Becka Robbins

Barry Manilow is gay. Surprise! Or, maybe you think it’s not so surprising. Let’s think about that.

Barry Manilow’s gayness has nothing whatsoever to do with his earnest, soft pop mellifluous ballads, nor is it in any way related to his ostentatious showiness. If Barry Manilow spent all his time in a parlor clad in the wildest of Bob Mackie’s ensembles, decorated with garish chandeliers and drawings of cocks, it wouldn’t make him gay. If he dressed in drag and performed private renditions of Cabaret with Alan Cumming, this would not make him gay. Likewise, if he went on a cruise with Cher and Kathy Griffin and drank wine spritzers for a week at Carnival in Venice, it would not make him gay. Barry Manilow’s gayness is defined by one thing only, and that is his own self identification as such.

[read the whole post]

{ 0 comments }

Old 97’s: Ken Bethea, Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond. Not pictured: Drummer Philip Peeples. Photo by Mark Couvillion, used under Creative Commons.

Old 97’s: Ken Bethea, Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond. Not pictured: Drummer Philip Peeples. Photo by Mark Couvillion, used under Creative Commons.

The Old 97’s are an alternative country band hailing from Austin; they have been playing twangy rock and roll for the past 24 years. Their songs are three minutes of catchy hooks, marrying country twang with a dash of punk. Their wry cynicism doesn’t mope or lecture – it bursts with joyful irreverence in songs about angst, or love, or angsty love, or drinking, or drinking and sex. Their love songs are what keep me coming back to them: well crafted little songs about the messy complications of being so entwined with another person. [read the whole post]

{ 0 comments }

It’s not possible to overstate the influence that the Mississippi Delta Blues has had on contemporary music. Every popular artist you can think of, from Beyonce, to Garth Brooks, and even Skrillex owes their due to the music which has some its origins in the West African music brought over by people kidnapped by the Dutch to become slaves in the American south. Blues forms the basis of rock and roll’s rhythms and instrumentation, and the blue notes as well – the flat 3rd, 5th, or 7th note that gives a more melancholy sound to the melody- is derived from blues. It was Muddy Waters, an early blues musician, who first started bending guitar strings while playing, in a departure from the classical style of guitar. Even jazz has its origins in the twelve-bar blues structure that grew out, at least in part, from southern work songs, chants, call and response, and spirituals sung by slaves, former slaves, or sharecroppers. Some researchers have made the case that blues emerged as a genre after the Emancipation Act, influenced strongly by the teachings of Booker T. Washington, and coinciding with the emergence of a Southern free black secular community.

[read the whole post]

{ 0 comments }

 

Some legendary figures defy easy categorization. When we talk about Nina Simone, the High Priestess of Soul, do we talk first about her prodigious piano playing? Or about her penetrating, arresting, smokey voice? The voice that demands that we pay attention, that we think, as well as feel? This is a voice of a revolution, one that challenges the listener. This is the bold voice of an activist, who does not have time for your shit. Listen! Her voice challenges us – it’s the expansive sound, the hard edges, the enunciation of every syllable, and the content. Simone sang relatively few ballads compared with other jazz singers of the day, choosing instead songs with a more political message that does not seek to comfort, but rather to undermine the listener’s comfort. Simone focused on uncomfortable songs. Some, like Lilac Wine, or Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, are about loneliness and heartache. Others, like the standard Strange Fruit, or her own song, Mississippi Goddam, are political songs about the unjust murder of black people at the hands of white people in the South.

[read the whole post]

{ 0 comments }

In celebration of Black History Month, we are running a series of short articles featuring influential black musicians.   

His raspy voice, his intense and mercurial personality, and possibly, his personal tumult – all of these made Miles Davis “The Prince of Darkness” in the jazz scene.  Davis had enormous influence on the world of jazz, and was at the forefront of at least six genres of jazz. He was the son of affluent parents, and his mother had a passion for music; she saw in her son a future blues pianist. Embracing the trumpet instead, though, he made it into Juilliard, then dropped out to replace Dizzie Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s band.

[read the whole post]

{ 0 comments }

An album full of hope and loneliness, with a thoughtful approach to life and love’s and their quirky ironies.

Album cover: case/lang/viers

Album cover: case/lang/viers

It’s finally here, and it does not disappoint. When I heard last year that k.d. lang, Neko Case, and Laura Viers were releasing an album together, I naturally shrieked at my computer screen in excitement. Lang and Case are largely responsible for me (more or less) surviving my twenties intact. Their songs provided a compass by which I could navigate being sensitive and assertive, hopeful yet bitter. As with all collaborative projects between women, so much has been written about the harmonies, which are, yes, wonderful; but in my opinion, these have been over-extolled compared with the lyrical and textural content of the album.

[read the whole post]

{ 0 comments }

Show Review: Violent Femmes at the Fillmore, 05/11/2016

May 25, 2016

Nothing would have made the Violent Femmes a better band, because they were perfect. Gordon Gano sings like he’s a sick cat and has been drunk-crying all day; he has a kind of nasal whine, full of defeat, with a timbre as refined as cheap whiskey with generic Cherry Coke. I love his voice like […]

Read the full article →

Show Review: Storm Large at Feinstein’s At The Nikko, 4/15/2016

April 28, 2016

Storm Large became famous on the Internet in 2009 with her song called “(My Vagina Is) 8 Miles Wide.” Any song about the joy of sluttiness and empowering embodiment will instantly hook into my feminist sensibilities, but what makes this song even more awesome is the power of Storm Large as a vocalist and performer. […]

Read the full article →

Show Review: Elvis Costello at The Masonic, 3/30/2016

April 14, 2016

It’s common for the fame of the song to equal the fame of the artist, and Elvis Costello came out with a handful of hits in the 80s that have made their way into the American consciousness. “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding” is one of the great rock anthems of the early […]

Read the full article →

There, I Fixed it: Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”

April 7, 2016

  Last night I was at a favorite piano bar, and someone offered me a hundred bucks to sing “Just the Way You Are.” I’m a fan of Billy Joel’s music, but I’m not a singer, and, since he’s basically a classically trained opera singer, he’s impossible to render on tune. Also, I’d never met […]

Read the full article →