Archive For The “Music” Category

'Dream It On Through': Dolly Parton On Her New Album, Inspiring Young People And More

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'Dream It On Through': Dolly Parton On Her New Album, Inspiring Young People And More

Dolly Parton’s Dumplin’ soundtrack is all about finding the confidence to be yourself. “You star in your own role. You be the star of your own life,” Parton says.

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The new Netflix comedy Dumplin’ is all about Dolly Parton. But she’s not in it. And that was deliberate. Instead, Dolly did what Dolly does best — write and sing songs for the movie.

The film follows a young girl, Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), who lacks confidence, but after being inspired by Parton’s music, participates in a beauty pageant in Clover City, Tx., despite her mom’s objections. That mom is played by Jennifer Aniston, who also co-produced the film and helped get Parton on board.

The soundtrack for Dumplin’ features five new songs, co-written by Parton with hitmaker and 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry and re-recordings of some of Parton’s classics. The album boasts guest performances by Miranda Lambert, Sia, Mavis Staples and more.

Parton saw the film with Linda Perry before writing any of the music and immediately felt a connection to Willowdean. She says she wrote the song “Girl in the Movies” for Willowdean and every little girl and boy as a reminder: “Don’t just live in a fantasy of watching someone else live their lives. You star in your own role. You be the star of your own life.”

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“You never going to know if you don’t get out there and try,” Parton says. “Everyone should try to find out who they are and really work that out and then be willing to stand by that and just be willing to sacrifice, stand up for it fight for it and just dream it on through.”

Dumplin‘ and Dumplin’ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) are both out now. Parton spoke with NPR’s Lulu-Garcia Navarro about songwriting, her own acting career and more. Hear their full conversation at the audio link.

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'It's A Learning Curve': Alessia Cara On Growing Up, The Grammys And More

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'It's A Learning Curve': Alessia Cara On Growing Up, The Grammys And More

“At the and of the day, I feel like your purpose can come from making one person feel like they’re not alone,” Alessia Cara says.

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Those awkward, angsty teenaged years have long been fodder for pop music, but Alessia Cara has her own take on them. Her sensible, subdued pop songs like smash hits “Here” and “Scars to Your Beautiful” and laid-back demeanor speaks to millions — wallflowers, misfits and extroverts alike — who are just trying to figure themselves out. Maybe that’s because Cara is still figuring herself out, too.

The singer-songwriter’s sophomore, The Pains of Growing, out now, is a continuation of her messages of self-love, only this time, with added notes of her own apprehensions about success, adulthood and the world we’re living in.

Cara wrote the album’s lead single “Growing Pains,” two years ago during a time when she felt spread too thin and lost within herself. Cara calls this song the “initial impetus” for the rest of the album.

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“I had become, you know, the artist who talks about positivity, and being yourself and loving yourself, yet for a while there, I kind of lost that within me,” Cara says. “It’s totally fine if you believe those sentiments, but you don’t believe them everyday because it’s a learning curve, it’s a process.”

Cara remains down to Earth while she trusts the process. She still lives at home with her family and writes music in her childhood bedroom. And while some of her pop contemporaries present images of high glamour and gloss, the 22-year-old prefers to keep her style, like her music, honest, simple and comfortable.

“It just doesn’t feel like me,” she says. “I just never understood the reason to have to look like that if you want to be successful in his industry. I never understood why those two things go hand in hand.”

Critics have noticed her unique approach to music, too. This past January, the Canadian singer won her first Grammy, beating out SZA, Khalid, Julia Michaels and Lil Uzi Vert in the category of best new artist. “I never thought I’d achieve something like that so early on,” she says.

