Freedom Rock

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J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 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.

The transcript follows.

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J. Freedom du Lac: "My picture should be in the dictionary next to the definition of definition." - Lil Wayne, 2008

So, what's up?

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the Mike Mills blog item and asking about "Rockville". As much as I like the song I really don't need to hear it every time they are here. And since they have played almost every other song on Reckoning so far this tour I'd much rather hear some real rarity like Little America or Harborcoat. The sets this tour have been pretty varied with a bunch of real forgotten gems. The last couple of shows have started to look a bit more alike though. Hopefully Peter will go back to Gardening at Night instead of Find the River type things. They haven't done 1,000,000 yet, that would be a treat. Will you be at the show? They have been playing Fall On Me with Johnny Marr joining on guitar in the encore lately.

J. Freedom du Lac: I haven't been looking at the set lists so far, but when I spoke with Mike, just before rehearsals for the tour began, I asked him how deep into their catalogue they might be digging during the tour - especially as they'd already played some live rarities this year ("Animal," "Second Guessing").

He didn't go into specifics at all, saying: "I would think we'll dig. You want to be able to keep it fresh, and the more songs you have to plug in on different nights, the more interesting it will be for both us and the audience."

By the way, I can't stop thinking about what James McMurtry always says when he's on stage and people start calling out for songs. Quoting David Bromberg, he'll say: "You know what you want to hear, but you don't know [expletive] about building a set." He used those very words Friday at the Birchmere, in fact.

J. Freedom du Lac: Oh, and here is a link to the interview in question.

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Nashville Star: Did you catch the premiere? Having Jeffrey Steele as a judge caught my attention. I was prepared for it to be full of good stuff. Taylor Swift sang, her voice sounded awful (perhaps the sound mix? or nerves?), and her moves seemed overly choreographed.

The contestants were pretty shaky as well, I thought. I appreciate their efforts. Perhaps a case of nerves all the way around.

J. Freedom du Lac: I did not. Taylor sometimes seems to have pitch problems when she's performing live. I've seen her sound good before, but she can also sound really wobbly. I prefer her recorded material, frankly. (Though I'd probably like it a lot more if I happened to be a 15-year-old girl.)

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Washington, D.C.: Got the new Aimee Mann album last week - love it. It also occurred to me, Mann is one of those rare musicians whose lyrics are probably her strongest feature. Normally, I'm attracted to songwriters or bands because of the music, melodies or singing style and pay little attention to what they're singing. I guess I would put Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Morrissey, possibly Lucinda Williams in this category. Any others?

J. Freedom du Lac: Current Freedom Rock fave James McMurtry, who may well have released the best album of 2008?

Though Robert Earl Keen (another guy who is more about words than voice) told me that he really digs McMurtry's vocals, saying: "The timbre of his voice is very intriguing to me. I know it's not considered a mainstream kind of voice, but I love the sound of it, that somewhat deadpan delivery. You're not putting a lot of gingerbread on a beautiful house. It's just there for you, and you can really walk right into the lyric and stay with it."

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Washington, D.C.: Is Lil Wayne a genius or not?

J. Freedom du Lac: I think our headline today sums it up pretty well:

"'Tha Carter III': Lil Wayne As Nonsensical Genius"

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Santa Fe, N.M.: With every repeat listening of "8 Diagrams" the more it's growing on me. As a first time Wu-Tang purchase, what CD in their massive catalogue/discography do you recommend I go out & listen to next?

J. Freedom du Lac: Oh, that's easy: Their 1993 debut, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)." Groundbreaking stuff when it was released; still sounds great today. Some of the solo Wu albums are worth seeking out, too, for sure - Raekown's "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx," Ghostface Killah's "Ironman," and on down the line. But start with "Enter the Wu" - it's a classic album that should be a part of any hip-hop collection.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Producer whatshisname's chat last week was 10 times more fun and interesting than yours. Beavis and Butthead were mentioned with the same frequency as Bruce Springsteen. Why don't you let him take over?

J. Freedom du Lac: I'd like to make that happen, actually, but he says he's too busy writing 90% of our blog posts. Plus, he's embarrassed about his Madonna/"Truth or Dare" admission. Bet you won't hear from him at all today.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Bonnaroo this weekend in the metropolis of Manchester TN, nuff said

J. Freedom du Lac: It's gonna be a good place to be, for sure. For those of you who are going: Who's on your must-see list?

Highlight-of-the-weekend prediction: My Morning Jacket. That new album (reviewed in today's TWP by Michael Deeds) is pretty damn good. Full of all kinds of rewarding surprises. Jim James, singing like Prince!

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Washington, D.C.:

Are rappers aware that they are not compelled to have Lil Wayne do a verse on their albums? There should be more awareness about this, considering that Lil Wayne is total garbage and shares responsibility for ruining hip-hop.

J. Freedom du Lac: Lil Wayne shares responsibility for ruining hip-hop? Really? Please explain your thesis. Show all work. Partial credit (and discredit) will be given.

