Friday, July 04, 2008

Another Cripus Attucks Day + An Embarrassment of Riches: Hardy & Farris


Ah, yes it's that time of year again: Crispus Attucks Day!

What?

Haven't heard of it?! Say it ain't so!

OK, well don't lie.

Here, go to this post from last July that'll explain the whole thing. Plus it'll (briefly) contextualize some of the key notions concerning freedom, race, nationhood, etc. in the formation of US independence and national identity. (photo: Crispus Attucks monument in Boston)

You'll note I'm not talking about "celebrating" Crispus Attucks, un-hunh, history is a complicated animal. Just read the post.

And the
embarrassment of riches? Part I & II...

Part I
That's about the fact that even though he's recently taken on a ton of work to keep food on the table and gas in the tank, writer/film & music critic Ernest Hardy has been blogging up a storm lately. Hardy's been taking us down memory lane with reminisces, images, and video from his
Detroit high school days as a burgeoning critical thinker on the complexities of the everyday black music scene; an interview with pioneering lesbian filmmaker Donna Deitch; and an excerpt from an essay on filmmaker/photographer David LaChappelle's documentary on the Los Angeles krump dance phenomenon, RIZE (2005) from his second essay collection Blood Beats Vol.2. Oh, and do check out the "ton of work" link above to read about the wisdom afforded by Hardy's meeting the "Weed Woman"--it is and isn't what it reads like in that suggestion. But if you're an artist who's ever dealt with the digestive tract flaming that can be "the rejection letter," you'll appreciate the post.

Part II
The (Return of) Dionne Farris. Remember Dionne Farris? I l-o-o-v-ed Dionne Farris, back in the day. She knocked me out with her pretty-pretty country-girl rocker in the big city aesthetic ("I Know")
and her mix of jazz fusion-like squeaky clean production juxtaposed with country-fried rock wall of guitar sound ("Passion"). Plus she could pull back the layers and bring on a timeless soul classic like "Hopeless" (co-written with Van Hunt), from the Love Jones (1997) soundtrack (as good as Ashford & Simpson in their prime). That album, Wild Seed - Wild Flower was definitely a breakthrough, and most people imagined she would easily get a sophomore effort album out within the next year or two and go on from there. But that didn't happen.

Farris released a new CD in March 2008, Signs of Life (check this link to listen to sample tracks), she's got a blog (Dionne Farris' Weblog), and she's self-distributing the CD as a digital download using PayPal--the link system seems to still have a few kinks, but keep trying and you'll eventually end up at her Dionne Farris dba Free & Clear Records PayPal site. You can also check out sample videos from her Remember My Name Video Album produced by her Free & Clear Records and the ATL's FunkJazz Kafé. This work is considerably more mellow than the more rock-kissed works on her debut. Her voice is still in good form, and she's still writing about subjects that matter. R&B, hip hop soul for grown ups.

I don't know the last time Farris performed in the NY-area but she's coming this way next week. She's playing the Blue Curtain 2008 Concert Series at the Pettoranello Gardens in New Jersey on Saturday, July 12th. Blue Curtain's concerts are free community events, Farris is headlining a bill with Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble. Then she'll be at The Cutting Room in NYC on Monday, July 23rd. Lastly, Farris is coming to Joe's Pub on Tuesday, August 1st for the first time. I hope people get in the know and get out to support one or more of these shows.

Writer Marlon James says just what I was thinking, and more, in this post from back on 13 February 2008, titled, "Whatever Happened to Dionne Farris?" Here's a little sample:

"Maybe it was only a feeding frenzy after all. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Anytime an artist sidesteps formula and hits upon a winner along comes the deluge, the signing shitstorm that starts off promising but ends up with diminished returns, Shabba Ranks leading to Snow, Pearl Jam leading to effluvia like Creed. But this movement was something else. I didn’t believe it myself. Back in the mid nineties you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a brilliant black female musician. "The sheer number was staggering: Ambersunshower, Carleen Anderson, Jhelisa, Davina, Amil Larrieux [sic], Sha-Key, 99, Meshell
NdegeOcello, DK Dyson, Nicole Renee, Cherokee, Julie Dexter, Erykah Badu, Ndambi, Angel, Joi, Joi Cardwell, Janice Robinson, Skin, Res, Sandra St.Victor, N’Dea Davenport, Jazzyfatnastees, Kira, Des’Ree, D-Influence and Caron Wheeler. Neneh Cherry had just released Homebrew, a stunning new direction for hip-hop that showed you could be a blues-heavy world-wise funky mother of two and still wear no panties if you wish. This was the glory days of Vibe magazine under Jonathan Van Meter, where every week they seemed to dig up brand new funky thing. Like the so-called black wave of film directors (remember that NY times cover?) this wave of unclassifiable black women talked like a revolution, artists who were neither divas nor garden tools and who weren’t afraid of taking their minds to the dance floor. Dionne Farris in particular was championed by the magazine. Late of critical darlings Arrested Development and ready to take on the planet, she had even a better album than her former group...."

Read the rest at Marlon James, Among Other Things, and you might get some insight into the naming of Farris' Free & Clear company. For a short answer to James' title question check out the Creative Loafing profile listed below.

Video Wind-Back
Showing a little love to Ms. Farris and all the beautiful and brilliant gap-toothed, shorn and close-crop pated sisters and brothers out there (and a little shout out to the brother with whom I recently shared a black hair love moment; 'cause you gotta show the love!)

Farris' standout first single,
"I Know" from her 1994 debut Wild Seed, Wild Flower. Looking every bit the everyday iconic black rock star and showing her way with harmonies as she has that great "ti-i-ime" run 2/3rds of the way in followed by that great crunching slide guitar.




Another release "Passion," from the same album. Note the textural juxtapositions of smooth and rough in the guitar arrangements from verse to chorus, also the bass color, and the way it's mixed forward and provides a steady counterpoint to Farris' vocals. I think her vocals were mixed a little too forward on this cut, but I still like it. And Farris once again working that country-city aesthetic, and proving bald is beautiful.



Finally, "Hopeless" from the Love Jones soundtrack(1997) with Farris daring, without irony, to wear a pair of glasses and a thick cable-knit sweater in a music video that shows black-boho-geek-beauty in much diversity (with a babyfaced Van Hunt on guitar, and Randy Jackson on bass--
pre-"American Idol." The man did have a serious past as a producer before becoming part of the pop culture reality-TV machine.)



Endnote:
• 18 June 2008 Creative Loafing profile of Farris.
Baggage, the first short film from Farris' Remember My Name Vol. 1 video album. The song was co-written with her former writing partner Van Hunt. Farris hanging in the San Francisco Bay Area, and performing at Yoshi's in Oakland.
Fair, the second short film from the Remember My Name, Vol. 1 video album. Farris performing live (with an unfortunately off-key backup vocalist).
For U, the third short film from the Remember My Name, Vol. 1 video album. Farris as a grown up musician with children, a house, and everyday concerns like laundry and paying the bills.

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