THE SIDEBAR #16: ALEC PALAO, TALKING ABOUT MUSIC CITY

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Alec Palao is a music historian and reissue producer and quite possibly, the world’s leading expert on the Music City catalog.

The label was one of the most storied in Bay Area music history though you’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of it given that it was always more of a local, independent operation than anything approaching the size/scope of Fantasy or similar Bay Area imprints. Nonetheless, for three decades, Music City was one of the outlets for Black music in the Bay, through many different evolutions of style. Until recently, much of Music City was only known to record collectors given that the catalog was under the lock and key of reclusive founder/owner Ray Dobard. However, after his passing a few years ago, the catalog finally has been given the revisit it richly deserves, including a sprawling 3-CD boxset, two artist-oriented anthologies (for sweet soul favorite Darondo and young funkateers, Two Things In One) plus a separate, funk-oriented compilation. Alec and I talked about most of this and, in the process, dipped back into the deep well of the Bay Area’s music history, with an unexpected detour into a Soul Sides disco classic.


The Sidebar #16: Alec Palao
 

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Music in this episode:

  • Music City Swingers: Passing Thru Music City
  • The Heavenly Tones: He’s All Right (both from The Music City Story)
  • Darondo: Didn’t I
  • Darondo: I Don’t Understand It
  • Darondo: I’m Lonely (all from Listen to My Song)
  • Two Things In One: Snag Nasty
  • Two Things In One: Thangs (both from Together Forever)
  • Skye: Ain’t No Need
  • Two Things In One: Together Forever
  • Two Things In One: Ohio (both from Together Forever)
  • Music City Swingers: Passing Thru Music City

HOLY GHOST POSTS: FLORIDA SPIRITUALAIRES COVER THE INTRUDERS

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The Florida Spiritualaires: I Remember When
From 7″ (Ernie’s Record Parade, 1976)

First time I heard this 7″, the first thought that came to mind was, “wow, it sounds like the Spiritualaires are recording a low rider jam.” The way the song opens is pure “Suavecito”-era soul which may not have been as surprising if this had been, say, The Whittier Spiritualaires but it’s not a sound I instantly associate with Floridians.

Of course, what I should have realized was that “I Remember When” belongs to that particular category of “gospel songs that remake R&B songs.” In this case, my friend Hua – a big Intruders fan (obviously more than I!) was able to instantly point out that this uses “Cowboys to Girls“. The main difference – besides the obvious change in the lyrics to fit a gospel context – is that the Spiritualaires leave out the telltale “shoot ’em up/bang bang/baby” line that opens the Intruders’ song so distinctively.

Either way, still a great groove and a lovely gospel cover.

HOLY GHOST POSTS: SOULS OF UNITY

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The Souls of Unity: Reach Out and Touch
From It’s Getting Late In the Evening (Major, 197?)

Little did I realize that Noz – apart from his love for obscure rap – also scours the Maryland countryside for gospel LPs. A few months back, I discovered this album through him and in particular, heard this song and was instantly obsessed. Partially, it’s those muted horns and the deep bass lines – putting the soul in gospel soul – but it’s also teenager Angela Brown’s lead vocals, with her wavering tone and those piercing notes that, at times, recall Minnie Riperton or Linda Lewis. To be sure, I think Angela’s a little off-pitch at times but those imperfectionss help make the song all the more memorable.

I was so taken with the song, I dug around and managed to track down Ed Brown (Angela’s brother and the group’s bassist) and to make a long story short, Brown was gracious and generous enough to not only send me a copy of the LP but also share some of the history of the group and the recording.

The Souls of Unity hailed from Landover, Maryland, about ten miles northeast of Washington D.C. The group was founded by Bro. William Brown. As his son Ed puts it, “[we] practiced in our basement and eventually all the siblings took up an instrument or started singing…after a while my father took note of all the talent in the house and started the Souls of Unity.” William Sr. played rhythm guitar while his junior namesake was the group’s drummer; Ed played bass and his brother Daniel was on lead guitar. Rounding out the group was trumpeter Joe Wheeler and another vocalist, Reginald Mosley. Bro. William wrote most of the arrangements, with the kids lending input. According to the liner notes, this is the group’s second album, and they were a constant presence on “The Uplifting Hour,” a 15 minute radio show on Saturday mornings on WUST and hosted by Bro. Brown.

