Taj Mahal, who has been on every edition of the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, is once again the star of this year's renewal of "the Dodge City of blues festivals." Taj was everywhere you looked on the cruise ship Melody, chatting with various cruisers, selling custom designed Hawaiian shirts and giving an entertaining lecture/concert on the blues. He also led two dramatically different groups, a Piedmont blues revue showcasing several southeastern guitarists, and a Hawaiian band featuring a three-piece ukulele section. Taj was at his best in his lecture/demonstration on blues history, tracing the music back to the oral tradition of the African griots, which is handed down from generation to generation. He demonstrated how a griot's tale sounded, then explained how Africans brought to the United States as slaves translated the pace of this music to the cadence of a man walking behind a mule "trying to dodge the mule drafts." In his summary, Taj Mahal emphasized the enduring popularity of the blues ultimately comes down to music's central role in human expression: "Why all of us can feel this is that we're all part of a bigger family."
BUSTA BY ANY OTHER NAME
Rapper Busta Rhymes reveals how he got his nickname in the March issue of Vibe. In 1986 Public Enemy's Chuck D checked out Trevor Smith and dubbed him "Busta Rhymes" after a player on the Minnesota Vikings. "When he saw me, he said 'You perform like you're one of them aggressive linemen. You kind of remind me of Buster Rhymes.'" Before that Smith was calling himself "Chill-O-Ski," based on Kool Rock-ski from the Fat Boys and Kool Moe Dee from the Treacherous Three. Smith also talked about how Jay-Z got the best of him in a rap battle when they were in high school together. "Jay-Z was a senior and I was a sophomore," he said. "He did that speed rap... They hollered louder for him, and that was it."
SNOOP LOOKS TO ACTING
It isn't easy being a gansta-rap legend, a cartoon character, a peewee-football coach and a porn mogul. Snoop Dogg's completed his sixth album, and Vital Toys is developing a line of Snoop-related action figures -- Snoop in dreads, Snoop as an NBA star, etc. Of course transitioning from hoodfella to kid-friendly action figure is a tricky proposition. Snoop's criminal past includes a murder charge, of which he was acquitted in 1996, and a legendary feud with his old colleague Suge Knight. "I was actually abusing drugs," Snoop said in the March issue of Spin magazine. "So I just wanted to step back and take a different look at life, you know? And if I choose to get high, it's because I want to get high. It's no longer gonna be me smoking $3,000 or $4,000 worth of weed a day." Snoop also tells Spin he may be looking for some film roles. "I'd like to do the Miles Davis story," he says. "And the Bob Marley story. You know, deep roles where I can really show my skills."
SIN BANDERA'S 'AMOR REAL' ON TELEVISA
Grammy nominated Sin Bandera, whose name, "without Flag" is derived from the fact one of the duo is from Mexico and the other from Argentina, heads into the studio this week to record "Amor Real," the first song for the next album, the follow-up to the multi-platinum self-titled debut. When Televisa executives heard a demo of the song, they liked it so much they decide to use it for their next prime time novella, and renamed the novella "Amor Real." Fans can expect the new album to be released later this year. "Amor Real" the novella will debut March l7 on Televisa in Mexico and 20 other countries. Noel Schajris, from Argentina and Leonel García from México formed Sin Bandera less than two years ago. They write all their own songs, weaving piano, guitar and jazz, Latin and R&B influences into their music. Their debut album is nominated for Best Latin Pop Album. It won a Latin Grammy in 2002 for Best Pop Album by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The group also won an MTV Video Music Award.
Project/Object, the Mother of Frank Zappa Reinvention, is returning to the road with 22 years of authentic Zappa history on board. After two extraordinary national tours in 2002 with the maestro's two most beloved vocalists, Ike Willis and Napoleon Murphy Brock, Project/Object has expanded its entourage to include synth and keyboard genius Don Preston for the winter-spring 2003 tour. This is the first time the band has included three key Zappa band alumni in its crusade to keep alive the music of one of the 20th century's most important and influential composers. With the 10th anniversary of Zappa's death arriving at year's end, the tour takes on added significance as the crown jewel of the band's ongoing mission to perpetuate his music. The tour will see the band performing some of the classic 1960s "Mothers of Invention" material and revisiting the legendary electronic improvisational style that Preston brought to the Mothers from 1966 to 1974. The band also will be recreating the unique fun, excitement and political humor of the Frank Zappa concert experience. The tour kicks off March 6 in Northampton, Mass, and includes two-nighters in Chicago and Pittsburgh, ending April 5 at B.B. King's in New York. "Ike and Napoleon are just sounding better and better together," said Project/Object ringleader Andre Cholmondeley. "And Don is basically one of the pillars of electronic music and modern composition. The guy has done so much in so many areas, we are especially honored and excited to add him to our nutty band. Every night is going to be unique."
