Freedom Rock

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J. Freedom du Lac
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post music critic J. Freedom du Lac is online every Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET to talk about the latest on the music scene: alternative, country, alt-country, pop, hyphy, harp-rock, reggae, reggaeton, R and B and whatever it is that Constantine Maroulis does.

A transcript follows.

washingtonpost.com: Mariah Sticks to a Known Equation

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washingtonpost.com: The Young@Heart Chorus's Grand Pop; Out of the Mouths of Seniors, Rock Tunes Soar Anew

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J. Freedom du Lac: Greetings, chatters. Let's do this.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

Any idea if there is a schedule of times for the performers playing the Earth Day Festival on Sunday? I'd like to be back in town in time to see Toots and the Maytals and the Roots. The Web site doesn't seem to have one just yet though.

J. Freedom du Lac: I don't think they've settled on the schedule just yet, but my understanding is that the Roots go on at about 6.

Not sure about when Toots is supposed to take the stage. I'm just hoping he does " Take Me Home, Country Roads." Almost heaven, West Jamaica!

Oh, and "Pressure Drop" is one of the all-time great reggae tunes.

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Georgetown: Going to Lou Reed Tuesday? Any preview of his current show?

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, unless I have to be at a Quincy Jones somethingorother that night on the Hill. If there is actually a Quincy Jones somethingorother, that is. Details are fuzzy.

Not sure what Lou has planned for the show, but Chris Klimek interviewed him for the upcoming Sunday's Style and Arts section. Lou sure does love those Jason Bourne movies. Go figure!

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Washington, D.C.: For any Fall fans out there, Mark E. Smith's forthcoming autobiography is currently being extracted on the Guardian Website. Here's a link to the first extract.

J. Freedom du Lac: This is the greatest news Producer David has received since he found out that Victor Martinez was not, in fact, heading to the disabled list.

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Elitist!: Just getting you prepared for the inevitable onslaught.

Which blue-collar dad's beer do you drink?

J. Freedom du Lac: The Champagne of Beers (TM), but only because Producer David left some in my fridge. Thanks, David. I think.

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Alexandria, Va.: I was wondering what your thoughts were on music sites like Pitchfork. Granted, I like visiting the site because, let's face it, record companies and bands don't send me tons of albums every week. But I find their reviewers to be pretty contentious and either try to create new trends or destroy existing ones. How does it make you feel that different sites like these have the ability to make a band (Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)or destroy a band (the guy from the Dismemberment Plan, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah).

J. Freedom du Lac: I think Pitchfork is useful, enlightening, maddening, elitist, funny, fickle and probably too powerful for its own good. They can definitely launch a band into the indie stratosphere, such as it is; and yes, they can also make life miserable for certain acts, a la Travis Morrison, who told me a couple of years ago, when I wrote about Pitchfork's Ryan Schrieber, that P4K's 0.0-point review of "Travistan" was sort of devastating from a business standpoint as college radio programmers cooled to Morrison's new project, a record store in Texas temporarily refused to stock the album and some fans decided that they no longer liked Morrison because he'd lost the P4K seal of approval.

Said T-Mo: "I just got the sense [Pitchfork] thought I was a rock star and they wanted to take me down a peg, but I don't think it occurred to them that the review could have a catastrophic effect. Up until the day of the review, I'd play a solo show, and people would be like, 'That's our boy, our eccentric boy.' Literally, the view changed overnight. ... I could tell people were trying to figure out if they were supposed to be there or not. It was pretty severe, how the mood changed. The review isn't the story. The reaction to it is. The seriousness with which everyone takes Pitchfork is kind of mind-boggling."

By the way, more than one Pitchfork staffer told me privately that they thought the 0.0 rating was ridiculous - and unnecessarily punitive.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi.

Saw Kathleen Edwards at the Birchmere last night -- great show. Before going, I was checking out her Web site and it mentioned that she worked at a winery between her last 2 albums. While this may have been more of a "life experience" kind of thing, it did raise a question with me. How much money would somebody at her level make?

Thanks.

J. Freedom du Lac: Good question, to which I really don't have the answer. I just know that doing music is an easy way to make a hard living (or is it a hard way to make an easy living?). Not a ton of money in the Americana world, unless you write songs that become big hits for country artists (a la Nancy Griffith's "Love at the Five and Dime"). You can make a living, for sure, but you're probably not buying a Caribbean vacation home.

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Reston, Va.: So, did I miss your James McMurtry story/review or is it still on the way? Further details on why you think it's so great? Curious, since I think he's been great for some time now.

