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Freedom Rock

J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 2, 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 Nicole Scherzinger does.

The transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: What's Age Got To Do With It; Onstage, Proud Tina Is Nearly 69 Years Young

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Arlington, Va.: J, Is that new Springsteen song, 'Working on a Dream' the catchiest song you've ever heard?

J. Freedom du Lac: No. Britney's "Womanizer" is catchier.

Welcome to the chat. I'm off the phone with Vince Gill now, so let's do this, shall we?

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Nutbush: You were pretty harsh to Tina Turner. Jack LaLanne? Screeching? Give her a break. She is almost 70 years old, doing more at that age than you will ever do.

J. Freedom du Lac: Wait a second: Was this a victory lap or a concert tour? Was Tina offering a senior discount, or were tickets full-priced?

As I said

after I reviewed his 9:30 club concert three years ago

, a concert must to be reviewed on its own merits. The performer doesn't get a mulligan based on what s/he might have done in decades past. Doesn't mean they should be putting on the same shows that they were doing in the 1960s and 70s. But they still have to deliver in some way, shape or form - and quite frankly, Tina did.

Whereas James Brown didn't. He would've been better off if he'd done more plaintive ballads and less of the uptempo stuff. (Aretha didn't even bother with "Think" when

she was at Wolf Trap in July 2007

. Too fast and high for her, probably. Smart move leaving it out, then.)

Re Tina, I noted my very few objections in the review: The Mad Max bit was beyond the lameadome, and I hated the dated sound of those '80s synths. And at times, she did sound screechy.

But it was an overwhelmingly positive review.

And if you think comparing somebody to Jack LaLanne is an insult, well ... I just don't know what to say. The man is a marvel. So is Tina, at the age of 69.

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Washington, D.C.: Thoughts on Eric Hutchinson? Thanks.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes: As an interview subject, he's a good sport.

Great knack for pop hooks. I think I prefer my catchy pop even catchier and frothier, though. Like maybe

Mika

.

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College Park, Md.: Man, did you see this?

Never thought of Pavement as either the home decor guru type or the give in to lame corporate gimmick type.

J. Freedom du Lac: Hey, indie godheads need home furnishings, too! Just watch, though: The winner will wind up shopping with Jason Fawkes.

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Tina: I'd heard her sing but had not seen her face until I saw the cover of Ike and Tina's "Working Together" album in 1971. That look, combined with the songs on that album, which in my opinion is still one of her best, turned me on to what I had been missing. I got to see her show at Shady Grove Music Fair after Ike was gone. It was sort of a disappointment musically, due to a weak band, but she still tore it up. My biggest disappointment was the "Hooters girl" hose that she had on. The skirt was slit up the "there" but you really couldn't see a thing (darn it).

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, if that's all it takes to make a concert memorable for you, then maybe you need to spend more time following Tori Amos around on tour.

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Washington, D.C.: Tina is an amazing performer. I thought your review in today's WP was on point, but I still have a few burning questions after last night's show: When did Amway become a concert promoter? Who in the world thought running their buzz-killing infomercials a good idea? Is the addition of on-stage "entertainment" to concerts like the "ninja" team the lasting contribution of Celine Dion?!? (To catch up on the last few weeks of concerts: can't believe Pete & Roger actually hugged at the end of the Who show @V-Center and thanks for talking up James McMurtry, I really enjoyed catching his concert in Brooklyn).

J. Freedom du Lac: Ah, yes: Tina Turner, brought to you by Amway Global. The best of the commercials was the one promising skin that looked 41 percent more youthful. Talk about knowing your audience! But how do you measure youthfulness in skin? I mean, maybe you count wrinkles and whatnot. But to be so precise as to figure on 41 percent??!?! That's pretty awesome.

I didn't mind the pregame commercials so much. The ones at halftime were a definite downer, though. Of course, I am always opposed to concert intermissions. It bugged the bejeesus out of me when George Michael did it this summer. See my rant

here

.

The stage-crashing ninja dancers were pretty lame, too. I prefer the less intrusive interpretive-dance interludes that most other pop stars are using now during extended costume changes. Though, really, I'd rather just hear the band vamp.

Then again, we live in an all stimulation/all the time era in which you can't just go to a baseball stadium to watch a game.

