If Beale Street Could Talk. Writer/director Barry Jenkins’ follow up to his Oscar-winning film Moonlight is a big screen adaptation of the classic 1974 James Baldwin novel. It stars KiKi Layne and Stephan James as Tish Rivers and Fonny Hunt, two childhood friends who are now a loving, married couple. Their lives are rocked by two life changing events: Fonny’s arrest on trumped up rape charges and Tish learning that she is pregnant. Working with her family, Tish tries to clear Fonny’s name in time for the birth of their child. Jenkins has been trying to get Baldwin’s novel to the screen for quite some time, and his love and reverence for the material – thanks in large part to legendary cinematographer James Laxton – leaps out in blitz of bright, vibrant colors. Layne and James deliver strong breakout performances as the couple trying to overcome enormous odds, and Regina King gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Tish’s mother Sharon. Also watch Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry nearly steal the movie as Fonny’s released paroled friend Daniel: His take on his time locked up is devastating. While the film takes pointed shots at the criminal justice system’s gut wrenching effects on people of color, it’s above all, a celebration of love between lovers, family, and friends. If Beale Street Could Talk is available now in select theaters and rolling out nationwide Christmas Day. You can also go to www.bealestreet.movie for more information.
Sorry To Bother You. The debut feature film from writer-director Boots Riley has been building up considerable buzz, and for good reason: It’s one of the most audacious and subversive comedies to come out in years. Set in a not too distant, alternate future, it stars Lakeith Stansfield (Atlanta) as Cassius ‘Cash’ Green, a cash-strapped slacker/stoner living in his uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage. Desperate to catch up on bills, he takes a job as a telemarketer, but struggles to capture the calllers attention. On the advice of long time employee Langston (Danny Glover), he discovers that makes easy sales when he uses his ‘white voice’. Cash is soon one of the company’s top sellers, drawing the attention of the company’s coke-addicted CEO Steve Lift (Arnie Hammer), who gives him the offer of a lifetime. But his success threatens to alienate his co-workers fighting for fair working wages, his relationship with his peformance art – and poltically active – girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and put his community on the path to indentured servititude. Riley, best known as a member of the hip hop group The Coup, has put together an explosive film that takes on race, ecomonic justice, cosumerism and capitalism in a way that hasn’t been done in years, if ever. It rewrites and breaks all of the rules at the same time, working on your mind as it does on the eyes. Stansfield and Thompson continue their rising star status as the couple at the center of the madness with Hammer going all in as the creepy CEO. Riley and the crew aren’t just storming the cinematic gates – they are blowing up the walls planting new flags along the way. Get ready to have your senses totally assaulted. The sheer audacity of it makes it one of the year’s best. You can also go to www.sorrytobotheryou.movie for more info.
BlacKkKlansman. Hot off the heels of the Academy Award-winning Get Out, producer Jordan Peele recruits Spike Lee to direct this historically based period piece that has ties to what is happening today. Set in the 1970s, the film stars John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, the first Black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Dept. At first, he buried in the records department, where he has to endure racial insults from his colleagues. Then, Stallworth is assigned to wear a wire and report on a Black Student Union event in which former MLK and Black Panther associate Stokely Carmichael (now known as Kwame Toure) is the keynote speaker. He also sparks a relationship with Patrice (Laura Harrier), the BSU president with an open distaste for cops. Eager to make a name for himself, Stallworth – using his ‘white voice’ – answers a KKK recruitment ad and finds himself talking with KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). He also recruits Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) – A Jewish cop – to be his face for in-person meetings. Together, they – leading the local chapter no less – disrupt Klan activities – including a plot targeting the Black Student Union. Although the film takes place in the 70s, Spike Lee – working off a script that he co-wrote with David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott – puts it in context to show how these Klan activities put into motion what is happening today. Lee also takes Hollywood to task, using clips from The Birth Of A Nation to Gone With The Wind to show that it has it’s own KKK-related sins to atone for. Washington and Driver are fantastic as Stallworth and Zimmerman, two cops faced with the difficult task of fueling bigotry and racism at the same time they are fighting it. Harrier is just as formidable as Patrice, wonderfully counterpunching Washington’s stance on the need for law and order. Grace is all bile and slime as Duke, attempting to ‘normalize’ the Klan’s vision while at the same time signing off on it’s business as usual tactics. It’s another Spike Lee classic, destined to spark debates long after the film is over. One of the year’s best. You can also go to www.focusfeatures.com for more information.
