What a great idea: a documentary about the making of the soundtrack to the new Coen Brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis, that you release on Showtime before the film comes out. Due out Dec. 20 (it saw a limited release last week), the films tells the story of one week in the life of a folk singer-songwriter in 1960s New York City. The film stars Oscar Isaac, who is extremely handsome, and Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake, but Isaac’s the only cast member to make an appearance in the screening I attended Wednesday night of Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis at the Ritz in Old City.
It is admittedly a little difficult to figure out how all of these wonderful guest musicians will fit into a soundtrack or the movie, but what we do know is that it’s all helmed by the incomparable T Bone Burnett —he’s listed as a producer for the doc, as are the brothers Coen and bigshot producer, Scott Rudin. The brothers play themselves in the film, but it’s Burnett who consults with musicians as they rehearse and, seemingly, offers them cues for how to execute these songs most powerfully. As for the tunes themselves, they’re a meticulously curated selection of folk standards, the kinds that you know were written by one person once upon a time, but they seem to naturally belong to the traditional American songbook—songs that generations of people have been singing for decades around campfires, on voyages, when sad and when joyous. There are definitely elements of bluegrass and country here, flavors Burnett’s been cookin’ with for ages, alongside greats like Costello, Orbison, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Diana Krall, John Mellencamp and, making a great showing in this film, Gillian Welch. The film felt like a great, long hang, one that sent us runnin’ for the nearest source of rye whiskey.
Inside Llewyn Davis‘ performers and performances were many. These were my favorites, though: the Avett Brothers, Joan Baez, the Milk Carton Kids, Patti Smith, Rhiannon Giddens, the Punch Brothers and the amazing Lake Street Dive. The footage was very nicely carved out of a four-hour Town Hall show from a Sunday in late September. In fact, from this helpful HuffPost guide, you can see that many musicians and songs ended up on the cutting room floor, and editing four hours of just stage time was an unenviable task mostly because so much of the film’s charm actually comes from behind-the-scenes moments and backstage banter. Truly, some of the film’s best scenarios come from watching the preparation of these songs, then suddenly, artists’re on stage in performance mode. Especially electric in this regard was watching Rhiannon Giddens. Wow! This is a woman to watch for and a powerhouse vocalist who knocked me off my feet. Watching her sing “S’iomadh Rid The Dhith Om / Ciamar A Ni Mi,” with the help of a handful of wildly capable backup support, was like a spiritual experience; the opera-capable singer turned in an old-timey spiritual that felt like she was conjuring spirits of times past. Then came Lake Street Dive, with a stunningly captivating Rachael Price leading a four-piece outfit she founded in Boston while at the New England Conservatory. I haven’t seen a woman blow quite like that in some time. She’s a jazz musician by training but started a “free country band,” a group that sought free performance opportunities, and she and her team were a dream fit in this doc. It was mesmerizing.
Another highlight was when Oscar Isaac sang “Green, Green Rocky Road.” It was a perfectly pleasant encapsulating moment, one that illuminates the beauty capable of one man with a guitar and his voice. The song’s one of those beautifully sad tales of longing, missing home, lamenting a lost love or missing a girl you’ve got, and of regionalism (home). There’s something emotionally heavy about the whole film, but specifically within the songs Burnett chose, something perhaps a little cornily conveyed by Marcus Mumford’s teary reception to a particularly mind-blowing harmonizing warm-up from the Milk Carton Kids. The movie’s rife with moments taunting you to let a tear fall down your cheek, but what’s most pleasing about it is that you’re not sure why: Is it the beauty and sadness of the songs? Is it the stunning musicality from these gifted musicians? Or is it the way we like to envision the loss and longing within each song and how it’d manifest in our own lives? It doesn’t really matter because Inside Llewyn Davis is now quite high on our must-see list.
The 56th Annual Grammy Award nominations were announced at a concert at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles on Friday. Do you care? Maybe a little. Even though we’ve seen the Grammys get it all wrong in the past, and the Academy has a pretty deserved reputation for stuffiness and an unwillingness to nominate the good weird stuff we all love, they’re still an institution. We talk about the accomplishments of an artist by tallying their accolades, and the Grammys are often a great source of vetting – How many times have they been nominated? What categories have they won?
