Daddy knows best

Sexy pianist Jim Brickman makes touring a family affair

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

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PAPA JIM | Jim Brickman strives to keep his road crew one big, happy family as they head to Dallas. (Arnold Wayne Jones | Dallas Voice)

JIM BRICKMAN
Meyerson Symphony Center,
2301 Flora St. Jan. 7–8  at 8 p.m. $39–$117.
DallasSymphony.com

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Switching out of holiday mode can be tough: putting away decorations and getting back to daily grind takes some adjusting.

The same can be said for celebrities — at least for Jim Brickman. The smooth-playing pianist (and sometime singer) has performed a holiday tour for 15 years which just wrapped up in the final week of 2010. Now he has to shift gears quickly for 2011 with his spring and winter tour A Night of Romance, which comes to the Meyerson this week.

Whichever show Brickman is on the road with though, he keeps it a family affair, with Brickman serving as the loveable patriarch.

“It took me, like, 15 years to get the right combo of talent and crew,” he says. “We all work so hard so it’s like a road family. When we’re on the bus, the crew and talent are all together. There is lots of loyalty in this group for each other and I want them to take pride in their work and each other.”

But even with the warm fuzzies, Brickman is still the boss. Like any parent, he pushes his children to strive for the best and encourages the work of everyone involved, from the lights people to his band — even himself.

“This tour has been going so well, “ he says. “I’ve been most proud because this show is extremely tight and the flow is perfect. I don’t want audiences to want to wait for something to happen and they’ve been great.”

His audience might be considered a third family. Where some aim for roaring crowds, Brickman likes a more personal impression; if a fan feels like it was a one-on-one experience, the musician calls that the bigger triumph.

“I’m very fond of that dynamic because that becomes very family-like,” he says. “I’ve learned that the more you are who you really are and the less you perform to an audience, the more comfortable they feel. When you play a hall, especially like [the Meyerson], there’s an energy about it and the audience creates that and takes it with them.”

On his newest album, Home, he ventures into country music and collaborates with genre staples Lady Antebellum and Ty Herndon, among others. This might sound like a departure, but he sees it as more relevant than people might think.

“The thing about country music is it’s extremely organic and by nature is more acoustic — more so than any genre,” he says. “I wanted it to feel very comfortable. You put it on and have a sense of simplicity and make it like a soundtrack for chilling at home.”

He gives high marks to country singers over most pop singers, too, which he attributes to being storytellers. On of all his duets, which include Martina McBride and Olivia Newton-John, he says the one that came together the best was with a very green singer.

“You know, I’d have to say that Kermit the Frog was probably my favorite one. I always think that there has to be a chemistry between me and performer and it was there,” he laughs.

Brickman is a veteran of the biz; He released his first album, No Words, in 1994 and his holiday CDs have been popular sellers since. But he still admits he’s a little anxious about his upcoming shows with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

“Yeah, when I’m performing live, I’m solo, so if I decide the audience needs a pick me up, I can do something because I’m an improviser,” he says. “You can’t do that with the symphony. If you don’t play what they are playing and you hit two wrong measures — yeah, that’s not a good situation.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Music: Year In Review 2010

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

TOPMUSICTheNational
NATIONAL TREASURE | The National’s ‘High Violet’ took dark and bleak personal tones and turned them into an 11-song poetic masterpiece, topping our music releases of 2010.

The way music flourished in so many fashions this year was not only refreshing but hopeful. With brilliant releases coming out all year long, popular genres graduated to a more enlightened state. Pop music straddled the fence of innocuous and smart, indie rock grew up a few inches and even dance music took inventive turns.
The following releases offered a spectrum of originality that respected the past and hinted at the future. But really, they just kicked my ass over and over.

1. The National, High Violet — Matt Berninger’s baritone voice is super seductive and the first thing most people notice, but the band polished off rough edges while keeping their same Americana sensibilities from their previous four releases. The result was an epic album worthy of a John Steinbeck novel. Key tracks: “Little Faith,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”

2. LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening — A perennial fave among critics, the fusion of punk and dance never sounds as good as it does here. James Murphy, the man behind the music, ties clever and irreverent lyrics to musical constructs akin to an Escher painting. But in the album’s first track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” it’s like sex to music structured with minimalist foreplay, pounding rhythm and orgasmic moans. He even finishes it off with time for a cigarette. That is if your sex clocks in at eight minutes. Other key tracks: “Drunk Girls,” “One Touch.”

