So ... How's Your Girl?
Bring it on, man. All you gotta do in true-blue hip-hop circles is utter the sequined names Prince Paul and Dan the Automator in the same sentence and you'll get some wide-eyed gawkers going giddy. Were it only for a couple of their choice projects (PP's crack production of De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, Dan's work with Kool Keith on the Dr. Octagon record) the dynamic duo would forever be etched in the hip-hop canon. But that's just the surface stuff; dig deeper and you'll find them underneath bits and beats from diverse projects such as Third Bass, Stetsasonic, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cornershop, Queen Latifah, Pizzicato Five and, in Prince Paul's case, dozens of others. Combined, the two have a vision and the genius to back it up. They could make Phyllis Schlafly funky.
And actually, to heads and nonheads alike, the aforementioned stream of funky names all share one simple, obvious trait, that genius factor that made 3 Feet High such a joy not just to the diehards but to nearly anyone who heard it.
That trait is fun. Artistic statements and loquacious brain-boy hip-hop each have a place, but without a sense that the studio atmosphere was a damn fun one, a record will drop dead. 3 Feet High, like all of Prince Paul's work, is, quite simply, a goddamn joy to pop on and turn up loud. It's music that, yes, is incredibly smart but, more important, will make you smile. Dan the Automator's got the same joie de vivre, and the two, working together as the Handsome Boy Modeling School, have made a record that you wish you could have participated in creating.
Named after an episode of the short-lived Chris Elliott sitcom Get a Life, So ... How's Your Girl? is a nonstop romp crammed with sappy symphonic samples, snippets from the Get a Life episode in question, a hilarious testimonial from Father Guido Sarducci ("Handsome Boy Modeling School gave me the confidence to be a model. If it wasn't for them, I'd still have $60."), a genius Three Dog Night sample of "An Old Fashioned Love Song," layers of quirky pop hooks, and hard hip-hop reverses -- all the heavenly fun that made the duo's individual efforts so inspired. It features guest appearances by members of Cibo Matto and the Beastie Boys, Money Mark, Kid Koala, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, DJ Shadow, Biz Markee, Brand Nubian, Paula Fraser (of country band Tarnation), Sean Lennon, and Josh Hayden (of deep-lounge band Spain). Sound like your average exclusive rap jam?
No. It's not.
To those of you who only have a few hip-hop discs in your collection: Add this one. Those of you who have heard every needle drop since the De La and Octagon classics: Add this one. Radio stations playing the same tired beats: Add this one. It's all there, and it'd be the best hip-hop record of the year if it didn't have some hefty competition from Prince Paul's early-1999 release Prince of Thieves. Holy calamity! -- Randall Roberts
Calypso At Midnight!
Calypso After Midnight!
Although calypso was already popular in post-World War II America, thanks to live radio shows in the '30s by Atilla the Hun, Growling Tiger, and other Trinidadian stars, the music got a substantial boost on the airwaves a decade later from ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. Lomax's 1946 Calypso at Midnight! radio broadcast from New York City's Town Hall lent the genre the kind of folk credentials that would appeal to a highbrow audience, while the music itself spoke to just about anyone. Culled from a dozen ten-minute-long 78s Lomax's wife, Ruby, recently found in her closet while preparing to move, two new Rounder Records releases collect the first half of the historic show (everything but the ads) on Calypso at Midnight! and the second half on Calypso After Midnight!
Interviews before each song with performers Lord Invader, Duke of Iron, and Macbeth the Great put the material in context. Especially pithy is Invader's jab at Morey Amsterdam, who stole his composition "Rum and Coca-Cola." Not until 1950 did Invader receive a dime off Amsterdam's huge record sales, and even then, Amsterdam maintained a bogus songwriting credit. Folks who just want to hear the songs sans patter can program their CD players to avoid the spoken segments, because each nonmusical interlude is contained on its own separate track. To skip the interviews, though, would be to bypass the core of these recordings. Taken strictly as a musical performance, the Midnight discs have their faults. While the singing is high caliber, the orchestra struggles with the repertoire. Between bouts of bad miking and scratchiness from the original vinyl sources, the sonics are also below par. Enjoyed as a groundbreaking broadcast, however, the Calypso at Midnight! recordings are a blast, especially for the rare opportunity to hear top calypsonians of the day speak.
If you don't want to spring for both discs, the choice isn't difficult. This first of its kind, off-the-cuff broadcast suffers from glitches that plague the second disc more than the first, as when the singers are late getting dressed for a play -- an odd conceit for a radio broadcast -- and Lomax calls in a pair of drummers to fill time. Gerald Clark's orchestra also has ongoing trouble finding the right pace and key for the vocalists. A bit of rehearsal would have helped these problems, though you'd expect a band of Clark's repute could play circles around these familiar songs. The mismatches and miscues come with increasing frequency as the concert progresses, and the material on disc two is weaker as a whole. Noteworthy exceptions are a fine though truncated war among the three calypsonians and Lord Invader's closing rendition of the early black-consciousness anthem "No One Is Better Than Us." Look elsewhere for better-performed and -produced versions of "Roosevelt in Trinidad," "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," "Rum and Coca-Cola," and other standards. But as an evening's entertainment culled from classic radio, these discs are tough to top. -- Bob Tarte