Tuesday, August 4, 2015

POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 6:00 PM
Courtney Barnett.

'Tis the time of year for a Songs of Summer playlist, and my column in the Sunday Inquirer - which you can read right here - lays out and annotates a 25 song mid-season mix that blends big hits by your new amusingly named  favorites OMI, Fetty Wap and Silento, rap battlers Meek Mill and Drake, Philly indie acts Hop Along and Kurt Vile, rising stars Liane La Havas and Courtney Barnett as well as veteran rockers such as Wilco and Keith Richards.

Listen up on Spotify below.

Previously: Neil Young at Suquehanna Bank Center  Follow In The Mix on Twitter here

POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2015, 10:58 AM
Singer/songwriter Neil Young. (Getty Images)

 What would it take for Neil Young to not be great?

For his show at the Susquehanna Bank Center on Thursday night, the 69-year-old rock legend stacked the odds against himself. His new album The Monsanto Years is an unrelenting salvo against factory farming, genetically modified organisms and general corporate greed, one of those full-length rants that the cranky Canadian is able to get away with without completely alienating his fan base because - well because he’s Neil Young.

Meanwhile, Young has been taking up media space, squabbling with Donald Trump - scolded for playing “Keep Rockin’ In The Free World” in announcing his Presidential candidacy - and planning to pull his music from all streaming services because of sound quality complaints. This album and its accompanying ‘Rebel Content’ tour is a collaboration not with Crazy Horse or any of the other esteemed players Young has worked with over the years, but a quintet of youngsters called The Promise Of The Real, anchored by guitarists Lukas and Micah Nelson, sons of Neil’s co-Farm Aid founder Willie.

POSTED: Saturday, July 11, 2015, 8:02 AM
Philly-born Meek Mill has a concert stop here with girlfriend Nicki Minaj next month and will be a headliner at Made in America in September. (Andrew Renneisen/For the Inquirer)

I spent a recent Thursday afternoon sitting in a 17th floor artist lounge at the Atlantic Records office in midtown Manhattan talking with North Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill on the occasion of the release of his second full length album, Dreams Worth More Than Money.

Meek Mill talks fast and has a lot to say - “Make sure you put that in,”  he stressed, on more than one occasion - and much of it can be found in a profile of him in this coming Sunday’s Inquirer Live Life Love arts & entertainment section. Do what's good for your and go out and buy a copy, or read it here

But it wouldn’t all fit. So what you have here is more of the rapper born Robert Rahmeek Williams’ thoughts, on other rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, on the iniquities of the judicial system, and about the bike, motorcycle and ATV culture, which he sees as an unfairly persecuted force for non-violence in the city.

POSTED: Saturday, July 4, 2015, 10:48 PM
Singer, songwriter and producer, Miguel performs during Philly 4th of July Jam & Fireworks along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday, July 4, 2015. (Michael Pronzato/Staff Photographer)

After The Roots played a second wildly energetic set featuring ginger-haired special guest Jeremy Ellis on the beatbox — plus a break for TV commercials — the band brought out Miguel, the songwriter whose just-out third album, Wildheart, keeps him on the leading edge of a movement of alt-R&B artists who freely mix musical elements from all over the pop and rock landscape into their sound. 

Dressed in flowing white from head to toe — in contrast to Nettles’ black evening gown — he played the role of the genre-blending love man who at his best — as in the falsetto-fluttering come-on “How Many Drinks” — makes music that lives up to the example of his musical heroes like Prince.

POSTED: Saturday, July 4, 2015, 10:31 PM
Jennifer Nettles performs during Philly 4th of July Jam & Fireworks along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday, July 4, 2015. Nettles is the lead singer for country music act Sugarland. Photo: MICHAEL PRONZATO/ Staff Photographer

The Roots took the stage for the first part of their expansive performance shortly after 9 o’clock, introduced by a hyped-up Mayor Michael Nutter. He reminded the crowd that they were part of “the largest free outdoor concert in America” and called the Roots, led by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, “the best house band in America, if not the world!”

