Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast Recording – 2015

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Buckle in, folks, because it’s about to get different up in here. In addition to my sometimes fanatical devotion to our mutt genre, I have a few other musical passions; namely, rap and musical theatre. Hamilton: An American Musical combines those passions with my healthy love of American history. Deep down, this makes a lot of sense.

Needing some vacation reading, Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Treasury Secretary. The story of Hamilton’s difficult childhood hooked Miranda, and for good reason; look at his summary in verse:

How does a bastard, orphan

Son of a whore and a Scotsman

Dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean,

By providence impoverished in squalor,

Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Miranda was already an accomplished playwright, composer, and actor, haven taken his grad school project In The Heights to Broadway and starring in it. He started working on a a few songs about Hamilton, a “mixtape” he considered a side project. He performed a song, from the point of view of Aaron Burr, for the White House Poetry Jam, and it received rave reviews. Miranda was persuaded to turn the project into a full fledged musical which recently opened on Broadway to rave reviews. It’s innovative in many ways beyond its music, including the casting: most characters (and all of the Founding Fathers) are portrayed by people of color. The project is ambitious and perhaps difficult to imagine; this album is the first chance at listening for those of us unable to get to New York.

It is Essential Listening.

First: rap and the Founding Fathers. Unlike today’s politicians, our Founders did their own speech-writing, legislation, etc. The men (and notable women) who built our country were well-versed in the written and spoken word out of necessity. When they argued, they did so in public; pamphlets and newspaper editorials were launched like slings and arrows…or like diss tracks. When Treasury Secretary Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson argued back and forth in front of President George Washington, it was much more like a protean rap battle than a modern day televised debate.

These men were also incredibly prideful: it’s difficult to find any two Founders who have not been at odds over one issue or another, sometimes with incredible vitriol. Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr, who was the sitting Vice President. These men took their honor and reputations seriously, and it’s hard not to draw the parallel to Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, two other friends turned bitter (and deadly) rivals.

Miranda merges the form of musical theatre (sung dialogue, ballads, pointed music) with the wordplay, dance-worthy beats, and accessibility of hip-hop. This production is a love letter to the theatre, American history, and rap music all at the same time. You won’t be able to stop finding Easter eggs: Jefferson gloating like Grandmaster Flash in “The Message”, George Washington longing for his “vine and fig tree”, and references to musicals from Pirates of Penzance through The Last Five Years. It would be a remarkable feat of writing even if it wasn’t accompanied by such incredible music.

Miranda himself plays Hamilton, though he isn’t our only protagonist. Much of the story is told from the point of view of Aaron Burr, another brilliant orphan who ended up repeatedly running into Hamilton in New York City. The two men couldn’t be more different other than that: Hamilton is incapable of keeping his mouth shut and voicing his opinion, while Burr lives by the creed “Talk less/Smile more”. Burr, a man both exceedingly careful and incredibly ambitious, is played soulfully by Leslie Odom Jr.; it would be easy to portray Burr as a cartoonish villain, desperate for power and consumed by his vices, but Miranda doesn’t go the easy route. Burr has several songs that dig into his psyche: in “Wait For It” he describes how paralyzed he is by the prospect of failure, and his envy of Hamilton begins to take shape. Hamilton, after all, has nothing to lose.

Though the politics of early American history were dominated by men, women played an important role. Much of what we know about John Adams we know from correspondence with his wife, who was a brilliant and savvy politico herself. Hamilton’s wife Eliza Schuyler and sister-in-law Angelica (played by Phillipa Soo and Renee Elise Goldsberry respectively) were important figures in American history, even if their names aren’t widely known. Eliza gave us Hamilton; after her husband was killed in a duel she dedicated the next fifty years of her life to preserving his legacy, with one notable exception…she burned all of her personal papers, and most of her correspondence with her husband. Angelica was a social butterfly who had a way with men: she exchanged letters with most important figures in American politics. It was likely Angelica Schuyler who let Hamilton know about Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemmings, and Jefferson’s close relationship with her.

Both women were in love with Hamilton, and both were hurt by him. Angelica could never get the affection from Hamilton that she desired, due to his marriage to her sister. Hamilton likely broke Eliza’s heart when he admitted to what became America’s first sex scandal. The Scuyler sisters are introduced with Destiny’s Child-style harmonies, vivaciously and lovingly singing about New York. Angelica’s ballad “Satisfied”, about the night she introduced Hamilton to her sister, could be a stand-alone hearbreaking R&B song.

I’m a girl in a world in which my only job is to marry rich

My father has no son, so I’m the one that has to social climb for one

I’m the oldest and the wittiest

And the gossip in New York City is insidious

Miranda takes the voices of women who are usually marginalized if they’re referenced at all, and thoroughly explores their characters. It’s Eliza who closes the show, explaining to Hamilton how she spent her time after he died. My favorite piece of trivia about Eliza Hamilton (not featured in the show): when she was in her 80s President James Monroe came to make peace with the old woman, after he spent years trying to ruin her husband and his memory. She wouldn’t let him sit down or shake his hand, and when it was clear that he wouldn’t apologize outright she sent him out of her house.

