The album is an endangered concept in music, with MP3s and streaming encouraging more and more people to listen to tracks “a la carte.” If people aren’t listening to a collection of songs intentionally put together by an artist in a specific order, why should the artist bother trying? It’s one of the reasons releasing EPs seems to have become more popular than issuing full-lengths.
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling amongst Hip Hop artists, many of whom have more fully embraced the hodge-podge “mixtape” format, which is perhaps more in tune with our ADD/social media-plagued culture.
So it’s beyond refreshing to hear the new release from Cincinnati MC Sleep, Branded: The Damon Winton Story, a collection of eight tracks that tells the story of a young man’s troubled upbringing. It’s not just that Sleep has compiled eight songs that kind of fit together; Branded is a fully envisioned tale that requires the listener to hear the entire album in order to get the total impact. And it’s quite an impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a flow and timbre that recalls Jay-Z at his peak) and is supported by the excellent, often hauntingly atmospheric production of Dope Antelope, which brilliantly reflects the dark, chaotic, heart-breaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays the story out is also sharply clever. In lieu of titles, each track is labeled as simply “Question,” followed by the track number. The album opens with a police officer hitting “record” to begin his interview with the main character’s social worker about “what could have led up to what transpired with him this past weekend.” To kick off each track, the social worker is asked about a different aspect of the trouble the young man had experienced and been in.
Working backwards from the incident (which isn’t revealed until “Question 8,” so the listener is left to wonder what transpired), Sleep creates evocative, harrowing slices of life, usually told from the main character’s point of view, but with other voices popping in occasionally to give an even bigger picture. The young man’s horrific surroundings are revealed gradually; the listener learns that he has self-mutilated himself, been molested, lost (or never had) faith or religion and had family involved in drugs. Sleep’s brilliance is turning the smaller stories from the big picture into vivid, cinematic tales in themselves — “If this is grown folks’ business/Then why when you conduct it, there’s a child as a witness,” he raps after it’s revealed that the main character’s mother had substance abuse issues. When the social worker tells the officer that the young man had been bullied over his clothes in school, Sleep echoes that pain with lines like, “The peer pressure to be above the status quo/It’s never ending, it’s never taking sabbaticals.”
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but when his fate is revealed, it’s not what most would expect, making the album that much more powerful. (In the spirit of not ruining the final act, I’ll refrain from giving away the ending.)
Sleep’s Branded shows just how much power Hip Hop still has to tell a realistic story poetically but without hyperbole. It’s an incredibly moving piece of work that stands as one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of Greater Cincinnati in recent memory. And Sleep shows that if he ever gets tired of the Rap game (which itself would be tragic becomes the genre needs more voices like his), he’ll be able to find some kind of career as a writer, be it an author, a journalist, a filmmaker or whatever field he decides to lend his talents to.
If you’re a fan of intelligent Hip Hop or just great storytelling in general, you must download (for free or whatever you’d like to kick in) Branded immediately at sleep513.bandcamp.com.
Here is a music video for the track, "Question 2":
On this date in 1949, American musical icon Hank Williams made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 25. It was the beginning of a very difficult relationship.
Even though things soured, Williams' Opry debut was a career-defining moment. The singer/songwriter wowed the crowd so much, he was called back for six encores (the encores ultimately had to be halted so the rest of the show could go on).
Williams' reputation for heavy drinking put off the Opry initially, but as his star continued to rise — boosted by the success of "Lovesick Blues" (recorded at the Herzog studio here in CIncinnati) — the Country music institution finally relented and invited him to perform.
Williams continued to make Opry appearances over the next three years, but he was banished in 1952 for his alcohol-related issues. Hank died just a few months later, in January of 1953 at the age of 29.
Over the past eight or so years, Hank Williams' grandson, Hank III, and other supporters have participated in a campaign to have Williams posthumously reinstated to the Grand Ole Opry. CityBeat also lent a hand, promoting the "Reinstate Hank" campaign during a tribute presented by the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation in honor of Hank's historic recording sessions in Cincinnati (Herzog studios was located where CityBeat and the CMHF headquarters now reside). Check a clip below.
The reinstatement campaign has yet to work and seems to have lost some steam. But click here to learn more about the attempts to right such a ridiculous wrong.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a June 11 birthday include the least hirsute (ironically!) member of ZZ Top, drummer Frank Beard (1949); Soft Rock god with Air Supply, Graham Russell (1950); guitarist/singer of Southern Rock group .38 Special, Donnie Van Zandt (1952); Flaming Lips drummer-turned-guitarist Steven Drozd (1969); and Heartless Bastards singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom (1977).
