Rock News: Music's high and low notes

By JOHN SWENSON, United Press International  |  April 1, 2003 at 3:00 AM
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New Orleans hottest touring band, Papa Grows Funk, has just released its second album, "Shakin," a record destined to become a New Orleans classic.

"It shows the evolution of the band," said keyboardist/vocalist John Gros. "Everybody contributed to the songwriting and arrangements, which highlight the strengths of the band."

"Shakin'" ranks with the classic funk recordings in the New Orleans canon by the group's parent bands -- the Meters, Galactic and the Wild Magnolias. Everybody contributed. Drummer Russell Batiste sets the tone with the churning "Mutha Funk Y'All," with its tart turnaround and catchy, chanted chorus. Batiste's compositional groove extends to "Say B'uh (I Jus' Playin')" and the pumping march "Soul Second Line." Saxophoinist Jason Mingledorff collaborated with Batiste on the album closer, "Big Wind," and brought the solid instrumental "Yakiniku" and "Sit On This" to the mix.

Guitarist June Yamagishi wrote "Slinky Snake" and bassist Marc Pero wrote "Fish-Eyed Fool." Gros contributed several originals to the album, which features his vocals prominently. The inspirational "If I..." and "House of Love" feature lyrics by his older brother Ward Gros, who currently is seeing action in Iraq.

"He has a collection of lyrics and poetry that he writes and I just go through 'em," said John, who wrote both music and lyrics for "Rat a Tang Tang," the song on the album that most quickly imprints itself on the listener. The stinging lyric with its sing-along chorus sounds like hit material. "Rat a tang tang gonna make me scream," sings Gros, "I'm done with Y.O.U."


It's 1987, and the Beatles are gathering in Liverpool for a reunion. It has been 25 years since John Lennon walked out of Parlaphone studios, taking George and Ringo with him. Paul, American-speaking and acting, has become the world famous entertainer Paul Montana, and he's visiting Liverpool for the first time since 1962, hoping to reunite with his boyhood chums, the once "hottest little quartet -- in Liverpool." Father George, now a Jesuit priest, is recovering from a nervous breakdown; John is embittered, alcoholic, unemployed, and on the dole. His wife has left him, and young Julian has joined the fascist National Front. Ringo lives on the earnings of his entrepreneurial hairdresser wife while he and John sit in on weekends with old rivals Gerry and the Pacemakers. It is Lennon's curse that he can imagine what might have been. That's the story line of a truly entertaining book, "Liverpool Fantasy," by Larry Kirwan. Kirwan, a playwright and leader of the Irish-American rock band Black 47, is the author of "Mad Angels," a collection of plays.


Hip hop superstar 50 Cent is the subject of a cover story in the May issue of Vibe. The article attributes his success to having survived being shot nine times. In the article he describes what he calls his "hollow-tip diet."

"Before being shot, I was kinda fat," he said. "My eating habits are wrong. After I got shot, I was on liquids for six weeks. My stomach had shriveled up so small that, even when I was able to eat, I was eating so little. The attention feels good though. Especially since this wasn't my intention."


El Gran Silencio, a band on the forefront of the exploding Monterrey, Mexico, music scene since its inception, has just released a potential blockbuster album, "Super Riddim Internacional Vol. 1" on EMI Latin. The group brings its fusion of rock, hiphop, norteño, cumbia, pagode, ragamuffin, rumba flamenco and raga to Los Angeles April l5 at the Henry Fonda Theatre and to Miami for the Zeta FM's Bonzai Fest April 25.

El Gran Silencio was founded in the summer of 1992 after Tony and Cano Hernandez wanted to find a way to combine their love for hiphop and norteño music. In the early '80s they had been exposed to early hiphop by Afrika Bambaata and Soul Sonic Force and even obscure electrofunk artists like Egyptian Lover. However, the momentum of a renaissance of Mexican rock began to sweep the country in the late '80s through groups like Caifanes, Maldita Vecindad and Maná. The brothers Hernández (on vocals and guitars), along with Isaac Valdez on accordion and Ezequiel Alvarado on drums formed EGS in the middle of a new Monterrey wave that included bands like Control Machete and Plastilina Mosh, and more recently Kinky, Jumbo, and Zurdok. Despite the emergence of Monterrey as the "it" city for Mexican rock, El Gran Silencio would rather hang out in their own barrio in the city's northern suburbs.

"Going back to see our homies is a way of grounding ourselves when we're flying too high," said Tony Hernández. "It makes us write about them, and their experiences and we try to take things that can be told in all parts of the world."


Zoë/Rounder Records is set to release the second solo album from Tragically Hip frontman, Gord Downie. Entitled "Battle of the Nudes," the disc will hit stores in the United States June 3 and the album will be released simultaneously in Canada on MapleMusic Recordings. On "Nudes," Downie channels a waterfall of ideas into a 37-minute sonic cauldron that swirls with roughage and delicacy. As on his first solo album, "Coke Machine Glow" (2001), the lineup of musicians joining Downie consists of Dale Morningstar (guitar, pump organ), Dave Clark (drums, percussion, tuba), and Dr. Pee (keyboards) from The Dinner Is Ruined; Josh Finlayson (bass, acoustic and electric guitars, background vocals) of The Skydiggers; and Julie Doiron (bass and background vocals), ex-Eric's Trip and Wooden Stars. The album was recorded over five days at The Gas Station on Toronto Island in May 2001, followed by five more days at The Bathouse in Bath, Ontario, in May 2002.

"I'm interested in doing anything that teaches me something," Downie said. "As a result, I've found that I'm writing more than ever. In fact, the day after I mastered this record, I was already back to writing with The Hip. Ultimately, what I want to do is more. I want to get better."

Downie plans to tour the United States extensively in support of "Battle of the Nudes."

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