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind. The world of comedy suffered a huge blow with the 2014 passing of Robin Williams. This new HBO documentary from Marina Zenovich (Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired) looks back his life and career and how his enormous impact on pop culture. Told largely through Williams’ own words, home movies, and on stage footage, it covers everything from growing up in the San Francisco Bay area; studying at the Julliard School in New York; working the explosive L.A. comedy circuit in the 1970s; his breakout sucess on the TV show Mork & Mindy; his landmark performance at The Metropolitan Opera; his Broadway debut in ‘Waiting For Godot’ and memorable performances in such films as Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Mrs Doubtfire and his Academy Award-winning performance in Good Will Hunting. Zenovich also covers Williams’ struggles offstage with substance abuse and depression and how he channeled those battles into his work. With remembrances from long time friends Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Eric Idle, Pam Dawber, Steve Martin, David Letterman and Williams’ son Zak, Zenovich has put together the most comprehensive look at a comedic giant. You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.
Atlanta. After taking 2017 off, Donald Glover’s critically acclaimed, award-winning series returns for a 2nd season. Plot lines have been largely kept under wraps, but Glover has promised that the show will take a more linear approach this season showing how Earn, Paper Boi, Darius adjust as Paper Boi move from local heroes to being on the cusp of national success. The writing and sharp, surrealist insights has always been the show’s benchmark, so expect biting looks at fame, along with its benefits and pitfalls. A much welcomed return for one of TV’s best shows.
The Chi. The city of Chicago has been a political lightning rod for well over a decade. It’s portrayal as a city besieged by rampant gun violence and high murder rates has been the subject of a number of documentaries, news stories and fodder to politicos looking to grab the narrative on how to combat crime. Writer/actor Lena Waithe is looking to change that with this new Showtime drama. It tells the story of how the murder of a promising young athlete connects the lives of four Black men of varying ages: Brandon (Jason Mitchell), an aspiring chef; middle schooler Kevin (Alex Hibbert), Emmett (Jacob Latimore), a young single father with a fierce entrepreneurial spirit; and Ronnie (Ntare Guam Mabaho Mwine), a long time South Side resident who was a long lost father figure to the victim. Where The Chi really succeeds is showing how gun violence has a ripple effect on an entire community. That said, the heartbeat of this show is the city of Chicago itself. It’s not a shoot happy war zone on the brink of collapse. It’s lively, vibrant, diverse, working hard and playing harder, trying to make itself better each day. It’s as much of a star as its excellent cast. Waithe’s script brings out that warmth with rich depth in each of its characters highlighting their positives and negatives without reducing either to stereotypes. The show has already drawn comparisons to The Wire and that’s great company to be associated with. Get ready for the first great series of 2018. You can also go to www.sho.com for more information.
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. Joel and Ethan Coen originally conceived their latest project as a limited series for Netflix, but instead opted to turn it into a full length feature film. The six part American western anthology kicks off with ‘The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs’ starring Tim Blake Nelson in the title role as the singing cowboy with a wit that’s as fast as his draw. ‘Near Algodones’ features James Franco as a wannabe outlaw whose attempt to rob a bank has him encountering vengeful posses and Native Americans out for blood. ‘Meal Ticket’ stars Liam Neeson as an impresario whose main attraction is a young man with no arms or legs (Harry Melling) who recites Shakespeare, Shelley and The Scriptures. Tom Waits carries ‘All Gold Canyon’, as a prospector mining for his fortune, while ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled’ has Zoe Kazan on an ill-fated wagon train to Oregon. The set concludes with ‘The Mortal Remains’ has Tyne Daly as part of a group making a mysterious trip – with a corpse as their cargo. All of the vintage Coen Bros trademarks are here: dark humor, irony, and an unwillingness to provide an easy out for any of their characters. The decision to shoot on location in parts of Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado was a wise one: No one captures the wonder and beauty of the region like the Coens. The cast is superb with Waits and Kazan standing out in their respective story arcs. It’s another winner in a career that has been stacked with many of them. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is available now on Netflix.