Though she and her band are currently based in Austin, Tex., Wennerstrom grew up in Dayton before relocating to Cincinnati. As Wennerstrom has grown, matured, changed and become more confident, so has her band's music. After releasing her first two albums, Wennerstrom headed to Texas and retooled the band, adding two different musicians also from our area — Jesse Ebaugh and Dave Colvin — who joined Wennerstrom in Austin. Since then, the Bastards' albums The Mountain (a more earthy, less balls-out effort) and this year's Arrow (a great combination of everything the band does well) have continued the trend of each successive HB album drawing the group higher praise and more fans.
A happy 35th b-day to Erika. We miss you here in Cincy. Below, check out an interview and acoustic session recorded for American Songwriter.
If you were hoping to walk up and buy tickets to check out tonight's show at the Taft Theatre featuring the Grammy-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band, skip the box office and "walk up" to a scalper because the Taft just sent out a press release announcing the show as a sell out. (Read what our Brian Baker had to say about the group here.)
If you do have tickets to tonight's 8 p.m. show (doors open at 7 p.m.), be sure to arrive on time to catch opener Shannon Whitworth (pictured). After a self-made Americana debut, the singer/songwriter's career began in earnest in 2009 when she went into the studio with producer Neilson Hubbard (who has worked with a slew of singer/songwriters, including Glen Philips, Garrison Starr and his pal Matthew Ryan). The two emerged with Water Bound, a lovely, eclectic album that touched on Blues, Jazz, Roots music and Rock.
Whitworth has a new album due this year in which she collaborates with Band of Horses' bassist Bill Reynolds (who has done behind the scenes work for The Avett Bros. and Lissie), so the evolution of Ms. Whitworth should be interesting to continue to watch.
Here's a clip of Whitworth performing live:
• Jazz trumpeter Scott Belck performs tonight at the Blue Wisp. Belck is the Director of Jazz Studies at University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, where he succeeded retiring longtime department head Rick Van Matre a couple of years ago. Read our interview from last year with Belck here. For tonight's 7:30 performance at the Blue Wisp, Belck is joined by locals Rusty Holloway, Phil DeGreg and Jim Leslie. Admission is $5.
• The 2012 Tunes & Blooms music series at the Cincinnati Zoo concludes tonight with a 6 p.m. concert featuring Folk Rock crew The Turkeys and Americana ensemble Jake Speed & the Freddies. Admission is free but it costs $8 to park in a zoo lot. It might rain. Bring a hat.
Here's a clip from a documentary about late local outsider artist Raymond Thunder-Sky featuring Speed's song, "Raymond Thunder-Sky," especially audible towards the end. Looks and sounds like a great project.
Click here for more of tonight's live music events.
Chuck Prophet has more Rock cred than any one man should have a right to claim. His eight-year run in Green on Red in the ’80s resulted in some of the most influential sounds to emanate from Southern California’s Paisley Underground scene and his subsequent solo catalog has notched an impressive level of critical acclaim over the past 22 years. In that time, the names he’s worked with — as collaborator, producer, hired gun, pal — reads like a who’s who of contemporary musical accomplishment: Warren Zevon, Aimee Mann, Jim Dickinson, Lucinda Williams, Jonathan Richman, Kelly Willis, Jules Shear, Alejandro Escovedo and a good many more lesser but no less important lights.
Prophet’s recent work has been some of his most viscerally satisfying, beginning with 2007’s wide-ranging Soap and Water, his 2008 collaboration with Escovedo on his Real Animal album, and Prophet’s 2009 political Rock statement, ¡Let Freedom Ring! For his latest solo jaunt, Temple Beautiful, Prophet maintained a healthy power level while injecting a concept into the proceedings, namely making every song on Temple Beautiful about his longtime San Francisco home.
The album springs to life with “Play That Song Again,” a bouncy slice of ’70s Pop/Rock, followed by “Castro Halloween,” an insistent Pop anthem with the ring of the casual greatness of George Harrison’s best solo work and the bluster it would have had if he’d ever installed Tom Petty behind the glass to produce it. The title track, a tribute to the Punk club that occupied the space once held by Jim Jones’ People’s Temple before they decamped to their infamous digs in Guyana, is a blaring blast of Rock and Soul that pounds like The Ramones on a couple of bottles of cough syrup and swings like T. Rex with more garage and less glam, “Willie Mays is Up at Bat” sounds like Warren Zevon channeling Bob Dylan circa “Watching the River Flow,” and “I Felt Like Jesus” swaggers and nods with Surf Rock reverb and Roots Rock twang.
Five years ago, Chuck Prophet was trying to decide if he had anything left to say in a musical context, but Temple Beautiful finds him eleven albums deep in his solo career and sounding as energized and inspired as he was when he dropped his debut back in 1990; long may he do this, or any other damn thing his infinitely talented mind can conceive in a studio.
