Thursday, December 31, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

A fundraiser for Pedro Bell

Album-cover artist Pedro Bell, the prophetic penman of P-Funk liner notes, satirical satyr of South Side Chicago, and one of my personal heroes, has been enduring health and money problems for years. We need to show him some love.

The Black Rock Coalition is sponsoring a benefit show for Pedro Bell this Saturday night (January 2) at Santos Party House in downtown Manhattan. Doors open at 7 p.m. The price is $15.

Pedro’s friends and fans were stirred to action by a November article in the Chicago Sun-Times.

If you can’t attend the fundraiser but would like to help Pedro in his time of need, follow this link to PayPal and donate to the Pedro Bell Benefit Fund.

New cuts from Fay Victor, Pyeng Threadgill

In a mood for something different? Let’s catch up with a couple of progressive jazz vocalists I’ve blogged about before... Fay Victor and Pyeng Threadgill (Henry Threadgill’s daughter).

Ms. Victor’s latest CD, “The FreeSong Suite,” came out three months ago. To hear a track called “Gone Fishing” on my Vox blog, click here.

Ms. Threadgill’s new album, “Portholes to a Love & Other Short Stories,” dropped earlier this month. Click here to listen to “My Left Foot.”

If I lived in New York City, I could watch these ladies perform often... and would.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Random blackness

A free Afro Classics download

Here’s something fly, phat and funky fresh from L.A. rap duo Afro Classics.

Click here to hear “Rap Fanatic” on my Vox blog. To download a FREE MP3, click the track title below.

“Rap Fanatic” (MP3)
Album available at iTunes Music Store
Album available at Amazon MP3

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Repost: An Indian Christmas carol

Gather ’round, friends, and hear the story of Canada’s oldest Christmas carol.

The lyrics were written in Wyandot, the language of the Huron Indians, a language now dead except among the scholars who study it.

And yet this 365-year-old hymn is still widely sung in Canada... in French and English.

The song is known by several names: “The Huron Carol,” “Noël Huron,” “’Twas In the Moon of Wintertime,” “Indian Christmas Carol.”

Its original Wyandot title is “Jesous Ahatonhia” (“Jesus, He Is Born”).

You might wonder: “Why would 17th-century Huron Indians sing a song about Jesus? Were they Christians? And what’s this about ‘the lyrics were written’? Did the Hurons have a written language?”

The answer to this riddle rests in the story of Jean de Brébeuf.

He was a French Jesuit priest who traveled to “New France” (Canada) in 1625 to convert the natives to Christianity. In 1626, Brébeuf went to live amongst the Huron tribes of the Great Lakes region.

He learned to speak their language.

Called back to France in 1629, Brébeuf returned to Huron country five years later with a few associates, determined to continue his missionary work.

Things did not go smoothly. It wasn’t until 1637 that Father Brébeuf made his first convert. But by 1647, thousands of Indians had accepted baptism into the Catholic faith.

Meanwhile, Brébeuf wrote extensively about the culture of the Hurons. It was he who gave the name “lacrosse” to the traditional Amerindian field sport. Brébeuf also developed the Wyandot language into a written form.

And so this gutsy French priest wrote “Jesous Ahatonhia” around 1642 – using his own literation – and taught the song to the Indians.

If you’d like to hear it, click here. Canadian folksinger Alan Mills recorded “The Huron Christmas Carol” in 1960, singing the first verse in Wyandot, repeating it in French, then singing the whole song in English.

POSTSCRIPT: The story ended very badly for Father Brébeuf... and the Huron Indians. Iroquois attackers from the south laid waste to Huron villages in 1649, ultimately displacing the entire Huron nation. Brébeuf and another priest were captured, tortured and killed.

The invading Iroquois possessed an ironic advantage. They’d acquired muskets from the Dutch, who offered them in exchange for furs. France also provided guns to the Hurons for their defense... but the Jesuit priests insisted that only Christian Indians get guns.