The band then launched into a free-flowing jam, starting with “Game Theory,” the title track from their 2006 album, located in “downtown Philly, where it’s realer than a heart attack.” They moved during which they moved for sharply snapping funk to playful marching band rhythms and jazzy interstitial interludes. Black Thought, shadowed by sousaphone player Damon Bryson (also known as Tuba Gooding Jr.), displayed dazzling verbal dexterity and a breath control so impressive it made you gasp just to listen to him.

Nettles, one half of the Nashville country-pop duo Sugarland, brought members of her band to play along with The Roots, and with Questlove snapping her songs to attention, the results were impressive. As popular a mainstream country force as Sugarland are, Nettles was hardly a natural fit for a Philadelphia audience more open to an “urban” act like Miguel, but she’s an undeniable powerhouse singer, and she had the gumption both to play an as yet unreleased single called “Sugar” for the first time live and to remake Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” with gospel overtones in a way that surpassed the original.

POSTED: Saturday, July 4, 2015, 8:58 PM
MKTO performs during Philly 4th of July Jam & Fireworks along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday, July 4, 2015. The group consists of Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller. Photo: MICHAEL PRONZATO / Inquirer

Los Angeles pop band MKTO — the duo of singer Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller — preceded the three principal acts on stage, presumably on the strength of their fitting-for-the-Fourth signature song “American Dream,” which establishes the band’s generational identity by contrasting themselves with John Cougar Mellencamp: “This ain’t the same summer song that you used to know, because Jack left Diane 30 years ago.”

They followed that na-na-na singalong with the relentless hybrid hip-hop rock positivity of “Just Imagine It” and, lest they come across as overly serious types, reminded listeners that what they're really interested in is “Bad Girls.”

POSTED: Saturday, July 4, 2015, 7:16 PM
Kate Faust sings on the Questlove stage during the Welcome America 4th of July Festival on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Saturday, July 4, 2015. (MICHAEL PRONZATO/Staff Photographer)

Before the prime time portion of the show began, Independence Day revelers along the Parkway were entertained by a stream of acts playing on the smaller scale Questlove Stage, curated by Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

As the cheesesteak-and-funnel-cake-munching crowd milled about in red, white, and blue garb — often topped with funny-looking foam fin hats promoting Shark Week programming on event sponsor Discovery Channel — Philadelphia songwriter Kate Faust played a compelling set of brooding electro-pop and energetic R&B entertainer Julian King got the crowd fired up with a slickly choreographed mix of originals from an upcoming debut EP and covers of radio hits like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Nick Jonas’ “Jealous.” 

POSTED: Friday, July 3, 2015, 10:39 AM
Singer Miguel attends a celebration of the 57th annual GRAMMY Awards hosted by Delta Air Lines, the official airline of the GRAMMY Awards, with a private performance from Charli XCX on February 5, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for Delta Air Lines)

Proud to be iconoclastic, Miguel explains himself on “What’s Normal Anyway?,” the seventh track on Wildheart (RCA ***), the Los Angeles polymorphous and musically adventurous love man’s third album. The co-headlining guest, along with Jennifer Nettles, at Saturday's 4th of July Jam on the Parkway hosted by The Roots, describes himself as  "too proper for the black kids, too black for the Mexicans, too square to be a hood," and asks, "What's normal anyway?” 

Good question. The singer and songwriter, whose full name is Miguel Jontel Pimental moved past the straight ahead R&B of his 2010 debut album All I Want Is You to open up to rock and other influences on 2012‘s Kaleidoscope Dream, is as good of an example of the benefits of refusing to be bound by musical limitations as anyone on the pop charts. The Prince-influenced, often dirty minded Wildheart is an ode to the sleaze and beauty of Los Angeles, and takes a NSFW detour to the porn hub of the San Fernando Valley. But it also works as a search for identity and an exploration of socio-cultural in-betweenness. “I never feel I belong," the 30 year old  genre blender sings.  “I wanna feel I belong."  This album does not peak as high as Kaleidoscope Dream, and neither the featured cameo by Dogg Pound rapper Kurupt on “NWA” nor Lenny Kravitz’s on “Face The Sun” bring added value. Still, the place Miguel belongs is in the company of the most compelling pop personalities working today.

Previously: Rogers Waters to bring The Wall to Citizen Bank Park Follow In The Mix on Twitter here

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Dan DeLuca Inquirer Music Critic
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