The Best of Filtered Excellence 2019

Bob Geldof once asked us, “Where is the filtered excellence!?” It’s right here. Once a week we take a break from comedy to bring you this week’s picks of the best things to watch, the most interesting things to do, great things to try, the best picks to read, our favorite things to listen to and more.


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When They See Us. On April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili was brutally raped and assaulted while jogging in Central Park. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise were arrested, tried and convicted in a case that came to symbolize a city caught in the grips of rampant crime and heightened racial tensions. There was only one problem: They were innocent. Ava DuVernay (Selema, The 13th) directs this four part limited Netflix series that looks back at this critical moment in New York City history largely through the prism of the falsely accused. She captures how a springtime excursion into the park turned into a 25 year legal nightmare for five young men, and the lingering effects it had on them and their families. It also points out how this case put into motion many of the policies – and the people behind them – a forum that’s still being played out today. DuVernay – with a huge assist from cinematographer Bradford Young – assembles an exceptional cast that includes newcomers and veteran actors such as Vera Farminga, John Legiuziamo, Blair Underwood, Michael K. Williams, and, ripe with irony, Felicity Huffman as one of the prosecutors, to tell a gripping story of justice that was long delayed and denied. One of the year’s best from one of our best filmmakers. When They See Us is available now on Netflix.

Quincy. Rashida Jones co-directed to this extraordinary documentary dedicated to her father – legendary musician, producer, and humanitarian, Quincy Jones. It covers every facet of his life – from his troubled childhood in Chicago and Seattle; joining Lionel Hampton’s band when he was barely out of his teens; moving to Paris to study music composition; his ‘day job’ as Vice President of Mercury Records; his ascension as an in-demand composer for films, TV; to become a hit making producer from jazz, R&B and hip for some of the music’s greatest entertainers. It also dives into how his intense work ethic affected his home life; his complicated relationship with his mentally ill mother and overcoming a number of serious health scares. It wouldn’t be a Quincy Jones doc without the music and there’s plenty of it, with stories by Jones and a number of the best entertainers of the 20th and 21st Century. Told with candor, warmth, introspective and love, Rashida Jones has put together the ultimate portrait of an entertainment iconoclast. Quincy is available now on Netflix.

King In The Wilderness. This Peter Kunhardt-directed documentary first aired last spring to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Now HBO is re-airing the film as part of the King national holiday. It looks back how King, in the last 18 months of his life, made the transition from civil rights to economic justice – anchored by a dramatic speech denouncing the war in Vietnam. It irreparably fractured the relationship between King and President Johnson and almost overnight, King lost support across the board. But it also shows how despite such blistering media attacks, death threats, mental and physical fatigue, King remained true to his convictions, with such speeches as ‘Beyond Vietnam’ and ‘I’ve Been To The Mountaintop’ now the stuff of legend. With remembrances from family, friends, key allies, coupled a wealth of archival material, Kunhardt has put together a moving tribute to one of the world’s greatest citizens. King In The Wilderness is available on HBO On Demand and HBO Now. You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.

Breslin & Hamill: Deadline Artists. This new HBO documentary co-directed by former Newsweek editor/columnist Jonathan Alter looks back at the careers and friendship between newspaper columnists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill. It examines how two guys from working-class New York City neighborhoods forever changed journalism, despite having no formal training or college degrees. Hamill and actor Michael Rispoli (The Deuce) also read portions of the duo’s seminal pieces on the Kennedy assassinations, the subway shooter Bernhard Goetz; The Son of Sam case; the AIDS crisis, the Crown Heights and Central Park Jogger cases and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The doc also covers how their personal lives intertwined with their work: For Hamill, how his battle with alcoholism became the basis of his book, A Drinking Life. With Breslin, it was his response to the deaths of his first wife and his two daughters. With appearances from family members, contemporaries (including Tom Wolfe, Gay Talise, Mike Lupica, Garry Trudeau), famous fans (Spike Lee, Colin Quinn) and politicos (Gloria Steinem, Andrew Cuomo), this is a fitting tribute to two literary giants. Breslin & Hamill: Deadline Artists is available now on HBO, HBO Now and HBO Go. You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.

Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me. During his 20 year recording career, Teddy Pendergrass had five consecutive platinum albums, headlined legendary ‘for ladies only’ shows and was considered ‘the Black Elvis’. But in the pantheon of all time great soul/R&B singers, he is, at best, glossed over, at worse, forgotten. Now, nearly 10 years after his death, Teddy Pendergrass’ life, career and legacy gets a much deserved spotlight in this Showtime documentary from director/producer Olivia Lichtenstein and Executive Produced by Pendergrass’ former manager Shep Gordon (Supermench). It shows how he went from singing in church and playing drums in local bands, to turning Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes from fledging local act to a national sensations – all by the time he turned 21. The film also covers the details behind his departure from the Blue Notes and how he was able to launch a massively solo career without the benefit of having a ‘crossover’ hit. Finally, the doc covers the car crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down, his three year absence from the public eye and his emotional return to the stage at Live Aid in Philadelphia. Lichtenstein keeps the pace moving steadily with an array of archival clips, rare concert footage and remembrances from those who were directly in Pendergrass’ inner circle. There’s also, of course, a ton of great classic songs from the entire Pendergrass canon. It’s a long overdue salute to one of the soul/R&B’s greatest ambassadors. Go to www.sho.com for more information.

Leaving Neverland. When Dan Reed’s four hour Michael Jackson documentary screened at Sundance, it was widely reported that the audience left in a state of shock. The Jackson estate immediately slammed the film as ‘the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, now in death’. Now the public will get a chance to make up its own mind as the doc debuts on HBO this weekend. The first half centers James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who were both befriended by Jackson when they were children, and, as they claim, endured sustained abuse while staying at the Neverland ranch. Though they were a few years apart, and from different parts of the world, their stories share a familiar pattern: from childlike playing to sexual advances, long lectures about not trusting your parents and women; and to disclose what was happening in the series of tucked away bedrooms and secret rooms. The second half covers the 1993 case against Jackson by 13 year old Jordan Chandler, and despite what they claimed happened to them later on, felt the need to defend Jackson. The trial’s outcome, according to Safechuck and Robson, triggered various PTSD symptoms, which they are still navigating through, even though they are now married with children. There’s a lot to absorb here: the psychological aftermath of abuse, how brushes with celebrity can skew your moral compass and the complexities behind loving someone who is also hurting you. Reed clearly chooses a side here, but still manages to leave enough room for the audience to make up its own mind. It’s a documentary that will continue to fuel the discussion on sexual abuse. Go to www.hbo.com for more information.

After Life. Ricky Gervais created, directed and stars in this Netflix series about trying to move on after a life-altering event. He plays Tony, a local newspaper writer whose perfect life is turned upside down after his wife suddenly dies. Unable to cope, Tony strongly considers killing himself. Instead, he decides to punish everyone and everything around him by literally say and do whatever he wants. But while Tony feels empowered by this newfound freedom, he isn’t prepared for when everyone in his orbit feels compelled to help become a better person again. As with his previous series, Gervais walks the line between drama and comedy, finding laughs even in the most mundane and dire situations. It’s another winner from one of the top names in comedy. After Life is available on Netflix.

Fosse/Verdon. Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams star in this limited FX series that explores the five decade relationship between director/choreographer Bob Fosse and dancer/actress Gwen Verdon. Executive produced by Thomas Kali (Hamilton), Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) and Lin-Manuel Miranda, it tells the story of how Verdon and Fosse transformed American entertainment through such classics such as Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, New Girl In Town, Cabaret, and All That Jazz. It also goes in depth on how Fosse used sex, drugs and alcohol to fuel his creativity, while Verdon deftly managed a marriage, motherhood and a successful career – all while dealing with an industry that marginalized women and was obsessed with youth. Williams is absolutely electric as Verdon, capturing all of her mannerisms, nuances and faithfully re-creating some of Verdon’s show-stopping routines. Rockwell goes all in as the womanizing, pill popping, chain-smoking, yet obsessively driven Fosse. Together, they have undeniable on-screen chemistry and both are in peak form. By jumping cutting through various periods in their lives, Kali and Levenson have together a series that has the energy and the flow of a Fosse musical, but still carries the dramatic anchor that would be seen in such Fosse-directed dramas such as Lenny and Star 80. With great dance sequences, skillful direction and two incredible leads, don’t be surprised if this series will be making big noise during awards season. Go to www.fxnetworks.com for more information.

Echo In The Canyon. Former music executive, producer and manager Andrew Slater teamed up with Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan to produce this new documentary about a pivotal moment in pop music history. It looks back at how, in the mid 60s, artists such as Brian Wilson, The Byrds, The Mamas and Papas, Buffalo Springfield and others formed a musical community in Laurel Canyon that wound up transforming the L.A. – and global – music scene forever. The doc also features one of the last filmed interviews with Tom Petty, who, surrounded by vintage guitars waxes poetic about the artists who played a crucial role in his artistic development. In addition to Dylan speaking with some of these artists from that era, he also teams up with Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Beck, Cat Power and Norah Jones to re-create some of the iconic hits from that period on stage and in the studio. These performances are outstanding along with stories from Michelle Phillips, Lou Adler, Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and others who made the scene sparkle. Loaded with great music, Slater and Dylan have put together a dynamic look back at a movement whose ripple effects are still being felt today. Echo In The Canyon is available now on Netflix. You can also go to www.echointhecanyon.com for more information.