With half of the Hurons Christianized and the other half still “heathen,” the Huron tribes were outgunned by the Iroquois four to one.

The Catholic Church canonized Brébeuf (and other “North American Martyrs”) in 1930. St. Jean de Brébeuf, Apostle to the Hurons, is now the patron saint of Canada.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A free Carol Thomas download

Always looking to shine a light on talented black rocker chicks, I just found out about Carol Thomas, who has been part of the New York City music scene since the mid-’90s.

Click here to hear a solo demo track called “Keeping Quiet.” I’ve been rocking this tune on a mix CD as I drive north to Ohio to spend Christmas with family.

To download “Keeping Quiet,” follow this link to Carol Thomas’s website, where you’ll find other FREE MP3s on offer.

Coming attraction: ‘Repo Men’

The upcoming sci-fi thriller “Repo Men” has nothing to do with the ’80s cult classic “Repo Man.” And that’s too bad.

With Jude Law, Forest Whitaker and Liev Schreiber, “Repo Men” apparently squanders more high-grade acting talent than any movie I can think of.

Seriously, scroll down and check out the widescreen trailer at the bottom of this page. Then explain to me why “Repo Men” doesn’t star John Cena, DMX and Dane Cook.

(The gory trailer is rated R, so you must type in a birth date to view it.)

This movie was shot in 2007. It’s due to be released in April 2010. Don’t know why it’s been sitting on a shelf so long. Maybe “Repo Men” was rushed into production in the first place because of the looming writers’ strike. Oh well.

Playlist: Actresses who insist on singing

I was saddened by the news of Brittany Murphy’s death. She was a talented young actor. And also, come to find out, a better-than-average singer.

Scarlett Johansson and Juliette Lewis put out new albums in 2009. And I recently discovered that Milla Jovovich and Minnie Driver also take themselves seriously as rock vocalists.

How do they sound to you?

1. “Faster Kill Pussycat” – Oakenfold feat. Brittany Murphy

2. “Flashlight” – Milla Jovovich

3. “Hungry Heart” – Minnie Driver

4. “Hard Lovin’ Woman” – Juliette Lewis

5. “Relator” – Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gina Gershon’s talented mouth

Funny what I’ll stumble upon when trying to burn through those use-’em-or-lose-’em monthly downloads at

Did you know that Gina Gershon, one of Hollywood’s sexiest women, plays the Jew’s harp? Indeed, she duets with Christian McBride, one of the finest jazz musicians of his generation, on a new track called “Chitlins and Gefilte Fish.”

To hear it on my Vox blog, click here. Frankly... I don’t get it. (Was tickled by the reference to J.B.’s “Doing It to Death,” though.)

Ms. Gershon also rocked a Jew’s harp on her own 2007 album, “In Search of Cleo.” To check out a track called “Marie,” click here.

Oh snap... time for me to compile another playlist of actresses who think they can sing.

UPDATE (12/29/09): Check out this Gina Gershon quote from a 2003 magazine interview conducted by her friend Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics):

“Remember that time that you played on Letterman? It was Lou Reed’s birthday, and afterward we – you and me and Lou and Bootsy Collins and those girls – we all went and played at some weird little dive where Lou wanted to play. I played my Jew’s harp and you played the guitar and Lou sang.”

Lordy. If Gina Gershon’s Jew’s harp could talk...

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘West End Girls’

Everybody remembers “West End Girls,” right? A signature British synthpop record of the ’80s.

But I didn’t know that Pet Shop Boys originally cut a version of “West End Girls” with New York club-music producer Bobby O... and that the original 12-inch sounds like some Arthur Baker-style electrofunk. Check it out:

Monday, December 21, 2009

A free Dana Hall download

Brooklyn-born drummer Dana Hall is pursuing more than a jazz career in the footsteps of Max Roach, Art Blakey and Billy Higgins. He’s working on a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago.

Hall already is an assistant professor at the esteemed University of Illinois music school.

Now, at age 40, after years of gigging with the likes of Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove and Malachi Thompson, Dana Hall has released his first album as a leader. It’s called “Into the Light.”

