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Birthday Blues (03/24/2000) Write to CD Shakedown
SopranosSoundtrack to the Sopranos (Columbia 2000) - "The Sopranos" is the Emmy-award winning drama from HBO that started its second season in January 2000.

The large ensemble cast is anchored by James Gandolfini as crime boss Tony Soprano, Edie Falco as his platinum bitch wife, Carmella Soprano (Falco won last year's Emmy for best dramatic actress), and Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Tony's psychiatrist.

Edie Falco as his platinum bitch wife, Carmella Soprano"The Sopranos" is the best new television series in years. I plant myself in front of the television every Sunday to watch it, which is something that I haven't done since "Hill Street Blues" in the 80s. Fascinating characters and taut drama are the highlights of the series.

The soundtrack spins from the moody and oft-introspective nature of the show, with such tracks as "It Was a Very Good Year" (by Frank Sinatra) and Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" (from his unflinching 1982 release, Nebraska).

While I've seen every episode (more than once), the soundtrack doesn't bring back memories of any particular part of show. Which is a bit of a disappointment.

Michael Imperioli as Christopher MoltisantiThe album balances a handful of choice oldies (including "Mystic Eyes" by Them featuring Van Morrison, "I'm a Man" by Bo Diddley, and "I Feel Free" by Cream) against a selection of new cuts, including "I've Tried Everything" by the Eurythmics (from their new album, Peace), "Viking" by American rock gods Los Lobos (from their new album, This Time), "It's Bad You Know" by moody blues man R. L. Burnside (I'd like this song a lot better if there was more than one, continuously-repeated lyric), and "Blood is Thicker than Water" by Wyclef Jean featuring G & B (the Product).

Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer MelfiThe mystery song is "Woke Up This Morning" (Chosen One mix) by English techno-folk innovators A3. I've been intrigued by A3 since their debut release on Geffen Records several years back. What's frustrating is that the show uses a different mix for the theme song. I want to hear the theme song just like it sounds on T.V., not the original album mix.

James Gandolfini as crime boss Tony SopranoAlso included are tracks by Elvis Costello ("Complicated Shadows"), Nick Lowe (the subdued acoustic number, "The Beast in Me") and "Inside of Me" by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul. "Little Steven" is Steven Van Zandt, the guitarist in the E Street Band and gangster Silvio Dante in the series on the show. Van Zandt's acting performance is more than credible, and you should look for him in future roles (though he may be typecast based on his strong performance as a crime underboss).

The Sopranos is a moody and eclectic tribute to the show. The music is often dark, just like the drama.

Sekou SundiataSekou Sundiata, Longstoryshort (Righteous Babe Records 2000) - Longstoryshort is the new release from Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records. Given Ani's independent streak, it should come as no surprise that the new album carries a political bent.

Sundiata is a street beat poet, with a definite political message: "to tell the truth about Americans still enslaved by the ideas, images and relationships that were set off back when." Framed by a chrome slick musical background, Sundiata seeks to highlight what he sees as the truth about the black experience.

Sundiata is a long-time teacher of literature at New York City's New School University, where his students have included Ani DiFranco and M. Doughty of Soul Coughing who says, "He really squeezed some amazingly good, honest stuff from people."

Sundiata was also a co-owner of the late, lamented spoken-word record label Mouth Almighty, which suffered a mortal blow when Mercury Records was acquired by the Seagram Company. (Not surprisingly, I can hear traces of Fat Headed Stranger by Wammo on the old Mouth Almighty label).

Sekou SundiataLike William S. Burroughs before him, Sundiata draws on shadowy and tripped-out images from an urban landscape. His rich and rhythmic delivery works best when he gets into a deep groove on tracks like "Urban Music." Said one critic in the Village Voice after seeing Sundiata perform live: "Three things struck me immediately; he had language, he had politics, and one helluva smooth hard rock delivery."

Longstoryshort was co-produced and recorded by Mark Batson. Musicians on the album include Mark Batson on keyboards and programming, Kevin Johnson on drums, Bobby Sanabria on percussion, Marvin Sewell on guitars, mandolin, and Greek bouzouki, Fred Cashon bass, Marlene Rice on violin, and Nioka Workman on cello.

Explains Sundiata, "This project sums up some work I have been doing for many years, trying to write a Popular verse that could give me a chance to dance my way out of my constrictions. . . Van Walker once said that when she heard the music, she didn't know whether to dance or be still. I figured that was the best way to describe my mix of spoken poetry and music. But it doesn't have to be either/or. It could be both/and."

And so Longstoryshort opens strongly with the smooth groove of "Mandela," driven by the rhythm and natural melody of Sundiata's voice.

Sekou SundiataYet by the time Sundiata gets to "Repairs," I think he is going too far. Explains Sundiata, "Operating on the same principle that allows native Americans to get compensated for stolen land (too little, too late), for Japanese-Americans to be compensated for incarceration during WWII; or for Jews most recently to be compensated for stolen wealth and forced labor. They all deserve to be compensated. So do African-Americans. Heal the wounds of slavery? I have my doubts, but reparations would be a good faith move."

I part company with Sundiata on this point. Maybe it is because of the color of my skin. But who is to pay the reparations? My ancestors didn't come to this country until the 1880s. My grandfather immigrated from Germany after WWI. Do I share vicarious liability with all whities?

And what about the governments of Africa who actively participated in the slave trade by capturing and deporting tribal members? Are they any less responsible?

Another point: What about the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands of white folks were killed or wounded during the Civil War. Does their blood and anguish count for nothing in calculating the "reparations"?

Sekou SundiataI respect Sundiata for his abilities and lyricism. Sundiata treads in the mighty path created by the Doors on An American Prayer, laying down the spoken word again an engaging beat. But I take exception to Sundiata blithely equating slavery with genocide. Thus, Sundiata explains that he wrote "Isle de Goree" "in honor of our ancestors who perished in the Atlantic Slave Trade or survived to endure the holocaust of slavery."

The discrimination that existed for decades cannot be condoned. But equally, you cannot equate slavery to the mindless murder of six million human beings during World War II (and more if you count the atrocities in Eastern Europe).

Sundiata makes valid points about the Negro experience in America, and stands as a voice aggrieved. But his arguments sometimes go too far, and lose their credibility.

- Randy Krbechek © 2000

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