THE SAGA OF SAGA
SPV records is mounting an extensive reissue band for the Canadian progressive rock band Saga, a Canadian institution that has sold more than 8 million copies of its records worldwide. The classic lineup of lead vocalist/keyboardist Michael Sadler, guitarist/background vocalist Ian Crichton, bass guitarist/keyboardist Jim Crichton, lead keyboardist/vocalist Jim Gilmour and drummer/percussionist Steve Negu is a superstar act in Canada and Europe -- particularly Germany -- and is best known in the United States for hits "On the Loose" and "Wind Him Up" from the 1982 album "Worlds Apart." The "On the Loose" video was an MTV cornerstone during the channel's formative years. SPV Records plans to reissue all the CDs in the Toronto band's catalog with remastered sound, bonus tracks, original artwork, new artwork, liner notes and new photos. Titles include "Behavior," "Detours," "Heads or Tales," "House of Cards," "Images at Twilight," "In Transit," "Pleasure and The Pain," "Saga," "Security of Illusion," "SilentKnight," "Soft Works," "Steel Umbrellas" and "Worlds Apart." The next reissues, set for release May 20, are "Full Circle," "Generation 13," "The Beginners Guide to Throwing Shapes" and "Phase I." They follow the release of the new studio album "Marathon" April 8.
CLASSIC FOLKWAYS BLUES COMPILATION
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has scheduled a Feb. 25 release date for "Classic Blues from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings," the latest installment in the label's highly successful series of "Classic" collections. As "Classic Mountain Songs" and "Classic Bluegrass" did for their respective genres, "Classic Blues from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings" delivers a compelling collection of rare recordings by the some of the blues' most important early performers while illustrating the role Moses Asch and his Folkways label played in preserving this vital piece of American history. The set includes essential material from Son House, Lead Belly, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, the Rev. Gary Davis and Etta Baker among others.
TIGER MOUNTAIN'S STRATEGY
Tiger Mountain, one of the best new bands in New York City's thriving underground scene, is playing a one-month residency at the lower East Side club Arlene Grocery during February. The band, named after the classic Eno album "Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy," is promoting its recently released debut CD "Analog Heads Gone French." The group, which consists of singers/guitarists Tyler Lenane and Mike Jackson, both formerly of Girltoucher, ex-Murphy's Law bassist Dean Rispler and ex-Nada Surf drummer Aaron Conte, will perform every Wednesday during February; showtime is 9 p.m. Feb. 19, and 10 p.m. Feb. 26. Arlene Grocery is located at 95 Stanton St. -- arlene-grocery.com -- or for more information on Tiger Mountain log on to tigermountain.tv.
ZIMBABWE'S MBIRA QUEEN
Stella Chiweshe, the undisputed queen of mbira ("thumb piano"), is on a solo tour this month that includes a showcase at Joe's Pub in New York Monday. Singing songs of personal and spiritual liberation, in her hauntingly delicate voice, Chiweshe traverses the valleys of mourning, loss, despair and finally redemption. Playing the millennium-old mbira, Zimbabwe's indigenous instrument used to summon spirits and spiritual guardians, Chiweshe's masterful technique, regal stage presence and deep spiritual intimacy provides her audience with a transformative experience. In addition to the New York gig, Chiweshe's tour includes stops at the Folk Alliance Festival in Nashville, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, and six New Mexico dates before wrapping up Feb. 21 in Cambridge, Mass., at the First Church in Cambridge Congregational. The Mbira has between 22 and 28 metal keys mounted on a wooden soundboard that has been used by the Shona people of Zimbabwe for more than 1,000 years to call upon their ancestors and spiritual guardians for advice, blessings and protection. Chiweshe's eighth album, "Talking Mbira-Spirits of Liberation," demonstrates her versatility from the powerful song "Musandifungise" to the high energy marimba/mbira combination "Manja."
NEW KID DANNY WOOD RELEASES DEBUT CD
Danny Wood, former member of New Kids On The Block, will release his debut solo CD, "Second Face" (Empire Music Werks/Damage/BMG) April 15. "I'm very excited about my album," Wood said. "I put my heart and soul into it, and I think it really shows a lot about the person I am today." When he was still in his teens, Wood became an international star as a member of the first in the new wave of pop boy bands. New Kids sold 60 million albums worldwide and broke every sales and attendance record at major venues around the world. This album was two years in the making. Wood formed his own record label and has been producing other artists, including former bandmate Joey McIntyre, and Marky Mark, brother of fellow New Kid Donnie Wahlberg. All 16 songs on the album were written by Wood, showcasing an eclectic mix of rock and pop, combined with memorable melodies. The album was recorded in Miami at West End Studios and House of Sound.