Escape At Dennemora. Ben Stiller directed this limited Showtime series that was drawn from recent headlines. It stars Benicia del Toro and Paul Dano as Richard Matt and David Sweat, two convicted murders who, in 2015, escaped an upstate New York prison with the aid of prison shop tailor employee Tilly Mitchell (Patricia Arquette). It was later revealed that Mitchell also had an ongoing sexual relationship with both men. David Morse portrays prison escort guard Gene Palmer, who also played a role in their escape, and Bonnie Hunt plays New York State Inspector General Catherine Lee Scott, the New York State Inspector General called in to investigate the events leading up to, and, after the escape. While he is best known for his work in comedies, Stiller easily makes the transition to drama in ways that suggest that his future could very well be behind the camera. He captures the bleak upstate New York landscape and claustrophobic environment that led to everyone’s actions in the first place. Arquette, who gave an Academy Award winning performance in Boyhood, turns in another dynamic performance as Tilly Mitchell. Putting on extra weight and nailing the accent, she’s consumes as the role as the civilian prison employee who finds her own measure of escape from her humdrum life through her involvement with Matt and Sweat. Dano shows yet again that he’s one of the best actors working today as the desperate and in over his head Sweat with del Toro not far behind him as the always manipulating Matt. A limited series that should be recognized during awards season. You can also go to www.sho.com for more information.
The Last O.G. Tracy Morgan created, stars and co-executive produces this new comedy series for TBS. He plays Tray, an ex-con returning to his old Brooklyn neighborhood after serving a 15 year sentence. He’s shocked to learn that he has twin children, Amira and Shazad, and his former girlfriend Shay (Tiffany Haddish) is raising them with her white husband Josh (Ryan Gaul). Tray also is rudely reminded that the Brooklyn that he left has been radically gentrified. Nevertheless, with the help of halfway house owner Mullins (Cedric The Entertainer) and his cousin Bobby (Allen Maldonado) he’s determined to become a better man and a father with often comedic results. To have Morgan back on the screen is a welcome sight, and, with the aid of Jordan Peele (who co-wrote the pilot and is a co-executive producer), there’s plenty of opportunities to take stabs, subtle and overt, about gentrification, hipsters, race, relationships and the struggles former convicts have entering back into society. The show’s not so secret weapon is Haddish , who continues her hot streak as Shay, a married professional who still lets her ‘hood side come out when needed. Tracy Morgan is back on TV and we are all the better for it.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The latest from award-winning director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Best Of Enemies) is a heart-warming salute to Fred Rogers, the long time host of the PBS children’s series Mister Rogers Neighborhood. It traces Rogers’ Pennsylvania roots, and how his faith, love for children, and his distaste of how children’s programming was presented at that time, helped shaped the program that delighted kids for over 30 years. Neville also points out that while the show was warm look at community and pivotal childhood moments, it didn’t shy away from very adult topics such as war, racism, terrorism and divorce. His testimony before the Senate committee advocating for more funding for public broadcasting is as riveting now than it was back in 1969. With a ton of show clips, interviews and remembrances from family, friends, cast members and contemporaries, Neville has put together the ultimate tribute to a man, who, by example, encouraged us to show love for one another. One of the year’s best. You can also go to www.mrrogersmovie.com for more information.
Nephilm by Ebony Bones. The 3rd album from the singer/songwriter/producer is an operatic pop middle finger to what is currently happening in her native England and here in the States. As with her previous work, she collides cultures and musical styles to tackle global issues. Only an Ebony Bones project could pull together legendary soul/R&B/Hendrix compatriot Lonnie Youngblood, a children’s youth choir, and The Bejing Philharmonic to bring out songs that deal with censorship, racial xenophobia, child labor and colonism. The centerpiece of the album is ‘No Black In The Union Jack’, which features a snippet of Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers Of Blood’ which connects his racist rant to the current wave of prejudical sentiment that made Brexit – and the current U.S. stance on immigration – a reality. The Bones Youth Choir turns Junior Murvin’s ‘Police & Thieves’ into a haunting dub heavy hymn to those lost to gun violence. ‘Kids Of Coltan’, is a marriage of big beats and the orchestral detailing how young children in the Congo are being exploited in mining for coltan, a metallic ore that is a vital component in cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices. Bone Of My Bones Pt 2 is as sweeping and majestic as you will hear in any church or opera. The fusion of the two genres is incredible. Ambitious in scope and brilliant in execution, Ebony Bones cements her place as one of top multi-talented musicians in the game. Nephilim is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
Brazilian Voodoo Exportation by Mescalines. The second album by this San Paulo based duo continues their exploration of African music, Misssissippi Delta blues presented on a full cinematic soundscape. Drummer Mario Onofre lays down the grooves while guitarist Ruebens Vinicius puts down slide work that is both funky and atmospheric. Coming across like a soundtrack to a Wim Wenders or David Lynch film, The Mescalines have put together a suite of songs fit for a mental journey as it for a physical one. A moving set that puts the power and mystery of the blues and rock n roll back in the forefront. Brazilian Voodoo Exportation by Mescalines is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services. You can also go to www.mescalines.bandcamp.com for more information.