Marianne & Leonard: Words Of Love. The latest from director Nick Broomfield (Whitney: Can I Be Me, Kurt & Courtney) looks at the decades long relationship between Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihien. Using footage shot by Broomfield and the late D.A. Pennebacker, it tells the story of how Cohen, then a struggling fiction writer, met Ihien, a single mother on the Greek island Of Hydra and became part of a community of creatives that would set the template for 1960s Bohemia. Their love affair would be the basis of some of Cohen’s greatest work including ‘So Long, Marianne’ and ‘Bird On A Wire’. But even as Cohen’s emergence as a songwriter and performer would ultimately end their relationship, the affection they had for each other would last until their deaths (just 3 months apart) in 2016. The footage that Broomfield assembles – some of which includes Cohen and Ihein as young lovers to their respective final days – is simply breathtaking. There’s also great audio clips from Ihien and Cohen providing first hand accounts on what was happening during this remarkable period in their lives, along with remembrances from family, friends and contemporaries. Bittersweet, yet uplifting, Broomfield has put together a film about one of music’s greatest love stories. You can also go to www.marianneandleonardwordsoflove.com for more information.

Last Black Man In San Francisco. Strong word of mouth about writer-director Joe Talbot’s debut feature has kept it in the awards season conversation and for good reason: It’s one of the year’s best films. It tells the story of two friends Jimmie (Jimmie Fails), a part time hospice worker and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), an aspiring illustrator/playwright. Jimmie is a part time hospice worker and skate rat, while Montgomery is an aspiring illustrator and playwright. When they are not watching classic movies with Montgomery’s grandfather (Danny Glover), Jimmie still paints the window panes of the Victorian house where he grew up in – much to the displeasure of the current owners. When a legal battle leaves the house unoccupied, Jimmie and Montgomery move back in, even going as far as moving in the furniture from Jimmie’s youth. But both know that this temporary utopia won’t last, leaving them to make choices that will change their lives changed forever. Loosely based on Fails’ real life experiences, Talbot has put together a film that works as an ode to friendship, the devastating effects of gentrification, the lingering pain of a fractured family dynamics and – thanks to Adam Newport-Berra’s stunning cinematography – a love letter to San Francisco. Relative newcomers Fails and Majors are fantastic as the two lifelong friends, while veterans such as Danny Glover and Tinchina Arnold help give the emotional weight of the film much more weight. It’s a work that should make the rounds during awards season. You can also go to www.a24films.com for more information.

The Righteous Gemstones. Danny McBride created, wrote, directed and stars in this new HBO series that takes dead aim at the world of televangelism. He plays Jesse Gemstone, the oldest son of world famous ministerial family that’s led by his father Eli (John Goodman). Jesse is looking to make the show more accessible to a modern audience, but has to contend with his sister Judy (Edi Patterson), younger brother Kelvin (Adam Devine) and outside forces looking to bring down the family empire. As he’s done with Eastbound & Down and Vice-Presidents, McBride loads the show with there’s plenty of pointed, dark humor without insulting the spiritual aspects involved with religion. It’s another winner from the McBride camp. The Righteous Gemstones premieres Sunday, August 18th at 10pm East on HBO. You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice. With a voice that could effortlessly sing everything from rock, pop, and country, to standards, opera and Mexican canciones, Linda Ronstadt remained a formidable presence on the music scene for over three decades. Sadly, illness forced Ronstadt to retire from singing, but her impact is still being felt today. This new documentary from Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman looks back at her extraordinary career, covering her formative years singing Mexican songs with her family, to her breakthrough as the lead singer of The Stone Ponys, through the launch of a solo career that included a streak of five consecutive platinum albums. The doc also covers her struggles to be taken seriously as a woman in a male-dominated industry, her fierce advocacy for human rights, her high profile romance with California Governor Jerry Brown, and how her battles to make musical shapeshifts opened the doors for the next generation of women performers. With narration by Ronstadt and contributions from such luminaries as David Geffen, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Epstein and Friedman have put together a dynamic salute to one of music’s greatest vocalists. You can also go to www.LindaRonstadtMovie.com for more information.

