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Freedom Rock

J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 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 Clay Aiken does.

The transcript is below.

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washingtonpost.com: One for the Ladies

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washingtonpost.com: Mush Beloved: Celine Dion's Power Pap

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J. Freedom du Lac: A moment of silence for MTV's "TRL," please.
The show's cancellation means that MTV will only be playing about 138 seconds of music per day. And people will be talking over it.

And where will Mariah go now for her meltdowns?

She's always welcome here, I guess.

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Dallas, Tex.: Any thoughts on NBC's use of "Everyday Is Like Sunday" for its football promo? Reminds me of the Post's coverage of songs used by politicians just for the chorus not the real meaning of the song.

J. Freedom du Lac: Malitz blogged about it last week. Very strange, indeed (the commercial, not DM's blog post). If you're going to a Morrissey song for a football commercial, make sure it's the global version of football, with the round, black-and-white ball and the rioting fans - not the smashmouth American sport. Can't wait for the NFL to start using a Rufus Wainwright song or something.

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Davidsonville, Md.: Who was that horrible woman who mangled and mauled the national anthem last night before the MNF game? Note to singers: Do not try to make it your own ... #1, it is not yours, it is all of ours, and #2, you will screw it up like that sad excuse of a singer did last night.

Think yew.

J. Freedom du Lac: Kat DeLuna, a pop singer who apparently trained as an opera singer. I agree with you: She would've been better off had she not tried to make it her own. 'Twas rough.

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What's The Theme Here?: JF: Theme song for the governor of Alaska?

J. Freedom du Lac: We've already gone there, but maybe this?

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Washington, D.C.: You have to admit Metallica's "Death Magnetic" is a significant improvement over their last 2-3 studio releases. However, is that due to the so-called "career resurrector" Rick Rubin, or Metallica's choice to return to their true metal roots?

J. Freedom du Lac: Sure, it's definitely an improvement, though the last couple-few albums represent a relatively low bar for that band. It's sort of like a warmed-over take on "Master of Puppets"-era Metallica. Not the most inspired music they've ever made, but it'll do. Rubin might have pushed them in that direction, or he might have just guided them there once they were on the way. It's always tough to tell with him. But he's more of a sherpa than a knob-twiddling type.

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Baltimore, Md.: Excellent Ne-Yo review and I can't wait to pick up the album! I've also read a Rolling Stone review of it which was pretty similar to yours. In particular, both of you made nearly identical comments about the song "Lie to Me" and its connection to "Cry Me a River." I can only imagine that the song really is so similar to JT's that it's only natural to draw the comparison, but it does lead me to wonder... Do you ever read other critics' reviews prior to reviewing something for yourself? Seems like that could taint your opinion and give you preconceived ideas. Just curious!

J. Freedom du Lac: I generally try to avoid reading other reviews before I write my own. Not much value there for me, as I'm trying to come up with my own take and I don't like to be colored by outside opinions. The power of suggestion starts to come into play - sorta like when somebody at a wine tasting says that a particular wine smells like a summer day in Provence, and then people who wouldn't have thought of that otherwise start to agree, even if they're not sure they're actually smelling that.

I occasionally like to read feature stories on/interview with the artists before writing a review, to get a sense of what they're saying about their work. In this case, I read a USA Today feature on Ne-Yo with an accompanying mini-review. Also read a quick-impressions review on Idolator, which was largely about Ne-Yo's Michael Jacksonisms.

The "Cry Me a River" vis-a-vis jumped out at me the first time I heard "Lie to Me," in the same way that I heard clear echoes of "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas in Solange's "I Decided" - a comparison that I've since seen a bunch of other people make. Which is either good, in that it means we're not off the mark, or bad, in that it means I can't come up with an original and exclusive thought. I'll take the former for $200, Alex - at least in this case.

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Silver Spring, Md.: True or false: "Dear Science" is the album of the year.

As someone who couldn't ever fully get behind their earlier stuff... this is just masterful. It's like David Foster Wallace to everybody else's Dan Brown.