You have to catch the in-game "concert," too

.

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They call it Cyber Monday: but Tuesday's just as bad.

J. Freedom du Lac: Manic Monday kind of guy. At least Til Tuesday.

BTW, if you're planning to see one of Aimee Mann's Xmas shows at the Birch this year, run, don't walk. They're gonna sell out. She gives good holiday show, no?

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broooooooooce!: How much are you looking forward to the new album? Another reason to be excited about January 2009!

J. Freedom du Lac: Looking forward to it about 6.8 on a scale of 1 to 10. I have mixed feelings about the material that's been released thus far. Re the tour that's sure to follow, though: 10.

And yes, January 2009 is going to be a pretty epic month, indeed. More for me than it is for you, but that's neither here nor there, eh Winky?

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Working on a Dream: It's catchy, but annoying! I think it's terrible, at least for Springsteen, and yet I can't get it out of my head.

J. Freedom du Lac: You sound like one of my colleagues, Ally, after I quoted Run-DMC's "Mary Mary" in an email exchange last week. I'm not sure she's been able to get it out of her head yet.

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Bethesda, Md.: There's an AP article on the WP site stating that iTunes top single by Leona Lewis sold a little over 3.2 million and Coldplay's latest album sold 500,000 digital copies (out of 2 million total copies) as the top sellers for both formats. Are these figures US sales only? Doubtful as Leona Lewis is a British singer Either way, those figures are horrible/pathetic. There are roughly 3.2 million people in Chicago. Imagine 3.2 downloads spread throughout the world. It's insignificant. How many more people really illegally downloaded this Leona Lewis song? 1 million, 20 million, still insignificant if worldwide. Are musical tastes so diversified that these crap top sellers are just the last artists standing or is Bob Lefsetz grossly overstating the power of the download to write another rant about how great Apple and Steve Jobs are? Even if they gave it away, what difference does that make to an "artist" like Leona Lewis?

J. Freedom du Lac: I believe that's US-only. And yes, you have to look at the total number of people who have the songs/albums in some shape/form. How many acquired the Leona track illegally? Or got copies from friends who actually bought it?

It's true, however, that the mass-appeal stuff isn't quite as mass anymore. The pop space is shrinking. And that's probably not a bad thing.

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Jane Says: Why is this song on the radio all the time?

J. Freedom du Lac: Simple, catchy, strummy, with steel drums and lyrics about heroin - what's not to love?

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Washington, D.C.: How do I explain to my friend, in musical terms, why Tool (while perhaps irrelevant at this point) is so much more talented than a crap band like My Chemical Romance? I mean, I know about Tool's experimentation with complex musical structure, I just don't know how to explain it. Thanks.

J. Freedom du Lac: Arizona Bay, get in here!

Complexity is probably your best argument. That's true both musically and lyrically - but especially musically. I do have a strange appreciation for MCR, though. Just saying...

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Fairfax, Va.: Do the Grammys finally Martin Scorsese the Boss and give him Album of the Year?

J. Freedom du Lac: Wasn't the album eligible for last year's awards? Got shut out of the main categories. So, to answer your question: No.

The Grammys aren't like the CMAs, which in the past have awarded the same songs in back-to-back years. "He Stopped Loving Her Today," for instance, was single of the year in both 1980 and '81. (Though that makes sense, since it's really one of the great country singles ever.)

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K Street: It may be a bit early to pose this, but wondering what you are looking forward to most in 2009, music and otherwise? I'm ready to be done with 2008!

J. Freedom du Lac: Dr. Dre's "Detox," if it's ever released. New Loretta Lynn? (She's been working on new stuff, apparently.) Britney's tour. (Seriously.) Bruce's tour. New Eric Church album. Ashton Shepherd's slow rise to stardom. Err, what else?

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South Bend: How would you rank the Springsteen albums of the 2000s? Do any of them rank above his first eight albums up to and including Tunnel of Love? I think we can all agree they're better than the Other Band albums.

J. Freedom du Lac: This has too much crossover with a blog post we have planned in January. Can't go there now.

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Towson, Md.: You're a Fall fan. Very much enjoy those Friday Fall items you post. Have you heard anything about a US tour coming up anytime soon?