I also asked Ed about Angela’s singing style and he replied: “it’s not hard to hit high note when you’re a teenager…and now days she’s more like Pattie LaBelle.”

(My thanks to Ed Brown, Noz and Leo.)

HOLY GHOST POSTS, EASTER SPECIAL: 5 OF 5

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The Canton Spirituals: Stand By Me
From Mississippi Po Boy (J&B, 1985)

The Fantastic Family Aries: I’ve Been Born Again
The Color of God
From I’m So Glad (Gospel Roots/TK, 1976)

I had another set of songs ready to go to close out the week of posts but I began the week in Urbana/Campaign and while out there, managed to hit up a pair of stores, including one that had two boxes of sealed gospel LPs, including the Canton Spirituals LP which – by lucky coincidence – I needed a cleaner copy of anyway.1 The group, like the Soul Stirrers go back, way back, to the 1940s though, presumably by this iteration in the mid 1980s, they had changed up their line-up at least a little bit (that said, Henry Watkins Sr., one of the original founders, is still singing vocals on here). By this point in their career, the Spirituals worked with producer and label man James Bennet, half an hour south of Canton in Jackson and they recorded this at Talk of the Town Studios and released the album on Bennett’s J&B.

“Stand By Me” is one of my favorite kinds of gospel songs – ones that take their musical track from a secular hit but then rewrite the lyrics to fit a religious theme instead. In this case, the Canton Spirituals are clearly riffing on DeBarge’s big hit, “I Like It” and I’m feeling how their young vocalist echoes the youthfulness of the original’s.

The Fantastic Family Aries are from Chicago’s Southside and have at least one album released locally but this LP came out on Gospel Roots, a subsidiary of Henry Stone’s TK Records, arguably the biggest R&B label out of Florida. 2 Musically, much of the album opts to keep things relatively simple and there’s a strong deep soul element running throughout. While I like the light and sunny vibe of “I’ve Been Born Again,” it’s the politics of “The Color of God” that really caught my ear. This clearly seems like gospel soul influenced by the Black Power Movement, not in a nationalist way – they’re not claiming that God is black – but just even speaking to the color of God suggests an explicit engagement with the social politics of the era that differs from the gospel of the ’60s Civil Rights Movement that often spoke in code rather than speak on race outright (though I’m sure those examples exist too).

So that does it for this particular installment but I guarantee I’ll be back with more Holy Ghost Posts soon enough. Perhaps next week, I’ll drop some tracks related to that Asian diaspora mix I was talking about…

  1. If anyone lives in the area, hit up Record Swap on University. The gospel boxes may still be on the left side of the store, at the bottom of the stairs to the $1 attic.
  2. This was produced by Dewayne Dion but there’s no indication where it was recorded nor who played on it.

HOLY GHOST POSTS, EASTER SPECIAL: 4 OF 5

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Willie Banks and the Messengers: If It Had Not Been For Jesus
On My Way
From God’s Goodness (HSE, 197?)

There’s an old adage that the way you find a good funk LP is to look for an Afro on the cover. For gospel, I wonder if the equivalent is looking for stock photography and plain typology. For small press releases, there just wasn’t a big budget for marketing; you may have noticed this Banks LP uses the same stock photo as the Soulful Sons of Zion release I wrote about on Day 1. The upside though is that I’ve come to associate these covers with a similar musical approach: low budget, small band but it’s been part of the sound of these albums that I’ve enjoyed so much.

This album, in particular, has some interesting compositions that, to me, remind me that while you can talk about “white gospel” and “black gospel,” there’s as many points of crossover as there are points of difference. It’s easy to forget that the roots of blues, country, rock and R&B share much more in common than a segregated record industry may suggest but songs like “If It Had Not Been For Jesus” and “On My Way” sound like they could just have easily been recorded by a white church band.