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Lil Wayne's overrated: Check out the N.E.R.D. cd or The Cool Kids show?

J. Freedom du Lac: You mean this Cool Kids show?

By the way, if Lil Wayne is overrated, then why do the Cool Kids - who I'm guessing you like, since you're asking about them here - have him on one of their tracks?

This wasn't in my review, but here's a quote from Chuck Inglish at Sunday's Cool Kids show: "Wale is the man out here. He's one of the dopest MCs I've heard in my life."

Another one for Wale's quote sheet, I guess.

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Philly: J. Free--

Thoughts on the new N-E-R-D album, "Seeing Sounds"? I saw the Post review, but what might be your thoughts?

I think it's wildly inventive again for the Neptunes/N-E-R-D and a welcome departure from their TRL-minded 2nd album.

How does a critic like you view this group? I've seen the gamut on their reception by critics. Really curious your take.

N-E-R-D did indeed bring the heat on the Glow... tour, as per your comment several weeks ago.....

J. Freedom du Lac: For some reason (lack of available, waking hours), I still haven't heard the new N*E*R*D album. They tore it up at Kanyepalooza, though. Straight fire. I'll be sure to give it a spin this week.

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RE: Lil Wayne hater: Try listening to his music first. He's a well rounded rapper, good lyrics, good beats and flexible. Check out his song "Shooter" f/ Robin Thicke for a different perspective of his talents.

J. Freedom du Lac: So calling a hugely anticipated album for which I had incredibly high expectations "merely really good" is hating? That's ripe.

It's true, though, that I'd rather listen to "Da Drought 3" (which was one of my Top 10 albums of 2007) than "Tha Carter III." Too much haterade, I guess.

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James McMurtry's voice: J. Free: As a longtime fan of the man, his voice works perfectly with his songs. Kinda hard to imagine anyone else singing them (although Ray Wylie Hubbard does a great version of Choctaw Bingo). He's the Lou Reed of West Texas.

J. Freedom du Lac: I don't have a problem with McMurtry's voice whatsoever. He's definitely effective as a singer; just doesnt' have the prettiest, most ornate vocal instrument out there. And his lyrics -- they're just so, so, so, so good.

Here's Robert Earl Keen on "Choctaw Bingo": "It kills me. I love that song. We both share a desire to write that lengthy narrative with wacky [expletive] going on kind of song. And when he put that one out, it was like: '[Expletive], you beat me that hand for sure.' That's a killer."

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Silver Spring, Md.: I couldn't name a Lil' Wayne song if my life depended on it, I have no idea what he sounds like, but I must say -- he has by far the best album cover of the year. That's gotta count for something.

J. Freedom du Lac: Great cover -- but it's kind of a Notorious BIG rip-off, isn't it? I take it you don't spend much time listening to hip-hop? If you did, you'd surely have heard some Lil Wayne songs by now. He's only released, like, 300 of them in the past few years - and some of them have been awfully good.

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Errrrrr: I think the "re: Little Wayne Hater" was addressing one of your previous posters. Man, chip on shoulder much?

J. Freedom du Lac: I just assume they're all about me. Here, I'll share the first email I received this morning about the Weezy review:

"I would have to say that that was the worst article ever written about Lil Wayne. You must not understand the meaning behind most of his music; and if you do then why couldn't you write about the good? This article is pathetic. Lil Wayne is 'the greatest rapper alive' even if he is a pot-smoking, syrup guzzling rapper."

Of course, the same email concludes thusly: "Oh and he is 26 not 25. He was born in September of 1982."

Let's see now ... Sept 1982 birth date ... June of 2008 ... yep, still equals 25!

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Arlington, Va.: I had the double booked tix for Petty/Winwood & Burt Bacharach last Sunday ... a friend took the Petty tix (I haven't heard yet how that was) and I went to Bacharach as you & I both thought was the choice to make (Petty's not 80 so is more likely to tour again).

Burt B & band were pretty terrific, tho it was somewhat truncated medley-heavy, but when you have 40+ Top 40s to represent in a concert ...

cheers.

J. Freedom du Lac: Heard that Petty and Winwood performed together, which should have been pretty cool.

Klimek's Bacharach review here.

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Not far from the Birchmere: I'd put Aimee Mann's album in the same league as McMurtry's--both strong album of the year candidates. John Hiatt and Al Green ain't far behind, either. Lotsa good music around all of a sudden!

Of course, none of it is Starland Vocal Band...

J. Freedom du Lac: Rhymefest's Mark Ronson-produced Michael Jackson mixtape is pretty awesome, too. As is Erykah Badu's album.

Maybe at the end of the month, I'll do a midyear report.

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Falls Church, Va.: How about a list of great summer songs? I'll start: Summer Rain, by Johnny Rivers

J. Freedom du Lac: What about the songs of summer 2008? I can't get enough of Estelle's "American Boy." Too disco-y for Producer David, but hey.

