Baldwin and Langston Hughes – from the Internet Archive for free.

(How mind-blowing is that?)

Why YouTube is better than television

Reason #15: Local bands. (This here is The Blue Method from Philly.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A free Milo Z download

Here’s a guy I need to investigate further for my next Funky Whiteboy Appreciation Week.

New York bandleader Milo Z is the son of a well-known bohemian writer, Harriet Sohmers Zwerling. (He looks a little like Vin Diesel, doesn’t he?)

Milo’s 1999 album “Live & Bumpin’ ” has been digitally reissued. The track “She’s So Serious” is available as a FREE MP3. Click here to hear it on my Vox blog.

To download, click the song title below.

“She’s So Serious” (MP3)
More on this album

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘Never Too Much’

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this track.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Random wrongness

Remembering Irna Phillips

March is Women’s History Month. That’s all the excuse I need to talk about the most influential female writer in the history of American broadcasting. (And I bet you never heard of her.)

Irna Phillips single-handedly created the soap opera, a story- telling format of enormous cultural and economic impact.

For Chicago radio station WGN, Phillips in 1930 created “Painted Dreams,” a daily 10-minute drama aimed at women. This is considered America’s first soap opera.

In 1937, Phillips created the NBC radio serial “The Guiding Light.” Today, an amazing 72 years later, “Guiding Light” is going strong on CBS. It is television’s longest-running daytime drama.

Irna Phillips also created “As the World Turns” and co-created “Days of Our Lives” and “Another World.” Her protégé Agnes Nixon created “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.”

Ms. Phillips also mentored William J. Bell, who went on to create “The Young and the Restless.”

That’s what I call influential.

I recently downloaded a free 1950 episode of “The Guiding Light” from the Old Time Radio website. To hear a 3½-minute excerpt on my Vox blog, click here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Playlist: The legend of Stagger Lee

No American folktale has spread so thoroughly into so many music traditions as “Stagger Lee.”

Bluesmen, folksingers and rockers have sung about Stagger Lee. Pop stars, country singers and jazz vocalists have sung about Stagger Lee.

So who the hell was Stagger Lee?

According to legend, he was a badass nigger who shot a man to death over a Stetson hat. (How hip-hop is that?) His nickname is rendered in the folklore as Stack-o-Lee, Stagolee, Stackerlee, etc.

According to Wikipedia, the folktale is supposedly based on a real-life St. Louis murder case from 1895. Lee Shelton, a pimp, got into a drunken argument with Billy Lyons. Lyons snatched the hat off Shelton’s head and wouldn’t give it back. So Shelton shot him.

Follow this link and you can download a comic-book rendering of the story from the Riverfront Times, a St. Louis alternative weekly.

I’m streaming various audio versions of “Stagger Lee” on my Vox blog. Click the song titles below to listen. (If you happen to have a favorite version of “Stagger Lee,” let me know in the comments section. I’ll be glad to stream a few more.)

1. “Stack O’ Lee Blues” – Mississippi John Hurt

2. “Stagger Lee” – Woody Guthrie

3. “Stagger Lee” – Dr. John

4. “Stagger Lee and Billy” – Ike & Tina Turner

(For some reason, Ike & Tina flipped the script and had Billy Lyons whoopin’ Stagger Lee’s ass. Don’t make no sense, but... whatever.)

5. “Stagger Lee” – Taj Mahal

6. “Stagger Lee” – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Random hotness

Friday, March 6, 2009

Random hipness (cont.)

Siskel & Ebert on ‘One False Move’

I think Billy Bob Thornton should write more.

“Sling Blade” – which earned him a writing Oscar plus a Writers Guild Award – was one of my favorite films of the ’90s. Just beautifully written.

Thornton also co-wrote “A Family Thing,” a 1996 drama in which Robert Duvall discovers that his mother was black. I remember enjoying it.

But I’d plum forgot (if I ever knew) that Billy Bob Thornton co-wrote “One False Move,” the thriller that launched Carl Franklin’s directing career.

Gene and Roger both loved “One False Move.” (Believe or not, I never got around to seeing it. Just now ordered the DVD off Amazon for cheap.)

Random hipness

(Hat-tip: Denmark Vesey.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

D.L. Hughley’s CNN show is ending.

TVNewser reports today that CNN’s “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” will end later this month... but that Hughley will remain a CNN “contributor.”

Back in October, I wrote: “... I predict a quick cancellation.” I never checked back to see if the show had improved since its first weeks. Had it gotten any better? Can anyone enlighten me?

I know that D.L. just made some news last weekend with his Michael Steele interview. I wondered if he was hitting his stride.

Now I know.

Random Japaneseness

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Santigold on Jimmy Fallon tonight

I didn’t watch the premiere of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” last night. (Anybody see it and care to report?) To be honest, I could barely tolerate Fallon on “Saturday Night Live.”

But he must have a hip music booker, because tonight’s scheduled performer is Santogold, who has changed that spelling to “Santigold,” and about whom I’ve blogged (here and here).

I might stay up for that.

Meantime, here’s a glimpse of Santigold at an Apple Store in Manhattan (week before last):

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘Cross the Track’

One of my favorite James Brown spinoff joints right here, y’all. Credited to Maceo & the Macks.

They cut-’n’-pasted 3 minutes’ worth of funk to twice the length for this disco version. (And nobody dared tell Mr. Brown to back-da-fuck away from the Moog. But that’s all right.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Dance Theatre of Harlem...

... celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Something brand new from Donald Harrison

One of the consultants working with us on “Treme” is saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. A veteran of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Mr. Harrison has impeccable jazz credentials.

Last week he shared with us a track off his next album. It’s a hip-hop track... with vocals by Donald his own self. Click here to hear “Oh-Nah-Nay” on my Vox blog.

Couple of interesting things about this track. It was co-produced by Deezle, a young beatmaker who has worked with fellow New Orleanian Lil Wayne.

(Donald Harrison is a mentor to Deezle, whose real name is Darius Harrison... though the two are not related. “Oh-Nah-Nay” was also co-produced by Donald’s daughter, Victoria Harrison.)

Then there’s the lyrics. For decades, New Orleans R&B has drawn from the esoteric culture of the “Mardi Gras Indians” with songs such as “Iko Iko” and “Hey Pocky A-way.”

“Oh-Nah-Nay” draws from it also... except Donald Harrison is a bona fide Mardi Gras Indian. His father, Donald Harrison, Sr., was Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame. Donald is the Big Chief of his own tribe, Congo Nation.

In 2007, Harrison wrote on his website: “My father taught me that I had to go through the ranks to earn the right to sing New Orleans cultural chants. I was taught that if you have not paid the dues and earned your respect from masking you should not chant prayers like Oh-Nah-Nay and Tu-Way-Pockey- Way.

“Musicians and others that chant without knowing what they are talking about show the deepest disrespect to our culture.”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jesse L. Martin reads James Baldwin

The calendar says it’s no longer Black History Month. But hey... I didn’t do all I planned to do in February, so I’m extending Black History Month by one week.

Last year, BBC Audiobooks released an audio version of James Baldwin’s 1963 book “The Fire Next Time,” recited by actor Jesse L. Martin.

Click here to hear a 4-minute excerpt from one of the book’s two essays, “My Dungeon Shook,” which Baldwin wrote in the form of a letter to his teenage nephew (also named James).

Random wrongness