Dolomite Is My Name. Eddie Murphy makes a triumphant return as comedian turned blaxploitation film star Rudy Ray Moore in this new Netflix film. Directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), it tells the story of how Moore, a struggling comic who spend his days working at a record store, reinvents himself as Dolomite, a pimp who would recite raunchy, sexually explicit rhymes backed by jazz and R&B musicians. The film shows Moore’s attempts to broaden his appeal by bringing the Dolomite character to the big screen – despite having no previous acting experience, a limited budget, and a film crew that’s made up primarily of his friends and students barley out of film school. This has been Murphy’s passion project for nearly two decades, and his love and respect for Moore practically leaps off the screen. This isn’t just a comeback for Murphy, it’s also one for Brewer, Wesley Snipes as character actor turned exasperated director D’Urville Martin. There’s also strong support from Craig Robinson as singer Ben Taylor (who also does his own singing), Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Kay (of Keegan and Peele fame) and a breakout role for Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Moore’s protege and co-star Lady Reed. Raunchy, rowdy, yet highly inspiring, R-Rated Eddie is back and he’s never been better. Dolomite Is My Name is available now on Netflix.

The Irishman. After a limited run in select theaters, Martin Scorsese’s big screen adaptation of Charles Brandt’s book, I Heard You Paint Houses, is out on Netflix. It tells the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro), a World War II combat veteran who went from driving delivery trucks to being a hit man for Philly mob capo Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). His connection to Buffino gets the attention of mob boss Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel), who, in turn, makes him the right hand man to Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). With Sheenan as mob-backed muscle, Hoffa transforms the Teamsters into the nation’s most formidable union, with over a million members. But it also puts him in the crosshairs of the Kennedys – particularly new Attorney General Bobby Kennedy – and rival mob and union factions. All these issues come to a head, leading to a number of betrayals that would have long standing effects for everyone involved. Everyone brings their A game this project: Scorsese – working with his long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and re-teaming with recent collaborators Rodrigo Prieto (cinematography) and screenwriter Steven Zaillian – shows how the American labor movement of the 50s and 60s, Kennedy’s election, the failed The Bay Of Pigs invasion, JFK’s assassination, and even the Watergate break in, directly and indirectly was Mafia connected. It also puts to rest that Scorsese’s previous mob films (Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino) glorified their lifestyle. There’s a price to be paid and we see it all in painstaking detail. It re-contextualizes the gangster movie the same way Unforgivendid for the American Western. The three principal characters – DeNiro, Pesci and Pacino – all put in career capping, if not, career defining performances. Special attention has to be paid to Pesci, who, after putting in broad, outwardly expressive performances in Goodfellas and Casino, brings a subtle, almost hushed tone as Bufalino. By dialing it all the way down, Pesci makes his portrayal of Bufalino, the most dangerous character he’s ever played. Don’t let the 3 and a half hour running time deter you – this film pulls you in from jump and you don’t want it to end. If this doesn’t dominate the awards season, something is really wrong with the state of cinema. Far and away the year’s best film. The Irishman is available now on Netflix.

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Don’t Tread On We! by The 1865. Formed in 2017 by musician/filmmaker Sacha Jennings (The White Mandingos, The Wilding Incident), indie shoegaze icon Carolyn ‘Honeychild’ Coleman (guitars, vocals), noted session musician/Pro-skateboarder Chuck Treece (McRad) on drums, The 1865 describe themselves as ‘Bad Brains meets Foo Fighters in a black woman’s hair salon for a cup of tea’. The group would later added bassist Flora Lucini (Maafa) and drummer Jason ‘Biz’ Lucas (Dragons Of Zynth) to deliver a blistering 35 minute set capturing punk’s raw energy with lyrics that connects the plight of Blacks after the Civil War with what is happening today. Ripe with attitude and aggression, this is much needed rock n roll record for the times. Don’t Tread On We by The 1865 is available now on all major music digital platforms.

Feral Roots by Rival Sons. The 6th album by this Long Beach, California Band continues a white hot streak of greatness that began nearly a decade ago. Produced once again by Dave Cobb, this four quartet deliver another another solid set of blues-based hard rock with flourishes of country, bluegrass and gospel. Vocalist Jay Buchanan is a premier vocalist with a delivery that puts him in the same category with some of rock’s greatest frontmen. Scott Holiday is just as formidable effortlessly moving between blistering leads, explosive power chords, greasy slide, and rich acoustic textures. Every great rock band has a powerful rhythm sedition and Mike Miley (drums) and Dave Beste (bass) are as good as anyone out there. Simply put, this is a good old fashioned, no frills, rock n roll record. Feral Roots by Rival Sons is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music streaming services. You can also go to www.rivalsons.com for more information.

Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen. Using the wide open spaces of California as a base and metaphor, Springsteen channels the Southern California-based pop made popular by Glen Campbell, Burt Bacharach, along the sweeping orchestral sounds of Roy Orbison to an astonishing effect. Working once again with producer Ron Anielllo, Springsteen unveils a 13 song suite about fractured love, drifters, fading C-list actors, brittle stuntmen, weekend roadhouses and rundown motels. While the album captures the scope and textures of those classic 70s recordings, it’s unmistakably Springsteen, who not only sounds great vocally, but hits another peak as a songwriter. A magnificent work that demands to be heard in full. Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo. The eagerly awaited debut album by the singer/songwriter/flutist is a lean, mean, all killer, no filler celebration of self-love, awareness and acceptance. Coming off like the love child of Prince, Mille Jackson who was raised by Auntie Missy Elliot (who also appears on one track), Lizzo fuses soul, gospel, funk and hip hop into a musical stew that is decidedly her own. Sassy, brassy, bawdy yet always insightful and straight up fun, this is an album that clocks in just over 30 minutes but leaves begging for more. Cuz I Love You by Lizzo is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Walk Through Fire by Yola. After stints as a featured vocalist for Massive Attack and Bugz In The Attic, and fronting the band Phantom Limb, singer-songwriter Yola has stepped out to release her first full length solo album. Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach produced the set with assistance from some of Nashville’s best session pros such as Vince Gill, Dan Penn and Pat McLaughlin. It continues the Bristol-native’s love for American roots music, wonderfully weaving in country, soul, gospel and blues to an astonishing effect. Auerbach surrounds Yola with production that recalls meshes together classic Brill Building and the sweeping orchestrations that were best used on iconic tracks by Dusty Springfield, Candi Staton, Bobbie Gentry. Tracks such ‘Faraway Love’, ‘Ride Out In The Country’ and ‘Lonely The Night’ will simply reduce you to mist. No longer the industry’s best kept secret, this album marks the arrival of the next music’s next major voice. Walk Through The Fire by Yola is available now through Amazon, Itunes, and all major music retailers.

Tales Of America by J.S. Ondara. As a teenager, the Nigerian-born Ondara was listening to bands like Nirvana, Oasis and Guns N’ Roses. But when a discussion about Guns’ cover of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ introduced him to the music of Bob Dylan, it became a transformative moment. Ondara re-located to Dylan’s home state of Minnesota, and aggressively pursued a career in music. Now 26, Ondara has just released his debut album, which looks at the American experience through an immigrant’s eyes. Vocally, Ondara channels the spirit of early Dylan, Odetta, and Richie Havens with lyrics that are both defiant as much as they are poignant. No frills in presentation but no less powerful. Tales Of America by J.S. Ondara is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.

The Prophet Speaks by Van Morrison. He’s been recording and performing for over 50 years, but Van Morrison is still on a touring and recording schedule as if it were still the 1970s. For his 40th album (and fifth album since 2016), Morrison and his band – guitarist Dan Wilson, Michael Ode on drums, and tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts – once again pair up organist/trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco to deliver a collection of six new originals and remakes of classic songs by Sam Cooke (Laughin and Clowin’,) John Lee Hooker (‘Dimples’), Willie Dixon (I Love The Life I Live’) and Solomon Burke (‘Gotta Get You Off My Mind’). The new songs stand alongside these classics quite well with ‘Got To Go Where The Love Is’ an album standout. Backed by a killer combo, Morrison is clearly having a blast, as evidence by freewheeling, relaxed vibe. In paying tribute to his heroes and still delivering outstanding new songs, Morrison has also proved once again that his name stands alongside his musical mentors. The Prophet Speaks by Van Morrison is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.

On The Line – Jenny Lewis. The phrase ‘been there, done that’ was tailor made for Jenny Lewis. The Southern California native has been a child film star, led the band Rilo Kiley, branched out as a solo artist and has weathered fractured family relationships and the ending of a long term relationship. Lewis channels all of these experiences and more on her outstanding new solo album. She’s joined by a A-list crew of collaborators – Benmont Tench, Don Was, Beck, Ryan Adams, Jim Keltner, and RIngo Starr for tracks that go from lo-fi to grandiose with biting detail and relative ease. The sound runs from Laurel Canyon introspection, SoCal rockers to playful funk, all anchored by Lewis’ rich vocals and insightful songwriting. Lewis has always drawn comparisons to other great singer-songwriters such as Emmylou Harris and Aimee Mann. With this album, she now stands as an equal. On The Line by Jenny Lewis is available now on Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services. You can also go to www.jennylewis.com for tour dates and more information.

Summer of Sorcery by Little Steven. After revisiting his own back catalog with Soulfire, Little Steven pays tribute to the music that informed and influenced him with his latest album, Summer Of Sorcery. Steven dials down the political edge and autobiographical nature of his previous work, but the album is still loaded with the garage rock, soul, Spector-style pop, Latin music and horn-driven R&B turned on an entire generation of Jersey Shore kids in the 1960s and 70s. Steven’s encyclopedic approach to capturing the sound and feel of this period is firing on all cylinders channeling all of the feelings one had of experiencing all of those memorable life experiences for the first time. It’s the perfect music suite to fuel your summer. Summer Of Sorcery by Little Steven is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.