J. Freedom du Lac: It's not yet soup, as they say.

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23rd and M, Washington, D.C.: J. Freedom,

I'm heading down to Nashville in a few weeks and have never been before. Do you have any can't miss honky-tonk recommendations?

Thanks.

J. Freedom du Lac: I have very limited experience in Nashville. Any chatters know their way around the honky-tonk scene and care to make some recommendations?

Not a honky-tonk, but you should definitely make a trek to the Bluebird Cafe.

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the P4K seal of approval: Sounds more powerful than even the ominous Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

J. Freedom du Lac: It's more valuable, I think.

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Re: more than one Pitchfork staffer told me privately....: Off the record? If subpoenaed, would you go to jail to protect these important anonymous sources?

J. Freedom du Lac: I'd sell them out in a heartbeat, since they wouldn't give me any interesting dirt on Ryan.

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Washington, D.C.: Probably a couple weeks late for this, but to make it less Nats-specific, is "Victory" by Patti Smith the best undiscovered sport-venue song? It's only about 2:45, so it could fit between innings or quarters (unlike "Shout" or most of the selections at Nats Park), has a great power intro to get the crowd up, and would get the crowd shouting "victory" at the end.

J. Freedom du Lac: No, because the song is actually called "Till Victory." And since the Nats don't win very often, it's bound to make the team's fans (all 13,426 of them) angry. I mean, 10 days is a long time to wait until your next victory, don't you think?

I loved that they're using "Thunderstruck" when they take the field. On Opening Night, it sounded like they turned the volume down just when the song was revving up. But since then -- it seems to be playing through at high volume. Which is good, since there haven't actually been (m)any people in the stands to make noise.

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Mt. Vernon, Va.: Nashville: You know, as cheesy as it sounds, the Country Music Hall of Fame is actually pretty well done, particularly if you're interested in country music. The Marty Robbins exhibit currently on display is interesting.

J. Freedom du Lac: I spent several hours in the Country HOF and just loved it. Of course, going from the great old stuff near the entrance to some of the contemporary pablum is kind of depressing. But...

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Just Curious: Folks on Paul Farhi's chat were discussing at what point in your life you stop listening to new music. Care to weigh in? Do you listen to entirely new types of music than you did 3-5 years ago, or just to new bands? Has anything leaped out at you that you wouldn't have cared for when you were 19 years old?

J. Freedom du Lac: As I'm actually paid to listen to new music, I'm probably not representative of whatever demographic trend Paul and Friends were discussing today. (Unless there was some oldest-guy-in-the-club chatter.) Having said that: I do listen to a lot more singer-songwritery stuff than I did when I was 19. I think it's a natural evolution, sort of the way wine people are supposed to gravitate to Burgundies, no matter what they started out drinking.

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New Pornographers last night...: Now I don't advocate the show must go on mentality, but what a let down to have missed Neko Case! Will she be on tonight, for the lucky folks who got Tuesday tickets? Bitterly, I secretly hope not.

Their sound is so different with her there, I don't enjoy the jangle pop as much as the ballads.

Don't you think we should've at least got a warning?

J. Freedom du Lac: They really should advertise whether or not she'll be with the band when they tour. I'm with you on this one.

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J. Freedom du Lac: Okay, so re Neko: I guess she was a last-second cancellation due to illness. So yeah, she just might perform tonight. And yeah, you should be bummed if she does.

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Philly, Pa.: J. Free--

I ask this question about once a month, dying for a response this time (fingers crossed) since we're not mired in a theme for today's chat.

Has the time now passed on the production team, The Neptunes? And what are your thoughts on their on-again-off-again vanity project, N-E-R-D? Thanks!

J. Freedom du Lac: Hey, the ninth time is the charm!

They didn't have the best year last year. A track with Britney, I think, the Kenna album that wasn't nearly as good as it should have been, a couple of cuts with Jay-Z and Yung Joc and the Hives, etc. - and nothing whatsoever that was in my best-singles-of-07 file. On the other hand, they did do that great Clipse album, "Hell Hath No Fury," in 2006, among other projects; so I'm not ready to say they've jumped the shark.

If they can somehow help Madonna sound relevant (big if), and can do something interesting with Eve and, um, Ashlee Simpson and the new Clipse and Cassie and Robin Thicke, etc., then we'll probably have to say that they just had an off year in 2007.

