washingtonpost.com
Freedom Rock

J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 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: Best Shows of 2008: du Lac | Malitz

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washingtonpost.com: J. Freedom's Top 10 Albums

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washingtonpost.com: Top 10 Albums and Singles, du Lac and Malitz

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washingtonpost.com: Post Staffers Year-End Lists

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washingtonpost.com: Lil Wayne and T-Pain, Strange and Stranger | T-Pain, One-Word Review

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washingtonpost.com: R.I.P. Ron Asheton of the Stooges

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washingtonpost.com: Best of 2008: Ashton Shepherd

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washingtonpost.com: Best of 2008: Thao Nguyen

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washingtonpost.com: Best of 2008: Jamey Johnson

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J. Freedom du Lac: We're six days into the new year, and already there's a prohibitive favorite for the Pazz and Jop Poll's top slot: Animal Collective's "Merriweather Post Pavilion," which leaked over the holiday and is out on vinyl today. I'm just starting to the album digest myself (wouldn't "My Girls" and "Brother Sport" sound great near the end of the night during this year's Virgin Mobile Fest?); we won't have an official review posted until next Tuesday. But "MPP" is already earning some pretty serious raves: 4.5 stars out of 5 from Tiny Mix Tapes, 5 out of 5 from Uncut, 9.6 out of 10 from some Web site that some people read, etc. Not a bad way to open the year.

But enough about the new year. Let's talk a little more about what you liked - and, if you must, disliked - in 2008. What were your favorite albums, singles, concerts, Samberg videos, etc? Who and what you hate? How much longer to we have to put up with Katy Perry? Why did T-Pain have all those midgets with him on stage, at my final concert of 2008? I need answers.

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Washington, D.C.: What happened to Underworld in your best shows of the year list(s)?

J. Freedom du Lac: Ah, yes - the great Underworld set at Virgin Mobile Festival. It was Top 10, but not Top 6. (And as I told Malitz this morning, if I'd done a Top 10, the post wouldn't have been ready until February.)

I had the Silver Jews at Black Cat (same show

that Malitz wrote up

) at No. 7.

The fantastically bizarre

Erykah Badu show at Constitution Hall

was No. 8.

Underworld's set was ninth.

And at No. 10, I had

Sharon Jones at the Black Cat

.

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Chantilly, Va.: I didn't attend as many concerts as you or David did, obviously, but my favorite of the year was James at the 9:30 Club. Will that get me laughed out of the Freedom Rock clubhouse, or did you think highly of it also? I did see that you put "Hey Ma" on your top single list.

J. Freedom du Lac: Nope, no laughter here. Very fine show, though I think both David and I were initially more obsessed with the condom-like hat that Tim Booth was wearing than anything. And one of the guys in the band was a dead ringer for Don Was. But I got over that pretty quickly and got into the music. David did, too. His review is here.

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Washington, D.C.: I know it's been asked before, but any word yet on the Stevie Wonder concert in February?

J. Freedom du Lac: February? Heck, I'm still waiting to hear about Stevie's schedule on Jan. 20.

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Alexandria, Va.: Happy to see James McMurtry in your Top 10 - is there a radio station in the DC area that has James McMurtry in its rotation?

J. Freedom du Lac: I've never heard a McMurtry song on local terrestrial radio. If you have satellite radio, I think he's still being played - though since the suits stupidly pulled the plug on Jessie Scott's terrific XM-side Americana channel, X Country, maybe not. (I'm not up on the current lineup/offerings. Anyone?)

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Post staffers: Where's Milbank's top five list?

J. Freedom du Lac: I think Fritz Hahn ate it. Fritz got the munchies while working on his list of the Top 5 Wale cameos/remixes of 2008 and was never heard from again.

Saw Wale at the

Lil Wayne/T-Pain show

, btw. Unfortunately, it was at will call (where I also ran into Raheem DeVaughn), and not onstage, where Wale would've been a much more welcome addition than all those Young Money sidekicks that Wayne brought with him. I guess Weezy needed a smoke break or something.

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Petworth: Have you listened to the new Animal Collective release?

J. Freedom du Lac: Listening as we type. Malitz tells me that the lyrics for "My Girls" are kind of silly. But I haven't even listened to the words yet - the rhythm/sound of the vocals/music is just too entrancing for me to concentrate.

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Why did T-Pain have all those midgets with him on stage, at my final concert of 2008?: I know, that's like, so 1990's.

J. Freedom du Lac: Kid Rock called, he wants his idea back.

Actually, David's plus-one did a Facebook status update about the midgets, and Gerard Cosloy responded by saying that T-Pain's mini-Britney was formerly mini-Paul Stanley in the tribute band, Mini Kiss.

