Thursday, June 25, 2009

6.25.09 BIG BOZ MAN

This review originaly appeared in the 6.25.09 issue of Metroland.

Shortly after getting this assignment on Monday I learned that Boz Scaggs’ last couple of albums were of jazz standards, so that was what I was expecting, and not too keenly. But this, his first Albany appearance ever, turned out to be a greatest hits show, which meant:

Silk Degrees, Scaggs’ 1974 masterpiece, in which he and the future members of Toto took a mess of fern-bar lounge-band affectations and made them somehow OK. Silk Degrees is basically one big hit, and the album you played when you had a girl visitor you didn’t know very well—you knew she was gonna like it, and despite its steady undercurrent of unctuousness, well, you really liked it, too. You even listened to it when there was nobody around.

Anyway, Scaggs and a crack 6-piece band (including the stellar guitarist Drew Zingg) chugged through most of Silk Degrees and the handful of hits from his other ‘70’s-80’s albums with style and grace, and a good measure of deep groove. Most songs got a rise from the audience reaction during the first bar, which was often little more than a beat. Scaggs sang great, and nailed the occasional guitar solo; people forget that he was an early lead guitarist for the Steve Miller Band, and an ace player. The sound was big and lush and delicious, with the keyboards pumping out vintage synthesized waves and everything absolutely in the right place. Talk about ear candy.

Back-up singer Monet nearly stole the show with a slightly over-the-top blast of Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back To Me,” but the real meat of the matter arrived with the encore, an epic version of “Lend Me A Dime,” a blues classic from Scaggs’ first solo album, originally recorded with Duane Allman at Muscle Shoals. Scaggs dedicated the song to famed Muscle Shoals keyboardist /arranger Barry Beckett, who died last week, and then the band dug in for a ten-minute plus orgy of electric blues. It was jaw-dropping.

Speaking of jaw-dropping: Sean Rowe made a roomful of new fans with a gripping 30 minute set. Rowe’s voice is every bit as soulful as Scaggs’, and his delivery was dramatic and engaging. He completely reimagined two iconic classics, Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire”, and played a bunch of originals that trade on silence as much as audacious bursts of sound. He commanded the undivided attention of the packed house, and got a big and deserved ovation at the end. Kudos to the local promoters who are putting Rowe on these shows. He belongs on the big stage.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


This article originally appeared in the 6.18.09 issue of Metroland

We’ve had an interesting (and inadvertent) progression at the music biz panel part of the monthly CRUMBS Night Out events. Two months ago we had the heads of a couple independent labels, and last month we had members of local music collectives. This month we’re going right down to the roots with three expert and extremely successful practitioners of home music recording. We’ve got Dan Berggren, who makes magic out of his home and taught audio engineering at Fredonia State for 25 years, Sara Ayers, whose DIY recordings have garnered her an international fanbase and lots of TV play, and Troy Pohl, who recently transitioned from making beautiful home-based recordings to making beautiful studio recordings for Collar City Records. We’ll be talking about things like maximizing what you’ve got, knowledge vs. equipment, and when it’s time to leave home. 8 PM, Thursday the 25th, Linda Norris Auditorium. Music at 7 with Eric Margan and the Red Lions, whose album Midnight Book has been turning heads and blowing minds throughout the Northeast ( myspace/theredlions ).

The epitaph for newspapers was delivered last week by, of all people, Jason Jones on the Jon Stewart show. The New York Times, incredibly, allowed Jones to interview several Times bigwigs, apparently not realizing that these things never come out well for the interviewees. And it didn’t. Sitting across a desk from assistant managing editor Rick Berke, Jones pointed to a current copy of the Times and said, “Show me one thing in there that happened today.” Berke was left speechless and yammering.

And the epitaph for the rest of the mainstream media may have been delivered last weekend, when Iran erupted into massive protests over the stolen election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now, even from under a rock one should know that a populist protest of any magnitude in a prong of W’s “axis of evil” is big news, and that one in Iran could have major repercussions in global geopolitics. A direct line can be drawn from Obama’s Egypt speech, where he asked Muslims to reject demagogues and to embrace peace, and the Tehran protests. And the energy of the youth-driven movement that spontaneously erupted in Tehran and elsewhere last Saturday, a combination of optimism and rage, recalled nothing more than what happened right here a year ago, when America rejected the politics of fear and embraced hope.

But last weekend you’d never have known about what was happening if you were watching TV or reading the newspaper. Or even looking at Google News. As for television, CNN was oblivious, MSNBC was running those hideous inside-prison shows it seems to think people like to watch on weekends, and the networks were talking about the Palin-Letterman feud and whatever nonsense Newt Gingrich just said. The newspapers and wire services were merely parroting what governmental spokespeople were saying on both sides, as per the MSM’s maddening and insane penchant for providing “equivalence,” or uncritically stating both side’s positions, without regard to the obvious truth. Into Sunday and Monday, whatever reporting there was in the MSM severely underplayed what was going on. Most uncritically declared Ahmadinejad the winner of the election, despite growing unassailable proof that the election was a sham. Protest rallies were described as “large” or “in the thousands”, despite photographs popping up on the internet and eye-witness accounts from non-reporters that showed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people on the streets.