Hamilton is full of conflicting ideologies without anyone truly being a villain (there is one exception I’ll get to later). From our standpoint over 200 years later it’s easy to forget how touch and go everything was: there were countless crossroads in America’s youth, and any wrong turn could lead to destruction. Jefferson truly believed that Hamilton’s vision of a strong central government with a national bank and funded debt would bleed the states dry, and Hamilton believed that if the states were left to function on their own the union would be irreparably shattered before long. For both men, the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher. Since these arguments carry on well into the present it’s clear that there’s no unequivocal right or wrong- and through their unending battle we’ve ended up with a country that has withstood the test of time. No character is shortchanged, no ideology disparaged.

The dialogue in Hamilton is a mixture of actual quotes from those involved, heightened period language, and modern syntax. It flows so smoothly that it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins as in “One Last Time”, the Hamilton/Washington duet about Washington’s revolutionary decision to step down after two terms as President (most people expected he would serve for life). Miranda uses actual text from Washington’s farewell address (which Hamilton penned) to powerful effect. The rules for dueling in Revolutionary America are laid out in “The 10 Duel Commandments”, with Biggie Smalls inspired candor.

The music is just as skillful a blend. Miranda and Musical Director Alex Lacamoire have woven the disparate threads of musical theatre and hip-hop together without a seam. Drum machines and record scratches merge with a full orchestra and chorus, elements coming and going with the tone and tenor of the song. It’s almost not surprising to hear a banjo as part of the beat in “The Room Where It Happens”, a jazzy number about backroom political dealing. The album was produced by Questlove of The Roots, and the quality is understandably flawless. The interplay of the score itself is just as impressive: note the distinct signature “Alexander Hamilton” notes and when they play, note that Hamilton’s son’s music lesson is also the prelude to the duel that kills him, note the record scratch that foreshadows Angelica’s woe.

When we think of the Founding Fathers, it’s easy to distance ourselves from who they were as flesh and blood men. They’re on monuments after all, mountains, and our money. But they were as human as the rest of us: flawed, vulnerable, prideful. We may understand that in theory, and witness it in pretentious cable mini-series, but hearing their words in as modern a mode as hip-hop it’s easier to internalize their natures. The musical is incredibly accurate; yes, Miranda had to move some things around for artistic reasons, but overall the verisimilitude is brilliant. Having worked my own way through the ridiculous length of Chernow’s Hamilton, I can speak to that: the Founders spoke for themselves, sometimes too candidly in letters they never thought would go public.

Alexander Hamilton was a genius: a self-made immigrant with no formal schooling before coming to America who created our financial system out of whole cloth. When a group of revolutionaries was about to tear the head of his college apart, Hamilton delayed the mob though he hated his teacher’s politics. The study-book he made himself to prepare for the bar was printed and passed around by law students for decades. He was essentially Washington’s Chief of Staff in both the Revolutionary War and his presidency. Hamilton alone among the Founders saw the bloody path the French Revolution was on, and worked hard to keep America out of that war. He worked constantly against slavery, and was the only Founder to never own another human being.

He was also vain, occasionally praising himself in anonymous letters to newspapers. Once his mind was made up he didn’t change it no matter how wrong he might be; Hamilton insisted war was the only way to keep the French off of American soil even after Adams had found a diplomatic solution. He cheated on his wife, and publicized the scandal to try to save his political future (which backfired tremendously). Most tragically, he was prideful, and that pride lead to his death. Washington was Hamilton’s greatest ally, and he died before his protege. After Hamilton’s murder at Burr’s hands, his foes attempted to muddy his name and discount his contribution to America. They may perhaps have succeeded if it wasn’t for Eliza.

Whether you find yourself constantly waiting for the right moment like Burr, or can’t control your impulses like Hamilton, there’s something to relate to here. Hamilton’s story is a human one, an unbelievable one, a heart wrenching one. This album, 46 tracks of theatrical brilliance, would be worth it if only to understand a man who is so rarely remembered. There’s so much more: a rich score, sick lyrics, and a breadth of American historical knowledge. Have you heard of John Laurens, another aide of Washington’s? He was a statesman from South Carolina who went against the grain of politics to fight for abolition, begging the state to free slaves and give them to him as soldiers. Laurens shines in Hamilton, alongside so many other lesser-known figures: Burr, Angelica Schuyler, Hercules Mulligan. If you like captivating stories, cutting edge music, or learning about America, you owe it to yourself to pick up Hamilton. As I may have mentioned: it is Essential Listening.

I’ve saved the best for last- a special treat for those of you who made your way through this behemoth of a review. Jonathan Groff is riotous in his portrayal of the foppish King George III. The King treats America like a lover who has scorned him, and he sings ballads with hilariously clear inspiration from Billy Joel to try and persuade (or threaten) her into coming back to him. If the piece has a villain it must be George, but he’s almost too pathetic to hate. His songs were the first to stick in my head, and some of the most fun in the show.

When you’re gone, I’ll go mad

So don’t throw away this thing we had

‘Cause when push comes to shove,

I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love

You can pick Hamilton up on iTunes or Amazon. Seeing the show will set you few back a few hundred bucks, and since it’s sold out through 2016…you should cozy right on up to your speakers. Check it out on Spotify if you have to.