HOLY GHOST POSTS, EASTER SPECIAL: 3 OF 5

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Eugene Williams and Sister Lee Ida Brown and the Houston Interdenominational Choir: Help Your Brother
Peace
From Seek Ye First the Kingdom (ABC Songbird, 1974)

Gladys McFadden & The Loving Sisters: Never Gonna Turn Around
From Running Short Of Love, Today (ABC Peacock, 1977)

Freda Bush: City Called Heaven
From Songs of Faith and Inspiration (Aclassye, 1976)

One running joke re: gospel albums is how long “artist” names are. Of course, that’s partially because it’s not just the singers or bands being repped, but often times, their entire congregation (or, in this case, the name of their choir). Anyways, EWSLIDHIC (try sounding that out!) recorded with ABC’s Songbird subsidiary, which, along with Peacock, were two of the major gospel imprints, founded by Don Robey, then bought by ABC in the 1970s. “Help Your Brother” doesn’t have the most scintillating of arrangements but what won me over was the Houston Interdenominational Choir building that chorus up. “Peace” was, I felt, a stronger song overall (especially the strong rhythm section) and again, it’s the HIC that absolutely sell just how good it is. The hook is simply marvelous.

Gladys McFadden and The Loving Sisters come lovely with this latter ’70s album on Peacock that has some masterful soul/funk influences running through it, especially on this mellow track. Like the Art Reynolds Singers’ song from the other day, this is another one of those tunes that’s so close to being secular, you’d have consciously remind yourself that it’s not. 1

For this post’s closer, I wanted to play off the electric piano on McFadden’s song but we’re now flipping from ABC Records to the small private press reach of Freda Bush and her album on Aclassye. 2 I’m not 100% positive, but I’m guessing this is a Wurlitzer here (though it’s a 50/50 choice between that or a Rhodes) and it introduces that main melody that Bush herself then ports over into her vocals. I find the song to be unpolished in all the best ways and even those out-of-place synths that enter midway through can’t take away from it.

  1. Trivia note: Gladys was briefly married to Gene McFadden of McFadden and Whitehead fame
  2. This was presented by the American College of Nurse-Midwives, which tickles me for whatever reason.

HOLY GHOST POSTS, EASTER SPECIAL: 2 OF 5

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The Faithful Wonders: Ol’ John (Behold Thy Mother)
Lucy Rodgers: I Found a Friend
Irish Britton: Lord I Wonder
All from The Sunday Gospel Open House (Checker, 1967)

In terms of bang for the buck, it’s hard to go wrong with this late ’60s release off of Checker which compiles a slew of gospel recordings from artists on the label. There’s at least four songs off of here that are outstanding and seriously, kudos to whoever that Checker mixed and mastered this; it has excellent production aesthetics for its era.1 It says a lot about how strong Checker’s gospel catalog was for them to be able to cherry pick for this comp.

For example, listen to how far forward the drummer gets put in the stereo mix on the Faithful Wonders’ song.2 There’s so much energy and power here and that also carries into Lucy Rodgers’s “I Found a Friend,” except, this time, there’s that full choir bringing down the hammer as well. 3

Take those same elements but then chill the mood out and you get Irish Britton’s “Lord I Wonder,” which has all the sound and volume of the choir (not to mention Britton’s soaring vocals) but then dials everything down on the musical front with a simple, bluesy ballad arrangement. Call it closing big. 4

  1. You’ll notice I only posted three though; I’m keeping a fourth in the wings. Also, the Stepfather of Soul was already blogging songs off this LP back in ’07!
  2. This track is on Checker 7″ too – a slightly pricey piece but justifiably so.
  3. This track also appears on a Rodgers’ LP on Checker
  4. Couldn’t find any info on Irish Britton.

HOLY GHOST POSTS, EASTER SPECIAL: 1 OF 5

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As my past posts have hinted at, my record buying habits have taken on a heavy gospel bent of late. Not sure what instigated the ramp up…I’ve been picking up pieces here and there for years now but not in such a concerted way.