Reporters were forbidden on the streets of Tehran, and the government quickly shut down cell-phone service and blocked Facebook (which is apparently wildly popular in Iran), and hacked and interfered with communications any way it could. But Twitter, YouTube, email and photograph sites like Flikr quickly emerged as effective main portals of information from and for the protesters, and in the absence of any MSM interest in reporting from these sources, it was the blogs that performed journalism, filtering the spotty information coming in on the internet, posting tweets, pictures and video, and showing the world, beyond a doubt, that Ahmadinejad and his Mullah enablers were wearing no clothes, and that, as Obama observed on Monday, “there’s something going on in Iran.” I’ve been mainly watching the blogs of The Atlantic’s Andy Sullivan and Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney. I really don’t need (or trust) anyone else.

Apologists for the MSM have tried to brush aside the lack of coverage with the lame “even reporters have to sleep sometime.” Really? But networks don’t. CNN’s supposed to give us the world, and it’s just been giving us excuses. And Nico Pitney didn’t sleep; his blog was posting 24/7 for three days straight. And Sullivan? When it was pointed out that the MSM could have simply done what he was doing, Sully pointed out that he was monitoring tweets and blogging from the end of a pier on the Cape with his two beagles at his feet. That’s his Situation Room.

And ours.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

6.4.09 ROT TURNS 100

This article originally appeared in the 6.4.09 issue of Metroland

Why, it seems like just yesterday that Steve Leon called me on the phone. “We just had an editorial staff meeting,” Steve said, “And we’re wondering if you’d like to do a column about what you do.” My first thought was, does Metroland really want a regular column about binge drinking and masturbating like a monkey? Then I realized that perhaps they wanted regular contributions about my so-called professional life—stuff about the business and law of music and art and privacy and this internet thing all the kids are so crazy about.

OK, I can do that. But what to call it? That was tough. My whole life, I’d resisted exploiting any of the obvious stupid double entendres using my last name, but I was stuck. My first list of possible column names included: Crock of Legals, Art Carnal, The Corpulent Hitter, and F. Lee Harvey’s Straight Poop. See? Sure, some of these are good for a giggle, but I was looking for something that would be durable, just in case my column stuck around for a while. Something that wouldn’t be an enduring source of embarrassment, like, oh, say, a really goofy stage name.

So, Rapp on This it was. And it’s worked out OK over the past four years. I discovered, after like a year, that the column’s initials were ROT. Bonus! And this is ROT number 100. I’ve enjoyed writing these things, I’ve enjoyed all the comments (even the rude ones after I teed off on Hilary a year ago), I’ve enjoyed posting the columns with odd hand-picked stolen illustrations on my blog So, I’ll keep going.

Last week at the Columbia Arts Team’s Songwriter’s Festival in Hudson, I was on a great panel, with the topic of something like “Is Technology Killing Music?” I started, setting up a discussion of digital v. analog, but that’s not what the rest of the panel wanted to talk about.

Henry Hirsch, seated to my right, took the bull by the horns. Henry is a recording engineer / producer, having worked with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, Mick Jagger and Vanessa Paradis. Henry just opened a world-class major-league recording studio in a beautiful old church in downtown Hudson, he’s perspicacious and opinionated, like any great studio guy ought to be. Henry’s beef, what he wanted to talk about, was that technology has reached a point where actual music performance, either in the studio or on stage, is no longer necessary. That’s where the panel went, and it was fascinating. Henry was joined by pianist / composer / label chief Lincoln Mayorga, who’s been doing almost everything one can do in the music biz since the ‘50’s, has weathered at least four major technological revolutions, and he had a whole lot to say on the topic, too. When guys like this start talking, I shut the hell up and sit back and listen.

Mulling it over since Saturday, I’m thinking that all the talk about the evolution of music recording, and how it has slowly moved the performer out of the picture. It was interesting enough, but it also raises the question, so what? I saw Bonnie Raitt probably 6 times in college, her band was down and dirty, as was she. Then I saw her at SPAC after she hit paydirt with that John Hiatt song. The old band was gone, replaced by bunch of hired guns with blow-dried hair. The show sounded just like the record, clean as a whistle. I was stunned and pissed. I imagine every show on the tour was virtually identical, right down to the solos.

Was the band actually playing? Probably. Would it have made any difference if they weren’t? Nope.

Ever since then I’ve approached most arena shows for what they are: pure entertainment, like a big Hollywood movie. Do we care that a lot of the movies we watch are largely products of CGI and green-screens? Nope. Should it surprise us that much of what hits our eardrums at big concerts isn’t coming off the stage? Nope. When I review these shows, I rarely talk about the music, which is a given and largely banal and devoid of surprise.

Is all this “destroying music”? Only, I think, at corporate levels. As the main-stream music biz has become increasingly corporate, perfection is demanded, to remove a variable that might negatively affect the quarterly earnings report to shareholders. So, technology supplies pitch-perfect, beat-perfect product, matched with good-looking, market-tested delivery systems, formerly known as major-label artists.

It’s a race to the bottom, and another reason why the main-stream music biz is falling apart. There’s precious little music being made there anymore.

Which is why God made clubs, basements, Garage Band, MySpace, and YouTube. Where real music is still being made. More than ever before.