(pours drink, footnotes)

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, it's either true or false. I don't have an opinion yet as I haven't heard the album (it's the new TV On the Radio for those keeping score at the sort of white-collar firefighting office where people don't actually follow this stuff). As someone else who couldn't ever fully get behind the band's earlier stuff, I'm officially intrigued - especially as Chris Richards, who is reviewing the album for TWP, said in an IM earlier today that this could be The One.

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RE: national anthem singing: I'm not some crazed patriot, but I miss the days where everyone in the crowd just sang the anthem together to a simple ballpark organ accompaniment. Now every sporting event everywhere has to have a featured performer, however small time.

J. Freedom du Lac: Not the games at Wrigley!

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Arlington, Va.: I believe that everyone reading this chat needs to see this:

Fondant Jovi

J. Freedom du Lac: Excellent. Though the chest-hair frosting kind of freaks me out.

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Washington, D.C.: I know you were a huge Celine Dion fan before that show, president of her fan club etc. etc., so it was a surprise to read your review. What turned you? Other than the banal lyrics and overproduced pop and studly poses.

J. Freedom du Lac: Her hair.

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Mmmmm, Saccharin: Sold out the V Center. The joys of saccharin music. Odd, she and KISS have sold about the same number of records. Does that say more about one or the other?

J. Freedom du Lac: And now, for your reading pleasure, I'll pass along an email from an angry Celine fan:
Patrick sent the following message:

what is your problem? frustrated/failed musician? do you hate any performer who isn't an indie?
review, after review, after review, you cut down every MOR concert at Verizon. if you don't like MOR (and seeing sold out concerts), why don't you ask your editors to send someone else. I saw Celine, yes she's over the top about half the time, but for the price of concert tix these days, I want a show and she certainly delivered. I saw Maroon 5 and other than Adam Levine moving around the stage, the rest of the band could have been replaced by those automatronic characters at DisneyWorld, they were so lifeless. why don't you give MOR acts a break, ok? I understand that you want to maintain your indie "cred", but your constant negative reviews make DC look like an unfriendly city for MOR performers, while the sold out concerts would indicate otherwise.

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NUPTI, AL: JF: If you were the DJ at the George Takei wedding reception, what music would you have selected???

J. Freedom du Lac: Ah, very nice job of using current news to bring last week's blog post on first dances back to life. Well done. This is a dangerous topic for me, actually. Joke selections could get me in trouble. (Well, maybe not this one.) And I'm pretty sure you're not asking for serious suggestions. So ... pass. Because I kinda like my job.

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Industry Question: JFree, do you have any idea how much backup singers make when they perform, say, on one song of a very modestly successful album? I got thinking about this as I was listening to an album in a niche genre and heard a backup singer I knew used to make albums of her own. Are they paid a (teeny tiny) percentage of royalties, or do they get a flat rate of some sort? Thanks for any insight you have . . .

J. Freedom du Lac: Haven't the slightest idea. Anybody who knows anything about the session-musician biz care to weigh in?

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When You Kneed, ME: Monsieur du Lac: you cncel your chat in my honour then trash me? Are you schizophrenic?

J. Freedom du Lac: I was trying to figure out how to translate "treacle" into French. Laborious process.

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West of The Rockies: J Freedom: So, there I was, last week, shopping at Marshalls and while standing in line for checkout what do I hear?? Viva la Vida! Not a cover but THE recording. Is this what happens to popular, mass popular, groups?

J. Freedom du Lac: Better than me being at Safeway and hearing a Muzak version of "Beth" a dozen years ago. That was just weird. Though come to think of it, the original Kiss version wasn't THAT much different. Still: Kiss at the supermarket!

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RE: Celine Dion: Is this the same show tickets for which went on sale, like, 5 years ago?

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, back when she was still the singer of Hillary Clinton's official campaign theme.