Vanished Gardens by Charles Lloyd & The Marvels & Lucinda Williams. A veteran of the jazz scene for nearly 50 years, saxist/fluiest Charles Lloyd has worked with some of the best jazz and blues musicians of all time, including Ornette Coleman, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Cannonball Adderly, Tony Williams, Ron Carter and Roy Haynes among others. As the leader of his own quintet, Lloyd’s group became the first jazz band to play The Fillmore Auditorium and quickly became a favorite with the San Francisco counter-culture scene sharing bills with The Doors, The Beach Boys, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Now 80, Lloyd has released his second album wth his new genre-fluid group, The Marvels, which includes Bill Frisell on guitar, bassist Reuben Rogers, Greg Leisz on pedal steel and dobro, and drummer Eric Harland. Joining them on half of the tracks is singer-songwriter extraordinaire Lucinda Williams and its simply transcendent. After working together on a cover of Dylan’s ‘Masters Of War’, they are able to stretch out to transform Williams staples ‘Dust’ and ‘Unsuffer Me’ into a mind blowing fusion of roots music and free jazz. Williams also wrote ‘We’ve Come Too Far To Turn Around’, a spritual anthem that is badly needed in these troubling times. Tracks such as ‘Defiant’ ‘Monk’s Mood’ and ‘Ballad Of A Sad Young Man’ are showcases for Lloyd and The Marvels, who show very quickly that they are some of the best musicians working in any genre. As good as any album you will hear this year. Vanished Gardens by Charles Lloyd & The Marvels & Lucinda Williams is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services. You can also go to www.bluenote.com for more information.
Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe. The 3rd album from the singer-songwriter-producer-label head and all around bad ass is also her most personal. Internalizing and expanding on the themes established by her alter ego Cindi at the same time, Monáe asserts and celebrates herself as a fully liberated Black woman in the era of open intoleranace. Taking her cues from her late mentor and friend Prince, it all on the table: Spirituality, sexuality, feminism, love, and politics all in a sweeping 50 minute blitz of funk, R&B, rock, and hip hop. Sacred, profane, smooth and rough, and with appearances by Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Pharrell Williams, Zoe Kravitz and Grimes, this puts Monáe in the same conversation and pantheon with many of her musical heroes. One of the year’s best. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
The Terror End Of Beauty by Harriet Tubman. After making fans wait seven years between releases, Harriet Tubman – the power trio featuring guitarist Brandon Ross, Melvin Gibbs on bass and drummer J.T. Lewis – have released a quick follow up to 2017’s critically acclaimed Amarminta. Taking its title from the late guitar great Sonny Sharrock, the group puts up the last guitar great’s sonic approach and presents a sweeping song suite rips through that covers everything from full on guitar workouts, tripped out avant garde explorations, reggae/dub infused jams and radically re-worked, yet anthemic covers. Adventurous, ambitious, and virtuosity to the highest degree, this is the sound of a band at a musical plateau that very few can match. The Terror End Of Beauty by Harriet Tubman is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
Kumi by Blak Emoji. After releasing the critically acclaimed Intro EP last year, Blak Emoji is back with a full length album. Led by Kelsey Warren, it’s a conceptual piece that divided into two sections: The first half covers a night out, hitting the club (‘Another Club Night’) with the promise of good times (‘Velvet Ropes And Dive Bars’) lust (‘Lust Love Above’) and love in the air. The second half covers its fallout: the thought complexiites of coming home after a night of carnality (‘Walk Of Shame’); the emotional and physical distance that’s felt being away from that special someone (‘Alone’, ‘Naked’ ‘The Perfect Catch’) and ultimately, a sense of resolve and closure (‘Poison To Medicine’). Warren finds a great balance between electro infused pop with moody introspection with a sound that recalls the best work of Nine Inch Nails, Prince in his ‘Dirty Mind’ incarnation, and the albums that Bowie recorded in Berlin. The perfect soundtrack for your night out and its wind down. Kumi by Blak Emoji is available exclusively through Bandcamp (www.blakemoji1.bandcamp.com/album/kumi) and will have a national rollout on all major music outlets in January.