3. V. V. Brown, Travelling Like the Light and Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (tie) — Where everyone focused on Janelle Monae’s brilliant debut Archandroid, Brown got ignored with an early 2010 release. Light is the ideal companion to Green’s Killer — both with strong singers possessing the sheer force of a runaway train. Modern production over old school Stax and Motown sounds never sound contrived, but sound as fresh as ever.

4. Robyn, Body Talk Pt. 1 — The singer pulled off a trilogy of pop without much effort, but the Pt. 1 EP outshone the other two parts and even the compiled full-length. Straddling dance and electronica genres, Robyn steered clear of trivial lyrics and beats and instead made pop music her bitch. Key tracks: “Dancehall Queen,” “Dancing on my Own.”

5. Owen Pallett, Heartland — The gay singer/violinist twists his approach to avant-garde pop with orchestral leanings. His compositions have the quirkiness of a Tim Burton film but his voice is pristine and balances the music with a crisp elegance and cerebral lyrics. Key tracks: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” “Tryst with Mephistopheles.”

6. Best Coast, Crazy for You and Lovie, Because of my Mattress (tie) — With noise pop sounds of the summery ‘60s, both bands dropped albums that were worthy of repeat plays. The throwback tones are effortless and the cheeriness never wears thin. In fact, they are both infectious.

7. Girl Talk, All Day — DJ Greg Gillis mashes up classic rock, hip-hop and even ‘80s confections into pure aural pleasure. Day is like an entire party in 12 tracks and not one lets down. For anyone who questions remixing as a talent might get shut up by what Girl Talk is able to do every time.

8. Trombone Shorty, Backatown — Taking the horn out of the usual jazz motif, Shorty blows into new dimensions of rock, funk and even punk with this debut album. Then he throws down some more with impressive trumpet and vocals. Lenny Kravitz lends his help, which is almost derailing, but otherwise, Backatown is stellar. Key tracks: “Suburbia,” “The Cure.”

9. Wakey! Wakey!, Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said the Last Time I Saw You — The fact that Wakey’s Michael Grubbs was a regular on TV’s One Tree Hill should put this out of the running … if it weren’t so damned charming. Despite offering radio friendly jock pop in the vein of Coldplay and Keane, Grubbs’ created earnest tunes that were just slightly out of the box and the catchy hooks kept me coming back for more. Key tracks: “Car Crash,” “Dance so Good.”

10. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach — Hip-hop thrived this year with artists daring to stretch the genre into audible art. When Gorillaz collaborate with the likes of Snoop Dogg, The National Orchestra for Arabic Music and Lou Reed, the results are transcending. But it’s magic when they team with Mos Def and Bobby Womack in “Stylo.”

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2010 LGBT releases

This was a big year for out artists both independent and major. In case you missed, here is a sampling of the year’s top queer releases.

Antony & The Johnsons, Thank You For Your Love EP, Swanlights. Trans-identified Antony Hegarty helmed two releases of original material which showcased the band’s lighter side.

LGBTreleasesWoodpigeonChely Wright, Lifted Off the Ground. Her first release as an out singer delivered a more folky vein.

Derek & the Darling, Rockface EP. Derek Nicoletto’s new duo dropped this quietly but made a lasting impression.

Woodpigeon, pictured, Die Stadt Muzikanten. Another gay Canadian strikes. Headed by out frontman Mark Hamilton, this dreamy release is a patient but worthwhile listen.

Xiu Xiu, Dear God, I Hate Myself. Trippy indie pop at its finest.

Chris Willis, “Louder.” Dance single by possibly the gay Usher.
— Rich Lopez

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Front row seat: 7 best live shows

ConcertOWENPALLETT

Owen Pallett

From a dive bar to a sold out sports arena, North Texas gays likely enjoyed concerts across the spectrum.  A certain Lady was perhaps the highlight of the year, but smaller touring artists — and one local musician — made impressions of their own.