Click here to hear the explosive title track, which you can download as a FREE MP3 if you’re registered at Just follow this link.

It’s Frank Zappa Day.

That’s right. Today is officially “Frank Zappa Day” in the city of Baltimore, where Zappa was born on December 21, 1940.

To honor this American original, I’ve embedded a 16½-minute video clip of Frank Zappa on “The Steve Allen Show” in the early 1960s.

Zappa wasn’t brought on the show for any serious purpose. He was there to perform a sort of Stupid Human Trick: playing the bicycle as a musical instrument.

Even then, the boy wasn’t quite normal. But Allen had fun with it. And Zappa’s dry sense of humor was in full effect.

The video ends with a full-on avant-garde improvisation by Zappa with Allen and the show’s band. It is one of the coolest things on the internets.

Steve Allen was a musician himself, you know. Big-time jazz aficionado. It is often said that Mr. Allen composed more than 10,000 songs. (As a wise guy once remarked: “Name two.”)

Random hipness

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I am drained.

Last night we wrapped 11 days of filming on an episode of “Treme” that I wrote. The show is now going on break for two weeks. Just in time.

Best part of the experience: My episode was directed by Ernest Dickerson, the cinematographer of “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X.” Ernest and I did a lot of talking about music, movies and food during this shoot.

Also, I got to shake Dr. John’s hand. (Photo above: David Simon and me at the recording studio where we filmed Dr. John.)

Worst part of the experience: I was sick with a chest cold for the second half of the shoot... and New Orleans is a bitch when it’s cold and rainy. All I want to do right now is sleep.

Saturday morning cartoon

Friday, December 18, 2009

A free Citizen Cope download

Here’s something for fans of HBO’s “The Wire” who happen to share UBM’s taste in music.

I never knew that Citizen Cope was invited to record a version of “Way Down in the Hole,” the Tom Waits tune, to possibly serve as main-title music for “The Wire.”

That didn’t work out for him. But Citizen Cope is now giving away his version as a FREE MP3. Click here to hear it.

To download, follow this link to the artist’s website, then provide your email address.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A free Muhsinah download

I don’t go looking for new progressive hip-hop tracks. I look for FREE MP3s... and if I find a new progressive hip-hop track, I call it gravy.

Click here to check out “That Day” on my Vox blog. The singer is Muhsinah, a product of D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Howard University.

To download the MP3, follow this link to Red Bull Music Academy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Random hipness

This New Orleans musician – Sunpie Barnes – is one of many we’ve got involved in “Treme.” Check him out...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It’s a small world when you got a big dick.

I haven’t had much to say about the Tiger Woods sex scandal. I thought it was pretty boring from jump street.

(Yes, I want to see Tiger continue to destroy opponents on the golf course. But I don’t give damn if he keeps his endorsement deal with Gatorade.)

Now guess what? One of the women claiming she had sex with Tiger Woods... is somebody I’ve blogged about before!

She’s Holly Sampson. Remember that name?

I blogged about Holly Sampson in January 2009 in a post titled “Before They Were Porn Stars.” (One of my personal favorite posts of all time.)

According to Us magazine, Holly Sampson wants to make a parody porn video based on her one-night stand with Tiger.

Ain’t that a mess?

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘The Groove Line’

I like the thought of songwriters getting rich. Rod Temperton, an Englishman, wrote his first hit records – including this one – when he was in the funk band Heatwave.

Then he fell in tight with Quincy Jones and wrote such tunes as “Stomp!” (for the Brothers Johnson), “Give Me the Night” (for George Benson), “The Dude” and “Razzamatazz” (for Q himself), and “Rock With You,” “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” for Michael Jackson.

No surprise that Mr. Temperton reportedly owns homes in L.A., France, Switzerland and Fiji.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A free Dwayne Dopsie download

Dwayne Dopsie, youngest son of the zydeco legend Rockin’ Dopsie, has a new album out. It’s called “Up In Flames.”