We Get By by Mavis Staples. The legendary gospel/soul icon continues her hot streak of releases with her latest album. This time, she teams up with Ben Harper, who wrote the album specifically with her mind. Though many of the songs stay on Staples’ never ending call for justice and equality, there’s also a hushed, meditative tone throughout, feeling more like a late night sitting than an out and out call to hit the streets. Staples will turn 80 this year, but she still has a vocal power, fire and a passion than any of her younger contemporaries. It’s yet another winner from one of the greatest to ever grace the microphone. We Get By by Mavis Staples is available through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.

Black Pumas by Black Pumas. After taking the Austin music scene by storm – including winning the Best New Band award at this year’s Austin Music Awards, Black Pumas have released the eagerly awaited self-titled debut album. Comprised of guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada and singer-songwriter Eric Burton, they marry vintage 60s/70s soul with hints of psychedelia, Laurel Canyon acoustic soul and splashes of Curtis Mayfield and Ennio Morricone-style orchestration to complete the stew. Burton, an L.A native who busked his way to Austin, combines the ache of Otis Redding with the urgency of David Ruffin that immediate puts him within the ranks of those great soul men. He’s the real deal. Quesada, whose already has a solid reputation for his work with Grupo Frantasma and Brownout, has reached a new level of excellence as a performer, arranger and producer. A dynamic debut that begs for multiple listens. Black Pumas is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Red, Gold, Green & Blue. Zak Starkey is best known for being the son of Ringo Starr and the longest tenured drummer for The Who. Despite having such an extensive rock pedigree, Starkey also has a deep love for reggae. Now he’s partnered up with his SSHH band mate Shark ‘Sshh’ Liguz to from Trojan Records and their first release covers the best of both worlds. With the legendary rhythm section Sly & Robbie as an anchor, this new compilation features some of all-time great reggae artists (Toots & The Maytals, Freddie McGregor, Mykal Rose of Black Uhuru, and Big Youth) along with next gen artists such as Phylea Carey and Andrew Tosh (son of the late Peter Tosh) to cover blues and early rock n roll classics with a reggae spin. Everyone is having a blast with the material, managing to retain the essence of the original while keeping the heavy reggae grooves and rhythms intact. It’s a labor of love that will become the soundtrack to your summer and beyond. Red, Gold, Green & Blue is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Jimmy Lee by Raphael Saadiq. For his first solo album in 8 years, the renowned bassist/songwriter/producer revisits a sensitive and traumatic part of his life: The death of his older brother from a drug overdose. Despite the dark subject matter, Saadiq puts together a powerful song cycle that ranges from 70s era soul, 90s R&B, down home gospel, and spoken word, with a perspective from the addict and those within his orbit. There’s even pointed political commentary showing how men of color with substance abuse issues became part of the criminal justice system rather than receive the necessary medical treatment. After spending the better part of his career as in demand producer, Saadiq proves once again that he’s just as formidable as a musician and frontman, channeling the work of musical heroes such as Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone and Donny Hathaway, without totally lifting their sound. It’s a startling new entry in what has been a Hall Of Fame worthy career. Jimmy Lee by Raphael Saadiq is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Free by Iggy Pop. For his 18th studio album, Iggy Pop manages to make another sly musical detour that both shocks and thrills. Working with jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and guitarist Noveller (Sarah Lipstate), Iggy puts together a song cycle that is rich in moody atmospherics, and lush, jazzy soundscapes designed to be heard in one listen as opposed to cherry picking tracks. There’s also two remarkable spoken word pieces that show his current state as an elder statesman and honors an old friend. ‘We Are The People’ is a 1970 Lou Reed poem that Pop transforms into the State Of The Union Address circa 2019. Then there’s a defiant reading of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ that suggests that Pop isn’t quite ready to hang up his performing shoes just yet. It’s a strong, bold effort from an artist who, 50 years later, continues to make provocative music. Free by Iggy Pop is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming outlets.

Sinematic by Robbie Robertson. For his first album in 8 years, the former Band guitar/songwriter finds himself building upon the work he did working on the forthcoming Martin Scorsese film The Irishman. Rich in atmospheric melodies, Robertson tells stories of gangsters (‘I Hear You Paint Houses’, ‘Shanghai Blues’), the current political climate (‘Hardwired’, ‘Let Love Rain’); and love and lust (‘Walk In A Beauty Way) as only Robertson can, narrating as much as he is singing with a detail that is often found in novels. There’s also two instrumentals (‘Wandering Souls’ and ‘Remembrance’) that quickly reminds you that Robertson, the film composer is still at the top of his game. With guest appearances by Van Morrison, J.S. Ondara, Citizen Cope, Felicity Willams and Glen Hansard, Robertson has crafted a moody, dream-like song cycle that was designed for a late night sitting. Sinematic by Robbie Robertson is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming outlets.