Well, the biggest nominees were in the rap category this year, with Jay Z earning a whopping nine. He’s the highest nomination-earner, with four musicians right behind him garnering seven nods: Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore (& Ryan Lewis), Justin Timberlake and Pharrell.
Let’s break down the big categories and pick some winners!
RECORD OF THE YEAR
“Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams
“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
“Royals” by Lorde
“Locked Out Of Heaven” by Bruno Mars
“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell
Should win: Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde, captured America’s attention with her brain-needling hit of the year. It’s so good, still. She’s (newly) 17 and wrote it with her producer, and it’s basically just those two who can claim credit for a song that’s reached platinum status in multiple countries.
Will win: “Get Lucky.” Because everyone loves a big dramatic comeback from well-established artists collaborating with other very well-established artists (Nile Rodgers). It’s a great song, but there’s not very much of a narrative to their success. Mysterious French producer/DJs who’ve been churning out amazing records for decades put out one more. Shrug.
SONG OF THE YEAR
“Just Give Me A Reason” by Pink featuring Nate Ruess
“Locked Out Of Heaven” by Bruno Mars
“Roar” by Katy Perry
“Royals” by Lorde
“Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert
Note: The difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year? ROTY honors the performer and the production team, but SOTY celebrates composers and songwriters.
Should win: Tough one here—because when you try to boil down artistic merit and look to the quality of the lyrics, you’ve got some strong contenders here. Sure, we want our girl Pink to take this one home, even if she has to share it with Nate Reuss (and Jeff Bhasker); and it is a great song that the masses are still willfully consuming. But “Roar” is so much fun, and “Same Love” is so damn heartwarming. Bruno Mars is legit, and we love him and all, but don’t we love that song for the Michael Jacksony production?
Will win: Something tells me the feel-good anthem in “Same Love” is something the Grammy committee wants to pat on the head.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red by Taylor Swift
Should win: Well, we know who should not win, right? The fuck’s with this Bareilles nod? This record is like a glass of tepid milk with Cheerios and a side of tofu, plus a wale smoothie to wash it all down. C’mon, how boring. Kendrick should take this trophy home because it’s a stunner from cover to cover. When was the last time a hip-hop album took the night’s arguably biggest honor? Oh, it was Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below 10 years ago.
Will win: Macklemore & Lewis. See above.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Should win: Again, King Kendrick deserves this one. He’s a breath of fresh air in a number of ways. James Blake—despite how great he is and how much we love Overgrown—doesn’t feel much like a new artist (his self-titled debut came out in February of ’11). By the time the ceremony rolls around, the first singles released from The Heist will be two years old.
Will win: Taking a look at the history of the award, you can see that all kinds of losers have beat artists who’ve gone on to overshadow the winner. Love Esparanza Spalding, but she shouldn’t have beat Drake and Biebs. Last year, fun. beat Frank Ocean. So, it’ll probably be Musgraves.
A few more categories we’ll keep our eyes on:
BEST DANCE/ELECTRONICA ALBUM
Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Settle by Disclosure
18 Months by Calvin Harris
Atmosphere by Kaskade
A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights
BEST ROCK ALBUM
13 by Black Sabbath
The Next Day by David Bowie
Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon (Booo.)
Celebration Day by Led Zeppelin
…Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age
Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young with Crazy Horse
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case
Trouble Will Find Me by The National
Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails
Lonerism by Tame Impala
Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend
BEST R&B ALBUM
R&B Divas by Faith Hill
Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys
Love In The Future by John Legend
Better by Chrisette Michele
Three Kings by TGT
BEST RAP/SUNG COLLABORATION
“Power Trip” by J. Cole featuring Miguel
“Part II (On The Run)” by Jay Z featuring Beyonce (So good.)
“Holy Grail” by Jay Z featuring Justin Timberlake
“Now Or Never” by Kendrick Lamar featuring Mary J. Blige
“Remember You” by Wiz Khalifa featuring The Weeknd
BEST RAP ALBUM
Nothing Was The Same by Drake
Magna Carta… Holy Grail by Jay Z
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Yeezus by Kanye West (One of two nominations, and of course he’s pissed about it.)
The show will broadcast live from the Staples Center in L.A. on Sun., Jan. 26th.
