BERRY MEDITATION: Although musically the underground political-punk scene and the lesbian-associated "women's music" community couldn't be more different, their social workings are pretty similar. Each buzzes under the radar of the music press, each has a substantial streak of social activism, and each barely knows that the other exists. From the intersection of the two springs Blueberry.
This local girl-with-a-guitar is currently working on her second CD for her own Girlcorn Records (P.O. Box 63305, St. Louis, MO 63163). The first, Heart Stops, is filled with the kind of angular, melodic-but-not-poppy hard folk that Ani DiFranco brought to the masses. But DiFranco's loping demi-funk style is absent here, replaced by a conciseness that reveals Blueberry's punk roots. Her lyrics make a mockery of the old love-song/protest-song polarity; to her, all passions are serious and important. If the live versions of the new songs are any indication, the new disc will be even sharper.
By the way, Blueberry is her real first name, although a third-grade substitute teacher didn't think so and sent her to the office for it. Maybe it's that kind of experience that gives her such audacity, which anybody who has seen her live shows can testify to. She may be playing basements and coffeehouses, but her intensity and wit are big enough to fill an arena.
Blueberry's also working on some stuff with a band, and, indeed, she first learned her craft in a punk band in her hometown of Springfield, Ill. When that dissolved, she discovered that she could put across her bitterly clever songs just as easily by herself. "It's a whole different energy when you perform (solo), and I love it," she says. "I'm still learning, of course, but I'm excited to make mistakes." (JT)
HIP-HOP FROM THE TOP: It took a while for the do-it-yourself spirit of indie rock to infiltrate the hip-hop world. The genre has, especially recently, been dominated by larger-than-life personalities who need a costly image-making media machine to do their frontin'. Now, with literally hundreds of DJs and MCs seemingly fed up with the state of big-time hip-hop, an entire culture of indie hip-hop is starting to emerge. Technology is permitting artists to make their own records at low cost and allowing them to distribute their wares through nontraditional means. The hip-hop fan no longer has to be satisfied with the mainstream offerings at the local record store but can surf the Internet straight into the previously obscure world of underground hip-hop. This often-impenetrable realm has been buried so deep that getting even a whiff of all that is out there was, until now, nearly impossible. Even if you did have your finger on the pulse of this burgeoning scene, most underground mix tapes and records were only available at shows or big-city record stores, if at all. Not anymore.
"We're struggling to keep up with demand," says Ed Wong, president of Sandbox Automatic (www.sandboxautomatic.com), a Web-based record store specializing in bringing underground hip-hop into the daylight. "And it's all been from word of mouth."
Sandbox Automatic began in 1995 as a source of information on the NYC hip-hop scene, but in 1997 it began to sell records over the Internet. Last year, the company moved a half-million dollars of merchandise but is expected to do between 50 and 75 percent more business this year. According to Wong, Sandbox now does about 1 percent of the sales for a major album like Black Star and between 15 and 20 percent for more obscure artists.
If you're after 12-inch singles, vinyl LPs, CDs or mix tapes, Sandbox has it all. Their catalog has everything from well-known hip-hop labels such as Rawkus, Tommy Boy and Hip Hop Slam to obscure CDs by artists such as Eligh, the Grouch and Abstract Tribe Unique. Some of these undiscovered artists' CDs look as if they had been made at home; the sound, on the other hand, is fresh, hard-hitting and thumping. For lesser-known acts -- and, believe me, a quick scan of the Sandbox catalog will give you an idea of just how many there are -- Sandbox provides reliable and cheap distribution, and saves the artists the hassle of having to keep track of orders themselves.
The look of the Web site is bare-bones, but don't let the simplicity fool you. The staggering diversity of titles reads like a who's who of underground hip-hop. Many of the listings have "abstracts" that, in addition to listing the album's tracks, give a brief description of the music. If you want more information onSandbox-affiliated artists and labels, there are extensive links to individual artists' and labels' Web sites.