Jaime by Brittany Howard. An extended cross country trip and the death of her sister forms the basis of the first official solo album from the Alabama Shakes frontwoman. It’s a cross collision of sounds ranging from the introspective (‘Short & Sweet’,), soulful (‘Stay High’), fractured gospel (‘He Loves Me’), politically charged(‘13th Century Metal’, ‘Georgia’, ‘Goat Head’) Prince-inspired jams (‘History Repeats’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Baby’) and 80s-flavored operatic shoegaze (‘Run To Me’). While this isn’t the first project that Howard has done away from Alabama Shakes, it’s a work that displays all of her influences and inspirations coming completely to the surface. With this release, we are witnessing an artist at the peak of her creative powers. One of the year’s best. Jaime by Brittany Howard is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Sound & Fury by Sturgill Simpson. For the follow up to his Grammy award winning A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Simpson – as he has done throughout his career – has once again flipped the script. Recorded with his touring band, Simpson produces a set that owes a lot more to groups like Pink Floyd, ZZ Top, and The Cars than it does Merle Haggard and Wayland Jennings. It’s a big, loud, guitar and synth heavy album with lyrics that thumbs its nose its record company execs, and all of the false trappings that comes with success. It’s punk in attitude, outlaw country swagger, but, to the shock of his hardcore country fans, a great rock n roll album. One of the year’s best. Sound & Fury by Sturgill Simpson is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Twilight Animals by Sylvia Black. The latest from the singer/songwriter/bassist/producer continues her noir-infused explorations into the darker side of love with a few new twists. New York City downtown legend Lydia Lunch adds her trademark vocals on four tracks, including hypnotic takes on Van Halen’s ‘Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love’ and the Huey Lewis & The News classic, ‘I Want A New Drug’. There’s also some Eastern-infused elements and old school 50s rock n roll that only adds to the power and mystique of the Sylvia Black sound. If you are looking for a Lynchian soundtrack to your trip to parts unknown, this is it. Twilight Animals by Sylvia Black is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming services.

Thanks For The Dance by Leonard Cohen. Despite a significant number of health issues, Leonard Cohen kept writing and recording, with his final album, You Want It Darker being released just a month before he passed away in 2016. He left behind a number of song sketches from those sessions and instructed his son Adam, a musician and producer in his own right, to help flesh the material out once he was gone. Over the next few years, Adam Cohen worked ‘in a garage near his father’s old house’ to help bring Leonard Cohen’s final words to sonic fruition. He then called on long time collaborators Jennifer Warnes and Javier Mas, fellow Canadians Daniel Lanois and Feist, and Cohen fan Beck to add music to Cohen’s observations on spirituality, fidelity and, yes, death. There’s as much spoken word elements then actual singing, but it also completes the circle that displays Leonard Cohen the poet as much the songwriter. As Bowie did with his final album Blackstar, Cohen gets to write his own musical eulogy, and it’s everything you would expect from him. Thanks For The Dance by Leonard Cohen is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming outlets.

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All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story Of The Wire by Jonathan Abrams. For six years, the HBO series The Wire re-wrote the rules on the police procedural drama, offering a mulit-dimensional look at the cops, criminals, lawyers and politicians within Baltimore. Written and created by former Baltimore Sun writer David Simon, the show launched the careers of Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, Dominic West, Wendell Pierce, Wood Harris and Michael K. Williams, and gave artistic second winds to the careers of veteran actors such as Amy Ryan, Clarke Peters, Clarke Johnson and Glynn Truman. With this new book, Jonathan Abrams talks with all of the principal players involved to provide the definitive oral history of this landmark series. It’s a detailed, comprehensive look at one of TV’s greatest shows. All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story Of The Wire by Jonathan Abrams is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all major book retailers.

Jim Marshall: Show Me The Picture by Amelia Davis. Jim Marshall’s legendary career was defined by his photographs of such icons as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. But, as this new book shows, Marshall’s lens also captured the various social movements and subcultures that came to define the 60s and 70s. Complied by long time assistant Amelia Davis, there’s over 200 photographs – 70 of which are that are being presented for the 1st time – that show intimate, day to day street moments in the streets of New York, San Francisco and, while on assignment, documenting the extreme poverty of those living in Hazard, Kentucky. Marshall’s first musical love was jazz, and this book shows mind blowing shots of such luminaries as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Anita O’Day, and Thelonious Monk, among many others. There’s also proof sheets that track his creative process and stories and essays from some of his contemporaries remembering this one of a kind, larger than life artist. Made with love, candor and care, Davis has crafted the ultimate look at a photography giant. Jim Marshall: Show Me The Picture by Amelia Davis is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.

