On Thursday, January 27, Shara Worden will bring her synergetic mix of classical music, cabaret, and punk to Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series — and we’re thrilled that she’s given us an exclusive sneak preview of a song she wrote for the event.
Worden is probably best known for her classical/rock project My Brightest Diamond and her collaborations with The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and David Byrne.
Last Friday, she and the yMusic ensemble stopped by Studio 360 and premiered “We Added It Up”:
It’s a performance that showcases Worden’s syncretic style. She told Kurt the song was inspired by President Obama’s recent “shellacking” speech, in which he conceded midterm election losses, saying we need to “learn to disagree without being disagreeable.” The song draws that premise wide, picking up on its productive friction and extending it from politics to include lovers, atoms, and the idea that the world, itself, is held together by opposites.
Listen to Studio 360 this weekend to hear Kurt’s full interview with Worden and another live performance.
It turns out that Reggie Watts – an improviser who seeds audiences with disinformation (some of it in musical form), confusing them into fits of sublime, disoriented laughter – is also a well-versed physics enthusiast. Watch him raise the curtain on our show, and tune the crowd to his unique frequency:
Over the course of the evening, Reggie talked physics with Kurt and astrophysicist Janna Levin – they even had a sort of informal science smack down (you can watch the full show here). Reggie closed the evening with another song – a hip-hop ballad dedicated to perhaps the most ambitious topic, ever: the universe.
For our next American Icon, Studio 360 is headed to Southfork Ranch…via Estonia!
After the premiere of nine new stories this fall, our second series of American Icons episodes is nearly complete. There’s just one more show left to make – yours! Throughout the broadcasts, we’ve been asking listeners to nominate their own Icons. We got some great ideas, but none impressed us more than Laura Detre’s suggestion of the television series Dallas, which ran from 1979 – 1991 on CBS.
The original cast of Dallas.
Laura says Dallaspresented an alluring, glamorous vision of capitalism that may have had an even larger impact abroad than here at home. Especially in the old Eastern Bloc.
Movie still from "Disco and Atomic War" - courtesy of Icarus Films
How much impact could one American soap opera have? A lot, according to Jaak Kilmi a film director who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Tallinn, Estonia in the 1970s and 80s. At one point during the Cold War, Tallinn began receiving Western television programs from a giant transmitter in nearby Finland. Kilmi told us no television program was more loved or influential than Dallas: “It was a substitute for a nice life that we didn’t have. We wanted to believe that people live in skyscrapers and have beautiful cars.”
Jaak had even more to say about Dallas and the fall of Communism. We’ll share that when our American Icons story is broadcast in the spring. In the meantime, Jaak’s movie about American soft power in Soviet Estonia (including David Hasselhoff’s modest contribution) is out now in limited release. It’s called Disco and Atomic War, and it recently won Best Documentary prize at the Warsaw International Film Festival.
Solomon Burke — the legendary singer, songwriter, and pioneer of soul music — passed away this weekend from natural causes. He was 70. Known for his influence on contemporaries like Sam Cooke and James Brown, his song “Down in the Valley” appeared on Otis Redding’s 1965 album Otis Blue. Probably his best known song, “Cry to Me,” was featured on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.
Although he never reached the same level of success as Cooke and Brown, Burke made an indelible mark as a writer and performer of soul. And even late in life, Burke experimented with his sound and recorded an entire album of country music, titled Nashville. He stopped by Studio 360 in 2006 and told Kurt Andersen “it’s time to do different things and time to get out of the mustard and ketchup (catch up).”
The next time you hit the club, you may find yourself rocking out to a song sung by a nine-year old.
I’m amazed at the buzz swirling around Willow Smith‘s first single “Whip My Hair.” The song is sassy, confident, and already receiving comparisons to Rihanna. Of course, it’s no secret that Willow comes from an entertainment dynasty: she is the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith and at the tender age of nine, she’s inked a record deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
One thing that impresses me about Willow’s song is how mature she sounds. Her vocals are already a pretty convincing alto. And her chosen wardrobe is much more avant-garde than her famous parents or brother. When you take a break from bobbing your head and finally listen to the lyrics, you’ll realize they’re actually pretty age-appropriate. This young star-in-the-making has already created a successful pop product, with a style that’s all her own.
But will she be a one hit wonder? She has many years ahead of her for that to be determined.
This weekend, Renée Fleming will release her 29th album. But it isn’t a new recording of a Romantic opera or a set of lieder: America’s favorite soprano has gone pop.
Dark Hope features eleven covers, including songs by the Arcade Fire and Jefferson Airplane. And Fleming shows us new colors in her voice as she sings low in her range and abandons her vibrato and coloratura. You can hear the imprint of producer David Kahne, who has produced albums by Regina Spektor and Paul McCartney, among others. The album’s arrangements are thick with both real and electronic instruments, along with an occasional backup chorus of Fleming’s sister and two daughters.
The album is receiving a lot of attention from both classical and pop critics, though not all has been favorable: before commending Fleming for her efforts, the NY Times’s Jon Pareles complained that some tracks, like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” “end up too plush and fussy, while Muse’s ‘Endlessly’ teeters toward cheesy Euro disco.”
But if anyone is guaranteed to like the album, it’s Michael Stinchcomb. An opera aficionado and hair stylist, Stinchcomb appeared on the show in 2001 to describe his admiration for (and slight obsession with) Fleming’s music:
Below is a preview of the album and a look behind the scenes:
Even if the ultra-slick arrangement style isn’t for you, you’ll be able to appreciate Fleming’s sincerity; unlike many crossover attempts, she avoids infantilizing the pop selections by approaching them with a mindset and technique entirely separate from her classical performances. Brava.
I’ve never been a fan of V Day, but I decided to give it a shot last year. I was newlywed, so I figured: if not now, when?
I wanted a gift that was grown-up, but not too earnest. Modest, but not drugstore cheesy. So I arranged for my husband and me to take a tennis lesson together.
But about 10 minutes in, I realized this instructor wasn’t going to foster the loving-yet-sporting atmosphere I’d envisioned. Instead, she pitted us against one another. Then I made the mistake of telling her this was my Valentine’s Day gift to my husband, so she snarked about that for the rest of the hour. By the end of the lesson, an over-priced and mediocre prix fixe dinner was actually looking good.
I know we can do better to reinvent this horrid holiday. Now’s your chance to do your part to stop the flood of ugly cards and half-dead roses.