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.
"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 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.
The 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).
The 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.
Also 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
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
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."
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).
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.
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"?
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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