1. Lady Gaga and Semi-Precious Weapons (American Airlines). There was no doubt that Gaga would deliver the goods, and she did so decisively. The energy was insane and her vocal shout-outs to the LGBT community were not only cool, but touching.  She went beyond giving a concert and offered an experience.

2. GLBT Twist Dallas (Lakewood Bar & Grill). Local musician SuZanne Kimbrell organized one of the best nights ever of local LGBT musicians — and perhaps the most important. A hefty lineup of seven gay or gay-friendly acts on a Wednesday outside of Oak Lawn might sound like a no-go, but people packed the small East Dallas bar and saw that local music does have a gay voice.

3. Cazwell (Station 4). This show was easily underestimated. The club kid/rapper packed it in tight at Station 4 with a crowd that filled up the dance floor, the balcony and even the perches from the upstairs Granite Bar. Fans shouted and screamed for his underground dance hits — and his hunky ice cream guys didn’t hurt either.

4. Big Freedia (The Loft). Sissy bounce came to Dallas and in big fashion. The New Orleans hip-hopster threw down in the tiny venue to an audience split between bouncing along to the party music and those with “WTF” looks on their faces. Perhaps the best part of the show was the men outdoing the women in the ass-shaking performances onstage.

5. Jay-Z and Trey Songz (American Airlines). Like Lady Gaga, Jay-Z turned his show into something more. Part hip-hop extravaganza, part religious experience. he kept the entire arena on its feet with hands waving in the air — like they just didn’t care. Without much agenda, he straightforwardly delivered track after track slapping us in the face with pure talent and amped- up fun.

6. Owen Pallett, pictured (Granada Theater). With an adorable face and lanky body, Pallett is hardly the vision of rock star. Add a violin and he’s borderline geeky. But he turned on a show layered with intricate playing, smart pop tunes, a gorgeous voices and quiet intensity. Think Leonardo DiCaprio in concert.

7. Jay Brannan and Eric Himan (The Loft). Brannan performed his acoustic set nicely, but Himan was the breakout here. He balanced Brannan’s mellower show with an energetic performance. In about six songs, Himan ran the gamut, playing with the heart of a musician hungry for bigger things. And all he had was a guitar to do it with. Bravo.
— R.L.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Art you ready for some…art?

Contemporary art gets some play time with DMA’s Big New Field exhibit

Franz-Ackermann_My-Ready-Now
PLAYING THE FIELD | Franz Ackerman’s ‘My Ready Now’ splashes color into the exhibit while Gonzales’ ‘Carousel Club’ recalls Dallas history.

BIG NEW FIELD
Dallas Museum of Art,
1717 Harwood St.  $10.
Through Feb. 20.
DallasMuseumOfArt.org.

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RICH LOPEZ  |  lopez@dallasvoice.com

The last person you’d think of taking to a contemporary art show is that beer-guzzling, La-Z-Boy sitting pal/partner/relative glued to a Sunday’s worth of televised football. Why would he (or she) want to look at random smatterings of paint flicked on a canvas when there’re refs to be yelled at?

But combining the sports and art worlds — without LeRoy Neiman in sight? The Dallas Museum of Art has done that for you.

In Big New Field, the museum showcases selected works by artists whose works are also part of the installations on view at Cowboys Stadium. With Super Bowl XLV approaching in February, sports fans will get more than an eyeful of art at the complex. But New Big Field successfully previews those works in a quieter setting — and for those of us not making it to the game. It should be noted that this isn’t art depicting sports.

“The art program at Cowboys Stadium has enriched the North Texas art community with a unique commissioning program that bring together sports fans and art aficionados,” says the DMA’s Bonnie Pittman.

Art fans win with an eclectic selection that’s mind-boggling and awe-inspiring at the same time. Although the exhibit opens with the kind of contemp art where people will respond, “I could’ve done that.”

What that means is it opens weakly: Two wall installations introduce Field but with lackluster appeal and convey immediate pretension that non-fans will slam.