David Malitz: Glad that someone besides me is enjoying those. I haven't heard anything about an upcoming tour, and I wouldn't hold my breath. They just finished a batch of U.K. shows that didn't result in the firing of the entire band (I believe) so you have to consider that a mild success, at least. I caught MES's Von Sudenfed side project (with Mouse on Mars) when I was in London last year and he was as grumpy and annoyed as ever. This site is the best place to keep up with news about the Fall.

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Baltimore, Md.: Tina and Jack LaLanne: I thought your comparison was absolutely on point, as both are not just ageless, but impossibly youthful. LaLanne is, I think, 90 years old but still has a V-shape and boasts in interviews about how often he and his wife of many, many years have sex. I think he still celebrates birthdays by swimming. While towing a boat. With a rope between his teeth. Not sure how he would do on a cherrypicker in high heels, though.

J. Freedom du Lac: Chuck Norris once broke his hand while slapping Jack LaLanne's back.

That cherry-picker bit was truly great. My mom was at the show with me, and Rashod Ollison from the Baltimore Sun was sitting on the other side. He'd been texting with his mom down south throughout the day and during parts of the show. When Tina was perched right above our heads during the encore, I leaned over to tell Rashod that his mom probably hated him at that exact moment. She totally should have been there! At least he got some good cellphone pix.

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Thank you Bruce: This chat will now return to its All Boss, All the Time format.

J. Freedom du Lac: We're getting close, yeah.

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He Stopped Loving Her Today: You sez: "(Though that makes sense, since it's really one of the great country singles ever.) "

No, you're wrong.

It's the greatest country single ever.

J. Freedom du Lac: I'm with you on that one. Not unanimous, though. You know what song George really, really likes, maybe more than any of his hits? "King of the Mountain," which I believe is a Dallas Frazier song. "I thought I was king of the mountain/But I was only a fool on the hill." George sang part of it when I was visiting with him. That was not a bad day at all.

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New Loretta Lynn: With Jack or not?

J. Freedom du Lac: She apparently did a little bit of work with Todd Snider that, I'm told, sounded like some Jason and the Scorchers stuff. (The reports were that it was flat-out fantastic.) But I think they decided to go in a different direction. Afraid of the inevitable "Van Lear Rose" comps, I guess.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Read the Post review, but now want to hear from you. Thoughts on 808s & Heartbreaks? I think/thought that was as compelling and worthy of discussion as the latest from "the boss".

J. Freedom du Lac: Much like the six pounds of maple-whipped yams I cooked last week, I'm still digesting it. I love it; I'm just not sure how much. Chris Richards, of course, was drooling, album-of-the-year-style.

It's fascinating to me that the record features some really personal music and yet the vocals are pressed through Auto-Tune, which, of course, throws off an impersonal vibe. Dude sounds like a robot that needs to be rewired before he short-circuits himself with tears. Or something.

And the "Love Lockdown" drums: Just bananas.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there an album from the past that you wish you could review right now? An album you could just go on and on about (intelligently, no less), but will never get the chance to do because it's simply not new anymore? I would pick Neutral Milk Hotel "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" and the Kinks "Arthur."

J. Freedom du Lac: That's the great thing about a blog: If I really feel like I need to scratch that itch, I can come up with some sort of silly conceit and just go for it. So the answer is no, not really.

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Washington, D.C.: I agree that the masses for mass appeal music is much smaller now than it was, say, 40 years ago. There are so many more niches available now via the net. That said, why has commercial FM seemingly concentrated around an even smaller core of pop music as the masses have fractured? It seems that the powers that be would rather have a lot of people lukewarm to their service and look at alternatives than have any core group happy with it. Thoughts?

J. Freedom du Lac: They don't want people switching the station, looking up and down the dial for something more familiar. They play that same small selection of songs because branching out is bad for business. Ever notice how poorly the more adventurous stations tend to do in the Arbitron books? There are some exceptions, of course. But not many.

Not that I particularly care for the way pop stations are programmed. But I understand it.

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Washington, D.C.: Did you attend Van Morrison's Live at the Hollywood Bowl 40th Anniversary concert of Astral Weeks?

J. Freedom du Lac: Nope.

But Tim Page did

!

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College Park, Md.: Gotta disagree on those Friday Fallies. Really, who cares? I'm finding those posts obscure for the sake of obscurity. We all know how cool you are, Malitz. Get over it.