Seriously

.

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Washington, D.C.: With the exception of Radiohead, is Animal Collective the best "by consensus" band around today? In other words, who do critics and listeners simply agree is beyond-words top-of-their-game right now?

I could see Wilco, Spoon and the National in this conversation, easily.

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, TV on the Radio seems to be nearing near-unanimous-approbation status, though I'm still not riding that bandwagon. Not that they need me: "Dear Science" will probably top the Pazz & Jop poll, two years after "Return to Cookie Mountain" finished second. That's a pretty strong critical showing.

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Washington, D.C.: Half-serious, half-not.

Does Prince even -have- a PR guy? Whenever he speaks, no matter how small the story or blurb, it always seems to include something that could offend half the population.

By "population," of course, I mean those who read the New Yorker or the LA Times and who care about Prince in the first place. But still.

J. Freedom du Lac: He does, but do you really think Prince would allow somebody on his payroll to tell him what he should and shouldn't say? He doesn't do interviews with a publicist sitting in the room. And that's as it should be. (There's nothing worse, IMO, than trying to interview somebody who has a minder lurking around, just waiting to interject.)

Three Prince albums this year. Should be able to get at least one exceptional disc or playlist out of that, right?

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inaugur, AL: JFreedom: what event would draw you out of your house or office on Jan 20th??

J. Freedom du Lac: Childbirth.

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Leesburg, Va.: I thought I read somewhere last week that Loretta Lynn has a new album coming out this year, but now I can't seem to find any information on web. Did I dream this, or is she coming out with a new album?

J. Freedom du Lac: She's working on new material, yes. I don't know what the release schedule is, though.

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Herndon, Va.: I just discovered Ruthie, glad to see you liked her too. Looks like she's playing a free show in Herndon in May.

J. Freedom du Lac: Truly a revelation. She has a new album coming soon, too. I hope she starts to build a following. It'd be great to see her at the Birchmere eventually.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Ron Asheton's gravestone should read R.I.F. Rest in Feedback. He will be missed. My eardrums are still reeling from the Stooges 9:30 Club show in '07.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's perfect. I didn't see the Stooges at VMoFest last summer, but I certainly heard 'em.

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Burke, Va.: No shortage of James McMurtry on Sirius (now Sirius XM, of course) . . . generally, it's "Just Us Kids" right now, which (if anything) they were OVERPLAYING for a while, but you'll also catch "Can't Make It Here Anymore" and "Choctaw Bingo" now and again. The likeliest station would be Outlaw Country, but they actually had McMurtry on Spectrum (contemporary rock, slight "adult" cast).

J. Freedom du Lac: Thanks. I never get tired of "Choctaw Bingo." Just superbly surreal, with those perfectly drawn characters.

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Where's Sonny?: I scan the year-end lists for any mention of Sonny Rollins' amazing "Road Shows" CD, which topped the list of Fred Kaplan, over at the Post's sister site, Slate. But the closest I can find is Tom Ricks' Coleman Hawkins collection, selected by Sonny Rollins.

Where's the love?

Marc Fisher claims to be a jazz fan. Perhaps he was too insistent on picking one album from each of 5 genres, but he leaves Sonny behind for another sax album. I'd like to challenge Fisher to look in the mirror the next time he wonders why jazz is diminished in the popular culture, but I guess there are better targets than someone who found room for another jazz title among his year-end choices.

J.Freedom: Where's the jazz on your list?

J. Freedom du Lac: Maybe Fritz Hahn was going to include on his list.

I had Sonny's April 18 concert at the Kennedy Center at No. 11 on my list. Might have had it higher but for the fact that the calypso stuff kind of took some of the wind out of the set's sails.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What I liked about 2008: The comeback of real bands playing hard-nosed R&B and soul again -- Rafael Saddiq, various members of the Daptone Records label, etc. And I'm not talking neo-soul, or quiet-storm either: these bands feature live horns, JB-inspired guitars and bass, Hammond B3 organs, and some really great singing.

J. Freedom du Lac: That trend has a downside, though. And her name is Duffy.

But I agree. I was particularly fond of one neo-soul artist this year, too: Ne-Yo. "Year of the Gentleman" is a great contemporary soul set -- and how could you not dig his Streisand tribute at the Kennedy Center Honors?

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Who's the Best?: Who do critics and listeners simply agree is beyond-words top-of-their-game right now? Critics might agree that TV on the Radio is the best, but I doubt many listeners even know the band exists. How many copies/downloads has Dear Science sold - a couple hundred thousand at best? I could see Jonas Brothers, Nickleback and the Jennifer Hudson in this conversation, easily.