Ventriloquism by Meshell Ndegeocello. The latest album the musically shape shifting bassist, singer-songwriter puts fresh spins on 80s/90s R&B and pop hits that deeply influenced her during her formative years. Stripping away the gloss and sheen that dominated the era, Meshell and her excellent core of collaborators – Chris Bruce on guitar, drummer Abraham Rounds and Jebin Bruni on keys – give the material a sonic makeover, retaining the core essence of the song, but highlighting the exceptional lyrical content. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, whose work with Janet Jackson, George Michael, Human League and The SOS Band, Human League came to define R&B during that period are represented three times in three different styles: ‘Tender Love’, is re-fashioned as Neil Young-Harvest era ballad. The Janet Jackson Control deep cut ‘Funny How Time Flies’ is retro-fitted as a near ambient setting. ‘Sensitivity’, a solo hit for New Edition’s Ralph Travesant, is given a early Duke Ellington arrangement. Jam and Lewis’ former boss, Prince, is honored magnificently with a heart wrenching version of ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ that will simply reduce you to mist. The complexities of love – a running theme that Meshell has explored her entire career – are well represented. Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s 1985 hit ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home’ highlights Rounds’ outstanding drum work as Meshell questions her would be lover – and herself about whether or not to take things to the next level. Al B. Sure’s breakout hit ‘Nite and Day’ becomes a meditative look at love and longing. Hits by Sade and George Clinton are linked together behind an all too familiar lyrical theme: Betrayal. ‘Atomic Dog’ is given a down home, funky, Americana treatment but still manages to be down home funky, while ‘Smooth Operator’ sounds like a long lost soundtrack cut from a romantic drama. Tina Turner’s ‘Private Dancer’ become a waltz – and a strip club dancer’s lament. ‘Waterfalls’, TLC’s signature hit, is given an angelic, Zen-arrangement while still retaining the song’s cautionary message. Meshell has done revamped covers on previous albums, but to devote an entire album to it – and make it sound so remarkably vibrant – shows an artist and arranger at the height of her powers. Ventriloquism by Meshell Ndegeocello is available through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
Things Have Changed by Bettye LaVette. Though she’s been making records since the early 60s, Bettye LaVette has never made an album featuring the works of one songwriter. Even more incredible is that the Grammy nominated singer hasn’t been on a major label since 1982. Until now. Teaming up with producer Steve Jordan, LaVette’s first album for Verve exclusively features the songs of Bob Dylan but this isn’t your down by the numbers covers album. Recorded in just three sessions with a band of studio mercenaries (Jordan on drums, long time Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell and Leon Pendarvis on keyboards) and a couple of famous friends (Keith Richards and Trombone Shorty), LaVette takes Dylan – classic and deep tracks a and musically shape shifts them into entirely new songs. The title track is a world weary, apocalyptic view of a post 45-America, while ‘Political World’ is giving a Meters arrangement as LaVette goes chapter and verse on just how screwed up things are. ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ and ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ and ‘Emotionally Yours’ are retro-fitted as classic, urgent bare bones soul, while ‘Seeing The Real You At Last’ becomes a biting feminist take on a relationship gone bad. The Swamp rock/funk drenched ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ and ‘Do Right To Me Baby are transformed into matter of fact declarations to the #MAGA supporters. There’s also tributes within the tribute: ‘What Was It You Wanted’ is a nod to her late friend and fellow Detroit native Marvin Gaye peppered with a sly nod to ‘Inner City Blues’. LaVette overhauls ‘Mama, You Been On My Mind’ from a lost lover lament to a powerful elegy for her late mother. Americana overtones fuel ‘Going Going Gone’, and the haunting ‘Ain’t Talking’ has LaVette pulling out all of the dramatic stops with a crushing string section. She’s been around the musical block more than once, and to the abyss and back, but with this album, we are seeing a stirring and exciting new chapter. Things Have Changed by Bettye LaVette is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