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But the moment was bittersweet. There was controversy surrounding Cara’s win. Some music fans — or more specifically, social media haters — claimed her debut album, 2016’s Know-It-All, had been out too long for her to qualify in the best new artist category. (As of a Grammys rule change in 2016, in order to be eligible in the category, the artist must not have subsequently won a Grammy, have released a minimum of five tracks or one album, and not be entered into the category more than three times.) Cara was also the only woman to win an award during the night’s televised broadcast, prompting the social media hashtag #GrammysSoMale and sparking a conversation about the award show’s need to evolve. Cara says all this baggage that came with her win slightly spoiled the experience for her.

“It was an innocent dream of mine for my whole life and when politics go into it and the Internet gets involved, unfortunately, it becomes a little tainted. I wish it didn’t affect me, but it did,” Cara says. “There were people who were claiming to be feminists, saying, ‘There’s a lack of representation and we’re upset about that.’ … But then those same people were saying mean things about me. So how can you say, ‘We want female representation, but then saying, ‘But not you’? That’s not feminism.”

But Cara says that she channeled the bittersweetness of her Grammy moment and other realizations about the music industry into The Pains of Growing. Now with two albums under her belt, Cara says she’s still trying to figure out what her purpose is through music. “But at the and of the day, I feel like your purpose can come from making one person feel like they’re not alone and just know that it’s OK if they don’t have it figured out.”

It’s all part of growing up.

Web editor Sidney Madden contributed to the digital version of this story.

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The Continuous Work Ethic Of Benny Blanco

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The Continuous Work Ethic Of Benny Blanco

“I think what makes a song good is, for a listener, there always has to be something new happening,” Benny Blanco says.

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You may not recognize the name Benny Blanco, or his voice, but that’s by design. Blanco is one of the producers behind Top 40 hits like Katy Perry‘s “Teenage Dream,” Rihanna‘s “Diamonds” and Halsey and Khalid’s “Eastside.” Now, he’s released his new album, Friends Keep Secrets, with a twist. Blanco says he will continue to add songs to Friends Keep Secrets, as he continues to write more songs with more artists.

“The way that streaming is right now, and the way that technology has progressed, you can do things a little bit differently,” Blanco says. “So, I came up with the idea to not only put out one body of work, or two bodies of work … but have them all live as one continuous album.”

From the time he was 4 years old, Blanco’s life was overtaken by music. His brother would bring him to a record store in their hometown of Reston, Va., where Blanco became obsessed with singles and tapes. His parents got him a keyboard, and Blanco began making music. At 9, Blanco won a songwriting contest, landing him with his first recording, and, by 13, multiple record deals. To his parents chagrin, Blanco opted for music instead of college.

“I just went for it, and eventually I realized no one wanted to hear a chubby Jewish kid rap,” Blanco says. “So, I was like, ‘Oh, I’ guess I’ll make all my own music, and I’ll write songs for other people.”

But along the way, he’s seen the bad side of the music industry, too. The budding producer worked alongside Dr. Luke, who has been in the spotlight in recent years due to his legal battle with Kesha. In 2014, the singer filed a civil suit against Dr. Luke and accused him of sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abusing her throughout the course of their working relationship. Since then, Dr. Luke and Kesha have been involved in this ongoing legal battle.

“I don’t have any relationship to him any more,” Blanco says. “I haven’t had a relationship in many, many years. It’s a bad situation, and I feel terrible for what happened.”

Despite these difficulties, Blanco has continued to write songs, a task which he describes as a “24-hour thing.” He even creates music in his sleep. “Sometimes I literally write songs in my dreams and have to wake up and try to write ’em down,” Blanco says. The result of his continuous work, is a fittingly ever-evolving album.

“I get this like weird feeling that’s like a rush in my heart,” Blanco says. “And I think what makes a song good is, for a listener, there always has to be something new happening. … Usually the song’s done once I hate the song, or hate myself so much that I have to get it to mix.”

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'You Know Me': Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley Gave Punk A Heart

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'You Know Me': Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley Gave Punk A Heart

Pete Shelley elevated confusion and uncoolness to an artform.

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Pete Shelley was the first person to make punk rock for everyone.