Lawrence Weiner’s typographical art of phrases doesn’t offer strong intent and the opposing wall of stripes broken up into small frames by Daniel Buren won’t win anyone over immediately.

The treasures come quickly after, though. Walk into the next room, and the exhibit mixes painting and sculpture in fascinating ways. Many of the works play on the eye’s sense of dimension. Annette Lawrence’s Free Paper answers what to do with all those Dallas Morning News circulars for neighborhood sales. She takes junk mail, rips it into specific-sized strips and chronologically stacks the trash into this mixed-media piece. The guide talks about art mixing with ecological sensibilities, but this really just reminds me how pissed off I get when I keep trying to unsubscribe from those circulars. Its 3-D effect creates an exciting texture.

There’s nothing ugly-duckling about it, because a swan it doesn’t make. Instead, it’s an interesting timeline that really signifies waste in artistic fashion.

The project piece The outside of inside shows a variety of geometric shapes centered by a silver ball bearing on the wall. This trippy slideshow plays with the mind and eyes as you focus on the ball. Overlapping boxes turn into triangles and images imprint on your vision after they are long gone. The 12-minute run is hypnotic and fun actually. We forget what art can do in its various forms and Olafur Eliasson reminds what an impression, even if whimsical, it can make.

What should be the centerpiece is Wayne Gonzales’ Carousel Club. His rendition of matchbook art from Jack Ruby’s famous club is both elementary and exquisite. He conveys vintage Dallas nightlife with the club’s logo, the bare-bottomed girl and cocktail. The acrylic on canvas is lush in red and would make most people drool with envy. If it weren’t for the lurking docent, I would have hidden this in my jacket and put it up in the living room stat.

Big New Field works beautifully here and the larger works of each artist at Cowboys Stadium are equally impressive. The works are bold and represent the broad spectrum of contemporary art, even in some of its lingering pieces. The show, made possible by Two X Two for AIDS and Art, amFAR, The Foundation for AIDS

Research and the DMA, still may have to try harder to reach those sports fans who aren’t art fans, but at the very least, they will probably say ‘That’s cool.” Hey, it’s a start.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Love her way

Despite her Scottish accent, Oona Love is an all-American girl

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

Oona2-copy
FOLKING AROUND | Oona Love may dress like Stevie Nicks, but she finds inspiration in lesbian icon Mary Gauthier.

OONA LOVE
Sue Ellen’s
3014 Throckmorton St. Dec. 17. 9:30 p.m.
No cover. Caven.com.

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Oona Love thinks she’s boring. The most interesting thing about her, if she says so herself (and she does), is her Chihuahua mix, which joins Love and her girlfriend on the road while she’s performing and booking gigs across the country.

But Love herself has a Chihuahua’s tenacity. Prior to her Saturday gig at Sue Ellen’s, the Scottish singer by way of Nashville has booked shows at Lakewood Bar & Grill and after arriving in town, she lined up two more appearances.

So how does a “boring” Scot thrive in an indie music career filled with lesbians and guitars?

“My message is trying to promote peace, love, understanding and action,” she says. “My generation gets lost in talking about stuff but not doing anything. So all

I’m doing is just really trying to get my music out there. I logged 38,000 miles for the last year, trying to get people to hear that message.”

Love arrived in America 20 years ago to attend college, but she also knew that if anything in music was going to happen for her, it would be here. This is where her heroes are from.

“I’d always been into American singer-songwriters,” she says. “I’m kind of embarrassed to say it, but I really like John Denver!”

For Love, old-school folk inspired her music, offering the optimistic messages she shoots for. With a folk revival in recent years, she doesn’t find much in common with newer bands, though.

“I sometimes write about love and shit, but I always try to write more with a message like those singers,” she says.

Lesbian icons aren’t lost on her, either. She’s a big fan of Sinead O’Connor, but also gushes over folk icon Mary Gauthier and highly recommends her new album. Just don’t get her started on one self-proclaimed bisexual artist.

“I don’t get Ani DiFranco anymore,” she says. “She’s married with a kid now but, oh, I dunno.”

