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Eugene Weekly : Music : 04.20.06

Crafting Fresh Rhymes with Soul Power

Blackalicious throws down some of the funkiest rap around.


I think the first song that showed me why underground hip hop kicks the mainstream's ass all over the music spectrum was Blackalicious' "Alphabet Aerobics." I was blown away as lyricist Gift of Gab laid down verse after verse of alphabet alliterations, speeding up into a frenzy that had me scrambling for a dictionary.

Blackalicious. 8 pm Wed., April 26. McDonald Theatre, $20 adv./$22 dos.

Now, more than six years later, Gab and DJ/Producer Chief X-Cel have turned Blackalicious into a phenomenon of "thinking man" rap. 2002's Blazing Arrow was a critically-acclaimed experiment into a world of science (observe "Chemical Calisthenics," my favorite song by the group), relaxation ("Make You Feel That Way") and other journeys of the mind.

2005 saw the release of The Craft, arguably the most unique release by the group to date. Featuring guest performances from rap stars such as Pigeon John and funk legend George Clinton, the album blasts out soul power and R&B while Gab continues his slick, speedy delivery on the mic.

"We're always growing and taking things in new directions, doing things we haven't done and going places we haven't gone," says Gab. "We'll never do the same record twice."

Songs like "Automatique," featuring a hook sung by R&B star Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry, and "The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown" showcase the band's soul-influenced direction prominently while Gab raps to a tempo from X-Cel that never seems to remain static. "'Automatique' is a song that came together organically, and the concept of the song is just about letting music flow and being consumed by the creative energies," says Gab. "'Elliot Brown' is part fiction, part reality, about a young man trying to find a better way to live. I wanted to focus more on storytelling with this record, with that song and 'Black Diamonds and Pearls'… even 'Supreme People' to an extent."

In 2004, while X-Cel went off to pursue other producing projects, Gab went solo and dropped 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, an ethereal record that still had Gab speaking at his blistering pace, but which differed greatly sound-wise from Blackalicious.

"What 4th Dimension did was allow us to get out and get our hands into some other chemistry," says Gab, "and as a result, both X and I came back to Blackalicious even stronger." Blackalicious is a musical project that grabs you by the shoulders and makes you think while putting your fist in the air and nodding your head. It may sound complex at first, but believe me, it becomes relaxing faster than you think.



Building Bridges of Unity

Conference, concert to increase awareness of issues affecting women of color.


Magdalen Hsu-Li. Concert: 6:30 pm, Lecture: 7:30 pm, Wednesday, 4/26. Gerlinger Lounge, Gerlinger Building, UO campus. Free.

"If you want to change the world, then you've got to change yourself." Those powerful lyrics are from Magdalen Hsu-Li's song "Change the World," and they represent a message folks at UO are hoping you'll want to hear. The UO Multicultural Center and the Women's Center have teamed up to offer activities related to Sexual Assault Prevention Week, Day of Silence, and the Women Hold Up Half the Sky Conference, including a concert and lecture by Hsu-Li performing with Dale Fanning of Living Daylights on drums and percussion.

Hsu-Li, an internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter with a beautiful, crystal clear voice, draws on her experiences as an activist, bisexual and Chinese-American women to inform her potent visions of female power and cultural, personal and sexual identity. Hsu-Li founded Chickpop Records in 1997, the same year she founded a Seattle-area women's music and arts coalition called Femme Vitale.

Hsu-Li will perform songs from her newest CD, Smashing the Ceiling, then speak about the redefinition of identity. "One of the problems with our society is that we lack an awareness for the wealth of cultural diversity that surrounds us," Hsu-Li writes on her website. "I intend to always be defining issues of identity, and bringing communities together through my music and art. My primary goal as an artist is to help break through the glass ceiling in the American music industry so that Asians and other cultural minorities become accepted as artistic and commercial forces in popular music." Samples of Hsu-Li's music are available at http://magdalenhsuli.com

The conference also includes the Day of Silence, a day chosen "in order to show the community the silence the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community faces on a daily basis," explained Maria Cortez, assistant director of the multicultural center at UO. Cortez and the event's sponsors hope to raise awareness of issues affecting women of color and support empowerment through education.

The event includes a lecture on issues facing immigrants, Friday April 28. On Saturday, April 29 the conference continues with a series of workshops from 10 am to 4 pm that cover welfare, sex trafficking and tai chi. There will also be a women of color leadership panel on Saturday. All events are free. For more information contact the UO Multicultural Center at 346-4321 or Maria Cortez at 953-5410.    