J. Freedom du Lac: You honestly have no idea how cool David is.

I think it's a great idea. Kind of subversive, really.

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Santa's Workshop, North Pole: What is your favorite Christmas song?

J. Freedom du Lac: Darlene Love's "Baby Please Come Home." Because it's terrific, and I don't hear it as much as most holiday songs.

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Beltsville. Md.: For the TOOL fan trying to get their friend into the band....

First off, castigating one of their favorites isn't the best way to do it. MCR is actually quite good overall, especially given how much of a push they got. Usually it's crap that the label can make a bundle off of rather than a band who, I would assume, is getting the better end of their deal. MCR also puts on a great stage show. Just saying.

As for TOOL, tell them it's like MCR without the finely crafted cheese. MCR is, lets face it, kinda cheesy but in a good way. Rather much like Judas Priest. Trying to explain TOOL, yeah, not easy, but try emphasizing the emotion that Mr. Keenan puts into they lyrics and how much the band itself does, in fact, rock. They rock very very hard and loud when they really want to.

J. Freedom du Lac: There you go.

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Speaking of aging well: Susanna Hoffs is better looking now than she was during the 80s, and I was a hormonal teen back then.

Somehow I doubt we'll be saying the same of Britney, Xtina, or Jessica Simpson in 20 years.

J. Freedom du Lac: L. Freedom and I were flipping through the channels the other night and stumbled upon some Anderson Coooper special on CNN as some singer was performing. Her voice sounded awfully familiar, as did the song. But I didn't recognize her until the closeup. It was Xtina. That woman is a shape-shifter.

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Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: I need some advice about what to buy my brother-in-law. He loves music so I want to give him some albums but I am not sure what to buy him. He is very particular about what he listens to. Some of his favorites are Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Towne Van Zandt, old Dolly Parton and John Prine. He is going to a Loretta Lynn concert this month and recently went to a Lyle Lovett show. Can you help?

J. Freedom du Lac: Ah, so he likes GOOD music!

You might do well by picking up an iTunes or Amazon.com or secondspin.com gift card and letting him choose, since you can't possibly know what he does and doesn't have already. But if you dare: Maybe James McMurtry's "Just Us Kids," Ashton Shepherd's "Sounds So Good," Jamey Johnson's "That Lonesome Song" and Hayes Carll's "Trouble in Mind."

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Counter to the FM counter...: But shouldn't they be just as worried that people won't stop on their station because everything they play both is familiar and stinks? Sometimes you feel like some Leona Lewis, oftentimes, not so much.

J. Freedom du Lac: Your mileage may vary, but generally, they're not playing it if it's not researching well with their target demo.

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Columbia, Md.: Hey J -

I'm working on my best of 2008. Before I give my list, I thought I would ask if you saw (and were equally shocked) that She & Him was Paste Magazine's album of the year. I have really enjoyed listening to it, but album of the year? Especially since they seem to have missed Ra Ra Riot and Conor Oberst entirely...

And here is my list of "singles" in no particular order:

1. Conor Oberst - Sausalito 2. Ra Ra Riot - Can You Tell 3. Death Cab - You Can Do Better Than Me 4. Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa 5. Okkervil River - Calling and Not Calling My Ex-Girlfriend 6. Love as Laughter - Coconut Flakes 7. Whigs - Right Hand on My Heart 8. Blitzen Trapper - Furr 9. Hold Steady - Sequestered in Memphis 10. Fleet Foxes - Ragged Wood 11. Raconteurs - The Switch and the Spur 12. My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges 13. Walkmen - In The New Year 14. Mountain Goats - San Bernadino 15. Ryan Adams - Crossed Out Name 16. She & Him - Why Do You Let Me Stay Here 17. Calexico - Slowness 18. Mates of State - My Only Offer 19. Stars - A Thread Cut With a Carving Knife 20. Gary Louris - She Only Calls Me on Sundays

And what, no love for the Yamaha DX-7? Next up you be knocking the Roland D50 and the goofy bells that were in the Top Gun Anthem and god only knows how many other songs...

J. Freedom du Lac: I honestly haven't been paying attention to the best-of lists, but yeah, She & Him -- that's pretty shocking. Lovely stuff, but it's not even Top 20 for me. Maybe they just wanted to put Zooey on the cover.

