Torch Ballads & Jukebox Music

October 24, 2012

Frankly Singing 5


Two weeks ago, I told my father I’d been assigned to report Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s concert, told him I had a second press pass for a photographer. My father heard me loud and clear. He went out and bought a telescopic Nikon. It was at that point that dread began to gnaw on his daughter.

July 24, 2012

Chuck Berry, Neoclassicist 16


Blues, country and western, Johnsonian neoclassicism: these are the traditions that nurture Chuck Berry’s lyrical art. But really, who gives a damn about the categories when you’re listening to something as smoking as “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”?

April 6, 2012

Becoming James Brown: On RJ Smith’s The One 3


What Brown wanted to do was lay down a strutting, macho anthem marked by explosions of brass and a guitar that sounds like chrome wheels spinning. He hums a melody to the sax player and a bass line to the bassist. He thumps out a beat for the drummer. He watches a trumpet player struggle, fires him, then re-hires him moments later. And when the singer is ready, he screams out a set of lyrics scratched on a sheet of paper. The song is called “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

February 2, 2012

Nevermind Nostalgia: Twenty Years After Nirvana 13


Hearing that Nirvana’s Nevermind was 20 years old was kind of like seeing an old drinking buddy turn to Jesus in his autumn years. I was happy for him and everything, but I missed the old days when we shared the fortress of solitude.

January 30, 2012

Find Myself A City To Live In: Ed Sanders’ Fug You & Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings On Fire 0


Finding the entrance points to New York’s musical undergrounds has never been quite as simple as decoding MTA maps, though that’s usually the first step. Two excellent new books chart a decade-and-a-half worth of street-level detail, illuminating not only entrance points, but how they were willed into existence.

January 5, 2012

The Soundtrack of Our Books 16


Publishers and authors have begun to experiment more with audio as a natural step in the promotion of their books. But recent trends suggest that readers are looking for even more direct ways to incorporate music into the reading experience.

May 24, 2011

Dylan at 70 3


Lurking in everything Dylan has ever done, for better or worse, is the myth of America, its chameleon-like quality to be everything to everybody its greatest asset, permitting openness, not for the sake of change but because of its necessity. This is the history Dylan, who turns 70 years old today, has drawn from to create his own history.

December 29, 2010

Take This Waltz: Leonard Cohen’s Tour Comes to an End 11


I have a hard time describing the concerts themselves. I can describe the external details, but the problem is that words fall flat when describing a religious experience.

November 30, 2010

Things Done Changed: Hip Hop and Literature 18


The juxtaposition of traditional poetry and hip hop is spiky and uncomfortable, to say the least.

June 25, 2010

Why We Wu 6


More than any other modern act—with the exceptions, perhaps, of Miles Davis and B.B. King—The Wu Tang Clan has laid claim to nearly every corner of its genre.