essay Archive

The Mekons: Rock ‘n Roll

Influential critic and rock journalist Lester Bangs once described the Mekons as “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.” Hyperbole aside, Bangs had a point. Formed during Britain’s first wave of punk rock, Mekons are today the only group left standing. They’re endured by resolutely doing things their own way, and

Brian Auger: To Oblivion and Beyond

Among the most rock-oriented of soul jazz musicians (as well as perhaps the jazziest of all rockers) Brian Auger is a musician of legendary talent and taste. Even though his primary instrument is the Hammond organ – followed by electric piano – most listeners first heard Auger on harpsichord; that’s him playing the memorable keyboard

Sting: Breathtaking Performer

Thinking back upon the subject today, it doesn’t seem so surprising that Sting cut his musical teeth in a jazz fusion band. As bassist in Last Exit, the British musician developed and displayed his keen abilities on bass and vocals. But by 1977 he had focused his energies in a very different style, the reggae-influenced

Joan Baez: Consistently on the Right Side of History

Joan Baez is American folk royalty. Her name would be an important one within the folk idiom even if she had never sung a note; as an early and prominent supporter of Bob Dylan, she helped expand the influence and popularity of acoustic American music in the early 1960s. That fact – and her personal

Patti Smith: Archetype of the Uncompromising Poet/rocker

Over the course of her years in the creative world, Patti Smith has been called many things: muse, musician, rocker, activist, wife. But the one word that has always been the best to describe her is poet. An incalculably important part of the early 1970s underground rock scene in New York City, Smith would influence

Kamasi Washington: Can You Hear Him?

The career of saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington bubbled under for a number of years before the Los Angeles-based artist broke through on a national and worldwide level. Hints of his potential were there early for those who paid attention: in 1999 Washington won the prestigious John Coltrane Music Competition. While a student at UCLA’s

Diana Krall: Here to Stay

While she is popular the world over, contralto Diana Krall got off to a modest start. Her official debut release, 1993’s Stepping Out earned positive reviews, but it didn’t initially sell in large numbers. Yet that release did bring her to the attention of producer Tommy LiPuma. He produced her second album, Only Trust Your

Eilen Jewell: Multigenre Master

Those who heard Idaho-born Eilen Jewell’s 2005 debut album Boundary Country, may have thought of her as merely the latest in a long line of Americana/country singer/songwriters. Clearly talented, she displayed a fine voice and incisive approach to songwriting. That recording is best characterized as subtle, laid back and relatively unassuming. But Jewell’s 2007’s follow-up,

Pet Benatar Still Hits You With Her Best Shot

Arguably the queen of 1980s rock, Pat Benatar has achieved a singular mix of success both critically and commercially. With record sales of more than 30 million units to her credit, Benatar is among the most successful artists of the modern era. Six of the diminutive singer’s albums have gone Platinum or better in the

George Clinton: Still Tearing the Roof Off the Sucker

There’s more to George Clinton than many fans realize. To most of the listening public, the Kannapolis, N.C.-born musician is the voice and face of Parliament-Funkadelic. A leading light of the music scene, Clinton brought a sensibility that – much like Frank Zappa, to whom he is often compared – combined humor with advanced musicality.