Kandia Crazy Horse

Singing the cyber blues

Less the "black Björk" than heir to Arthur Lee's black rock throne, Janelle Monaé preps for blastoff
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Afrofuturism began in earnest with those "20 odd Negroes" brought to Jamestown. Read more »

Outlaw representation

Richard Bruce Nugent's Gentleman Jigger sprawls forward
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I love Dick and I cannot lie. I am of course referring to my Chocolate City homeboy Richard Bruce Nugent — who was never called "Dick," but was outfitted with "Paul Arbian" and other choice names by his friend, rival, and fellow Harlem/Negro Renaissance leader Wallace Thurman. Nugent, who died impoverished but grand in 1987, has been one of my abiding heroes since childhood. Read more »

Alone again, or

Stew & Lightspeed Champion evoke the Afro-Baroque between the boom-bip bip and the ballot
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In memoriam: Ike Turner, Buddy Miles, Teo Macero, and Arthur Lee

"Music won't have no race, only space...." — an eternal lyric sung by that titanic philosopher Marvin Gaye, echoing many other dusky voices, from that of pioneer Afronaut Estevanico the Black, whose exploits across the sixteenth century, proto–American West supersede words, to the United Kingdom's newest alt-country composer Lightspeed Champion. Read more »

Freedom is a '69 Dodge

Paul Thorn's homespun poetics shoot straight from the heart and the briar patch
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When searching for recent signs of life in and recognition of country music's biracial heritage beneath the rhinestone crust of NashVegas culture, I became an unwitting fan of Tupelo, Miss., singer-songwriter Paul Thorn via his "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand," as covered by Sawyer Brown with black sacred-steel whiz kid Robert Randolph. Then there were the good words passed on from Thorn's participation last year at a Birmingham, Ala., medicine show for my friend Scott Boyer of Cowboy. Read more »

Digging the new-old roots

The Carolina Chocolate Drops take black string-band music back to the mountaintop
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Yodeling is African? Well, one could certainly trace the practice from the Ituri of the Congolese rainforest, described as the first people by ancient Egyptian chroniclers, to country icons such as Jimmie Rodgers — who, incidentally, recorded with Louis Armstrong — but also to less-explored sonic shores like James Brown's iconic scream or Marvin Gaye's version limning his legendary 1970s LP cycle. Read more »

A shot from the Sahel

Tinariwen's songs of struggle
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Many moons ago, when I moved as a child to Africa, my mother, my sister, and I resided in the Sahel. To be precise: we lived in Bamako, the vibrant capital city of Mali — not to be confused with the medieval empire of the same name. To reside there as a Western black was strange; our Americanness placed us in the novel position of being regarded as de facto aristos, somewhere between such elevated classes as wealthy, regal descendents of the Keita clan and the dispossessed, which included Imazighen exiles. Read more »

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Emmylou Harris

Myth America
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Emmylou Harris tends to overwhelm with her beauty in flesh and in voice, so it's instructive to look to her new rarities collection, Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems (Rhino), for reminders of earthly frailty. From the get-go, the recording reveals that even she has feet of clay. Harris can be derivative — exhibit A: disc one's "Clocks." This early song displays her in warbly thrush mode. She sounds like a Judy Collins also-ran, and this is a good thing. Read more »

Liege and grief

Rufus Wainwright seeks safe haven
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FULL CIRCLE America is Rufus Wainwright's scorned lover–<\d>cum–<\d>doomed horse-opera hero on his new opus, Release the Stars (Geffen), making Wainwright's fifth album something of a postscript to the bipartite Want recordings (Dreamworks, 2003; Geffen, 2004). Departure comes as Wainwright turns his wry gaze beyond the cloister of his boudoir-proscenium to harness a polemical bent to his grandiose, lush, high-lonesome sound. Read more »

Digital Venuses

UK pop starlets vie for America's heart of darkness
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Call them the new British bitch pack: barefoot soul shouter Joss Stone and her ascendant sistren, skankin' Lily Allen and torchy Amy Winehouse (Corinne Bailey Rae's exempted due to being a queen of nice and hazy sentiment and, well, yes, color). The Pipettes also deliver Ronettes-Supremes paeans but have yet to splash large beyond the UK. Read more »

The nu sincerity

If you prick ’em, they bleed
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James Taylor's early-’70s status as the king of sensitive male vocalists is mere VH1 countdown fodder now. Yet in 2006, more than a few male artists seemed to have recollected being reared in Taylor's soft rock FM heyday or at least had some of his sunny-voiced sincerity channeled down to them by sonic osmosis. Read more »