Click here to hear “Better Go Get It” on my Vox blog. To download a FREE MP3, click the song title below.

“Better Go Get It” (MP3)
Album available at iTunes Music Store

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Tiger Woods joke

Q: What’s the most annoying thing about having sex with Tiger Woods?

A: The guy who keeps yelling “GET IN THE HOLE!!”

A star is born

I like those Best Buy commercials with the Christmas carolers. Aren’t those cute?

One caroler in particular I really dig. And I bet you know which one I mean. She just pops off the screen every time.

Ladies and gentlemen... meet Valerie DeAngelo:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Random blackness

Not so random, actually.

This 12-minute movie from the early ’60s – produced by the U.S. government for foreign audiences – will give you a taste of why I’m in New Orleans right now, working on “Treme.”

The decayed condition of the film print only adds to its dream-like quality. Fabulous jazz-funeral footage at the end.

And I didn’t even know who Kid Sheik Cola was.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘Funkytown’

Twenty-one years ago, I visited Minneapolis to report on the music scene there. Met a popular nightclub singer named Cynthia Johnson. She gave a great interview.

Ms. Johnson had been the lead singer of a local funk band called Flyte Tyme... which used to compete directly with Prince’s local funk band, Grand Central.

Flyte Tyme included “Jimmy Jam” Harris, Terry Lewis and Jellybean Johnson, while Grand Central included Morris Day and the artist soon to be known as André Cymone. (How’s that for a couple of high-school bands?)

Look at the photo above. That’s Cynthia Johnson fronting Flyte Tyme... with Terry, Jellybean and Sue Ann Carwell in the background. (Remember Sue Ann?)

Irony of the story is... in 1980, Cynthia Johnson was a bigger deal in the music business than Jimmy & Terry, Morris Day and André Cymone put together. Because she was the voice on the international smash-hit disco record “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Coming attraction: ‘Death at a Funeral’

Hat-tip: Shadow and Act.

A free Ronnie Dyson download

I dig Ronnie Dyson for two of his early-’70s hits: “(If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You” and “One Man Band.” But he recorded a lot of good soul music that I’m just catching up to.

This includes, to my surprise, the original version of “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely”... a song I hailed in a recent post about Cuba Gooding, Sr. (Check out Dyson’s rendition by clicking here.)

Underground beatmaster DJ Spinna has resurrected a 1983 Ronnie Dyson club track for his new compilation album, “The Boogie Back,” which drops on Tuesday. The track is available right now as a FREE MP3.

Click here to hear “All Over Your Face” on my Vox blog. To download it, follow this link to

“All Over Your Face” was the last Ronnie Dyson single to reach the Billboard R&B chart. The singer died in 1990 at the age of 40. He was a huge talent and didn’t get his due.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A free Drake download

I don’t keep up with all the new shit kids be listening to. Don’t really give a damn about Drake, who I surmise is red hot in the rap game.

But I like this Steve Aoki remix of a track that Drake cut for a movie soundtrack. Better still, I copped it as a FREE MP3.

Click here to hear the remixed “Forever,” featuring Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem. To download it, follow this link to RCRD LBL.

Saturday morning cartoon

Friday, December 4, 2009

A free Gil Scott-Heron download

New music from Gil Scott-Heron? Oh shit, y’all... that’s serious news. Supposedly this album drops in February, courtesy of the British label XL Recordings.

And if you’re willing to give those guys your email address, you can download a FREE MP3 right now... a one-minute track called “Where Did the Night Go.” Click here to hear it on my Vox blog.

To cop the download, follow this link.

I did not realize that the British have such love for Gil. Must be partly due to the fact that his father – Jamaican-born Gil Heron – had been a soccer player in Scotland.

The BBC aired a fabulous report on Gil Scott-Heron last month. It’s embedded below (in two parts). The man looks shockingly old for 60, and sounds like he’s singing and talking through full dentures.

But at least he’s still kickin’... and out of prison.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009