Here's another email:

susan sent the following message:

Your review of the Celine Dion concert was totally off base. The concert was awesome. She had the crowd on their feet the entire concert. Especially with we will rock you and the show must go on. If her type of music isn;t your favorite, why bother reviewing it, you won't give an accurate review. The sale of 200 million sales speaks for itself. She was so energetic and entertaining. It was one of the best concerts I have been to.

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"MOR"???: What's that?

J. Freedom du Lac: Middle of the road. I try not to spend too much time there; don't want to get run over by a Chrysler Pacifica that's cranking Celine Dion on the stereo.

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Austin-bound: J. Free:

Any recommendations for must-see shows at the Austin City Limits festival? Tips on the best lesser-known musicians would be most appreciated.

J. Freedom du Lac: I'm not going, so I haven't spent much time looking at the lineup. Just from a quick scan - and these aren't exactly lesser-knowns if you spend a lot of time reading about/listening to new music, but...do NOT miss Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. They killed it at Virgin Mobile Festival in Baltimore - and also at the Black Cat. Fleet Foxes, though they might struggle some in an outdoor setting; hard to say. Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet was pretty great at Jazz Fest. Delta Spirit. I haven't seen him live, but I like some of the more Josh Ritteresque stuff on Langhorne Slim's album. (Here's his Letterman performance.)

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Country Fan, USA: Last year, your top album was by Miranda Lambert. A couple of years ago, your top album was by the Dixie Chicks. Yet these chats usually generate just one question about Country music, usually from me.

Why are all your readers such white-rock punks?

J. Freedom du Lac: Oh, just give me a few minutes. There's a doozy coming.

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Re: MOR: Wow, I had no idea it had its own acronym.

Do you get more outraged e-mails than your colleagues do? People take music so personally. I'd love to see more pieces like the one where you printed a selection of outraged missives from Jonas Bros. fans.

J. Freedom du Lac: No way - the political columnists and writers get the worst of it. They make the frothing JoBro fans seem downright civil and reasonable. Sports columnists get a lot of grief, too.

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Baltimore, Md.: You're so right about the "Heat Wave"/"I Decided" connection! That said, it's one of my favorite tracks of the year.

Can't say too much for the rest of the album, though... Sorry, lil sis.

J. Freedom du Lac: The album is one nice single. Very true.

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Washington, D.C.: So granted there is a difference between music and overproduced blahter, but seeing as lots of overhyped blather sells tons of records (yes, records), do you take that into account when reviewing or is it you and ART all the way? You did fairly cite in your Celine review that the audience loved it, which is understandable since they wouldn't know music if it hit them in their deafened ears.

J. Freedom du Lac: Right: 200,000,000 Celine Dion Fans Can't Be Wrong!
I think it's important to acknowledge the artist's success and then try to figure out what made it happen. And if I disagree with 200 million people, well...

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???: Did Producer Jonas officially kill his weekly survey of late nite tv performances, or did he just get bored with it?

J. Freedom du Lac: I think his DVR broke. Too many "Gossip Girls" and "Baseball Tonights."

washingtonpost.com: I do have all of this season's episodes of GG on there, it's true, but Karl Ravech makes me ill. Anyway, during the convention weeks things were running late and I missed a bunch of performances. Then everything was in re-runs for a couple weeks. And then I forgot. But I will be firing it back up again, don't you worry!

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Baltimore, Md.: I'm confused: Celine was singing Queen songs? Yikes!

J. Freedom du Lac: I think she was confused, too. They were lousy. Totally toothless, as if she'd knocked the teeth right out of the songs while thrusting her fist into the air during one of her vocal flyovers.
She did say that she was a big, big fan of Queen and Mr. Mercury, but you just wouldn't know it from hearing those songs. (If you must: Click here for a super low-quality video from one of her shows.)

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Is It Wrong?: That I stopped seeing a girl, recently, when she told me that one of her favorite albums was Celine singing in French. That and she didn't know who the White Stripes were?! And we're talking someone in their 20s.

Needless to say, there were other things beyond that; but that just sealed the deal.

J. Freedom du Lac: Love can only get you through so much. You have to set limits. You did the right thing.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Who on God's earth is Ne-Yo? Will you review the next Trace Adkins CD?