Participating in the great tradition of year-end album-ranking in December, here is a list that reflects, essentially, the LPs that worked their way into my head and heart on a regular basis over the past 365 days. Navigating the heaps and mountains of music at our collective fingertips is no small feat, but you learn over time that the ones that you keep going back to, the ones you can’t get enough of, are just really good records. Simple as that. Hopefully, dear readers, this list will at least give you a good start on future listening as we bound towards 2014.
1. Disclosure, Settle
2. Bill Callahan, Dream River
3. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
4. HAIM, Days Are Gone
5. Mutual Benefit, Love’s Crushing Diamond
6. Phosphorescent, Muchacho
7. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
8. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
9. Bilal, A Love Surreal
10. Tegan & Sara, Heartthrob
11. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name
12. Lorde, Pure Heroine
13. Sky Farreira, Night Time, My Time
14. Mikal Cronin, MCII
15. Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience Part 1
16. Rhye, Woman
17. DJ Koze, Amygdala
18. Chance the Rapper, Acidrap
19. Danny Brown, Old
20. Kanye West, Yeezus
21. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
22. Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana
23. Jay Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail
24. CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe
25. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
26. Kelly Rowland, Talk A Good Game
27. Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe
28. King Krule, 6 Feet Below the Moon
29. Lucius, Wildewoman
30. Laura Marling, Once I Was An Eagle
31. David Bowie, The Next Day
32. Charli XCX, True Romance
33. El-P and Killer Mike, Run The Jewels
34. Brandy Clark, 13 Stories
35 Jose James, No Beginning, No End
36. Baths, Obsidian
37. Fantasia, Side Effects of You
38. James Blake, Overgrown
39. Classixx, Hanging Gardens
40. Jon Hopkins, Immunity
41. Cate Le Bon, Mug Museum
42. Local Natives, Hummingbird
43. J. Cole, Born Sinner
44. Dismemberment Plan, Uncanney Valley
45. NIN, Hesitation Marks
46. Dr. Dog, B-Room
47. of Montreal, lousy with sylvianbriar
48. Autre ne Veut, Anxiety
49. Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Day
50. Charles Bradley, Victim of Love
Also enjoyable: Queens of the Stone Age , …Like Clockwork; M.I.A., Matangi; Arctic Monkeys, AM; Franz Ferdinand, Right Thoughts Right Word Right Action; Deerhunter, Monomania; Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park; Pissed Jeans, Honeys; Midlake, Antiphon; Atoms for Peace, AMOK; Unknown Mortal Orchestra, II; Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic and Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus.
Noticed this on lots of lists, but I kindly disagree: Savages, Silence Yourself; Arcade Fire, Reflektor and Volcano Choir, Repave.
Chief executive officer. Certified financial planner. Director of marketing and public relations. Each of these titles suggests years of corporate ladder-climbing, implying its holders are all work and no play. But who expects the company’s sales manager to be a classically trained vocalist? And what if that VP of accounts is a gifted saxophonist? Use it or lose it, they say—and this week, some of Philly’s top executives, educators, movers and shakers are using their off-the-clock acumen to raise funds for one of Philly’s most worthwhile arts organizations.
Back by popular demand, the third Black Professionals Got Talent is no ordinary talent showcase—it’s a fundraiser for Art Sanctuary, founded in 1998 by author Lorene Cary to focus on the preservation and creation of black art. Its programming includes the annual John Coltrane Jazz Tribute & Festival, the Celebration of Black Writing, a children’s storytelling circle, a “hip h’opera,” and educator workshops to help further the AS mission.
Through a partnership with University of the Arts, this year’s show moves to the Arts Bank to provide more space for its array of confirmed participants, including Malik Boyd, president of Philadelphia Young Democrats; Jamie Brunson (above), executive director of First Person Arts; Natalye Paquin, CEO of Girls Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, and many others, while the sensational Urban Guerilla Orchestra serves as house band to set the mood. Come support these civic and arts leaders as they let their hair down and show the more artistic sides of themselves for a worthy cause. They ought to be lauded—and applauded.
Tues., Dec. 10, 6pm. $25-$35. The Arts Bank, 601 S. Broad St. 215.545.1664. artsanctuary.org
On yesterday’s first “snow day” of the season, Philadelphia Weekly’s intrepid photographer J.R. Blackwell ventured out to photograph her West Philadelphia neighborhood, from the snow-covered streets to the brave sledders in Clark Park. Enjoy!