Harry Hard On by Allan Rayman. Even after two critically acclaimed full length albums and sold out shows throughout North America and Europe, Allan Rayman remains an enigma. He’s scant on details on his personal life and outside of basic show announcements and release dates, his social media presence is vague at best. For his third album, Rayman teams with producer Andrew Dawson and ventures more into industrial music but still manages to blend it in with bits of R&B, blues and alt-rock. Lyrically, Rayman mirrors the frayed edges of a love affair and the relationship between the fan and artist, showing the thin line between adoration to dangerous obsession. It’s music that dark and mysterious but incredibly accessible at the same time. Harry Hard On by Allan Rayman is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
Please Don’t Be Dead by Fantastic Negrito. The 2nd album by the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter builds on the blues/gospel sound and adds a heavy dose of funk, soul and hard rock to the mix, at times stomping along like Zeppelin as it does Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. It also offers songs that serve to inspire and encourage during this frantic, difficult times. The defiant ‘A Letter To Fear’ speaks to fear in the first person and put its on notice that its in for a fight. The Sly meets Funkadelic closer ‘Bullsh*t Anthem’ has a hook that is straight and to the point: ‘Take that bullsh*t and turn into good sh*t’. With its bloozy guitars, Sunday morning organs and now trademark husky growls and moans, Fantastic Negrito has put together a follow-up that will easily dismiss any fears of the sophomore jinx. Please Don’t Be Dead by Fantastic Negrito is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music streaming services.
Here Today by Alicia Hall Moran. The 2nd album by this multi-dimensional mezzo-soprano is a genre-bending suite that features everything from a mind blowing operatic mash up of Stevie Wonder and Bizet’s Carmen (‘Signed Sealed Delivered) to new spins on classic material made famous by Nina Simone (‘Feeling Good’) and Billie Holliday (‘God Bless The Child’). The rest of the material puts Moran’s talents as a singer, songwriter and producer on full display as well, running the gamut from jazz, classical, pop, avant-garde, all to an astonishing effect. With contributions from a number of collaborators including husband (and monster pianist Jason Moran) and the band Harriet Tubman), it connects that past with the present, speaking of the times, yet transcending them. Here Today by Alicia Hall Moran is available exclusively through Bandcamp. You can also go to www.aliciahallmoran.com for more information.
Heaven And Earth by Kamasi Washington. The eagerly awaited full length follow up to The Epic is slightly smaller in scale in terms of length (Two discs as opposed to three), but is nevertheless just as ambitious in scale. It runs the gamut from hard bop, funk, fusion, Latin, and all points in between, honoring and adding on the musical legacies established by Miles, Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, and other jazz legends. As a tenor saxophonist, bandleader and composer, Washington – anchoring an excellent core of musicians appropriately named Next Step – are on fire from start to finish. This is music for the soul, a calming balm for turbulent times. It’s as good as it gets. Heaven And Earth is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
The Villianess by Militia Vox. The long awaited debut solo album by former Swear On Your Life and current Judas Priestess lead vocalist is a middle finger to the current glut of pop princesses currently saturating the market. Produced by Mike Wolpe, Militia takes you on a dark, dense, heavy ride that features witches, nyctophiliacs, and all those living out on the edge and in the shadows. It’s female exitsential angst at its finest, all driven by heavy, relentless guitars and rich, cinematic soundscapes that recall Nine Inch Nails and Siouxsie & The Banshees best work. Sounding like a soundtrack for all of the outcasts and castoffs, Miltia has put together an album that put her where she belongs: Among one of the best hard rock/metal’s best vocalists working today. The Villianess by Militia Vox is available now through www.militiavox.bandcamp.com.
May To May by Helen Crimmins. This past spring, Helen Crimmins – still mourning the death of her husband Barry – began to sort through over 6,000 photos that she took of the comedic great and those in his orbit. Over the next few months, she was able to get it down to under 300 and have friends such as Bobcat Goldthwait, Steven Wright, Tim Kazurinsky, Neko Case and Mike Donovan write captions and remembrances. It captures Barry Crimmins on stage and in private moments that’s done with candor, warmth and, of course, love. It’s a loving elegy for one of the most influential and important comics of our time. May To May by Helen Crimmins is available exclusively through www.helencrimmins.com.