One word of warning for hip-hop fans who steer their browsers in Sandbox's direction: Be ready to drop some cash. (MH)
ATTN: INTELLECTUALS: Joe Toohey is a man obsessed ... with prog rock. You know, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes and, in his not-so-humble opinion, the king of them all, Triumvirat. And this weekend he's creating his own field of dreams: He's bringing in some of his favorite progressive-rock musicians -- Barry Palmer, Par Lindh and Alaska -- to perform on two nights: Saturday, June 5, at the Centenary Church (replete with full use of its pipe organ) and Monday, June 7, at Off Broadway. "I dreamed this up about a year ago," says Toohey, "and the odds were totally against it ever happening. I just believed in it, and it all eventually, slowly worked out."
Not a fan of prog or, worse yet, don't know the music? Toohey can explain: "Progressive rock combined the genres of classical music with rock, jazz, folk, pop -- all genres. Normally they have virtuoso keyboardists, very intellectual lyrics. The biggest fans of progressive rock, I've found, tend to be musicians, scientists, computer programmers (Toohey, in fact, is a geo-scientist and computer programmer) -- people that like intelligent music with intelligent lyrics rather than music that anybody can play. Normally you can't dance to it, but it's music for the soul and the mind, essentially. The main groups, of course, (are) ELP, Triumvirat, Yes, Kansas, Wakeman. Moody Blues are progressive. They make concept albums, normally, longer tracks of music, and these concepts are very intellectual."
Both evenings will feature the work of three artists: Barry Palmer, ex-vocalist for Triumvirat; Par Lindh, a virtuoso keyboardist and composer ("He's from Sweden," says Toohey. "Very popular in Sweden."); and Alaska ("I think they're going to be real big hits. They're out of Pennsylvania.").
"The people are there as long as the word gets to them," says Toohey quixotically. "I know the people will show up when they hear about it. $18 is a bargain. This concert should last probably for three or four hours of music." For more information, you can check out www.triumvirat.net. You can buy tickets at the Centenary Church by calling 421-3136. (RR)
EMANCIPATION CELEBRATION: St. Louis' Juneteenth Heritage & Jazz Festival, billed as "the biggest Juneteenth celebration in the nation," kicks off June 11 and runs through June 20, with a lineup featuring concerts by a dozen internationally known artists -- plus workshops and performances by local musicians.
This year's event features a lineup that blends American jazz and blues musicians with artists from Canada and Belgium. According to director Curtis Faulkner, Juneteenth is deliberately seeking a wider focus for the festival as a way to widen its impact throughout the St. Louis community. "Until recently, Juneteenth celebrations have been almost totally focused on commemorating the official notification that the Civil War had ended and slavery had ended in Texas," says Faulkner. "But we're trying to move the Juneteenth idea into the areas of musical and cultural heritage. It's a way to broaden the appeal of the festival and also break down the stereotype that Juneteenth is only for the black community. We want the entire St. Louis area to feel comfortable participating, and realize the contributions of black culture to the entire community in the process. That approach is summed up in our slogan: 'Celebrating the Arts; Recognizing the History.'"
The festival kicks off with a free concert at Kiener Plaza on Friday, June 11, featuring French-Canadian jazz-fusion guitarist Alain Caron and vocalist Gino Vannelli. In addition to releasing several critically acclaimed recordings on his own, Caron has backed up Vannelli for many years. Jazz drummer T.S. Monk also begins two nights at the Backstage Bistro on the 11th, and legendary horn player and St. Louis native Clark Terry performs at Spruill's on the evening of the 12th. Blues harmonica ace Sugar Blue will also be featured at B.B.'s Jazz, Blues & Soups that Saturday. The first weekend concludes with a performance byBelgian-born jazz pianist Ivan Paduart at the Omni Majestic Hotel (location of the old Just Jazz) on Sunday night.
A double dose of concerts on Thursday evening, June 17, will showcase pianist Marcus Roberts playing Scott Joplin at the Sheldon at 8 p.m., and trumpeter Nicholas Payton leading a late set at Spruill's starting at 10 p.m. The Crusaders -- with Houston sax player Tom Braxton opening -- will play the Ambassador at 9 p.m. on Friday, and the fest will wind up with an appearance by Roomful of Blues at Mississippi Nights on Saturday, June 20. Tickets are available through MetroTix, and you can find more info by checking out the Fest's Web site at www.juneteenthjazz.org. (TP)
Contributors: Matthew Hilburn, Terry Perkins, Randall Roberts, Jason Toon