Love melds traditional undertones with a strong Americana perspective tying both cultures. In her album, Out of the Ashes, producer Doug Driesel and Love provide a fairly cohesive set of songs with heart and nice texture. Despite being more American than Scottish, the Celtic instrumentation isn’t lost. And she says the gays like it — and she means the boys.

“I do have a good gay male following,” she says. “Maybe it’s because I look like a drag queen. I’m a redhead with giant boobs, so that kinda helps. But it’s fantastic to play lesbian bars because it feels like you’re coming home. I’m a bit freer before a gay audience.”

Love doesn’t play the boxed-in-because-I’m-lesbian card. She refreshingly embraces the fact that she is going to appeal more to LGBT audiences, but also won’t hold back if performing in non-gay bars. She’s learning to play the game of booking various clubs, what to perform and how to reach out to her audience. But she’s still going to sing love songs to her girlfriend.

“I have no restriction. I don’t feel I need to walk into some hick bar and be overtly out, but I still sing to a woman,” she says. “I don’t raise issues about straight or gay, but if they like my music. But I try to set a good example by living an out lifestyle.”

Which doesn’t sound boring at all.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Cocktails and Christmas

Pink Martini serves up deliciousness with their holiday album ‘Joy to the World’

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

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PINK CHRISTMAS | Pink Martini delivers an unexpected but welcome Christmas gift by giving holiday songs that classic movie feel.

4.5 Stars
JOY TO THE WORLD

Pink Martini
Heinz Records

This season, you may find yourself dreaming of a pink Christmas more than a white one, thanks to eclectic jazz band Pink Martini. They bring their classic sound to a handful of carols in Joy to the World — and boy is it. Martini will make you feel like you’re stepping into the world of any classic Christmas movie, and you may not want to leave.

The CD is a hefty 14 tracks, mostly of familiar carols and songs. Pink Martini doesn’t stray too much out of the box, but when they do, it’s dreamy. They start as classic as you can get. In the two-part opener of “White Christmas,” they set the mood with lush arrangements. Saori Yuki sings on part 2 and adds a delightful delicacy. Gay frontman Thomas Lauderdale leads the band with such patience, that the languid feeling is akin to the comfort of a Snuggie.

“Shchedryk (Ukranian Bell Carol)” translates into the more popularly named “Carol of the Bells.” The layering of voices and crescendo to a breathtaking high in this third track finish off a trio of beautiful opening carols.

People may get me on this, but Madonna’s “Santa Baby” sticks out as the best version, though China Forbes gives her heavy competition without relying on quirk. She sings it straight and lets the music do the bibbity-bopping. Forbes still winks, but you listen closer to what she wants more than brushing it off as a cute seasonal song.

While nothing is overly wrong with the next few songs, the approach gets slightly weaker on “Little Drummer Boy” and “We Three Kings.” They stick with the original compositions and add their flairs, but “Drummer” is a little too slow even with its underlying “Bolero” beat. The song never takes off with the pride that’s behind the lyrics.

“Kings” is rendered beautifully, but Forbes and Lauderdale keep the same patience as before with it and it loses some of its epic flavor. The punctuating trumpet almost turns it into something darker. The guitar keeps it afloat but when the song trails off, it ends up a bit weak.

music-2-2Martini goes original with “A Snow Globe Christmas,” which is one of the best attempts in a long time. Most artists try too hard to create that new Christmas song. Without the pressures of mainstream play, Lauderdale and company nailed it. They composed a throwback that could fit into any MGM musical. Every instrument creates the aura of innocent Technicolor romance and Forbes is the ideal leading lady looking out her frosted window onto the snow. Pink Martini is that good in creating an ambience in this album.

The one staple everyone looks for is “Silent Night” and Pink Martini includes it here. As they do with other tracks, they mix languages through the verses. Here, “Night” is sung in German, Arabic and English. This might put off some who need a good old-fashioned version of it, but the lullaby is just as delightful. Initially, we hear Forbes’ voice, but the final English verse is the one we all know and is sung by the Pacific Youth Choir, giving the end nice sweetness.