Homey Don’t Play That! The Story Of In Living Color and The Black Comedy Revolution by David Peisner. Launched in the spring of 1990, In Living Color broke new ground as a prime time sketch comedy series with a predominately Black cast. Created by Keenan Ivory Wayans, the show put urban street humor back into TV, running as a direct counter to more upscale Black comedy shows such as The Cosby Show. The show also served as a launch pad for the careers of Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, Rosie Perez, Jennifer Lopez, Tommy Davidson, David Alan Grier and Keenan’s brothers Damon, Marlon and Shawn. In Living Color was also one of the few shows that recognized hip hop and R&B’s growing influence on pop culture, with Tupac Shakur, Mary J. Blige, Public Enemy, Heavy D, among others serving a musical guests. In this new book, David Peisner has exclusive interviews with cast members, writers, producers, network executives to show how the series overcame enormous odds to become successful, and how its effects on the comedic landscape are still being felt today. The book also details how the show’s now legendary live Super Bowl Sunday special – devised as a direct counter programming alternative to the Big Game’s then-uneventful halftime presentation – forced network executives and the NFL to present a more eventual show between halves of the Big Game. Peisner also dives into the backstage battles over content and departures of key cast members ultimately led to the show’s demise after only four years. Loaded with great stories and insights, Peisner has put together a loving requiem for one of TV comedy’s greatest shows. Homey Don’t Play That! by David Peisner is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
My Mother. Barak Obama. Donald Trump. And The Last Stand Of The Angry White Man by Kevin Powell. The latest from the acclaimed author and activist, looks at how Barack Obama’s Presidency and the election of Donald Trump have all reflected America’s past, present and how it will shape the nation’s future. Spread over 13 essays, Powell tackles a number of issues including the rash of mass shootings, the #MeToo movement, the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, racially motivated murders, the huge gap between the haves and have-nots, to show just have far things have escalated since the nation elected its first Black President. Weaving in brutally honest stories about life in America, along with stories about his own complicated relationship with his mother, Powell puts the mirror on all of us to show not only who we are, but offers powerful insight on who we can be. Told with candor, bluntness, but also with compassion, Powell has once again put together a narrative that stands alongside some of this best work. My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And The Last Stand Of The Angry White Man by Kevin Powell is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and all major book retailers.
Spy Of The First Person by Sam Shepard. The final work by the Pulitzer Prize-wining playwright, author, actor and music draws from his own personal experiences with battling the condition that would ultimately take his life. It tells the story of an unnamed narrator recalling his life as he undergoes treatment fro an unnamed medical condition. His illness also means he must depend on those love him to care for him. The journey takes us everywhere from a condemned building in New York’s Avenue C to the blue, clear waters surrounding Alcatraz; a border town in New Mexico to a renowned clinic in Arizona – all told with clarity, immediacy and power. Work and adventure underscore it all, with themes centering on immigration, community, trust, the wonders of inclusion and the destructiveness of exclusion. Family and nature are the book’s central themes – warm celebrations of those he loved and a deep admiration of the natural world around him. Shepard’s sisters and long time friend Patti Smith had a huge assist in helping him finish the work, and the care and devotion leaps across every page. Powerful, moving and distinctively Sam Shepard, it’s a fitting farewell to a true iconoclast. Spy Of The First Person is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
Caddyshack: The Making Of A Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty. Now considered one of the greatest and most influential comedies of all-time, Caddyshack launched the directorial career of Harold Ramis, turned Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray into bankable movie stars, and solidified the star status of Ted Knight and Chevy Chase. But in this new book by Entertainment Weekly film critic Chris Nashawaty, no one thought a culture clash comedy set on a country club golf course was going to be anything special. In fact, the film’s writers and studio executives thought the film would bomb. Nashawaty goes behind the scenes covering everything from the writing of the film (which was inspired by Ramis’ and Brian Doyle-Murray’s days working as caddies), its contentious, drug-fueled, ego-driven production (highlighted by a hurricane, tension between Murray and Chase, and a lot of cocaine), script revisions and how some of the improv done by Murray and Chase ended up in the final cut. The book also provides a requiem for co-writer (and National Lampoon co-founder) Doug Kenney, who passed away before seeing the film become a box office hit. Packed with great stories and insight, it’s a loving look back at a comedy classic. Caddyshack: The Making Of A Hollywood Cinderella Story is available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
Room To Dream by David Lynch & Kristine McKenna. The iconic director, musician and painter teams up with long time friend & L.A. Times writer Kristine McKenna for a new book that is both biography and memoir. It features Lynch and over 100 new interviews with former wives, family members, actors, agents, musicians and colleagues discussing the creative approach and process that lead to such classics as Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, Mullholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, among others. Closing in at nearly 600 pages, it’s remarkably candid, fascinating and highly entertaining, giving us the most comprehensive look of David Lynch to date. A must read for any fan of Lynch and of film. Room To Dream by David Lynch & Kristine McKenna is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and all major book retailers.