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, if you want to use those metrics, I'd say Lil Wayne, who had the best-selling album of 2008, netted eight Grammy nominations and showed up on more than a few year-end best-of lists. Or maybe even Taylor Swift, whose sold more albums in 2008 than any other artist. She got a lot of love from critics, notably including Sasha Frere-Jones, author of this New Yorker piece. And "Fearless" was pretty positively reviewed. The big strike against her, of course, is that she has some pitch problems when she sings live - and on the Grammy nominations telecast, her voice sounded super-thin, to boot.

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Baton Rouge, La.: J. Freedom du Lac: Kid Rock called, he wants his idea back.

Actually, David Lee Roth was way ahead of Kid Rock re: midgets. So I guess DLR wants his idea back.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's right! Though the Geto Boys might have something to say about it, too.

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country seco, ND: they have this thing called internets radio - radioIOalt country, bootliquoron sonomafm and radiofreetexas - to name but three occasionally play McMurty. A couple of bests that I neglected to mention last time: Alajendro Escovido's Real Animal; the Imus Racnch Record. the latter has some great performances ( Is Vince Gill ever bad?)

J. Freedom du Lac: Excellent tips - thanks.

And no, Vince Gill is never, ever bad. He's probably my favorite person to interview in the music biz, too - perfect combination of funny and thoughtful, with a real sense of history as well as a finger on the pulse of the contemporary music scene. And yeah, he can play and sing a little, too.

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I could see Jonas Brothers, Nickelback and the Jennifer Hudson in this conversation, easily. : No. Because you'd have to have the critics on board to fulfill the "critics and listeners" part of the question. Show me a critic who likes Nickelback.

J. Freedom du Lac: There must be one, right?

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Midgets as sidekicks: Maybe it's time to start a new trend. The unusually tall over all the stage? Nope, that wouldn't work. The star of the show would be blocked from view. Thus, midgets.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, especially Lil Wayne. He looked tiny up on that stage.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Favorite show of the year: Julie Fowlis, trad Scots folk singer, at Jammin' Java on September 27.

J. Freedom du Lac: One vote.

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He doesn't do interviews with a publicist sitting in the room. : It would be hilarious, though. Some dude in a suit sitting next to him could scream out "NO!" every time Prince was about to answer.

J. Freedom du Lac: And then immediately getting fired - or at least upbraided - by Prince. Oh yeah.

I hope he tours in '09. He good.

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Springsteen WalMart exclusive: I am now terrified of Boss fans. Apparently putting out a crappy greatest hits "exclusive" with WalMart is akin to killing his fans' firstborns. Thank you.

J. Freedom du Lac: I thought that was a curious decision by Landau, et al, precisely because of that sort of blowback was inevitable.

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Washington, D.C.: I saw Malitz has Skip James, "1931 Sessions" on his best of list. Is this something different than the recordings that have been available on Yazoo for many many years?

David Malitz: I'm not exactly sure, to be honest. There are a couple of Skip James things on Yazoo, and those might actually have more total songs, but Mississippi Records always does such a fantastic job with their releases, and this one was no different.

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There must be one, right? : Okay. Show me a RESPECTED critic who likes Nickelback.

J. Freedom du Lac: I can't remember whether Ann Powers of the LA Times likes them or not. She is without question my favorite pop music critic, daily newspaper division. And she's widely respected. I know she's fond of Hinder, but that's a different flavor of tea. If she is in the pro-Nickelback camp, then that'd be one. If not, well ... we're still looking.

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Midgets: If I saw a show with midgets onstage, all I would be able to think of is the dancing leprechauns of Stonehenge in Spinal Tap.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, that thought crossed my mind. And also my BlackBerry, as the text messages came in from across the arena, where Malitz was sitting.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it just me, or does the time seem especially ripe for a relatively out-of-nowhere change of tide, a la Nirvana sending Michael Jackson packing?

Not to sound overly oldster (look at me, I'm listening to Merriweather Post Pavillion!), but most popular music cranked out nowadays... it seems to be considerably weaker than it's been in years. Essentially, if Beyonce and Rihanna are the best pop stars out there right now... things just seem dull. "Single Ladies" excepted, of course.

J. Freedom du Lac: Oh, I don't know. There's plenty of good music out there - even at the mainstream pop level. I'm not against a sea change by any stretch, but I also don't think that things are as bad as some people make them out to be. Kind of reminds me of what Robert Christgau used to write every year at Pazz & Jop time: "It was the worst year for music since ... "

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Washington, D.C.: Can I still listen to "Soul Corruption" by Graham Parker after 1/20? I still listen to "Durban Poison," but isn't there a downside to being a voice of social outrage when you turn out to be superseded by events, at least a bit? Is it kind of like finding answers to "Blowing in the Wind"?