The singer-guitarist, who died yesterday at the age of 63, fronted the pioneering punk band Buzzcocks. While never quite as well known as contemporaries The Sex Pistols and The Clash, the group was historic for being the first in British punk to release a record on their own independent label, which helped kick off a DIY revolution in punk that continues to this day. But Buzzcocks touched many people’s lives for a far less academic reason. Shelley’s songs weren’t only aimed at punk’s perceived target audience in the ’70s: the tough, the cool, the angry, the edgy. Instead, he took punk’s raw, aggressive irreverence and gifted its fire to any shy, confused, nerdy kid who needed it.

I was one of those kids. In the late ’80s, I lived in the dingy Denver suburb of Northglenn. My family was poor. Our apartment was a dump. On top of all that, I was a geek. I loved Star Trek and X-Men and The Hobbit. I was scrawny, wore clunky glasses and dressed in out-of-date hand-me-downs. I was a weirdo and a wallflower, and it never occurred to me that I could view and use that as a strength.

Like a true geek, I was first exposed to punk by reading about it in books rather than experiencing it in real life. I scoured old music magazines and books for mentions of these dangerous groups from the decade prior. I began to notice Buzzcocks’ name popping up often, so a cassette copy of Love Bites, the band’s second album from 1978, became one of my first punk-rock purchases. That cassette contained “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve).” The song remains Buzzcocks’ most popular, but I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that this album, and this song, was shockingly different from the other ’70s punk I’d begun eagerly absorbing. It was… pretty. Yes, it was fast and loud and distorted. But it also had bubbly melodies and shameless pop hooks and the voice of Pete Shelley, which was as acidic as Johnny Rotten’s or Joe Strummer’s, but… sweet.

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Shelley’s lyrics were the biggest shock. He wasn’t singing about riots or violence or anarchy, but love. With vulnerability. Punk, as I’d come to understand it at the time, was about lashing out. It was about smashing things, destroying things, upending things. In “Ever Fallen In Love,” I heard, for the first time, a punk sing openly and earnestly about being hurt. If you’ve ever nursed a broken heart — and you have — Buzzcocks had a song for you.

And that meant everyone. I didn’t realize it, as one of Buzzcocks’ latecomer disciples in the ’80s, but Shelley wasn’t just singing straight love songs. He actively avoided writing lyrics that tied either the narrator or the object of their affection to any specific gender. “I tried to be as gender neutral as possible in writing songs, because for me I could use the same song for either sex,” he once told the BBC. He later explained further:

I try to keep the lyrics I write ambisexual. If I was a great butch macho rock guitarist singing songs about laying all the groupies, then it wouldn’t mean anything to women or the people I work with. I don’t like excluding people from ideas simply because of their gender. […] I enjoy writing songs that do not exclude anyone. The only people they exclude are people who don’t know anything about love.

To their own surprise, Buzzcocks enjoyed considerable mainstream success in their native U.K. From 1977 to 1979, the band released lovelorn anthem after lovelorn anthem. There were “I Don’t Mind,” “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” “Just Lust,” and “What Do I Get?” — all collected on the 1979 album Singles Going Steady, one of the essential records in the punk canon (and the rock canon, too).

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When the band broke up in 1981, Shelley hit the ground running in his new incarnation: a synth-pop star. His biggest solo hit came out that year, the single “Homosapien,” a charismatic burst of pop-punk-gone-electro that features one of Shelley’s only openly same-sex lyrics: “I’m the shy boy / You’re the coy boy.” Even when trying to stay current in the synthesizer-forward ’80s, Shelley stood out. Duran Duran and The Human League were slick and hyper-professional, with every bit of sound perfectly in place; Shelley’s solo material sounded homemade and winningly fragile. (Even before The Sex Pistols explosion in 1975 sparked Buzzcocks’ formation, he’d composed and recorded experimental synthesizer music.)