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Sorry I'm Late...: ...Dave said last week that we were gonna talk about Beavis and Butthead today - did I miss that?

J. Freedom du Lac: "College music sucks."

"Yeah - I guess it's only cool, if you, like, go to college."

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Lil Wayne on Thicke's "Shooter":

He complains about not getting enough attention from the media--that just means that he is stupid, deaf and/or blind

J. Freedom du Lac: That's ripe.

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Washington, D.C.: Since it's already been mentioned, why do so many rap/hip-hop tracks have guest rappers?

J. Freedom du Lac: Strength (marketing appeal?) in numbers? Artists are too lazy to knock out 48 bars by themselves? It's somehow good for the art? Competition? (Come be on my song so I can destroy you, a la Lil Wayne on that new track with Juelz Santana and Fabolous.) It was actually sort of strange to hear Rakim's solo album, which was guest-free, if I recall correctly.

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Chicago, Illinois: Any other good hip hop albums on the horizon. Its been a drought for quite a while.

J. Freedom du Lac: Rhymefest's mixtape? Wale's mixtape? The Cool Kids EP? There's even much to recommend about Lil Wayne's album. Not a masterpiece, but awfully good nonetheless.

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Beavis & Butthead: "Stop in the name of all that which does not suck."

J. Freedom du Lac: "Hey Butt-head, what is 'Teen Spirit'?"

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Arlington, Va.: Went to the Petty/Winwood show, very good concert. Sound was much clearer than you would expect and they did jam on "Gimme some lovin'" really nailed it. Other than the Bataan Death March of going to Nissan, was a great night.

J. Freedom du Lac: The folks sitting in front of me at last night's Giants-Nats game said that they got in and out with no problems whatsoever. Something about it being Nissan appreciation night - and getting special parking treatment because they were driving a Nissan.

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Lil Wayne Ruined Hip Hop:

A. "Bling"

B. His Voice

C. His Rhyme Content (my watch, my car, my other watch, why people are mad at me and my material possessions)

D. Showing up more than Michael Caine

J. Freedom du Lac: Right, because Lil Wayne was single-handedly responsible for the blingification of hip-hop.

I can understand why some people wouldn't like his voice, though. It's sort of like an earthy, funky red wine: Either it speaks to you or it doesn't. Certainly not as obvious as a ripe fruit bomb.

I still don't see how this adds up to him killing hip-hop. Hate his voice, hate what he raps about, hate his ubiquity - but how does this add up to the death of hip-hop?

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Guests on rap albums:

And why are all the guests other rappers? Let's see some cross platform teamwork.

J. Freedom du Lac: Hey, Wayne has Betty Wright on his album. And Babyface. And Robin Thicke. (Among others.)

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Columbia, Md.:

I saw Stone Temple Pilots two weekends ago up in NJ. STP was an hour late and didn't really put on a great show. I hope Wieland can hold it together and put on a better show at V. Fest in August.

J. Freedom du Lac: David and I might have to make another side bet here. Though I'm not sure which side I'd come down on this time. (I took the over on Van Halen and David wound up having to go to a Wiggles concert. God, that was awesome.)

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Severna Park, Md.: Where did you go on your vacation, and does everyone call everything "ripe" there?

J. Freedom du Lac: Only if you haven't showered in a couple of days.

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Robert Earl Keen: I saw him open for Lyle Lovett once. He was great.

J. Freedom du Lac: He's definitely great. Knows a good song when he hears one, too, as he covers McMurtry's "Levelland."

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re: R.E.M.: A few days back, the Chicago Tribune ran an interview with Mike Mills where he as much admitted that Bill Berry was largely responsible for keeping their songs from meandering. Did it really take four albums for the remaining three to learn how to edit themselves?

J. Freedom du Lac: I wonder how much of it had to do with ill communications between band members. Mike alluded to that in our interview.

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Lil Wayne: ...not the primary culprit, just played a dubious role in rap ruination.

As for the uneducated listener that thinks the only guests are rappers, more examples:

Eminem, Dido

Jay-Z Beyonce, Mariah Carey

Roots, Erykah Badu

Common, Lily Allen

Kanye, Adam Levine, Chris Martin

Mos Def, Macy Gray

and there are tons of R&B/Rap collaborations--it's practically a sub-genre itself.

Or was the poster not including those?

J. Freedom du Lac: Run DMC-Aerosmith.

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Chicago, Ill.: Since Johnny Cougar no longer calls himself Johnny Cougar, does that mean I'm free to call myself Johnny Cougar now?

J. Freedom du Lac: No, but Johnny F. Weezy is available.

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And Robin Thicke: Okay, Robin Thicke. But I'd like to see what Lil Wayne and Robert Earl Keen could come up with.

J. Freedom du Lac: That would be ... interesting.

I'd definitely pay to hear that.

Well, hour hour is up. Thanks for stopping by today, folks. See you at the show. And on the blog.

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