My taste in gospel has both evolved and refined itself over the years; the only common consistencies is that I’m certainly drawn to gospel with a strong soul and/or funk aesthetic but given how remarkably broad and diverse those styles are, it’s not as if there’s a particular “gospel sound” that appeals to me. I suppose I’m working “backwards,” filtering my tastes in gospel through the sonic sieve of soul/funk rather than letting gospel and its unique aesthetics lead me but this is an on-going exploration so I don’t put much faith (pun intended) into assuming that I’m reached some kind of well-refined conclusions as to what I’m into.

Regardless, hope folks enjoy this week’s set of gospel inspired posts.


The Daytonians: Shelter
From Jesus Will Work It Out (Church Door, 197?)

J.J. Farley and the Original Soul Stirrers: Count On Me
From Time Has Made a Change (HSE, 196?)

The Soulful Sons of Zion: Pray For Peace
From Peace N the Valley (Su-Ann/HSE, 197?)

The Art Reynolds Singers: Every Now and Then
From Tellin’ It Like It Is! (Capitol/EMI, 1966)

I was first turned onto the Daytonians’ LP through Kid Inquisitive, whose gospel mix put me on the path for any number of must haves. This album, by the Dayton OH based band was one of the toughest to come by and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it a (har har) holy grail, it should at least qualify for white whale status given its rarity. 1

The sound of the Daytonians LP shares much in common with other gospel bands you’ll be hearing today and this week: a handful of players, working with relatively simple arrangements, with a lead soloists and a couple of back-up singers…and that’s it. I really love the minimalism of it all – it’s like the inverse of some super-lush Curtis Mayfield production but it’s not any less soulful or affecting for it. 2 With the Daytonians in particular, their band seems to have a bassist, a guitarist and drummer, plus their vocalists and that’s it. And I love how effective they are with just that. 3. This was one of the first LPs released on Atlanta’s Church Door imprint, supposedly in the late 1970s though the sound of it seems at least a decade earlier (perhaps owning to the no-frills production).

The Soul Stirrers have a giant, storied history as a gospel outfit, dating all the way back to the 1930s. For secular folks, the name might ring a bell because Sam Cooke spent a spell with them, as did Johnnie Taylor but what’s extraordinary is that Jessie James (J.J.) Farley wasn’t just a founding member, but was still an integral member some 30-40 years later. They recorded for many different labels though this LP appears on HSE, the Tennessee imprint that was one of the powerhouse independent gospel labels.4 So far, this is the only LP I have by them though the other recordings I’ve heard from them in this era suggests there’s much more to their catalog worth exploring. I’m digging on the dual guitar style of “Count On Me,” plus the driving rhythm section. The lead here – I’m assuming Martin Jacow – is a gritty soul shouter/screaming and goes in on the back half of the song.

The Soulful Sons of Zion were a local Oakland outfit (though they recorded this LP for HSE’s subsidiary, Su-Ann) from what I’m guessing is the mid/late 1970s based on the production style of the recording. In contrast to the starkness of the Daytonians and Soul Stirrers, the Soulful Sons have a fuller sound, including that dramatic string accompaniment that opens the song.

As for the Art Reynolds Singers…I posted up two of their songs before and I was revisiting the album and realize I had totally overlooked this awesome gospel soul ballad. One thing I especially adore about it – besides how the vocalist crushes this in a Ruth Brown/Etta James way – is how the lyrics could so clearly be tweaked with minimal changes to turn this from a song celebrating Jesus to a song celebrating, well, a different kind of man who comes by and touches you. I can’t tell if this is a cover of an R&B song that’s been remade into a gospel tune but it certainly sounds that way. Bonus points for how heavy the vibes are in this mix.

  1. Side note on collecting gospel: One thing I’ve learned fairly quickly is that while many gospel recordings may sound like soul records, they certainly don’t circulate like soul records. The most popular gospel recording of all time is Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace which sold 2 million copiesKirk Franklin’s 1997 album, God’s Property which sold over 3 million – a huge number but compare that with the best selling soul, rock or funk albums: gospel isn’t mainstream music no matter how much it may be in conversation with it.

