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January 2011

January 31, 2011

Artists to Watch 2011: The Decemberists and Amos Lee

The Decemberists, The King Is Dead Two fine artists have just released new albums that find each of them exploring more folk and roots-oriented sounds than their previous work. The Decemberists' The King Is Dead and Amos Lee's Mission Bell, released on Jan. 18 and 25, respectively, each have an earthy, acoustic-based sound that fans of thoughtful indie pop will find refreshing, while more roots-oriented fans will no doubt give a thumbs-up to additional artists embracing the Americana vibe. The Decemberists have previously been known for more heady, R.E.M.-style alt-pop with complex forms, and while King still owes a lot to R.E.M.—and indeed features that band's Peter Buck on guitar (as well as Americana favorites Gillian Welch)—The Decemberists have simpled-up their approach considerably and have crafted a winning set of rural-flavored songs that could very well take the band to a new level of popularity. Time, in fact, has predicted that King "could mark their crossover to the realm of important American rock groups alongside the likes of Wilco and the White Stripes." Shows in the U.S. and UK through March, as well as a powerful ally in Stephen Colbert, should help build the momentum.

Amos Lee, Mission Bell Amos Lee, meanwhile, has partnered with Arizona alt-roots collective Calexico to forge his new set, Mission Bell. Produced by Calexico founder Joey Burns, the sounds are rangy, atmospheric, and decidedly Southwestern, moving from bare, beautiful acoustic numbers to supple soft rockers, aided by guest appearances including Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson. Against this backdrop, Lee's compelling lyrics weave stories of moving along and letting go, and the pairing is a thing of beauty. Road-song single "Windows Are Rolled Down" is grabbing the ears of listeners, and upcoming live dates and TV appearances are likely to substantially raise Lee's profile in the coming months: He recently did Ellen, The Tonight Show, and NPR's World Café, and he'll be on Tavis Smiley (2/1), Letterman (2/16), and The Early Show (2/18) in short order, while tour stops will include the Boulder Theater, the Paramount in Austin, Irving Plaza in NYC, the Ryman in Nashville, Mountain Stage in West Virginia, Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and many points between. A healthy schedule for a genuinely engaging artist and album.

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Patton Oswalt Releases His First Book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

Patton Oswalt The exceptionally talented stand-up, comedic actor, and nerd-culture hero Patton Oswalt has released his first book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, and the initial critical reaction has been positive. The book, which serves as a kind of memoir of his formative years growing up in suburban Virginia and his early stand-up career, is supposed to be every bit as ascerbic and hilarious as his onstage work. We say "supposed to be" because (shamefully) we haven't yet read it, but as ardent fans of everything else he's done, it's definitely on our reading short list. Have any of you checked it out? If so, we'd love to hear what you think.

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Katy, Robyn, and Marina: Best...Summer...Tour...Ever

Robyn, Body Talk Yes, both the Coachella Festival and the Big Four tour dates look like great lineups for many modern rock and metal fans, but my pop-loving heart is just about ready to burst with the news of Katy Perry's "California Dreams" tour. The pop superstar will head out this summer with two amazing opening acts: the fantastic Swedish pop star Robyn and Welsh indie sensations Marina and the Diamonds! We have professed our love multiple times for Robyn (her excellent Body Talk is pictured) and Marina's debut album, The Family Jewels, was one of our favorites from last year. Not surprisingly, Katy refers to this tour as "super girl power," and we couldn't agree more.

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John Barry, 1933–2011

John Barry The film-scoring community lost one of its truly magnificient composers yesterday, John Barry. The venerable musician died Sunday from a sudden heart attack at 77. Barry composed some of the most identifiable and beloved melodies of all time, including the James Bond theme and many of the franchise's subsequent film scores, the immediately recognizable song "Born Free," and the heart-wrenching score to Out of Africa. The latter two earned him two of his five Academy Awards—he also won Oscars for the score to Born Free ('67), The Lion in Winter score ('69), and score for Dances with Wolves ('91). His exquisite body of work also includes Zulu, The Chase, Midnight Cowboy (for which he won a Grammy), Somewhere in Time, and The Scarlet Letter, among many others. If you've got some time, revisit or discover his catalog—it's one of the most worthwhile you'll ever hear.