The band reunited in 1989, right after I discovered them. Mike Joyce of another famed Manchester band, The Smiths, became their drummer for a while, which only cemented their legendary status in my mind. The first time I got to see Buzzcocks was in 1993, when they played in Denver at the venerable Ogden Theatre, a venue that holds about 1,600 people. There couldn’t have been more than 200 people at that show. But you never would’ve known it, seeing the glee and energy Shelley and company poured out onstage. By then, I’d started my own pop-punk band, very much inspired by Buzzcocks. I wasn’t the only one. A year later, Green Day would release Dookie and lead a battalion of catchy punk bands to redefine mainstream rock music in the ’90s and beyond. All of them indebted, directly or indirectly, to Shelley.

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Near the end of the 1979 album A Different Kind of Tension, you’ll find Buzzcocks’ magnum opus. It’s titled “I Believe,” and it’s a breathless, frantic, seven-minute excursion into the doubt-filled shadows of Shelley’s psyche. “I can’t feel the future / And I’m not even certain that there is a past,” he sings, chanting a litany of opposing ideas — social, religious, political — that are crushing him in the middle. He then delivers, with piercing sincerity, the least punk sentiment ever uttered by an original punk legend: “I believe in the things I’ve never had / And I believe in my mum and my dad.” The song ends with three straight minutes of Shelley saying, with increasing intensity and desperation, “There is no love in this world anymore.” By the end, a robotic version of his voice creeps in to duet with him, a cold echo of lost humanity.

It’s both an accusation toward civilization in general and an acknowledgement of the futility of singing about love. And it’s all wrapped up in a marathon of of jittery, progressive pop-punk that casually and unassumingly broke the rules of the surprisingly rule-heavy ethic of punk rock. Pete Shelley called punk’s bluff, and in doing so, elevated confusion and uncoolness to an art form. But more than anything else, he empowered — and I think will always empower — the geeky and the gawky, the weirdos and the wallflowers, and the people punk doesn’t always remember to invite in.

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Glorietta On World Cafe

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Glorietta On World Cafe
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  • “Heatstroke”
  • “Lincoln Creek”
  • “Stranger’s Bed”

A bunch of artists rent a house in Glorieta, N.M. for a week of tequila, hot tubs, home cooking and music-making. Some of them know each other, some are meeting for the first time. It may sound like the premise for a spring break movie, but it’s actually the premise for a new album — one that has equal measures of sweaty, raucous fun and arresting, emotional depth. It’s a testament to the artists in question — Matthew Logan Vasquez, Noah Gundersen, Kelsey Wilson, David Ramirez, Adrian Quesada, and Jason Robert Blum — who are each exceptional songwriters and performers.

Together, they form Glorietta and they visited World Cafe to play music from the band’s self-titled debut, which came out earlier this year. Glorietta also played a song from a new EP that was just released today.

When I came downstairs to greet the band, the members had basically turned our studio into that rented house. There were people huddled on the floor, tucked into corners, lying down. Kelsey was wearing no shoes. The bandmates of Glorietta (minus Adrian and plus Jud Johnson and Brendan Bond) shared the story of their wild week in New Mexico, that time a decade ago when Nathaniel Rateliff fell out a window and why a band built on partying isn’t necessarily built to last.

Listen in the player.

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'Vox Lux' Is Too Much — And That's What Makes It So Invigorating

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'Vox Lux' Is Too Much — And That's What Makes It So Invigorating

Natalie Portman’s performance as pop star Celeste is bold, glittery and fearless in Vox Lux.

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“That’s what I love about pop music. I don’t want people to think too hard. I just want them to feel good.” – Celeste

Boy, there’s something so comforting about those fairy tales in which an unknown talent is plucked from obscurity to live out their dream of being rich and famous. We got a big ol’ tissue-grabber along those lines this year … what was it, about a star being born? Nothing bad can happen during a birth, right?