    It’s a niche genre that moves along niche networks, with it own labels, distributors and retail outlets. As such, I would argue that unit-by-unit, it’s easier to find, say, a 1000-unit pressing of a soul recording than a 2000-unit pressing of a gospel recording. Both are legitimately rare but the soul record at least is more likely to circulate within a better developed network of record commerce that specialize in rare items: boutique stores, collector/dealers and of course, eBay. The gospel that enters into those same routes usually are able to do so because they’re “known” by what you could call “secular music” collectors (an ill-fitting term but I think you catch my meaning) but I’d say the crossover between those two social worlds is small (far smaller, in my estimation, that for, say, Latin or Brazilian record nerds).

  2. In fact, this is a total theory in progress and I’d happily have someone punch a dozen holes in it, but it strikes me that it’s not as easy to find post-1966 soul recordings that are as minimalist in arrangement and production as gospel but, I suspect I may think this partially because I own very few private press soul albums to compare with the private/small press gospel LPs I have.
  3. Alas, I want to give credit to the singers here but I’m writing this away from home and will have to get home before I can check the liners to see who’s singing
  4. Small note but my version of this LP does not have the title on the cover (unlike the version whose image is above. Same cover image though).

2010 REVIEW (FROM THE BINS)


There are other songs that could have made this list but I really went with those songs that, at the end of the year, I still enjoyed as much as when I first heard ’em. Interesting trends I noticed in my listening taste as a result of putting this playlist together: gospel was obviously big for me this year, reggae was not, and despite a wealth of Latin, only a few songs really stayed with me. As always, soul was huge but not so much funk. Jazz was totally shut out. We’ll have to see what 2011 brings…

2010 MIX (RS)

Tracklisting:
Little Ann: Deep Shadows
Tammy Montgomery: Sinner’s Devotion (From Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection)
The Five Stairsteps: Danger, She’s a Stranger
Mayer Hawthorne: I Need You (From 12″)
Al Sharp: Gentle Is My Love
Carlton & The Shoes: Never Give Your Heart Away (From Love Me Forever)
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Better Things To Do (From I Learned The Hard Way)
Lord Echo: Thinking Of You (From Melodies)
Quantic y Conjunto: Dre en Cumbia
Trio Servando Diaz: El Viejito Cañandonga
Los Exciters: Morning
Ralph Thamar Featuring Mario Canonge: Siboney
Lee Moses: Got That Will
T.N.T. Band: Making Tracks (From Making Tracks)
Las 4 Monedas: Buena Suerte
Akwid: Esto Es Pa Mis Paisas [Explicit] (From Clasificado R)
Betty Moorer: Speed Up
Sugar Pie DeSanto: I Don’t Wanna Fuss
The Inspirational Gospel Singers: The Same Thing It Took (From Good God! Born Again Funk)
Numonics: You Lied (From Groove Merchant Turns 20)
Lou Bond: Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards (From Lou Bond)
Chicano Batman: Itotiani (From Chicano Batman)
Donnie and Joe Emerson: Baby
Kanye West: Devil In A New Dress (From My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
T.L. Barrett & Youth For Christ Choir: Like A Ship (From Like a Ship)
Marius Cultier: Nathalie
Erykah Badu: Out My Mind, Just In Time (Part 1) (From New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh))
The Gospel Hummingbirds: Trouble Don’t Last Always

2010 REVIEW (NEW)

ALBUMS. Major caveat: over the last few years, I’ve really relinquished any claim to being a “pop critic” in the broad sense of the term. I don’t make a living nor pursue a hobby in staying on top of pop music trends (and truly, even at the height of my freelance career, I was always writing about specific genres, never “pop” at large). That’s not to say I’ve abandoned pop at all; I love pop music but I feel no compunction to be in the mix with every major release. As a result, this list below is highly personal but isn’t meant to be a definitive statement as to “the best albums of 2010.” They’re just my favorites.

  • Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part 2 (Return of the Anhk) (Motown). The previous installment might be more critically acclaimed but song-for-song, I don’t think I enjoyed any album more than this one. Loved how the album simultaneously nodded to the ’70s and ’90s.
  • Joe Bataan: Singin’ Some Soul (Fania/Codigo). Also available on vinyl. I’m obvious biased here since I wrote the liner notes but this is easily the best pure soul album released during the whole “Latin soul” era and until this year, hadn’t been re-released on vinyl, ever.
  • The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch). My bad – I’m actually annoyed at myself for neglecting to write this up earlier in the year because it was a surprisingly delightful discovery on my end (even though the band isn’t new…just new for me). These two Akron brothers went down to Muscle Shoals to record this and the result might get labeled “blues rock” but it’s a much more impressive chimera between garage, psych, funk and soul.
  • Chicano Batman: Chicano Batman (Unicornio). This EP from a trio of local Angelinos scored the summer of 2010 in all the best ways: dreamily languorous and melancholy.
  • Cut Chemist: Sound of the Police (Stable Sound). Not just a capstone for all the incredible African-themed material released this past year but the fact that Cut put this together so seamlessly with one turntable + a foot pedal is a mindblowing feat of mixing.
  • Syl Johnson: The Complete Mythology (Numero Group). A new gold standard in career anthologies?
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone). Every album has been a step forward for the crew and this fourth outing is no different. Vinyl hounds are highly advised to get with the 7″ boxset version of the album.
  • Tammi Terrell: Come On and See Me (Hip-O Select). For the first time, a complete collection of Tammi Terrell’s solo material. Way overdue and completely revelatory to anyone who only thought of Terrell as “Marvin Gaye’s singing partner.”
  • V/A: Good God! Born Again Funk (Numero Group). The Syl Johnson is the more thorough package but this second installment in Numero’s gospel funk series got far more rewinds from me. More volumes please.
  • V/A: Luk Thung! The Roots Of Thai Funk (Zudranama, 2010). I know The Sound of Siam (which I haven’t spent enough time with) is a more prominent release given the Soundways connection but I can say, without hesitation, that Luk Thung! was a revelation and that, if you like either comp, you should absolutely grab the other. The blend of styles and rhythms with Thai singing is so striking and memorable and the custom packaging may be gimmicky but that doesn’t mean it’s not still good.

    SINGLES

  • Akwid: Esto Es Pa Mis Paisas. La Raza for 2010 w/ banda tuba, ftw! RIP Bobby Espinoza.
  • B.o.B. (feat. Bruno Mars): Nothin’ On You . I didn’t care much for the actual lead artist on this but Bruno Mars’ hook is one helluva earworm.
  • California Swag District: Teach Me How to Dougie. This beat was bubblegum, so I had to chew it.
  • Cee-Lo: Fuck You. Forget “Forget You.” (Don’t sleep on Dennis Coffey’s version!)
  • Fat Joe: Slow Down (Ha Ha). Every few years, Fat Joe will hook up with the right producer and kill. Last time around, it was with Just Blaze. This time, Scoop Deville flips Soul II Soul something lovely for this heater.
  • Mayer Hawthorne: I Need You (Stonesthrow). Slow release year for Mayer given his touring but at least he and Nottz blessed us this lovely little summer slow jam. (Still avail on 12″)
  • Lil Wayne (feat. Cory Gunz): 6’7″. Is it time to retire the 808 clap? Only if this track makes it under the wire.
  • Lord Echo (feat. Lisa Tomlins): Thinking Of You. It’s hard to improve on anything that Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards put together but New Zealand’s Mike Fabulous aka Lord Echo makes a pretty good case with his cover.
  • Quantic: Dre En Cumbia. Totally self-serving of me to include this since I’m claiming (partial) credit for its inspiration. C’mon though; it’s pretty frickin’ cool, no?
  • Kanye West (feat. Pete Rock, Jay-Z, Charlie Wilson, Kid Kudi): The Joy. My first reaction when I heard this over the fall was to say, “man, Pete let that Curtis loop go too long. But then I heard Kanye’s album, with its endless codas and I forgave Pete and then some. This sounds so much better after suffering through 8+ minutes of “Runaway.” This would never have fit into the album; another reason to applaud the GOOD Friday series.

    BOOKS

    Dan Charnas: The Big Payback. You already know what’s up.

    Jay-Z: Decoded. More about Jay-Z than you’d thought you’d ever want to know.

    Nasher Museum of Art: The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl [Catalogue]. Makes you want to drive out to Durham, NC to see this incredible show about the art and culture of vinyl records; for those who can’t make it in person, this is the next best thing.