It’s a rare opportunity to get to a giant pop spectacular down at the Wells Fargo Center. There’s something really fun about a high-budget and giant-sized production full of pyrotechnics, dancers, LED screens, and of course for P!nk, aerial feats. Everyone knows now that P!nk’s an acrobat and a gymnast as well as a damn fine singer. She can belt, yes, but we also love her because she’s irreverent, a little crass, but all in a very down-to-earth way. That could be the Doylestown in her and that’s why it was a very sold-out night Friday night, complete with family members in the audience and generous displays of gift-giving in the form of flowers, teddy bears and love letters thrown on stage.
After a round of a cameraman focusing in on random pairs and groups of folks in the audience (there were a lot of women) kind of like a kiss cam, a creepy clown started messing with people near my section. He ended up being somewhat of an emcee, like a ringleader, and a kinky one at that. More on him later. She started with “Raise Your Glass,” already a classic in her catalogue after its release via her Greatest Hits… So Far!!! collection in 2010. And then we got “Walk of Shame,” full of awesomely sassy and struts, especially during the reprise of “we’re walking… we’re walking.” “Just Like a Pill” preceded one of my favorites, “U + Ur Hand,” it’s just classic P!nk: funky and pop radio perfection aided by a rock riff and an anthemic “Don’t fuck with me” chorus, a chorus that makes Kelly Clarkson drool. She did a “bad dancing song” in which she executed a variety of hilariously corny dance moves and encouraged the audience to play along. You know, the run, the sprinkler, the shopping cart, etc. In her pretend bad dancing, though, you could tell that she’s become a fantastic, experienced and well-rounded dancer over the past decade.
During an outfit change interlude, our kinky clown emcee delivered one of my favorite one-liners of the night when he was playing up the sex. When he was talking about fantasies and the fetishes we all have (leather, lace, underwear, socks, BDSM, etc.), he nodded to all the things that make us happy, like: “Rainbows and puppies and nipple clamps.” She turned in a flawless vocal performance of “Try,” which she did in the air, and came back down to do a cover of “Wicked Games.” She looked absolutely beautiful. She’s fit as hell but not overly so – there was a time when P!nk’s image was a little intimidating not only because she had so much punk attitude, but she also looked like she could beat you down. She still can. But her elegance has been honed and polished over time – her outfits were a perfect blend of rock (with spikes and black), evening wear (flowy and colorful), and a lil’ touch of circusy macabre.
She turned in a strong performance of “Just Give Me a Reason” with Nate Ruess beaming through a video feed (not live). Turns out this one’s her #1 hit on Spotify – guess the youngbloods must really love their delightful radio smash. “Trouble” came next, another staple in her old school catalogue, and then the bombastic and badass opener from The Truth About Love, “All We Are We Are.” She climbed into an orb to do “Sober” and it started rotating and moving and then more dancers climbed on and it was completely sick. She sat herself at a piano for the next one, “The Great Escape,” and explained that she’s slowly but surely learning to play the piano and the guitar, with the help of her band, and that she’s finally able to play full songs. Coulda fooled us. She sounded great and it was a moment where we got to see a little bit of the softer side of her that we know is there. She also did an acoustic version of “Who Knew” before blasting out “Perfect” and “Most Girls.” The throwback nod to her olden times, when she was way more thuggish ruggish and hip-hop, was a fun reminder of how America first got to know Alecia Beth Moore.
It’s wild to think that 2001’s M!ssundaztood is already 12 years old (and that she had just turned 22 when it came out). What I’ve always loved about P!nk is that she’s kind of like no one else. She’s a pop star at this point, this is clear, but has always basically blazed her own path. She’s a feminist and girl power hero but not in an anti-men way, just a hearty sense of “I don’t need you, dude” or “Sure, I’ll take a drink from you but you’re dismissed.” The short hair, the tough girl act (which we know isn’t an act), and she can dance like a professional – who can step to her? It was stunning taking in her flexibility and grace, even singing while upside down and spinning and not missing a single note. It’s been a little weird watching her get deeper and deeper into the aerials and acrobatics, but again, who else does it and does it while singing flawlessly? Have you seen her do “Glitter in the Air” at the 2010 Grammy’s? Just making sure.