The short shrift given country music by TWP makes me ill. Didn't even review the Toby Keith concert in August. Pitiful.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's funny. Really, really, really funny, especially given that I've been accused of writing about too much country music.

I think this was after I'd profiled Brad Paisley. Or maybe it was after my Taylor Swift feature was published. Or was it my Miranda Lambert piece?

Or maybe after it happened after I named the "Taking the Long Way" by Dixie Chicks as my 2006 album of the year, with a posthumous Johnny Cash album and Solomon Burke's "Nashville" right behind. Or, possibly after the Kennedy Center Honors in '06, when I profiled Dolly Parton?

Oh, I know! It was after I reviewed the Keith Urban show last year. Or was it the Billy Joe Shaver concert? Or maybe the story I did on Don Imus and country music? Or the pre-Grammys interview I did with Vince Gill for the blog? Or maybe the one with Ricky Skaggs?

I'm confused now. Are we writing too much about country or giving it short shrift?

To your questions: Ne-Yo is an R&B singer-songwriter whose new album will enter the big Billboard chart at No. 1 next week, giving him three No. 1 albums in three years - along with a bunch of hit singles for himself and others. So it's not your favorite genre. No worries there, although you should know that "Irreplaceable," which he co-wrote, was originally meant to be a country song. You might have heard the version that Sugarland performed with Beyonce at the American Music Awards last year. If not, go here.

Of course we'll review the next Trace Adkins album, just as we reviewed the last one. Hell, I even assigned a review of the Jamey Johnson album recently. You know, the guy who wrote "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk"? Of course you do. You're a diehard country fan who knows everything - except as it relates to the history of country coverage during my time at The Post, apparently.

As for the Toby Keith concert, he wasn't touring behind a new album. We'll review him next time.

J. Freedom du Lac: Actually, try this link for the Sugarland-Beyonce duet on Ne-Yo's song. Better quality.

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Washington, D.C.: "A doozy coming." I smell a Jessica Simpson question.

Heard the new Calexico? Or for a REAL country album, how about Murry Hammond's (Old 97s bassist) record?

J. Freedom du Lac: See above.
Have not heard the new Murry album yet. But I feel like I know everything about it via Klimek.

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Muzak City: Many years ago in a JC Penney's store, I heard a muzak version of Bananarama's "Robert DeNiro's Waiting." That was weird on many levels.

J. Freedom du Lac: Very strange.
As was the fact that they didn't play music of any kind in the elevators at the Muzak headquarters in Seattle when I visited there a dozen years ago.

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Silver Spring, Md.: J. Free,

What is your absolute, stone-cold favorite track on your iPod... "oddity" division?

Mine would have to be Bill Cosby in the late 60s/early 70s covering "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Beats Carl Lewis' rendition of the National Anthem handily.

J. Freedom du Lac: Not as weird as your Bill Cosby tune, but I have an Abba song in Spanish on mine. Performed by the Swedes themselves. Though if you don't know it's Abba, it's not really strange at all.

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Anonymous: How about an article on Rock band riders? I've heard that more than a few are outrageous.

J. Freedom du Lac: Smoking Gun pretty much owns this one.

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Kennedy Center Awards: I was surfing a couple of weekends ago and came across the George Jones story on Biography. As I was watching, I thought to myself "Why isn't ole No-Show Jones a Kennedy Center Awardee". I'd love to hear Josh Turner, Eric Church and Brad Paisley sing in tribute". Maybe have Miranda Lambert or Elizabeth Cook sing some of Tammy's parts.

Two days later, WOW !

PS I'm not the guy who claims there's only one country fan here.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes! I hope and expect that the producers will get some A-listers out for the Possum tribute. And I'm pretty sure he'll actually show up for this one.

I think I might die if Elizabeth Cook and Miranda do a duet, though maybe not, since I'm not sure their voices would blend particularly well.

