More music for thirsty ears
by Roberto Friedman
There is a new reigning queen of neo-soul, and her name is Janelle Monae. Her new album The Electric Lady is out now (Bad Boy/Wondaland/Atlantic), and you can tell how big a splash Monae is making from the quality of her collaborators. The gospel-inflected "Givin Em What They Love" features no less a personage than R&B royalty Prince. "Q.U.E.E.N." boasts vocals from Monae's BFF Erykah Badu. The disc's title track gets an assist from Solange. And "Dorothy Dandridge Lives," which Monae says was inspired by the Jeep sequence in Carmen Jones (1954), features Esperanza Spalding.
It's interesting to note how complete the liner notes for this album are. Monae informs us that her pop hit "Dance Apocalyptic" was "inspired by Michael Jackson's glistening Jheri curls in Thriller, and Bo Diddley's tremolo guitar." "Suite V: Electric Overture" was "inspired by Stevie Wonder listening to Os Mutantes on vinyl (circa 1973)." That's a pretty specific and thorough provenance.
Monae is all about female empowerment, and she says the title "Q.U.E.E.N." is an acronym for the essential qualities of an Electric Lady, namely, "Quirky, Unafraid, Electric, Epic and Nicety." There's a little bit of non-parallel structure there at the end, but we'll let it slide for now – the electric slide.
The new Sam Phillips album Push Any Button (Littlebox) is the singer/songwriter's first physical album of new material since 2008. The qualification is necessary because, in the interim, Phillips released 44 songs digitally through the online community Long Play. She says the digital model of that material brought her back to dreaming of making pop music the old-school way. "This new record is my dream of the record I would have made had I been writing and recording then," in the late 1960s. But of course, the songs sound like nothing so much as classic Sam Phillips: sardonic, worldly, melodic, and complete within themselves.
Among the "Things I Shouldn't Have Told You," Phillips lists: "You could convert this to cash,/Your eyes could take anyone," and, "The dead are alive,/Sometimes more than the living." And in "Pretty Time Bomb," she warns, "Start counting everybody,/It's gonna blow,/Pretty Time Bomb,/You're a mirror of your times." It's hard not to believe she's singing about other pop stars, such as perhaps Miley Cyrus: "The world is tired of your act./Black worn internally." Here are some more "Things I shouldn't have told you," because it's good advice, news you can use: "Ask interpretive questions,/Stay in one place in the oil fields,/There's no cause for alarm,/Don't ever change."
You'll forgive us if we're of two minds in regard to the new Donna Summer album Love to Love You Donna (Verve). After all, Summer went through that whole weird religious renunciation of gay people, her biggest fans. But also, she did later apologize (through a press agent). And her music is certainly timeless. LTLYD offers remixes of her biggest hits by big-time DJs and dance-music producers. So we get Giorgio Moroder's "Love To Love You Baby" remix featuring Chris Cox, Frankie Knuckles' remix of "Hot Stuff," the Afrojack remix of "I Feel Love," Gigamesh 's take on "Bad Girls," the Masters at Work "Last Dance," and more along the same lines.
The famous voice of mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is showcased in gems of the American songbook as she is accompanied by pianist Craig Terry on As Long as There Are Songs (Innova). Blythe's takes on such classics as "Always" (Irving Berlin ) and "The Man That Got Away" (Ira Gershwin/Harold Arlen ) are golden. The Meyer Sound technology employed provides an unprocessed sound quite rare in these days of high compression and limited bandwidth in commercial recording. Blythe and Terry recorded in the same room without close-field microphones or headphones. And producer Evans Mirageas offers many of the songs as entire, unedited takes. That's so old-school it's almost shocking.
RIP Lou Reed, a rocker icon for all time.
Master puppeteer Basil Twist will bring his new show Dogugaeshi to Cal Performances' Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley for nine performances on Wed., Nov. 6, at 8:30 p.m.; Thurs. & Fri., Nov. 7 & 8, at 6 & 8:30 p.m.; and Sat. & Sun., Nov. 9 & 10, at 2 & 7 p.m. The production is an evocative re-imagining of traditional Japanese puppet-theater staging techniques, with music composed and performed by master shamisen player Yumiko Tanaka. Explains the publicity: "The word dogugaeshi refers to the drawing back of a series of decorative screens. In Twist's take on this ancient stage mechanism, video projection, painting, and puppetry are combined to produce a meditative and visually striking hour-long performance." Twist's work is true art-theater. Tickets ($48-$76) are at (510) 642-9988, and at calperformances.org.
The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP ) have announced that they will perform composer Michael Gordon's 2010 work Timber, a percussive tour de force for six musicians playing amplified lengths of lumber, on Thurs., Nov. 14, 8 p.m. at Yerba Buena Center's Lam Research Theater. The program will also include London-based Russian composer Elena Langer's Two Cat Songs (2010), with text by absurdist poet Daniil Kharms. Tickets are $30, and more information is available at sfcmp.org/timber.
Gordon, best-known for the contemporary classical music organization Bang on a Can, will be in San Francisco for the performance, and will participate in a meet-and-greet with student composers on Tues., Nov. 12, 6 p.m., at the Center for New Music.
One of Out There's favorite annual events transpires this coming weekend, as the International Vintage Poster Fair, the oldest and largest sale of original vintage posters, returns to Fort Mason Center in SF on Fri.-Sun., Nov. 1-3. Posters of every genre and dating from the 1890s through the 1980s are on offer, including the feature exhibit, Dressed to Sell, which highlights fashion in advertising. It was hard to choose one representative poster to illustrate this item, because all of the publicity images are quite enticing. Whether your thing is Art Deco, Art Nouveau or Modernism, you'll find some temptation here. A weekend pass runs $12, and showgoers under 25 get in free. Info: (800) 856-8069, or go to posterfair.com.