Well, Vox Lux is not A Star Is Born. It’s more like some kind of glitter-bombing Toxic Avenger, forged from the deadly waste that had to melt off the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga remake in order to make that story of unchecked music stardom palatable to a mass audience. If you thought alcoholism was the worst thing that could happen to a dream, then, friends, you thought wrong.

Brady Corbet’s second film as writer-director is a popstar mythmaker of epic, fable-like proportions, charting a small-town teen named Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) who is vaunted into the national spotlight after a horrific tragedy grants an opening, through Hell, into her budding music career. Mentally and physically unprepared for the scrutiny that follows her unexpected fame, the older Celeste (Natalie Portman in a five-alarm-five performance) spirals into a prism of self-loathing as she sells her image and essence, the very fact of her survival, to an insatiable industry and public. The film is drowning in lush colors and big, flamboyant makeup and hairstyles, all of them consuming Celeste while her dream-self barrels down a long, dark tunnel, unsure of what will await her on the other side.

The pivotal tragedy occurs in the film’s first five minutes, yet describing it in detail would push expectations for Vox Lux into the territory of one type of film when it is most assuredly in another. (Of equal importance to the act itself is the fact that it takes place in a music class.) What can be said is that the movie, in its two cleaved halves, conjures many different spectrums of violent death: political and personal, grandiose and self-inflicted, through different hands from 1999 through the present day. All inform, or are informed by, Celeste and the kind of art she makes: vaguely uplifting dance-pop that’s abstract enough in its message to find a home in many different corners of the universe. “Sci-fi anthems,” she tells a reporter in a demonic voice. “An experience that’s as relentless and addictive as possible.”

Think Sia, because she wrote the disturbingly jaunty songs featured in the movie and also serves as an executive producer. Also think Lady Gaga, because Vox Lux is a more precise rendering of her global aesthetic than Gaga’s own serviceable-yet-gooey acoustic jams in that other movie. Maybe think Gypsy and Mama Rose, for the tear of monstrous behavior that somehow adds up to a fully exposed human. And finally, think the entire spectrum of celebrity breakdowns, from Sinead O’Connor to Britney Spears, Marilyn Monroe to Kanye West. All of them feed into Portman’s gum-chewing, eye-rolling, angel-winged persona: her fears, tics, politics of pure narcissism (“I’m the new faith”), and self-destructive tendencies. And all of them inform, in no small way, the bleak and miserable world we live in today.

Corbet is biting off a lot here, like he did in his directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader. Some of his points about the direction of our celebrity-and-violence-obsessed culture feel obvious in the rearview mirror, but seeing the umpteenth movie about this stuff shimmer with an actual purpose is invigorating.

It would be easy to call Portman’s performance just more of the broad, camp-baiting work that won her an Oscar for Black Swan, or to dismiss her as “overacting” just because it’s operatic in tone. Doing so would overlook all the different spirits she’s channeling into an uncompromising whole, the rage and fear she carries until it’s time to shine to her fans. Jude Law, as her manager, has the most menacing role of the piece: Initially presenting himself as a champion and defender of her integrity, he eventually reveals himself to be as vampiric and manipulative as everyone else in Celeste’s orbit. Less well-developed is the relationship between Celeste and her sister (Stacy Martin), who’s meant to be a pivotal figure in her life but never quite gets the opportunity to prove it.

Is this broad and bloody canvas, on a whole, too much? Sure. Portman’s pompadour and blubbering temper tantrums are too much. Willem Dafoe’s narration, hitting every beat of every theme, is too much. The double-casting of Cassidy, as both the young Celeste and the elder’s teenaged daughter, is a naughty trick to pull, and it’s also too much. And the in-concert climax, set entirely onstage with the pumping bass and front-row seats to the hand-waving choreography, is much too much. It is, after all, an experience that’s as relentless and addictive as possible.

But the magic of the movie is exactly this: its grand ambitions, the way it reaches for the stars just as Celeste commands all her “little angels” to do. A film with this much style, ambition and potency shouldn’t be dismissed with lazy, empty words like “pretentious.” It should be celebrated as prophecy.

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The Golden Globe Nominations: Still Weird, But Not Tipsy Quite Yet

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The Golden Globe Nominations: Still Weird, But Not Tipsy Quite Yet

Golden Globe statuettes, seen here in 2009, will be handed out again on January 6 to nominees announced today.

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Are the Golden Globes an awards milestone that sometimes suggests where the season might be going? A genuine opportunity to recognize a fresher batch of shows and films than sometimes dominate the Emmys and Oscars? A boost that has legitimately helped some good but under-the-radar projects raise their profiles? A special chance to acknowledge talent that doesn’t get recognized enough?

Or are they the kickoff to a process that starts with a small group of journalists with widely varying credentials, continues through nominations that are often called “weird” because they are weird, and ends with everyone drunk and suspicious that it’s harder to get a Globe (or a Globe nomination) if you’re unlikely to show up?

Well, they’re all those things, of course.

The nominations came out Thursday morning, and yes, they were a little weird. A little infuriating. But also a little lovely, and a little welcome, and a little encouraging.

Film nominations

Unlike the Oscars, the Globes divide films for most purposes into “drama” and “musical or comedy.” So rather than a single best picture category, you have a best drama category that includes Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, If Beale Street Could Talk and A Star Is Born. The best musical or comedy category includes Crazy Rich Asians, The Favourite, Green Book, Mary Poppins Returns, and Vice. Some notable films not appearing on either list: First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke; Damien Chazelle’s First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong; A Quiet Place, a critically acclaimed horror film nominated only for its score; and Widows, a heist film directed by 12 Years A Slave‘s Steve McQueen and starring Viola Davis.

The line between a comedy/musical and a drama is a weird one; entrants can generally decide where to submit a film for consideration, although the rules say the submission should be in the category that “best matches the overall tone and content” of the movie. So it’s the submitter who decides that the often devastating Eighth Grade should be a comedy (?) and the often funny Can You Ever Forgive Me? should be a drama (?), even though both films have a mix of dramatic and comedic elements. The leads of both films — Elsie Fisher and Melissa McCarthy — were nominated in their respective categories as well, so feel free to switch them in your head if you prefer.

It’s also the submission that determined that A Star Is Born, the year’s most successful musical thus far, should not be submitted as a musical, but as a drama.

Perhaps the most puzzling omission of all on an individual level is in the director category. The gorgeous, luscious film If Beale Street Could Talk was nominated for best drama, and Barry Jenkins, also the director of Moonlight, was nominated for the screenplay he adapted from James Baldwin’s novel. But Jenkins was, in a baffling move, not nominated for his direction of the film, which may well be its most deserving single aspect. Fortunately, Regina King was nominated for her supporting performance in the film — her second nomination of this year, in addition to one for her work in the TV series Seven Seconds.

Other notes: The most-nominated film, Vice, which is Adam McKay’s take on Dick Cheney, has six nominations but remains unseen by most people who aren’t awards voters. All three actresses at the center of The Favourite (musical or comedy) scored nominations, for Olivia Colman in the lead and Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in supporting. The enormously popular Black Panther landed a rare drama nomination for a superhero film, and the also enormously popular Crazy Rich Asians was nominated in comedy.

There’s lots more to explore in the full list of nominations.

Television nominations

There’s no real juggernaut this year on the TV side. HBO did very well with the limited series Sharp Objects and the comedy Barry, Amazon continued to see a strong awards showing from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and added multiple nods for Homecoming and the limited series A Very English Scandal, and Hulu is still chugging along with The Handmaid’s Tale. But there was also lots of love for the last hurrah of FX’s The Americans, as well as for the network’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace and two nominations for its marvelous series Pose — including one for great Broadway star Billy Porter.

The nominated dramas come from all over the place: The Americans and Pose from FX, Homecoming from Amazon, Bodyguard from Netflix (which got it from the BBC), and Killing Eve from BBC America. Notably, nothing nominated in the drama category Netflix made itself.

On the comedy series side, Netflix has its new series The Kominsky Method (which earned nominations for its leads, Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin), Showtime has the Jim Carrey vehicle Kidding, Amazon has Maisel, HBO has Barry, and NBC has the one and only broadcast TV series nominated for outstanding comedy series (or drama series or miniseries/movie), its terrific The Good Place (whose lead, Kristen Bell, was also nominated).

More notes: Donald Glover was nominated for his performance in his series Atlanta, but the series itself received no other nominations. Stephan James — also in If Beale Street Could Talk this year, but not nominated for it — was nominated for Amazon’s Homecoming, as was Julia Roberts.

The ceremony is coming to you January 6, 2019, and it will be hosted by Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg. We’ll see you then.

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San Francisco Symphony Names Esa-Pekka Salonen As Its Music Director

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San Francisco Symphony Names Esa-Pekka Salonen As Its Music Director

The Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

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In a move that is astonishing much of the classical music world, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) announced Wednesday that it has appointed Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen as its next music director, beginning in September 2020.

The 60-year-old Salonen is already a well-known and widely loved name in California and far beyond. From 1992 to 2009, he was the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which he nurtured into becoming one of the most visionary and exciting orchestras in the U.S., which he then led into an iconic, Frank Gehry-designed new home at the Walt Disney Concert Hall — a venue that cemented the orchestra’s hopes of becoming “the band of the future.”

But over the past several years, Salonen has stepped away from much of his conducting work in order to focus more intently on composing his own music. (His output in his post-Los Angeles years includes a cello concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma.) The surprise of his San Francisco appointment is that many in the classical music business assumed that he wouldn’t be interested in taking up any full-time conducting offers, even as his name has frequently appeared on critics’ most-wanted lists as various prominent posts have opened up across the U.S. The San Francisco announcement also helps boost the argument that the West Coast is now the epicenter for exciting programming and artistic leadership for orchestral music in the U.S., with Gustavo Dudamel now holding the reins in Los Angeles.

In a statement, Salonen said that it was the city of San Francisco itself — and this orchestra in particular — that lured him back.

“From the very first approach, the San Francisco Symphony leaders and musicians and I were buzzing with possibilities. The ‘what-ifs’ of the orchestra world were suddenly on the table in a real way. Here is a top symphony orchestra in the place in America where things start; where the ways things have always been done are interrogated, and where problems are first identified and then solved. In San Francisco itself and in the San Francisco Symphony, I see both the big ideas being thought and the actual work being done, and that, to me, is irresistible … There was a ‘no brainer’ aspect to this that I’ve been fortunate to have experienced a few times before in my career, so I know it when I see it.”

The SFS says that Salonen has been engaged for an initial five-year contract. In his first season, he will conduct six subscription weeks and lead a tour of Asia; in subsequent weeks, he will conduct 12 to 14 weeks per season.

Along with Salonen’s appointment, SFS announced the creation of a collaborative group of eight “extraordinary artists, thinkers and doers” to help helm its artistic leadership. They are pianist and composer Nicholas Britell; soprano and curator Julia Bullock; flutist, educator and founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble, Claire Chase; composer and guitarist Bryce Dessner of The National; violinist and music director Pekka Kuusisto; composer Nico Muhly; AI entrepreneur and roboticist Carol Reiley; and jazz bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding.

Salonen is succeeding Michael Tilson Thomas, who is stepping down after 25 years as music director in San Francisco.

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Hozier On World Cafe

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Hozier On World Cafe
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  • “Nina Cried Power”
  • “Take Me To Church”
  • “Shrike”

Hozier is an artist who can create musical moments big enough to galvanize every molecule of air around them into action and tiny enough that they can burrow themselves in the hidden corners of your own heart. His ability to do both on the same album — and sometimes, even on the same song — is what makes him so special.

Your first introduction to Hozier was likely on the massive musical side of things. “Take Me to Church” came out in 2013 and was featured on his self-titled debut album the following year, launching him into absolute international superstardom.

His latest EP, called Nina Cried Power, opens with a similarly rousing song that pays tribute to artists who have raised their voices in protest over time like Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Curtis Mayfield, and Mavis Staples, who is featured on the song. But by the last track of his EP, Hozier zooms in on a tiny bird of prey, a Shrike, and uses it as a surprising and powerful metaphor for love.

We’ll talk about both those songs today and hear performances Hozier recorded for us in front of a live audience. Hear it all in the audio player.

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New Biography Chronicles Bing Crosby's Most Beloved Years

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New Biography Chronicles Bing Crosby's Most Beloved Years

Portrait of Bing Crosby circa 1945. Swinging on a Star, written by jazz and film critic Gary Giddins, is out now.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images


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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bing Crosby was one of the most popular figures of the 20th century. His record sales were in the hundreds of millions, his movies were blockbusters, his weekly radio show topped the ratings. The way Crosby sang paved the way for Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin and many others. A new biography called Swinging on a Star: The War Years 1940 -1946, out now, focuses on Crosby’s life and career in the 1940s when the crooner’s star shone the brightest. Written by jazz and film critic Gary Giddins, the book is the second in a multi-volume project chronicling Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby Jr.

Crosby was a singer first and foremost; his appeal started with his voice. “He had wonderful high notes. He had amazing low notes. He was like a cello when he was really in good voice,” Giddins says.

Early in the decade, Crosby created the template for the multimedia entertainment superstar. He was seemingly everywhere, but despite the singer’s enormous fame, he was humble and self-effacing, which made audiences embrace Crosby as one of their own.

“He really did come across as somebody — even though he’s smarter than you are, and more talented than you are — as somebody that you really might know. As somebody who might live down the block,” Giddins says. “That was one of the things he did on radio. He really gave the vernacular American voice back to Americans at a time when the networks wanted these mid-Atlantic ‘How Now Brown Cow’ kind of speakers.”

In 1972, Crosby told a British television interviewer that when he began acting in movies, producers tried to improve his looks. They said that Crosby’s ears stuck out too far, and got the makeup artist to pin them back with glue. Nevertheless, Crosby became a matinee idol. He won an Oscar for best actor in the 1944 film Going My Way. In the film, Crosby plays a parish priest in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood who works miracles with the human heart, transforming a gang of street toughs into a boys’ choir.

In his 1942 film Holiday Inn, Crosby sings an Irving Berlin song that would solidify his fame for years to come. “White Christmas,” which remains the best-selling single of all time, struck a nerve with millions of Americans whose husbands, sons and lovers were fighting on a distant continent and dreaming of spending the holidays at home. Three years later, Crosby made a song, “It’s Been A Long, Long Time,” about the end of World War II, without explicitly mentioning war.

Crosby recorded between 50 and 70 singles per year in the 1940’s. During World War II, he hosted golf tournaments and gave benefit concerts to sell war bonds and recorded special programs for the Armed Forces Radio Network. Just months after the D-Day invasion, Crosby traveled to France to entertain the troops wherever they were. Giddins says the singer’s devotion to those fighting was tireless, and the public loved him for it. In a 1948 poll, Americans declared Bing Crosby the “most admired man alive.”

“Nothing moved me more than when I was sitting in the Crosby house, going through his letters, and seeing how many parents, wives, siblings of dead soldiers felt they had to write to Crosby,” Giddens says. “‘How much my son or brother or husband loved you. How happy you made him when you went over there. I just want to say God Bless you.’ Crosby was beloved.”

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