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Xmas song: Otis' White Christmas is without question the best Xmas song ever. You're welcome.

J. Freedom du Lac: Great recording, but I've heard the song itself too many times. Plus, the arrangement and vocal of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" are just so undeniable. How can you not love 'em?

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I need some advice about what to buy my brother-in-law: Ry Cooder

J. Freedom du Lac: He's pretty expensive, though, no?

In fits and starts, I've been watching the Buena Vista Social Club documentary that came out shortly after the BVSC album. Great stuff.

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For Foggy Bottom BIL: Neko Case, Flatlanders

J. Freedom du Lac: Based on the in-law's tastes, I think Ashton is a better pick than Neko.

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Re: Working on a Dream: I think it's a good song, more pop-oriented than he's been since probably The River album, but why the whistling?

J. Freedom du Lac: Goes well with sleigh bells. (Or am I making this up, that there are sleigh bells at the beginning of the song? Not willing to interrupt my Darlene Love listening session to put Bruce back on.)

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think Soulsides will ever get back to relevance? Greatest Bumps and the first few Blackalicious discs were sweet, but the solo Gift of Gab, and Maroons stuff was awful.

J. Freedom du Lac: Only if they stop drinking "40 Oz. for Breakfast."

It's true: The once-mighty Soulsides crew has really fallen off. Not sure what happened, but those guys used to be so great. I remember pulling over one night while listening to Asia Born do a freestyle on KMEL. I actually wrote down some of the mega-syllabic words he was using. It was like he was rhyming straight out of a thesaurus or something. Such vocal dexterity, and somehow all the words worked together contextually.

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Austin, Tex.: No more Chinese Democracy questions then?

J. Freedom du Lac: Just this one.

I don't think anybody cares. At least not the people who hang out here.

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2008 Top 20?: Now, I listen to a ton of different and new music (thanks company-formerly-known-as-XM and Slacker), but I have heard of just 5 of those bands and none of those songs. What are you hipper-than-thou people listening to?

J. Freedom du Lac: Some people like Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. Some like Alba white truffles.

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more for bil: the Traveling Wilburys

J. Freedom du Lac: Don't you think the B-i-L has already heard the Traveling Wilburys? They've been around, ya know.

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Whistling on a Dream: On that subject, what song had the best whistling (after 'Jealous Guy', of course)? XTC's 'Generals and Majors', perhaps?

J. Freedom du Lac: Recently? Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks."

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South Bend: I'm looking forward to that blog post! But since you can't answer that question, how would you compare how Springsteen has held up both musically and live in concert versus other classic rockers out there today?

J. Freedom du Lac: Much better. Like, maybe seven standard deviations.

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Washington, D.C.: Chatting with Vince Gill? Cool! The guy sounds like a great interview. Is this for an upcoming story or a blog post?

J. Freedom du Lac: Vince is just great. We were talking about George Jones, who I profiled for the Kennedy Center Honors section we're publishing on Sunday.

Just one quick bit: I asked Vince about the CMAs, given that he's won five male vocalist of the year awards to just two for George Jones.

Q: Means you're 2.5 times the vocalist George is, right?

A: Well, yeah, everybody knows that. [Laughs.] I weigh 2.5 times more than he does as well.

By the by, Vince is doing a Christmas show with his wife, Amy Grant, at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore a week from tomorrow. None of their own songs; just the Christmas stuff.

Says Vince: "Amy's a lot better at it than I am. I enjoy it, but not like she does. This is a magical time of the year for her. She gets to dress up the tree, do all these things that she really, really loves and is really gifted at, and it transcends musically, too. There's something compelling about her singing these songs, something that people are drawn to, not unlike Johnny Mathis or Nat King Cole. I'm just riding her coattails. I'm no dummy. I show up, sing a few songs, play the guitar then get to go home with her."

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Washington, D.C.: So where do you get your Campbells? Seriously, how do you stumble across new stuff?

J. Freedom du Lac: In the mailroom and online generally.

Speaking of which, mail duty calls. Haven't been through the bins since I went to California to ride an elevator with Hugh Jackman. (Actually, that's not really why I was there. But it was worth noting anyway.)

Thanks for stopping by. See you all on the blog.

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