Pin Martini finishes off with a samba-esque “Auld Lang Syne” featuring the percussion of the Lions of Batucada. It is sung in English, Arabic and French (clearly, their thing), and I challenge you not to smile during this rendition. The fun energy is your best option for ringing in the New Year, if not just to put you in a good mood.

Pink Martini may have released the least expected Christmas album, but they might have also released the best one.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

America’s next top (role) model?

‘A List Dallas’ casting stuts out one gay couch potato even before getting started. You might be luckier

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

cpj
GETTING DOUCHEY WITH IT Wanna know how to go from d-bag to A-list? This writer may not know, but he’ll get you started. (Arnold Wayne Jones Dallas Voice)

Using my connections, I could get into most snazzy events in Dallas if I, you know, tried. I know enough highfalutin’ types to be able to drop a few names. This all comes with the territory of working for a newspaper — kinda A-list, right?

Maybe not so much. Along with all that comes a journalist’s salary, a nine-year old Ford Escape without a radio and a gym membership that rarely gets used. I might call it more D-list, though even Kathy Griffin is a rung up from me.

So when I heard The A List, Logo’s new reality series, was casting in Dallas, it was without question I’d need to apply. TV stardom could be my way to the big time, and since I can’t find a reliable Amazing Race partner, this could be my ticket. Already, thoughts of an auto-tuned dance album filled my head.

The first step was the online application, where I saw these words in the intro: “…presents the unprecedented invitation to the ‘A List’ in the age range of 20–mid 30s…” At 38, I might already be out of the game before filling in the first blank. But audacity is an A-list quality, so I proceeded. But I was gonna need help.

“Anyone can apply online, and if you fit what the network’s looking for, we’ll interview you,” said Chad Patterson, casting agent for the Dallas version of the show. “It’s my job to make each applicant an individual and stand out on their own.”

Patterson is in town this week through Dec. 19 doing follow-up interviews after an initial cut, but don’t think you can crash the sessions. Only those with stellar applications are invited to meet. (But you can still apply after he’s gone.)

As I filled in my name, occupation, etc., I halted at the blank for a MySpace/website address. Um, MySpace was A-list like five years ago. Hello! Maybe this is a list I don’t wanna be on.

The inevitable body image complex came up. The app asks for height and weight, which I get. Then it asked for my body type and waist size. Despite what Patterson told me, there seemed to be a specific response needed here.

“There are no wrong answers when applying to a reality show. This is all to uncover the reality of you,” he said. Yeah, but I needed more convincing that anything above a 31 inch waist wasn’t an immediate cut.

The app went on to ask about my relationship and if I have children; my personality type and why I think I’m fabulous — all easy enough. Then it listed celebs like Brad Pitt, Anderson Cooper, Madonna and Rachel Maddow as “dream date” choices. For some reason, Stone Cold Steve Austin wasn’t an option. This actually excited Patterson and he kinda made me believe I could be on the show. He’s that good.

“See? This is where your unique personality shines through,” he said. “You might be what we’re looking for, this anti-establishment guy who doesn’t buy into all the bullshit.” It was like he was looking into my soul over the phone.

What he doesn’t want, he said, is the self-entitled queen who thinks he’s fabulous just because. Patterson is looking for specifics as to what makes an applicant A-list material. A heavy helping of personality goes a long way, though he admitted he wouldn’t mind stereotypes.

“We do want to make it specific to Dallas so I’d love to find a gay boy who’s parents are in the oil business or even a gay cowboy. Stereotypes in certain regions will make it unique.”

Oh, that’s another thing: Patterson used the term “boy” a lot. This worried me.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun to have a few boys that are actually A-list, but we’re not ruling people out if you’re a go-go boy who’s broke but knows how to work it,” he said.

He wanted to offer one piece of advice to all the Dallas men (er, boys) who apply. Because there isn’t a guarantee the show will be cast like New York, there’s no telling the direction it could go.

“You shouldn’t decide it’s not for you before applying,” he said. “Just be open to it. There are no points off for anything.”

Until they read my application; which, at that point, it’s back to finding that Amazing Race partner.

To apply online, visit TheAList Casting.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas