Erin McKeown: Grand new

Erin McKeown

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 19, 2003) -- Grand (Nettwerk), the long-awaited, terrific follow-up to Erin McKeown’s previous album, “Distillation,” came out last week. McKeown’s third full-length recording kicks off with the giddy, Beatlesque pop of “Slung-Lo,” before kicking into “Cinematic,” a dizzying whirlwind of new-wave wordplay recalling vintage, My Aim Is True-era Elvis Costello. The Pioneer Valley singer-songwriter hasn’t totally turned her back on her swing-jazz side – “The Taste of You” takes Duke Ellington to New Orleans – nor her folk-country side – the album includes her longtime concert favorite, “Born to Hum,” colored by producer Dave Chalfant’s banjo playing. McKeown pushes in new directions on the hip-hop inflected modern rock of “Civilians,” and “Envelopes of Glassine” suggests the singer-songwriter has spent some time ensconced in her room listening to Radiohead. Multi-instrumentalist McKeown – who celebrates the release of her new album tonight at the Iron Horse (1-800-THE-TICK) in Northampton -- variously handles duties on acoustic and electric guitars, piano, mandolin, banjo and other instruments.

Meshell Ndegeocello: From the bedroom to the boardroom

If you’re looking for the most direct heir to the vein of ‘70s soul that directly engaged racial and sexual politics, you need look no further than Meshell Ndegeocello. The Howard University alumna released her aptly-titled debut album, Plantation Lullabies, in 1993, which spawned the hit, “If That’s Your Boyfriend.” A decade later, the Grammy nominee (seven times) is still laying down the hard funk, as heard on her latest CD, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, whose slinky, Afrocentric grooves address matters of the bedroom and the boardroom alike. The album also comes with a reading list, including works by Dick Gregory, Angela Davis and Gil Scott Heron. Catch the bald-headed bassist at the Iron Horse (1-800-THE-TICK) in Northampton on Saturday night.

Bitch and Animal: Dissing Eminem

Cross Eminem with the Indigo Girls and what do you get? Something approximately like Bitch and Animal, the lesbian duo whose new CD, Sour Juice and Rhyme (Righteous Babe), taunts the Detroit rapper in language that can’t be repeated in a family newspaper. The album includes several other provocative, outspoken numbers, some spoken word, some rapped, some sung, in minimalist, organic arrangements – Bitch plays violin and bass, Animal hits things. The witty, wise album, which was recorded this past winter at the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen, was produced by June Millington of 1970s rock band Fanny. The duo plays live at PACE -- the Pioneer Arts Center of Easthampton (413-527-3700) at 41 Union St. in Easthampton – next Wednesday.

Backstage bits

The Eric Underwood Band has recorded a new, two-song single reflecting the band’s new sound – like Bob Dylan before him, Underwood has gone electric, trading in his acoustic guitar for a Fender James Burton Telecaster on three-quarters of the band’s material these days. Joining Underwood and his cellist wife, Eladia, on the single are bassist Jason Maley, drummer Jay Schultheis, guitarist Adam Rothberg and violinist Imani Coppola. Don DiLego co-produced and engineered the tracks, as well as lending backup vocals, guitar and keyboards.

The Berkshire Community College Jazz Ensemble recently released its first CD, Improvisations on the Foundation, the “foundation” being the recording’s selection of jazz’s “greatest hits,” songs like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove.” According to Allen Livermore, director of the group, the Ensemble is already reportedly hard at work on a follow-up CD featuring the music of Thelonious Monk.

Can’t get enough of David Grover’s Big Bear Band? Longtime Grover partner and drummer Terry “A La Berry” Hall is coming to the rescue this summer by launching his own family-oriented group to perform in the gaps between Big Bear shows. The group has put together a cable-TV special and plans to record its first CD later this summer. Catch them on June 28 at the Guthrie Center at 10:30.

Radio Rogovoy

Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:

1. Lucinda Williams, “World Without Tears” (Lost Highway)
2. Sarah Harmer, “You Were Here” (Zoe)
3. Steely Dan, “Everything Must Go” (Reprise)
4. Pretenders, “Loose Screw” (Artemis)
5. Yo La Tengo, “Summer Sun” (Matador)
6. Lou Reed, “NYC Man: The Collection” (RCA/BMG Heritage)
7. Rosanne Cash, “Rules of Travel” (Capitol)
8. Raveonettes, “Whip It On” (Columbia)
9. Paul Shapiro, “Midnight Minyan (Tzadik)
10. Ben Perowsky, “Camp Songs” (Tzadik)

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 19, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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