essay Archive

Hiss Golden Messenger: Deeply Personal Yet Inviting

The music of Hiss Golden Messenger illustrates the point that the distance is not as great as one might think between folk music and other musical forms. Formed in North Carolina in 2007, Hiss Golden Messenger has long been more of a collective – with various temporary members coming and going – more than a

Jimmy Herring: Knocking Down Genre Boundaries

Jimmy Herring is a hero to the jam-band community. But the guitarist’s gifts extend well beyond appealing to the noodle-dancing crowd; an in-demand collaborator, he’s worked with acclaimed jazz fusion artists including Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin as well. Herring got his start in fusion; his formal studies include Berklee College of Music; he graduated

Gang of Four: The Gang’s Still Here

Rising out of the tail-end of the late 1970s Great Britain music scene (thus earning the “postpunk” label), Gang of Four combined dub reggae and punk, with funk undercurrents. The Leeds quartet provocatively named themselves after the cadre of Chinese Communist Party officials who wielded power in the 1960s. And while Gang of Four have

Adam Ant: What Do He Do?

MTV (younger readers note: that used to stand for Music Television) seemed custom made for an artist such as Adam Ant. The British music personality born Stuart Goddard had just the right mix of visual impact and musical appeal to thrive in the early 1980s MTV era. His band Adam and the Ants was, in

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