The Flame: Poems, Notebooks, Lyrics & Drawings by Leonard Cohen. When Leonard Cohen passed away in 2016, we lost one of the most respected and revered artists. Fortunately for us, he left us with last burst of his creative genius. The Flame features some of his final poems, lyrics, hand-drawn self portraits and excerpts from his private notebooks, giving us and intimate look at one of rock’s greatest treasures. Featuring a forward by his son Adam, it’s a moving coda to life well lived. The Flame: Poems, Notebooks, Lyrics & Drawings by Leonard Cohen is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all major book retailers.
Contact High: A Visual History Of Hip Hop by Vikki Toback. As hip hop went from block parties, rec centers and clubs to concert halls, theaters and arenas, a number of photographers were there to capture its ascendency. Journalist Vikki Toback collects over 100 master shots and outtakes to take us on a visual walk through of 45 years of a global phenomenon. From old school to alternative, analog to digital, Toback treats the contact sheets as diaries with essays by Fab 5 Freddy, Rhea L. Combs, DJ Premier, RZA, Bill Adler, Michael Gonzales, and Young Guru, among others to give proper context. It’s the perfect companion piece for those who love music and photography. Contact High: A Visual History Of Hip Hop by Vikki Toback is available now through all major book retailers .
Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle. Ahead of Monty Python’s 50th Anniversary in 2019, co-founder Eric Idle has released a new memoir that looks back at their career and seismic impact on the worlds of comedy, television, theater and film. Idle also recalls how Python’s acendency came at the same time there was a cultural shift happening on both sides of the Atlantic, with Idle establishing life long friends with George Harrison, David Bowie, Robin Williams, Mike Nichols, Steve Martin, Mick Jagger, and Lorne Michaels, among others. Told with his trademark wit and humor, Idle captures this incrediblly fertile moment in history that will make you laugh as much as it informs. Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz. Four years after the passing of Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, the surviving members of the Beastie Boys tell their story about a group of white city kids who loved hip hip ended up becoming one of the most beloved bands ever. Spread out over 500 pages, they discuss their formative years as a hardcore band playing at such iconic venues as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City; the eventual transition into hip hop; how the release of Licensed To Ill turned into global superstars – and a lightning rod for controversy; the messy fallout from leaving Def Jam and producer Rick Rubin; re-locating to L.A and making the groundbreaking Paul’s Boutique; how the group evolved as a band making Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty; and how the Beasties shifted from a mind boy mindset to being more socially conscious and politically active. There’s also a ton of rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook by chef (and major Beastie Boys fan) Roy Choi’s a graphic novel, a map of some of the favorites New York City haunts, and essays by Amy Poehler, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Colsen Whitehead, Luc Sante and much more. It’s as much of a love letter to their fallen band mate – and to New York City – as it is a band retrospective. Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
David Bowie Book Club. In addition to be a musician, producer, actor, artist and all around bad ass, David Bowie was also an avid reader. Now his son Duncan has launched an online book club that will cover 100 of The Thin White Duke’s all time favorites. It kicked off this month with Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Hawksmoor’ with Jones announcing a new title at the beginning of each month. It’s a chance to get caught up on some great literature and get a peak into the mind of what fueled Bowie’s artistic side. You can go to www.davidbowie.com or follow Duncan Jones on Twitter at @ManMadeMoon for more information.