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January 28, 2011

Deerhoof, Deerhoof vs. Evil

Deerhoof, Deerhoof vs. Evil On their 10th studio album since the band's inception in 1994, Deerhoof continue their stylistic zigzag between quirky hooks and jagged experimentation. The band previewed one song per week on websites across the world leading up to Deerhoof vs. Evil, and now that it's out, they find themselves effectively elder statespeople among a generation of artists including Sleigh Bells, Grizzly Bear, Of Montreal, and The Fiery Furnaces. Their unique brand of sonic pop collage continues to set them apart though, and longtime fans won't be disappointed by this latest entry to their catalog.

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Dr. Dre, “I Need a Doctor” featuring Eminem and Skylar Grey Coming Tuesday

Dr. Dre, I Need a Doctor Time to get ready again: On Tuesday, Dr. Dre will release "I Need a Doctor," the latest number from his long, long-awaited Detox album (following first single "Kush," released in November). The same team that concocted the Grammy-nominated Eminem hit "Love the Way You Lie" is behind this emotional single, which spotlights Em giving thanks and praise (as well as a pep-talk) to the man who made his career. He delivers with raw conviction, and the good doctor responds, explaining his long absence while almost poking fun at himself with the line "You can kiss my indecisive ass-crack." The new single also features up-and-coming singer and writer Skylar Grey, whose credits include recent songs for Diddy-Dirty Money, T.I, Lupe Fiasco, and a co-write on, yep, "Love the Way You Lie." The final element is producer Alex da Kid, whose big drum sound and emotive chords successfully complete the winning formula. Detox is currently scheduled for release this year.

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Artist to Watch in 2011: Whitney Cummings

Whitney Cummings Ever since her sparkling performance on Comedy Central's Roast of Joan Rivers, Whitney Cummings has emerged as a mainstream comedy juggernaut. Her first hourlong stand-up special, Money Shot, aired in August 2010 and built on the material from her 2009 debut album, Emotional Ninja. TV viewers probably also recognize her from her frequent appearances on the Chelsea Lately panel, which has provided an ideal platform for her sharp, dark wit. Fine—with so much success already behind her, why should we be watching for this young comic to go supernova in 2011? NBC has just announced that they've picked up Whitney's as-of-yet untitled sitcom pilot, in which she will star. Add to that Two Broke Girls, the CBS series that she's also starring in and co-writing with Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City), and you can see why anyone out there who doesn't already know her name will find it hard to forget in 2011.

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January 27, 2011

Joe Nichols, Greatest Hits

Joe Nichols, Greatest Hits There have been a few greatest-hits packages from country artists over the last few months: Blake Shelton, Alan Jackson, and Tim McGraw have all put out "Best of" albums recently. Now it's Joe Nichols' turn. While he may not have as high a profile as those other guys, Nichols has always possessed an undeniable, if somewhat low-key, charm. And that charm has produced some fine country music. "Gimmie That Girl" hit the top of the country singles chart in 2009, and that was his third #1 hit. The other tracks on Nichols' Greatest Hits are every bit as good. We're partial to "The Shape I'm In" and "Brokenheartsville." Take a listen and see which ones you like best.

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Big Four Festival Announced for Southern California

Big 4 Festival For those of you who've already missed out on securing a spot for the upcoming sold-out Coachella Festival but still have the uncontrollable urge to  bang your head in the Southern California desert, your options just got a whole lot heavier: This week, Goldenvoice announced the first Stateside manifestation of the Big Four Festival that toured Europe last year. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax will perform on April 23, the weekend between Coachella and the country-themed Stagecoach Festival. Get your mouse set, because tickets will be available  tomorrow (Friday, January 28), and may not last through the weekend. Here's hoping Indio Country doesn't fall into a giant sinkhole after three straight weekends of festival fury.

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Charlie Louvin, 1927–2011

Charlie Louvin, The Battles Rage On Country music legend Charlie Louvin, 83, died yesterday, losing his battle pancreatic cancer. But one can say with certainty that while may have lost that particular battle, he more than won the war, if you'll allow the martial metaphor to stand for his towering achievements in country music over a genre-defining career that began in the 1940s. As the Louvin Brothers, Charlie and his brother Ira forged a duo harmony sound that would resonate down through the generations, including this one: Others have drawn a direct line from the Louvins to the Everly Brothers to The Beatles and on from there. But what's perhaps equally remarkable is how Charlie Louvin soldiered on, well past the death of Ira (though he'd struck out on his own before Ira's sad end). In fact, Charlie kept making records straight on until the end: His The Battles Rage On (pictured) came out just last year, and it's as fine a piece of late Louvin as you'd ever want to hear. A previous late work, Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs, even inspired this Napster playlist. We sadly say goodnight to a true hero of American music.

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