Year Of The Monkey by Patti Smith. For her latest book, Smith reflects on the moments that she experienced during a solo trek traveling in 2016 just after her 69th birthday. Whether its a hotel in California, a farm in Kentucky, or a walk in the Arizona desert, Smith waves in observations that are both poignant and poetic, direct point of view and what’s going on internally. She covers everything from art, literature, politics, and influences in a style and prose that we have come to know and love. It’s another great work from one of rock’s greatest writers. One of the year’s best. Year Of The Monkey by Patti Smith is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all major book retailers.

Highway 61 by Jessica Lange. For her third photo book, the Academy Award winning actress goes back to the state – and its accompanying highway – that helped shape her as an artist and a person. Lange spend six years traveling from the Canadian border in northern Minnesota down to New Orleans chronicling what she says ‘what remains and what has disappeared.’ Road stops, stark landscapes, and portraits of working class people are all beautifully captured in over 80 tritone photographs. Lange’s eye for detail is outstanding, pulling us into a side of America that is rarely seen. A must read for any photography lover. Highway 61 by Jessica Lange is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.

Time Is Tight by Booker T. Jones. As the leader of Booker T & The MGs, Booker T. Jones was a key component in bringing Stax Records – and Southern Soul as a whole to the masses. As a producer, he introduced the world to the lyrical genius of Bill Withers, manned the boards for Willie Nelson’s most successful album to date, Stardust. Jones has also added his distinctive Hammond B3 sound for artists ranging from Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson, and Neil Young. Now, after more than 60 years in the business, Booker T Jones has finally publishing his first memoir. Zig zagging in a non-linear fashion through various points in his extraordinary life, Jones tells about growing up as a musical prodigy in a racially divided Memphis; playing his first sessions with Stax when he was still in high school; recording the now classic ‘Greens Onions’ when he was only 18; writing and performing with his group, The MGs, to backing some of the greatest names in soul, including Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas, just to name a few. Jones also goes in detail about breaking away from the MGs at the height of their success to move in California to make his mark on his own terms. You are sucked into his story from jump, and his stories about working with all time greats are done with candor, humor and above all, joy. It’s an outstanding tome from one of the most seminal musicians in rock and soul. Time Is Tight by Booker T. Jones is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.

The Beautiful Ones by Prince. Before his sudden and shocking passing in 2016, Prince was working with Paris Review editor Dan Piepenbring on a memoir in which he hoped would be ‘a handbook for the brilliant community’. We didn’t get to see how Prince would shape the full narrative, but Piepenbring does put together enough of what they were working on to give us a glimpse into what shaped and formed The Purple One’s life. The first half of the book features Prince, in his own handwritten pages describing key points in his formative years – his relationship with his parents (and with each other) battles with epilepsy, his first kiss, etc, – that’s told with both candor and humor. Piepenbring completes the memoir based on the material he assembled at Prince’s Paisley Park complex: a scrapbook that Prince kept during the making of his first album featuring photos, drawings and song lyrics; a room by room description of Paisley Park, a handwritten synopsis of what later became the basis for the seminal film Purple Rain and much more. It’s the most revealing Prince portrait to date told exclusively through his own prism. The Beautiful Ones by Prince is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.

 

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Earl Douglas is a writer/photographer based in New York City. A frequent contributor to The Interrobang, Earl is also Executive Director for the New York chapter of The Black Rock Coalition. Earl worked in radio for nearly two decades at WNEW-FM and XM Satellite Radio, which included being the on-air producer for Carol Miller, Scott Muni and Ron & Fez, and a contributor to Opie & Anthony. Earl has also independently published a number of books including Black Rock Volume 1, Urban Abyss, Mobile Uploads, and For Shimmy. His latest project is the photojournalism magazine PRAXIS, which is available exclusively through Blurb.com.

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Earl Douglas
Earl Douglas
Earl Douglas is a writer/photographer based in New York City. A frequent contributor to The Interrobang, Earl is also Executive Director for the New York chapter of The Black Rock Coalition. Earl worked in radio for nearly two decades at WNEW-FM and XM Satellite Radio, which included being the on-air producer for Carol Miller, Scott Muni and Ron & Fez, and a contributor to Opie & Anthony. Earl has also independently published a number of books including Black Rock Volume 1, Urban Abyss, Mobile Uploads, and For Shimmy. His latest project is the photojournalism magazine PRAXIS, which is available exclusively through Blurb.com.