Thursday, December 18, 2014

POSTED: Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 2:57 PM
Rapper Eminem performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on April 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Can Eminem still rap? At 42, are the great white rapper's unassailable skills still in tact?

Yes and yes. That's not the problem with Shady XV (Interscope **), a two volume in-time-for-the-holiday season release that celebrates 15 years of the Detroit rapper's record label with one multi-artist greatest hits disc and one of all new material. 

The good news for Eminem fans is that of the 12 new songs, he's featured prominently on eight, and various other talents apppear aongside him, including rappers Danny Brown and Big Sean and singer-songwriter Sia. The bad news is that Eminem's typically dexterous hyper speed rhymes are often marked by pathetic shock tactic attempts at relevancy that range from stupid and sad to mean and evil. 

POSTED: Saturday, November 22, 2014, 1:57 PM
Musician Bob Dylan. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)
A mysterious man in a white suit and boater hat walked onto the dimly lit stage of the Academy of Music just past 8 on Friday evening, whispering secrets into the microphone as a nimble, five piece band played behind him. “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie,” he sang, confiding that he’s been “trying to get as far away from myself as I possibly can.”

For all his apparent existential discomfort, however - the opening number was “Things Have Changed” from the 2000 movie Wonder Boys - Bob Dylan was precisely where he wanted to be: Opening a three night weekend stand on south Broad Street in the midst of his Neverending Tour.  (Tickets remain for both Saturday and Sunday night’s shows.)

The illustrious episode in Dylan’s career currently being celebrated is the 1967 period in which he removed himself from the road and rooted himself in upstate New York with The Band to make the casually brilliant recordings that came to be known as The Basement Tapes. An exhaustive box set was released this month, as was a collection called The New Basement Tapes in which Elvis Costello and other contemporary songwriters put to music Dylan lyrics from the period that the Bard had discarded.

POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2014, 9:11 AM
Dan DeLuca

Bob Dylan will spend the weekend in Philadelphia. With his band, he plays three consecutive nights at the Academy of Music starting Friday.

It's the culmination of a Dylan month that began with the release of The Basement Tapes Complete and has continued with The New Basement Tapes, the worthy of investigation set of old unused Dylan lyircs set to new music by the likes of Jim James, Elvis Costello and Rhiannon Giddens. My piece on the big Basement box is here.

This weekend at the Academy, expect to see Dylan tickling the ivories of a grand piano, and to sing the Frank Sinatra cover "Stay With Me," from an album of Tin Pan Alley covers that's expected in 2015. 

POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 10:17 AM
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 24: Singer Taylor Swift performs onstage during We Can Survive 2014 at the Hollywood Bowl on October 24, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison (Getty Images for CBS Radio Inc.)

Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan announced on Wednesday that they will begin using music streams as well physical sales and downloads in tabulating rankings on its Top 200 Album chart.

It's a necessary, late-to-the-party move because even as first file sharing and now streaming has cut deeply into music sales and the entire industry has been reshaped - with artists earning revenues from a variety of sources, including music syncs in commercials and TV shows - the purely sales-based chart has remained the most common - and often misleading - media measuring stick of what's popular.

Streaming services like Spotify have been in the news lately, particularly since Taylor Swift pulled her music off the service, a move that doubtlessly aided the strong sales performance of her album 1989, which sold almost 1.3 million copies in its first week, more than double what any other album has achieved this year.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 5:54 PM
Jimmy Ruffin in 1973. (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Jimmy Ruffin, the Detroit singer whose soaring, majestically bereft 1965 song "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted" is one of the greatest of Motown hits, has died. He was 78.

Ruffin was the older brother of late Temptations singer David Ruffin, who died in Philadelphia in 1991. The elder Ruffin died in a Las Vegas hospital on Monday according to his Detroit News obituary. Ruffin also had minor Motown hits with "I've Passed This Way Before" and "Gonna Give Her All The Love I Got," and in 1980 released a comeback album called Sunrise produced by the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb, which included the hit "Hold On To My Love."

"What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted" is below. Is it the greatest Motown song recorded by an artist who is principally known for only that one song? Probably.

POSTED: Monday, November 17, 2014, 10:23 AM
Stevie Wonder, along with singer India.Arie, serenades a packed house Sunday, Nov. 17, at the Wells Fargo Center. (Photo: Dan DeLuca/INQUIRER
It was a cold and miserable November night, and the traffic getting to the Wells Fargo Center was brutal. And all Stevie Wonder was going to do, anyway, was play a 38-year-old album from start to finish. What’s the big deal? Wouldn't it have been easier to just stay home, punch up Songs in the Key of Life on the sound system and nurse your Eagles wounds on the sofa?

That would have been the wrong move. Because the show that the 64-year-old musical marvel put on Sunday night more than lived up to its billing as the concert event of the season. It also served as a rare, wondrous example of the kind of magic that can happen onstage when an extravagantly big band of exemplary musicians sinks its teeth into an opus of Key of Life's magnitude in support of a creator still at the height of his performing powers.

Of course, such opportunities don’t come along all that often because few opuses of Key Of Life’s magnitude exist. From the moment Wonder walked on stage on special guest India.Arie’s arm and exclaimed “Philadelphia Freedom!” till he finished the non-Key of Life encore of  “Superstition” accompanied by over 40 musicians and singers more than three hours later, it was clear that it was as special an occasion for its star as it was for the interracial, intergenerational (though leaning to Wonder’s years) sold-out crowd.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 7:33 PM
The Sugar Hill Gang: Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee.

RIP to Big Bank Hank, the 57 year old rapper born Henry Lee Jackson who was one third of the Sugar Hill Gang, who had the first rap pop hit with "Rapper's Delight" in1979.

Hank was a charismatic pizza maker in an Englewood, N.J. shop who would rap while tossing dough when he was discovered by the son of Sylvia Robinson, Sugar Hill Records founder. His gregarious nature made him a natural fit with fellow rappers Wonder Mike and Master Gee, but his rhymes were actually written by Grandmaster Caz.

Hank's obituary is here. Watch "Rapper's Delight" below.

POSTED: Friday, November 7, 2014, 9:13 AM
Parquet Courts.

There are two chances this weekend to see Parquet Courts, the superb Texas-born Brooklyn-based punk rock-plus band who have released two albums in 2014.

First up is Friday at noon at the World Cafe Live for the band who released their excellent sophomore album Sunbathing Animal in the spring and have already followed it up with another 2014 full length release called Content Nausea. (This one is released under alternate band name Parkay Quarts to reflect its different lineup, if you're with me). The good thing about that show: It's free.

Then on Saturday, the Andrew Savage and Austin Brown fronted band - who are getting WXPN radio airplay with their raved up cover of Nancy Sinatra's "The Boots Are Made For Walking," and who were on my Top Ten list last year with Light Up Gold - will head across town to headline PhilaMOCA. the good thing about that show: rising Philly trio Amanda X, whose debut album Amnesia came out on Siltbreeze this summer.

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