Well, I did it. I watched, eagerly, a live musical on NBC last night. Supposedly—and it’s really hard to believe—they put on a live, three-hour staging of The Sound of Music, and they made Carrie Underwood Maria Rainer and Stephen Moyer (Vampire Bill) Captain Von Trapp.
At first, I was intrigued, because—the hell is this? A prime-time live television broadcast of a musical? They’re grabbing, and they’re desperate; slowly but surely, the realization started to set in that Walmart had paid for all of this mania. If I had to guess, that was a $1- to $3 million affair. You pay everyone, you dress everyone, you build the sets, and you keep the commercials light and Walmarty on a Thursday night from 8 to 11 p.m., and I’m sure everyone makes out just fine. It just seems so weird. And then it pretty much got weird.
The first few scenes sure were churchy. I did remember a nun storyline, but boy, did we go to the chapel and say many prayers and look at many crosses. Nuns galore. That first spell before the first commercial had, like, 20 nuns singing in operatic harmony. Wait, were they all white except for Audra McDonald? I think they may’ve been. And McDonald proceeded to sing and act circles around the Chiclet-toothed American Idol winner from Oklahoma. Damn, she was blowing all kinds of people out of the water—with supreme control, expressive eyes, mesmerizing control and boundless appropriate energy. It was in those first few scenes that I thought to myself about Miss Carrie, ‘She is trying so hard not to sound like she’s from Oklahoma right now.’ It mostly worked for her; she didn’t sound like a redneck, and she didn’t sing her parts of songs with twang or a hick inflection. But the fact that this is the praise I’m willing to sing for Underwood in this performance is telling.
The production value was strong in some aspects and weak in others. I’ve got to just say, right up front, that that was one hell of a Nazi stage where the Von Trapp Singers made their cleverly stealth escape. It’s not so much that it was troubling to see so much red and swastikas on my television because it’s painful to confront what those symbols and colors represent. It was because it was done so high-budget, that there was about 10 to 15 minutes of it in my face in technicolor, in high-definition and in the same field of vision as a menorah holding warm candles. The Nazi and WWII themes felt especially potent, but only because they felt nominally and indelicately pawed. Then, during the commercial, we were blitzed with a suite of tributes to giant, white families in the Midwest as we followed the Brooks family, who roll 14 deep. Commercials felt short, maybe about half the duration of a typical roll through a sitcom or a regular prime-time movie. It felt dirty.
What you realize watching The Sound of Music on stage or on film is that they sing the same songs over and over again. They are: “Do-Re-Me,” “16 Going On 17,” “The Sound of Music” and the yodel song. There are a handful of one-offs that come mostly when the adults sing to each other, but it sure does get a little repetitive when it’s not Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Underwood is obviously no Andrews, but Moyer doesn’t make a terrible captain. His face looked caked and contorted with makeup for the first hour before he lightened up and started singing, but his voice is solid, and he added an emotional depth to the cast that it desperately needed. Laura Benanti came out of nowhere with a belt-capable, giant set of vocal chords, but her smizing and overdramatic facial contortions made her a little laughable (in a good way?). What really hit me over the head was one moment in which Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp sibling, was sitting on a fancy salon couch, singing “16 Going On 17,” just before the Nazis showed up to fuck up everyone’s lives. Underwood and the delightfully capable Ariane Rinehart duet the classic tale of becoming a woman and becoming an adult, and there was absolutely no contest for who was more compelling. Even the Barnard junior making her television debut was capable of showing more emotion in her face—we call that acting, right?—than Underwood.
In NBC’s defense, the whole thing felt painfully and perhaps painstakingly rehearsed, directed, produced and edited. Not wholly unenjoyable, though. I’m pretty sure I caught a few small missteps in angles and transitions, but no one dropped a note, flubbed a line or tripped on a step (to everyone’s chagrin). That was part of the excitement of watching live. Shout out to Moyer—I got a little misty-eyed when his kids were singing for that evil bitch, Herr Schrader, and his heart melted before our very eyes, and he had to start singing himself, even though he hadn’t in years, probably even since his wife died. Then there was a big family hug, and Underwood knew she might’ve scored herself a little job security. But someone ought to have been blunt with her: That second wig looked cheap and like maybe she found it on Chestnut Street.