Don't know much about the new NERD album, but I wasn't really wowed by "Fly or Die" or the first album whose title I don't remember. They're playing Austin City Limits, by the way. The late September festival that's released its schedule before we've seen the full lineup from the Virgin Mobile Festival in early August. Last lineup standing!

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Re: No Pornographers: If JFree ruled the world, they would just get Jenny Lewis to fill in.

J. Freedom du Lac: Or Zooey Deschanel.

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Washington, D.C.: Well, smartypants, I actually had to look up a word in your MC review. Have you been waiting years to work 'melisma' into a review?

J. Freedom du Lac: You seriously hadn't heard of melismatic singing before? I think I first saw that word in a piece about Whitney Houston. Many, many, many years ago.

I've decided, by the way, that Whitney and Mariah are the Lester Bangs of pop vocalists. Just as Lester Bangs inspired more awful music writing than anybody in the history of the form, Whitney and Mariah have inspired more bad singers than the rest of the divas combined. (See: "American Idol.")

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Illness?: Is Neko turning into Sly Stone?

J. Freedom du Lac: No, Celine Dion is the new Sly Stone.

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Nashville Recommendation: Check out if the Long Players have a gig. (A quick Google search will get you the bar they always play at.) Kind of an interesting concept -- Gary Talent of E Street Band fame and a few other session players perform an album from start to finish, but bring in a different lead singer for each track. They've done some Beatles in the past, not too sure what they've done recently, but like I say the concept itself sounds like it may be worth the price of a couple of beers.

J. Freedom du Lac: A fine recommendation, though Bruce and the ESB's world tour might get in the way.

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Mt. Vernon, Va.:"going from the great old stuff near the entrance to some of the contemporary pablum..." Yeah, but think how great it will be once Emmylou is enshrined later this year !

J. Freedom du Lac: You know how bacon makes everything taste better? Emmylou makes everybody sound better.

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Odenton, Md.: What do you think of Duffy and when does her album come out?

J. Freedom du Lac: The two songs I've heard on the internets are very intriguing. Too bad for her, though, that she's a blue-eyed soul singer coming out of the UK in the wake of La Winehouse. I believe the album is out in mid-May.

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Melismack: Just listen to "I will always love you," first by Dolly, then by the Houston. The first is a sweet song that you can sing to, and might make you a little melancholy. The second is an overblown theatrical exercise that will make you look and sound like an ass if you try to sing along. This is the heart of melisma and its disciples.

J. Freedom du Lac: Not that Dolly isn't a stylist herself. She's likened her own voice to blue cheese - an acquired taste and that sort of thing. She can trill with the best of 'em.

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20010: Went to the Birchmere for Kathleen Edwards last night. Besides the Birch reminding me of a Medieval Times Dinner Theater, its a good setting to see a show. Kathleen has an excellent voice, love the tone. Had never seen her before, or heard of her before this past Friday. My question is -- why do people like Colbie Caillat, who is "sold out" at the Birch after a few months of air time, do so well when Kathleen Edwards a formidable talent kind of hangs out at a constant low rumble of popularity. What IS that phenomenon? Media exposure? A certain something-something with the singer? Destiny? And lastly, did you go to the show?

J. Freedom du Lac: Medieval Times Dinner Theater! That's fantastic. I'm sure the Birch will be using that in their marketing materials in no time.

Colbie Caillat had a radio (and internets) hit in "Bubbly." She came up with a song that had serious mass-appeal potential and then got some serious marketing muscle behind her in Universal Republic Records, whose chief, Monte Lipman, has broken several acts in the states (Winehouse, eg) and even managed to get Taylor Swift onto pop radio.

Not sure Kathleen Edwards is that kind of artist. She's probably doomed to be a critical darling with a cult following. Though that's really not a bad way to be. A lot of the great ones have suffered the same fate.

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Bethesda, Md.: You're the warm-up chat for a chat on "Sexual Fluidity." Question: isn't that the name of R. Kelly's upcoming album?

J. Freedom du Lac: Funny!

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Dolly and Melisma: Sure she can add some melisma, but it isn't the heart and soul of her sound. It's like the chocolate syrup on ice cream, instead of Houston and Carey, who come across like giant bowls of chocolate syrup. Just too much.

J. Freedom du Lac: Oh, I'm not saying I prefer Mariah or Whitney to Dolly. Not even close. (Dolly is a personal fave - which is why I'll stab you with a letter opener if you try to take the picture of me with Dolly from my desk.) I'm just saying that Dolly doesn't exactly sing 'em straight, either - and, in fact, talks about how she was initially rejected by some "Porter Wagoner Show" viewers when she replaced Norma Jean.