On this date in 1987, a Beastie Boys/Run DMC concert in Liverpool, England, turned into a riot and ended with the arrest of Adam "Ad Rock" Horovitz. The pumped-out crowd reportedly began throwing bottles and cans at the group, which the Boys playfully batted back at them. At first. After just a few minutes, things continued to get out of hand and the concert was cancelled for the safety of all involved. At the hotel later that night, Horovitz was arrested because police believed he was responsible for the beer can that struck and injured a female fan.
Horovitz spent the night in jail and, in November, Ad Rock — 21 at the time — was found not guilty of the charges.
Here's an ancient MTV segment featuring the Boys at Spring Break (to give you a sense of the trio's pre-enlightenment personalities around the time of Horovitz's arrest).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 30 birthday include legendary Big Band bandleader and clarinetist Benny Goodman (1909); founding bassist for Punk giants Dead Kennedys, Geoffrey Lyall, better known as Klaus Flouride (1949); Jazz Fusion bassist Dann Glenn (1950); on-again/off-again drummer for The Clash, Topper Headon (1955); singer for Swedish Pop duo Roxette ("It Must Have Been Love," "The Look") Marie Fredriksson (1958); drummer and founding member of progressive Canadian Metal greats Voivod, Michel Langevin (1963); Country star Wynonna Judd (1964); Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello (1964); frontman for Indie Rock icons Pavement, Stephen Malkmus (1966); singer for Brit Pop crew The Charlatans, Tim Burgess (1967); Hip Hop-turned-Pop superstar Cee-Lo Green (1974); singer for Metal band Shadows Fall, Brian Fair (1975); "Freak Folk" poster child Devendra Banhart (1981) and Hip Hop MC Remy Ma (1981).
Remy was born Reminisce Smith and grew up in the Castle Hill Projects in the Bronx. Neighborhood MC Big Pun was an early mentor, putting Remy (then "Remi Martin") on a pair of tracks from his Yeeeah Baby album. It was a bittersweet debut, though; Pun died from a heart attack in 2000 and the album came out two months afterwards. (Big Pun was reportedly 698 pounds when he died.) Another big rapper, Fat Joe, took Remy under his wing and made her a member of Terror Squad. She was featured on the Terror Squad's huge 2004 single "Lean Back," which was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks that summer. It also earned Remy a Grammy nomination.
Remy's debut solo album, There's Something About Remy: Based on a True Story, dropped on Feb. 7, 2006, the sixth anniversary of Big Pun's death. The album was critically acclaimed but didn't sell very well (Fat Joe and Remy blamed poor promotion and choice of singles). She left Terror Squad in 2007.
As a free agent, Remy reportedly received numerous label offers and even a reported deal for a reality show. She had her second album in the works, as well as the debut of the super-trio 3Sum, featuring fellow MCs Jacki-O and Shawnna, when things went really bad for Remy. She turned herself into police after a shooting outside of a nightclub that wounded a woman who had allegedly tried to rob the rapper. The woman ID'ed Remy as the shooter. In 2008, Remy was convicted of assault, attempted coercion and weapons possession. She was sentenced to eight years in prison. In 2008, she married her fiancee, Hip Hop artist Papoose.
Remy — who also has a young son — lost her appeal last June. The earliest she can be released is Jan. 31, 2015. If she has to serve her whole sentence, she won't be out until March 23, 2016.
Despite her jail stint and the limited material released, Remy Ma remains a big influence on established and up-and-coming female Rap artists.
Here's part of an interview Remy did with StreetHeat about her life in prison.
Music Tonight: The Outlaw Country movement that emerged in the late ’60s showcased, as the name suggests, a renegade sound that didn’t pretty up Country for a Pop audience, instead keeping everything down and dirty, building a bridge between Country and Southern Rock that fed into the “AltCountry” trend of the past 20 or so years. That honest, raw approach has also been translated in modern times by artists whose rebellious side includes a hankering for muscular Heavy Metal. Beginning with David Allan Coe and Pantera’s co-mingling, Hank Williams III has furthered the metallic side of Country in clubs across the world, mixing hard rockin’ songs with more traditional Country, all delivered with the same timeless Punk Rock spirit. Hank III’s guitar tech/tourmate Bob Wayne is another Heavy Outlaw purveyor and tonight he brings his ruckus (and his Outlaw Carnies) to the Southgate House’s Parlour for a 9 p.m. show. Tickets are $10 at the door. Here’s a clip of Wayne kickin’ up dust to a shuffling beat and banjo to get you in the mood (NSFW, primarily for language).
Cincinnati homeboys Walk the Moon have been tearing up the road since the release of their self-titled debut for RCA Records earlier this year, not to mention making the promo rounds all over the television dial (from the late-night chat shows to various appearances on VH1 and an MTV Unplugged set). The band is currently touring Europe with the band fun. ("We Are Young") and this morning they debuted the music video for their latest single, "Tightrope."