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, of course. Outrage never goes out of style. The hemlines and fabrics and colors may change, but it's always in.

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Washington, D.C.: One of the worst shows I saw in 2008 was Kings of Leon at Constitution Hall. Terrible acoustics, half hearted performances, banal stage banter -- it had it all. What happened to this band between now and when I saw them at the 930 Club in Sept 2007? It was only about a year between shows. Please do tell.

J. Freedom du Lac: I don't know. I never really "got" them, so I'm the wrong person to ask. That said, I think most artists have a tough time at Constitution Hall. Only a few of the shows that I've seen there have been good - Badu in '08 and Arcade Fire in '07 come to mind.

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Springsteen/Wal-Mart: I'm kind of loving this idea: real-life working class people actually shop at Wal-Mart, so maybe Springsteen wants his fans to see what America really looks like, instead of just singing along to fake-Seegery anthems.

J. Freedom du Lac: Which would make sense but for the fact that you can order the album online, thus avoiding the in-store experience entirely.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there an artist that you can think of who hasn't put out an album in 5+ years, but who isn't retired? And whom, if that album came out, time would basically stop?

J. Freedom du Lac: A few years ago, I would've said Sly Stone. But then I saw him on the Grammys and, well...

It wouldn't be the same without Rick Danko, but I think an album by the surviving members of the Band (Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, et al) could be interesting.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm glad to see someone put Thao's record on their best-of list for 2008. I saw her open for Rilo Kiley in Baltimore and fell in love instantly.

J. Freedom du Lac: The only crossover entry on our album lists. (We agree about Beyonce's "Single Ladies," of course.)

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Nirvana sending Michael Jackson packing: Nirvana killed big-hair, happy rock music. They didn't really kill pop.

J. Freedom du Lac: True, but when "Nevermind" reached No. 1, alternative rock instantly began taking some of pop's market share. And it kept on taking it. Which was a good thing, IMO, until the mallternative bands (Candlebox, Silverchair, etc) started to flood the marketplace.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think about Prince releasing three CDs this Year? Have you heard the new songs?

J. Freedom du Lac: I've heard some of them. Yet another reason to look forward to 2009. (Am I wrong to be more excited about Prince's new albums than U2's and Springsteen's?)

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A Perfect Storm: Bruce Springsteen on stage for the Super Bowl half time show, and he's replaced all his band members with midgets- who are all wearing cheerful blue Wal Mart greeter vests.

-except Nils Lofgren. Who would notice?

J. Freedom du Lac: Ouuuuuuuuuuuch! (Cue Randy Newman [No. 3 on my best-of'08 concerts list] here.)

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Washington, D.C.: What was your read on Maxwell's return?

J. Freedom du Lac: Didn't get to Constitution Hall to see him. Wake me when D'Angelo is back.

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One less Stooge: Ron Asheton dies, yet "American Idol" returns yet again.

Life just ain't fair sometimes.

J. Freedom du Lac: On the other hand: "Gossip Girl" is back. So there is some balance in the universe. (Though I'm afraid that show has jumped the shark.)

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Washington, D.C.: I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls.

(OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!)

J. Freedom du Lac: There you go, quoting lyrics from the Animal Collective album whose words I haven't even started hearing yet.

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Anonymous: Spike Jones had a midget in his band, so he wins.

J. Freedom du Lac: Surely, he got the idea from Bill Veeck.

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Springsteen/WalMart: Maybe he's trying to thin the herd a bit. But it won't work, and it's too bad all the people "boycotting" the WalMart release won't be boycotting the shows as well--I'd love to shed the whiners.

J. Freedom du Lac: Selective outrage. Everybody's doing it.

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LONG BEACH: HAVE YOU HEARD BONGO JOE YET? Bongo Joe's music is now on youtube.com you can now groove to "Transistor Radio", and "Innocent little Doggie"........ Bongo Joe, from Oakland, presaged rap by a quarter century, when the turf was maintained by Walter Brennen, Lorne Greene, Bobby "Boris" Pickett and Gil Scott-Heron.

J. Freedom du Lac: I think this is my cue to sign off.

Thanks for stopping by, folks. Stop by the Post Rock blog early and often for interviews with Kim Deal and Calle 13, plus the first "Please Explain to Me..." of 2009

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re: Wake me when D'Angelo is back. : Pish posh - bring back Terence Trent D'Arby!

J. Freedom du Lac: (Pssst - he already came back, in the form of Jamie Lidell. Check out "Multiply.")

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