Lucky Numbers

Maria Taylor's solo debut sneaks into your head.


Maria Taylor, The Virginal Sound, Little Girl Big Spoon, 13 Ghost. 8 pm, Monday, April 24. WOW Hall, $7 adv./$8 dos.

It's 11:11 — make a wish. Actually, it's 11:11, the debut solo album from Maria Taylor, whose voice may ring bells in the heads of fans of everyone from Bright Eyes to Moby. Like the other two bands she's in, Azure Ray and Now It's Overhead, Taylor records for Saddle Creek, the Omaha record label that doubles as a collective of multi-hyphenate talent, with everyone turning up on everyone else's albums.

11:11 is no exception. Frequent Bright Eyes collaborator and producer Mike Mogis plays his usual array of instruments; Conor Oberst turns up on backing vocals on "Song Beneath the Song;" Cursive cellist Gretta Cohn plays on three tracks; and Now It's Overhead's Andy LeMaster appears twice.

But it's Taylor herself who does most of the work, playing acoustic guitar, drums and various pianos and dusting her lush, delicate voice over it all. Her songs, unsurprisingly, aren't far from the Azure Ray sound, contemplative, deceptively gentle and arranged with precision and care. Some tracks rely on simple, folky instrumentation, while others, like "Leap Year" and "One for the Shareholder," are rich with electronic tones, twitches and textures. The sudden start of "Leap Year," a song that stammers into the middle of a measure, is the aural equivalent of jumping into the pool without testing the water first. And it works, with a crisp snare that moves the song forward when Taylor's languid vocals linger over the lyrics.

Though Taylor's melodies are lovely and her voice as distinctive as ever, 11:11 at first feels a little slight, lacking some of the emotional resonance of her best Azure Ray tracks. But they're a little sneaky, these bittersweet, tentatively hopeful tunes; they have a surprising knack for appearing in your head when you least expect it.


A Celebration of Peace

ECC's Give Us Peace Festival still timely


Three weeks ago, on the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Michael Stipe, Bright Eyes and Chuck D came together to perform at the Bring 'Em Home concert in New York. The musicians joined peace activist Cindy Sheehan to raise awareness of the tragedies of our present war.

Robert Kyr

Using music to spread a message of peace in the midst of war is no new concept. There was, of course, Woodstock, and that generation's songs of peace that flew in the face of the brutalities of Vietnam.

But English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem, written in the mid-1930s as World War II loomed in Europe, is possibly the 20th century's most passionate and beautiful musical elucidation of the futility of war and the power of peace.

The Eugene Concert Choir will feature Vaughan Williams' masterpiece at its season-ending performance Grant Us Peace — Dona Nobis Pacem, as the culmination of the Festival of Peace, April 18 to April 22.

"I planned this concert three years ago," says Diane Retallack, ECC's artistic and executive director. "I was hoping that by the time we got to this concert we wouldn't need a peace concert. But I see we need [it] now more than ever."

Vaughan Williams himself knew the tragedies of war. He fought in World War I, during which he lost many friends. Shortly thereafter, he began compiling a scrapbook of quotations meant to bring some relevance to what he had seen while at war in France. In his scrapbook were Civil War-era poems by Walt Whitman, Biblical passages and an excerpt of John Bright's famous speech lambasting the Crimean War ("The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land"), all of which are integrated into Dona Nobis Pacem.

Soprano soloist Carmen Pelton and baritone soloist James Bobick will join ECC for Vaughan Williams' cantata, and the Grant Us Peace concert will include works by Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Eugene's own Robert Kyr.

The concert will begin with the choir singing, "Lord, make me an instrument of peace," from Kyr's "Voices of Peace," which is based on the text of St. Francis of Assisi. In a time of war such as now, sometimes music can be the plea for peace the world needs to hear.

Give peace a chance 8 pm Saturday, April 22 at the Silva Hall, Hult Center. Adults: $15/$23/$28. Students/seniors: $10/$18/$24.


Kristin Allen-Zito Cleans Up

Kristin Allen-Zito is a musical schizophrenic with a missing tooth who thinks housecleaners should be tipped. Calm down people, we'll explain.

Allen-Zito cleans houses part-time, but spends her favored time as a singer/songwriter who plucked and sang in front of the stripped-down sound of Helium, the album she's touring behind.