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Celine Dion concert : I thought the point of being a critic is to be objective. How could you be objective if you are a Celine fan...though if you were I would never read you again. I hate Celine Dion, therefore I would make a poor critic of her music.

J. Freedom du Lac: There's no such thing as objectivity in criticism.

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Store music: Used to get "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" every so often inbetween all the MOR treacle and misunderstood heroin addiction ballads at Petmart when I worked there. Also got U2 at the grocery store a few times. Kinda fun shopping to "City of Blinding Lights".

J. Freedom du Lac: Awesome. This is my second "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" reference today. I read one in Esquire this morning, as part of a mini-graphic on the leading sources of news for youngish people (or something like that) over time. Town criers were on there, as were Jon Stewart and Colbert.

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Washington, D.C.: Saw your blog comments about Jackson Browne apologizing too much for playing new stuff. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

J. Freedom du Lac: Review tomorrow in dead tree and on This Very Web Site.

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RE: Celine singing in French: 10-15 years ago, I used to work in a record store. Once this girl from Quebec walked up to the counter with a Celine Dion record.

Her: Is this in French?

Me: No, I don't think so?

Her: How can you be sure? Have you heard it?

Me: No, but the song titles are in English, and we're not in the habit of stocking non-English language records.

Her: I think it is in French.

Me: Okay

Her: Can I buy it and return it if it is not in French?

Me: Not if it's been opened.

Her: But what if it is not in French?

Me: I'm telling you it's not in French.

Her: But you have not heard the record, no?

...this went on for at least 30 minutes. I still have nightmares about it.

J. Freedom du Lac: Sounds like a bad SNL skit. In other words, like pretty much everything that came after last weekend's cold open.

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Anonymous: I have read that the Ramones were pro and anti-right wing. Rockets for Russia sounds pro-reagan, and Bonzo in Bitburg or whatever it's called, sounds like the opposite. Did the Ramones have different political leanings within the band, or what?

J. Freedom du Lac: Johnny outed himself as a conservative in his later years. I don't think the entire band leaned that way, though.

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Anonymous: Sly Stone cancelled his show at the Long Beach Blues Festival. How odd!! Who is all time leader in this category, Sly or Chaka Khan?

J. Freedom du Lac: Sly is more famous for it, though George Jones could probably give him a run for his refund money.

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Barbra or Celine, which is it?: I submitted this the day you cancelled last week, and I'm back. Last week's article on Celine said she's sold 200 million albums, and on the same day another article about Barbra Streisand said she was the top selling female of all time at 71 million. What's up with the figures? I found this in TWP.

J. Freedom du Lac: Celine's figure is worldwide. The Babs number is for the US.

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Indie Cred Restoration Club: I disagree with Patrick. The constant presence of MOR artists like Neil Diamond, Celine Dion, The Silver Jews and George Michael in DC arenas and music halls tells me that you aren't doing enough to make DC unfriendly to MOR acts. Please, restore your indie cred and make Wayne Newton and his ilk feel unwelcome.

J. Freedom du Lac: Love that you added the Silver Jews to this list. You're just trying to get Malitz to come down from his cloud, aren't you? That was such a weird moment at that show, when Berman dedicated that song to David. It took me about five seconds to realize that he meant Malitz.

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RE: There's no such thing as objectivity in criticism. : Willie Nelson is objectively awesome.

J. Freedom du Lac: Not when he's doing reggae, he's not.

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Richmond, Va.: I know you didn't enjoy The Killers' sophomore effort. Any buzz (good or bad) about the new album that drops at the end of November?

J. Freedom du Lac: Not really. I was intrigued to see that dance-music whiz Stuart Price is producing. I guess the band is done with that whole Springsteen/U2 thing that made the last album sort of miserable to me. Maybe they'll be fun again, though this photo is sort of stupefying.

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Bruce Springsteen: hasn't been mentioned yet in today's chat, and that feels very strange. Ummm . . . I hear he did a song for that new Mickey Rourke movie?

J. Freedom du Lac: You complete me.
Thanks for stopping by today, folks. See you next time.

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