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TWO JEWS CHEW ON
THE GRAMMYS
Pass me a knish. (5/24a)
SONY STARS SET
HITS LIST ABLAZE
They're fire. (5/24a)
THE IVORS 2019: ALL THE WINNERS
Theresa May wasn't even on the shortlist. (5/24a)
CROSSCURRENTS: HITSVILLE USA
A Berry important chapter of the story (5/24a)
SONG REVENUE CHART: PLAYOFF FEVER
We're in a generational moment. (5/24a)
THE DIVA PLAN
How pop stars from the pre-streaming era are finding a new groove.
RAINMAKERS RETURN
More of the folks who are making biz history now.
THE FUTURE OF ROCK & ROLL IS...
Hang on, we just need to throw this TV out the window.
AFTER COUNTRY TRAP
Is reggaeton death metal far behind?
Critics' Choice
CLASSIC RAY STARTS STREAMING
2/15/19

Ray Charles’s classic records for ABC-Paramount, released between 1960 and 1973, have been noticeably absent from streaming services. That means no original versions of “Georgia on My Mind,” “Crying Time,” “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” “Busted”—you get the picture.

The first step toward remedying that situation has begun at NPR Music where Brother Ray’s classic Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music Volumes 1 & 2 is streaming ahead of Vol. 1’s release on vinyl, CD and digitally on 2/22.

The groundbreaking integration of soul and country music, Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music includes Charles’ versions of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “You Don’t Know Me.” It was the first country album in history to achieve Gold record status.

Here’s to hoping Crying Time gets the same treatment.

GARY CLARK JR. MAKES LAND
2/14/19

Full disclosure: While I’ve long admired Gary Clark, Jr. as a player, singer and writer—with the chops to handle blues, soul, rock and pop, no question—never before, apart from the occasional hair-raising guitar lick, has he startled me.

Until now.

Clark’s new Warner Bros. Records set, This Land (due 2/22, following a 2/16 SNL appearance), is something new. The man’s prolific gifts are now attached to material with a far greater purpose than ever before. The material is in large part overtly political, full of fury and defiance and sorrow, befitting a time when our chief executive is an overtly racist charlatan. But it’s delivered with an explosive confidence and joy, with singalong choruses, blazing electric leads and a riot of bubbling grooves.

In short, it’s the great rock and roll record you’ve been waiting for.

Witness the big synth buzz that kicks off  opener and lead single “This Land,” giving way to wailing wah-wah and a barbed-wire litany of tensions and injustices: “Fuck you, I’m America, son/This is where I come from.” Now check out “What About Us,” with its ironic “there goes the neighborhood refrain” and shards of molten riffage. Or “I Got My Eyes on Me,” which rekindles the honeyed soul vibes of Marvin and Stevie in the verses before uncorking a monster rock chorus. On “Feeling Like a Million” and the instrumental excursion “Highway 71,” Clark manages to lace up reggae/dub and Hendrix-y bends in a way that feels fresh. “Gotta Get Into Something” has a bracing vintage-punk tempo that suggests Bad Brains rampaging through a Chuck Berry fever dream. The horn-driven “Feed the Babies” is a “Mercy Mercy Me” for the present moment, with a “Trouble Man” strut. He channels Prince through both his voice and his fingers on the stomping, heart-baring soul of “Pearl Cadillac.” There’s a Temptations glow to the stutter-step singalong “When I’m Gone.”

It seems no corner of the musical universe exceeds Clark’s grasp, and each eclectic element reinforces a humanistic, yearning, raging, hopeful, disgusted, insistent perspective—in other words, exactly what our daily crisis demands.

Not that Clark has abandoned the blues. The acoustic “The Governor,” replete with saucy slide, is both authoritative and tongue-in-cheek; closing cut “Dirty Dishes Blues” brings This Land back down to earth—with a Delta-style lament that plays like a nod to fellow Texan Albert Colins’ “Too Many Dirty Dishes.”

Of course, Clark remains one of the premier guitarists of his generation, and the array of miracles he can conjure from his axe—whether it’s screaming or swooning—is as central to his mystique as ever.

Will a record this full of purpose and guitar cut through the noise? I haven’t the faintest idea. But I know it’ll give a lot of hope and inspiration to rock fans.

KIRK FRANKLIN'S "THEORY"
PROVES SOUND
1/27/19

 Gospel music is the wellspring that helped feed such secular tributaries as soul, R&B, rock and pop—yet it rarely makes the mainstream in unadulterated form. Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day,” a few cuts from the Staples Singers, Aretha’s roof-raising church songs and, more recently, the soaring devotional pop of Lauren Daigle are more the exceptions than the rule. But for 25+ years, Kirk Franklin, arguably the form’s most influential contemporary figure, has maintained an avid following among the faithful and respect in the secular world with his finely wrought, irresistibly funky bursts of gospel goodness.

Which is how he’s earned 12 Grammys, nine NAACP Image Awards and many other earthly laurels (including 43 Stellar Awards from the gospel community). As an executive and producer/impresario, he's developed his own Fo Yo Soul label and collaborated with Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Ledisi and Tori Kelly, among others. He’s also worked with Live Nation Urban to produce the Exodus Music & Artist Festival, which he’ll host and headline on 5/26.

Today’s sermon is “Love Theory” (RCA Inspiration), now impacting gospel and Urban AC radio. The track crystallizes the man’s considerable skills in crafting big, choir-sung hooks and silky grooves, and the video, featured below, demonstrates his fiery ministerial charisma. Even if you don’t have a religious bone in your body, we think you’re gonna feel it.

Franklin is now finishing up his next studio set (his 13th); he’ll perform on BET’s 20th Super Bowl Gospel Celebration on 2/2 and will host the Stellar Gospel Music Awards on 3/29.