Soundbites: Bob Dylan, Jeru the Damaja, Brandi Carlile, Cary Brothers
It’s been a while since songwriting genius/professional crank Bob Dylan has been seen in Vermont. Of course, that’s not counting the annual Bob Dylan Wanna Be Contest in Montpelier, during which locals compete to see who can best channel The Bob. But I digress.
The real deal played the Flynn MainStage during my first or second year in Burlington. Unfortunately, I missed the concert due to a gig of my own. The last time Dylan jingle-jangled for Vermonters was in Highgate back in 1995, according to an AP report, where he opened for the Grateful Dead. And if you remember that show, you probably weren’t there.
Thanks to the good folks at Higher Ground and Gillette Entertainment, Dylan will make a July 1 stop at the Champlain Valley Exposition. His recent concerts have been praised for their high energy level and varied song selection. Lord knows he’s got enough tunes to choose from. These days, Bob seems like a creepy old radio picking up ghost transmissions of old-time folk and blues. That and a lot of weird static.
Just last weekend I read Dylan’s interview with Rolling Stone’s founder/publisher/editor Jann Wenner for that magazine’s 40th anniversary issue. Bob was standoffish at first, before he got relaxed — then he was merely pedantic and vague. Wenner kept trying to get him to admit that his recent blockbuster album, Modern Times, is a meditation on the coming apocalypse. Unsurprisingly, Dylan refused to take the bait, making ambiguous statements about America’s busted cultural compass. He also kinda-sorta denied climate change. When asked if such developments worried him, Dylan answered, “Where’s the global warming? It’s freezing here.”
He may be older, but he’s still prickly, particularly when journalists (including those who should know better) treat him like an Americana oracle. The times may be still a-changin’, but Dylan’s temperament remains very much the same.
I’m sure you Dylan obsessives already know the deal, but tickets will go on sale Friday via the Flynn Regional Box Office, online at http://www.Flynntix.org  or by calling 86-Flynn. Any bets on how long it’ll take to sell out?
HIP-HOP: IT TRULY DON’T STOP
It’s been a great spring season for local hip-hop fans, with big-time national acts playing high-energy shows with area talent. This week continues the trend with a couple of standout rap concerts.
Brooklyn-based Jeru the Damaja pops by Club Metronome on Thursday, May 3. Joining him are Syracuse, New York’s United Nationz and hometown heroes Lee & S.I.N. and DJ Idioma.
JTD first damaged the mike alongside DJ Premiere and Guru, the minds behind underground legends Gang Starr. He appeared on that group’s 1992 LP Daily Operations; his solo debut, The Sun Rises in the East, dropped the following year. He took a break from the game before returning in 1995 with The Wrath of the Math — a hard-hitting look at the ills of the urban music industry.
By the new millennium, JTD had gone completely independent, releasing Heroz 4 Hire on his own label. With a style that mixes the grisly realism of street rhyme with conscious hip-hop, Jeru continues to make his mark on the rap world. And on his own terms, no less.
Another excellent act, Florida’s Sol.Illaquists of Sound, hits the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge on Sunday, May 6. They’ll be playing with fellow Gator-staters DJ J. Storm and Grey Matter. Representing the local scene are Dark Cloud and DJ Big Dog.
Musically, SOS are both soulful and eclectic, with elements of drum ’n’ bass, funk and rock making their way into the mix. They’ve got a great balance of female sung vocals and brainy rap, supported by progressive beats and creatively layered instrumentation. The band offers messages of personal transformation through conscious living, championing veganism and community involvement. To me, they’re what the Black Eyed Peas might have been had success not turned them into garish commercial caricatures.
I highly recommend the latest Sol.Illaquists disc, As If We Existed, which came out last year on the Epitaph Records offshoot, Anti. It’s not every day you hear a hip-hop record that’s righteous, smart and smooth. More info on the all-ages show can be found at http://www.HigherGroundMusic.com .
TO BE REAL
When it comes to today’s singer-songwriters, I usually have my defenses up. After awhile, every press release seems the same, with references to the artist’s “deep convictions” and “inspired narratives.” More often than not, it’s the same Pro-Tooled, Auto-Tuned crap.
There are, of course, exceptions. I’m currently eating crow about Brandi Carlile, who appears at the Higher Ground Ballroom on Wednesday, May 2, with Cary Brothers.
The Seattle-based Carlile is about as good as it gets when it comes to modern pop-folk songwriting. Her voice is big, bold and honest, and she’s not afraid to push it to the breaking point. Her stuff isn’t terribly adventurous musically, but it has enough variation in mood and intensity to keep things from sounding too generic.
Carlile’s latest album, The Story, has an earnest, “band on the road” feel, with an emphasis on dynamics and interplay. The production comes courtesy of Americana maestro T. Bone Burnett, which goes a long way towards explaining the disc’s cordially unvarnished sound.
Some of the tunes were recorded in one take, adding to the overall roughness. Still, we’re not talking Exile on Main Street-style blowouts here. Actually, Carlile has a sense of sonic grandeur comparable to the late Jeff Buckley. She’s also got a good bit of Indigo Girls in her, and claims that the duo inspired her to pick up the guitar. Normally, that wouldn’t impress me either, but, hey, it worked out great this time.
Three of Carlile’s tunes have been featured on the insanely popular medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” which has raised her profile considerably. I personally don’t watch that show, but if they start playing her music on “House,” I won’t switch the channel.