The video is Walk the Moon's first since the stellar DIY clip for "Anna Sun," which was made even before the RCA deal was in place and continues to draw massive hits online. If you watch even a few minutes of TV a week, chances are you've already heard part of "Tightrope." The track is used in commercials for the HP Envy 4 Ultrabook.
When Walk the Moon wraps up its current European jaunt, they'll perform a homecoming show Nov. 1 at the Madison Theater in Covington. The show is also the second anniversary of The Counter Rhythm Group, the locally-based music promo group that has worked with WTM, as well as local bands like Wussy, R. Ring and Alone at 3AM. Tickets for the Nov. 1 show are $16 and apparently moving very fast (i.e. it will sell out). Fellow local-gone-national Indie act Bad Veins opens the show. WTM hits the road for a North American headlining tour soon after the Madison show.
Here's Walk the Moon's new clip.
And here's the HP commercial featuring a bit of the tune.
After a successful screening of an acclaimed Sigur Ros concert film recently, the Contemporary Arts Center is showing another concert flick soon, this time on the same night as dozens of theaters nationwide. On July 18, the CAC is listed as one of the venues screening Shut Up and Play the Hits, the much anticipated concert film/documentary that follows LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy as he preps for his band's final ever concerts, which took place at Madison Square Garden last spring.
The film will be in theaters (or art museums, in our case) for one night only, then presumably be issued on DVD. (No release date on that yet.)
Tickets for most screenings go on sale June 8. Click here for updates. The film will be shown at the CAC at 9 p.m. and accompanied by a DJ set.
Here's the superb trailer for Shut Up and Play the Hits.
Detroit producers/Electro musicians Ryan Spencer and Adam Pressley formed its new project Jamaican Queens last year, following the demise of their previous band, Prussia. The pair bonded over a mutual love for Hip Hop production, something that would find itself central to Jamaican Queens winding sound. Together less than a year, the twosome's single "Kids Get Away" introduced the newcomers with a sound that blends EDM, Hip Hop sounds and rhythms and a somewhat psychedelic brand of Indie Pop.
The band calls its music "Trap Pop," a reference to the Trap style of Hip Hop that is something of a successor to the old Southern Crunk style. Still, you won't mistake Jamaican Queens' music for T.I.'s — JQ's unpredictable, fluttering style recalls MGMT's last two albums had the Electronic aspects of their music been more prominent.
Jamaican Queens' first full-length, Wormfood, is due in February and was mixed by Christopher Lazlo Koltay, a former Cincinnati musician who has been enjoying a successful engineering/production career in Detroit the past several years, working with artists like The Dirtbombs and Akron/Family. Here's the song that has garnered the band the most attention so far, "Kids Get Away."
This whole week has been overflowing with big-time concerts, from Radiohead to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Drake. If you went to any (and especially if you went to ALL), your pocketbook is probably a little lighter this weekend. So, in honor of all of you heroes who paid $15 just to park or spent $100 on three beers, tonight's live music recommendations are all FREE. And high-quality, to boot.
• Kick off your weekender on Fountain Square tonight for perhaps the most eclectic MidPoint Indie Summer series concerts of the year. Kicking off at 7 p.m., the free show is like a musical world tour that takes you from the early Reggae sounds of Jamaica (with local openers The Pinstripes) to the unique and exotic native-Blues of Timbuktu (Malian music legend Khaira Arby, pictured, and her band) to the grinding, deep Funk of Nashville's vintage Soul revivalists The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker on the mic. Dancing shoes are a must!
Walker and the Dynamites recently teamed with fellow soldier in the retro-funky revolution, Bettye Lavette, for the single "Yours & Mine." Check the phenomenal duet below.
• Local powerhouse power trio The Sundresses perform a freebie tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. The 10 p.m. show also features Lexington rockers Oh My Me, making tonight's show a half-reunion of the "Midwest by Southwest" tour from this past spring (which also featured Wussy — who are currently headed to the west coast for dates — and Whiskey Daredevils from Cleveland).
Oh My Me has an intriguing and often captivating sound, mixing a groovy back-drop of fluid, hypnotic psychedelia with singer Erin Reynolds' stunningly soulful vocals weaving between the grooves — sort of a modern day Big Brother and the Holding Company. Lots of singers get the Janis Joplin comparison; Reynolds' voice and presence are so thoroughly alluring and absolutely natural, she's one of the few who actually deserves it.
Check the clip below for a taste.
More than just the openers, there's another reason to show up early. The first 20 people through the door tonight receive a free copy of the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards' 2008 Album of the Year, Barkinghaus, by headliners The Sundresses.
Click here for the full run down of tonight's live musical entertainment offerings.