"If I had all the time in the world I would love to be in all sorts of musical acts," Allen-Zito says. Well, she's off to a nice start with her band The Trucks, a quartet of lovely ladies who "dress up in [their] underwear and sing about sex." For these performances, which differ ever-so-slightly from her acoustic sets, Allen-Zito takes out her fake tooth.

What's that? A fake tooth? Allen-Zito broke it at age 7, just minutes before performing onstage for the first time at one of her folksinger mother's concerts.

That memory must bring tears to Mom's eyes when she watches her daughter performing in her underwear, minus a molar.

Don't miss the cleanest (ahem) acoustic guitar in the Pacific Northwest, with fellow Eugene local Carsie Blanton 10 pm Friday, April 21 at Luckey's. $5. — Tim O'Rourke


Named After Who?


The comic Ernie Kovacs quipped that he knew television was a medium because it was rarely well done. The same can be said about pop music. Sure, The Beatles can't be beat, Big Star was badass and The Cars had cool totally covered. But these days it takes more than retro pop pastiche and cute looks to get me excited (sorry, DJ Craig).

I didn't have high hopes for L.A.'s Rooney (named after the high school principle in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) when I saw how pretty they all are. When I surmised that nine out of 10 of their fans heard about them from the Fox television show "The OC," my heart sank further. When I went to the website (www.rooney-band.com)and read their band member bios, I nearly blew chunks into my beer.

When I actually listened to their songs, well, there was very little redemption. I understand they picked the weakest song from their new CD, Rooney, to lead as a single. While this may be a shrewd marketing ploy for anyone who can get past the lame "Bluesides" long enough to actually purchase the CD, the songs they have made available are not impressive, sound derivative and have the impact of a spaghetti noodle wielded as a sword.

The Lashes were only slightly better. At least they looked rougher, like maybe they got cut off the trust fund and had to do a little scrounging under the sofas. But the bullet belts and coifed hair are not convincing. The songs all sounded the same and might warrant repeated listening only if you can stomach 11 more songs about pretty girls. Yawn.

Rooney, The Lashes and Everybody Else play 8:30 pm Tuesday, April 10 at WOW Hall. $10. — Vanessa Salvia


Fortier of Solitude

Tyler Fortier is a writer. He writes introspective, emo-tinged folk songs on his acoustic guitar. He writes because "the whole writing process is so therapeutic." He's written songs since age 12, but has trouble writing a song when he wants to. "If I sat down to write a song I couldn't do it," Fortier says. "The songs I write come out when I don't expect them. Sometimes they come out in characters."

Many of the songs from his latest album, When the Sun Hits the Water, introduce listeners to characters the Eugene resident has conjured up in his head. "A Boy Named Jack" is actually about a girl whose boyfriend is that catch of catches, Jack Daniels.

But Fortier broke from his songwriting tradition and sat down on the UO campus to compose the album's title track. The writing is telling: "This downtown college scene/ The backdrop of misplaced dreams … When the sun goes down on a burrito stand at the corner of 13th."

Feel the local flavor 6:30 pm Thursday, April 20 at Emerald City Coffee House. Free. Fortier plays with Landau 10 pm Wednesday, April 26 at Luckey's. $3. — Tim O'Rourke


String Music In Any Flavor

Write about the music scene long enough and you'll soon realize that artists hate being labeled for playing whatever it is they play. Their sound is always "unique," a mish-mash of styles, with a hint of another style thrown in for good measure.

David Grisman

David Grisman, however, lives up to the hype. Musically, he's a constant rover. A master of the mandolin, he started playing bluegrass in the down-home style, but in his 40-year-plus career he has since filled his canteen from many musical streams — Latin, jazz, swing and gypsy, with side trips into Grateful Dead territory.

Grisman himself long ago gave up trying to describe his sound by simply coining the term "Dawg Music" — as apt any. Bluegrass still forms the base of almost everything he does, but Grisman and his quintet, a constantly changing line-up, have pushed the form into very strange turf. They can still pick-and-grin a nice hoe-down, or they can jazz it, mellow it, spice it or blues it. You ain't heard nothing until you've heard bluegrass à la Scruggs and Monroe meets the gypsy jazz of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt.

The current David Grisman Quintet includes Grisman on mandolin, Jim Kerwin on bass, George Marsh on percussion, Enrique Coria on guitar, and Matt Eakle on flute. They are expected to play a mix of old songs from throughout his career as well as new material from an upcoming CD.

The David Grisman Quintet performs 8 pm Thursday, April 27 at the McDonald Theatre. $25 adv./$28 dos. — John Ginn