Norma Jean, Dolly says, "sang very good, very on pitch, but she wasn't a stylist. I'm a stylist, and so here I come, lookin' like a freak and soundin' like a freak. So it took me a little bit. But they responded."

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melisma: I'd never heard this word either. Sounds like something you don't want your doctor to say. "I'm sorry, you've got melisma."

J. Freedom du Lac: It's a side effect of having your whistle register removed.

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re: Do you listen to entirely new types of music than you did 3-5 years ago, or just to new bands?: I still like the same type of music I did several years ago. The main difference between my taste in college and now is I can no longer define my taste by saying "I like this band and this band." With newer stuff, I will usually only like a couple of songs by any one artist, and really won't like their other stuff. Whereas I used to listen to an entire album because I liked the artist, and much of it would eventually grow on me. I don't have tolerance for that anymore for some reason. And getting exposed to new stuff takes more time and effort. Sadly, I get exposed to new stuff these days because the band was on SNL or Leno - but the ones I like there are few and far between. Like Gnarls Barkley this past week. You'd mentioned them in the chat before, and then I saw them on SNL and liked what I heard. But after listening to them on iTunes, I can say I only like 3 of their songs, tops. That's the main reason I read this chat - to get some ideas for stuff I might like.

And apparently I'm really doing the wine thing all wrong. I liked Cabernet when younger and now don't drink much but Chardonnay.

J. Freedom du Lac: I'm not sure that's a symptom of older age, though. I think it's just the way people are listening to music now. It's the iTunesifcation of the music world, the death of the album, etc. I know some people who edit and re-sequence new albums, turning, say, a 15-song album into, like, the MP3 equivalent of a 6-song EP, using the best of the best. Or, they'll just take the two or three best tracks and throw them into a playlist.

Were you also inspired to buy a pompadour wig after watching Gnarls on "SNL"? Loved Cee-Lo's get-up. So wild.

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Re: Listening to new music: For what it's worth, I'm 50 (man, that looks bad when I read it) and about 5-7 years ago had decided that I wouldn't find much new music that would be of interest. But now, with satellite radio and iTunes, I've actually picked up on a lot of new music, if only a song or two by an artist. Ironically enough, a lot of that new music is by old artists who I've rediscovered. I personally think this is a great era in terms of access to all kinds of music, no matter your age.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's why I laugh when people say contemporary music is terrible. Um, no. You're just listening to the wrong stuff.

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Should (Should Not)?: I was excited to see Todd Snider was coming to town...but he's playing with Was (Not Was). They're still around!? Do you know who is opening for whom? Or, is it an equally split show?

J. Freedom du Lac: Todd Snider is opening for Don (Not David).

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Silver Spring, Md.: I see that Madonna is webcasting her concert at Roseland later this month. What is this, "The Cougar Den" Web site? I'm not sure of the relevance of Madonna anymore. I think a new album by her is as necessary as a new, new Rolling Stones album. I like Justin Timberlake as much as a heterosexual, middle-age man can, but that sounds to me to be even less hip than Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey (and History Repeating... was a pretty good song).

J. Freedom du Lac: "The Cougar Den"! I thought "SNL" was especially good this past week. The Jack Johnson/Dave Matthews/John Mayer skit was also terrific.

I loved Madonna's last album. Not digging her new single, but I don't have a problem with her making new music. It's sort of fun watching her try her damnedest to matter.

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Washington, D.C.: Who is Kate Nash and how did she become all the rage? Apparently there's a vacuum to fill since Lily Allen isn't currently touring.

Or is it just that the subcategory of pop music that can only be described as Cockney Cabaret has become a verifiable juggernaut?

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, she's kind of like Lily-minus.

We like our UK flavors of the month, I guess. ( Speaking of which....)

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Arlington, Va.: When is new Mudcrutch? I am big Tom Leadon fan. Number one!

J. Freedom du Lac: Um...

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Indianapolis, Ind.: My buddy and I are starting a band. He wants to call it "[Expletive]s in my Grits" while I want to call it "Grits in my (Expletive)s." Who's right?

J. Freedom du Lac: Why not go with "(Expletives) in my Grits (Not Grits in my (Expletives))"?

Best of both worlds.

Thanks for stopping by today, folks. See you at the show.

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Stop the Presses!: Where the hell is David going?

J. Freedom du Lac: To the Sexual Fluidity chat.

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