MARK INSLEY'S SUPERMODEL
Tucson-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Insley has a new album, "Supermodel," scheduled for April 22 release on Rustic Records. Originally from Kansas, Insley spent 17 years as a mainstay of the Los Angeles roots rock scene, recording his debut CD, "Good Country Junk," in 1996. Insley quickly developed a reputation for his raucously entertaining live shows at local venues such as the legendary Palomino, as well as club and festival appearances around the country. His touring band often included such stellar musicians as guitarist Tony Gilkyson (X, Lone Justice, Chuck E. Weiss) and bassist Taras Prodaniuk (Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams). "Tucson," Insley's Rustic Records debut, further stretched the boundaries of his music, exploring the territories of hard-core country and Americana, but with his own unique take on subject matter. Tucson was co-produced by Mark Insley and Paul DuGre, who's worked with Los Lobos, Tracy Chapman and Dave Alvin, among others, and featured such guest players as Tony Gilkyson, Dave Alvin, Greg Leisz, Albert Lee, Rick Shea and Clare Muldaur. "Supermodel" was co-produced by Insley and DuGre and features an all-star cast of players, including Clare Muldaur, daughter of roots music legend Geoff Muldaur, on vocals, multi-instrumentalists Greg Leisz and Rick Shea, Dan McGough (Tom Waits) on various keyboards, David Raven (Jim Lauderdale, Butthole Surfers) on drums, Bob Glaub on electric bass, David Jackson on acoustic bass and Don Heffington (Bob Dylan, Buddy Miller) on jaw harp.
WILCOX ROCKS THE BOOGIE
David K. Wilcox, One of Canada's greatest guitar masters and most exciting live performers, has a new album, "Rockin' the Boogie," set for release. The CD, co-produced by Wilcox, Colin Linden and Sadia, is a collection of Wilcox' best songs, plus three new compositions, from his 25-year career. He's released numerous gold and platinum-selling albums in Canada, where he is one of the most popular touring acts. Canadian Olympic Gold Medal winners Jamie Sale and David Pelletier skated to the title cut "Rockin' The Boogie" in their internationally televised exhibition skate at the end of last year's Winter Olympics. Wilcox' song, "That Hypnotizin' Boogie" was featured in the Tom Cruise film "Cocktail."
INTERNET MUSIC SERVICE SLASHES PRICES
A major online music subscription service Thursday announced the launch a promotional offer letting subscribers mix and burn CDs for just 49 cents per track, the latest step in the ongoing war with pirate Internet music sites. The offer by the Rhapsody service, available both through Listen.com and Lycos Music, is the lowest price currently available online, the companies say. It is good through March 31, and is available to new and existing subscribers to Rhapsody. Subscribers will be able to download from more than 285,000 tracks and 20,000 albums of material from all five major music companies and more than 100 independent labels. Listen.com also is offering a week of free access to Rhapsody, from Feb. 13-21. These rock-bottom prices reflect intensifying efforts to get subscribers for legitimate Internet-based subscription music services.
DYLAN SERVES GOSPEL
Nearly a quarter-century after Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" cracked the Top 30 and garnered him his first Grammy Award, a new album by that name, "Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan" presents 11 newly recorded renditions of songs from "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved." They are performed by today's leading gospel artists, including Aaron Neville ("Saving Grace"), Mighty Clouds of Joy ("Saved"), Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs ("When You Gonna Wake Up"), the Fairfield Four ("Are You Ready"), and Shirley Caesar, the queen of gospel herself, performing the title track. The compilation allows these songs to be heard in a wholly new and fresh context, perhaps the very context in which they always were destined to be heard -- as pure, unadulterated gospel music. The title arrives in stores March 25 on Columbia/Integrity, a division of Sony Music.
DESERT IN A BOX
For 7,000 years nomadic peoples have lived in and roamed the Sahara Desert in search of better living conditions. They search for a fertile oasis, the only beacon of hope for areas completely devoid of life. Since rain may visit the wettest areas of the desert twice in one week and then hide away for years, a traveler could drive more than 100 miles per hour for three days straight without seeing any vegetation or animal life in the largest desert in the world, which covers one-third of the African continent. For inhabitants of Bahr bela ma -- Arabic for "ocean without water" -- every aspect of life has formed around the continual search for this precious land of life and fertility, their refuge and source of hope. While traveling, traditional bards may carry small instruments like guitars or ngonis, on which, like the great American blues masters, they sing of life's tribulations, of survival in the middle of adverse conditions. They carry the tunes with an emotive voice, the kind that is so beautiful and heartfelt they turn persistent longing into perpetual serenity. In 1996, Network -- networkmedien.de -- captured these rich North African ballads by gathering them on a well received two-CD compilation. "Ambiances du Sahara: Desert Blues" sold in excess of 100,000 copies, as well as winning the German Phonographic Critics Prize and remaining in the European World Music Charts for three months. Network's Christian Scholze and Jean Trouillet have compiled a follow-up double album, "Rêves d'oasis: Desert Blues 2." The set covers the guitar music of 29 artists from 11 North African countries, 26 tracks over a broad spectrum from traditional to contemporary, featuring encounters between musicians of different cultures. Artists like Boubacar Traoré, Cheb Mami and Grand Papa Diabaté guide the listener through the plains of the Sahel to the subtropical forests of Guinea. The lyrics, accompanied by native instruments like the kora, Guinean "national guitar," balaphon, and djembe, disclose universal desires for love, peace, and freedom.