Holiday Hangout 2015 Tickets Available & Lineup Announced

IMG_64508751296426Start the countdown to December folks, because the Last Chance Records Holiday Hangout lineup has been announced and tickets are available. If you haven’t been before you should absolutely consider going: spend some time at the storied White Water Tavern in Little Rock with your favorite bands and some of the best friends you’ve never met. Tickets are available over at the LCR website, pick up a VIP weekend pass while you still can! And don’t forget to call the LaQuinta and get the special Holiday Hangout Rate for the weekend of December 5, 6, and 7!

Artists:

ADAM FAUCETT & THE TALL GRASS
AUSTIN LUCAS & THE BOLD PARTY
BRENT BEST
DRAG THE RIVER
JOEY KNEISER & THE LIVING FLAMES
JOHN MORELAND
JOHN PAUL KEITH
JKUTCHMA
KEVIN KERBY
MICAH SCHNABEL
RED COLLAR
ROGER HOOVER
SHANE SWEENEY
SLOBBERBONE
TIM BARRY
TWO COW GARAGE
UNIONS

 

The Rock Report- Great Peacock

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Last night I had the great good fortune to see Great Peacock live for the first time. I’ve been listening to them for years now, their virtues lovingly espoused by their supporters over at This Is American Music, and I reviewed their debut album Making Ghosts right here.  While I undoubtedly enjoyed their music, it was seeing them play in a half-empty Hollywood club that made me a fan.

Perhaps you feel a little too relaxed when you listen to Great Peacock, as I did. Their songs are beautiful flowing things where even the most difficult subject matter is dealt with at an even tempo. While there’s definitely a place for this music, I myself have a hard time identifying with it. I don’t know if last night’s live show was the exception or the rule, but Great Peacock was by no means relaxed. Perhaps it was the inevitable difficulty of the First West Coast Tour, or perhaps something a little deeper, but the band played with a chip on their shoulder and let me tell you: it was good.

Each of the songs that I loved from their previous releases (“Tennessee”, “Take Me to the Mountain”, “Broken Hearted Fool”) was played just a little bit faster and a lot louder than their recorded counterparts. Front man Andrew Nelson shredded on electric guitar in a decidedly un-pop/folk matter, and the rhythm section of Ben Cunningham on bass and Nick Recio on drums had just as much willingness to turn up the volume. Blount Floyd bounced around the stage as he is wont to do, providing an energetic counterbalance to Nelson’s straightforward intensity.

They played a few new songs, and their sound and content hinted at what may be a future direction for the band- their most rock’n’roll song had a particularly somber chorus: “Love is just a word that you say”. This heartbroken sentiment alone would be interesting, but backed by skilled rockers and the band’s usual ethereal harmonies it is downright captivating.

I came away from the show impressed and excited- I’ll be sure to see these guys as soon as I can, and I suggest you do the same. If you don’t own their Making Ghosts release I suggest you pick it up now, and if you’re anywhere near their tour (dates below) you should see these guys before they blow up.

Great Peacock Tour Dates:

5-Sep Standing Sun Winery Buellton, CA
6-Sep The Continental Room Fullerton, CA
8-Sep Soda Bar San Diego, CA
9-Sep Valley Bar Phoenix, AZ
10-Sep The Lowbrow Palace El Paso, TX
11-Sep 502 Bar San Antonio, TX
12-Sep Lamberts Austin, TX
13-Sep Double Wide Dallas, TX
14-Sep Gasa Gasa New Orleans, LA
17-Sep Eddie’s Attic Decatur, GA
22-Sep House of Blues Cleveland, OH
23-Sep Beat Kitchen Chicago, IL
25-Sep The Demo St Louis, MO
27-Sep Midpoint Music Festival Cincinnati, OH
1-Oct The Evening Muse Charlotte, NC
7-Oct Zanzabar Louisville, KY
15-Oct The Hi-Tone Cafe Memphis, TN
21-Oct Proud Larry’s Oxford, MS
22-Oct Duling Hall Jackson, MS
23-Oct Benny’s Boom Boom Room Hattiesburg, MS

Desperate Times: Old 97’s Covers For Charity

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I don’t know about you folks, but I’m pretty obsessed with covers. Whether it’s being lucky enough to see John Moreland play “Thunder Road” or watching Two Cow Garage rock through “Ohio” on the eve of the 2012 presidential election, artists playing songs they love will always be compelling.

Desperate Times is the brainchild of the band’s web guru Jeff Neely who had a simple idea- have friends and fans of the band play some covers, and donate the proceeds to charity: water, a non-profit dedicated to bringing clean water to those in need (with an admirable model: 100% of donations go directly to those in need). This is pretty much a win-win for everyone.

These are artists like Hayes Carll, Slobberbone, The Polyphonic Spree, and Ben Kweller. If you donate to the PledgeMusic campaign, you’ll get the album and whatever other extras you spring for. People without access to clean water, and there are hundreds of missions of them, will get some help. Sounds worth it to us.

New Uncle Tupelo Tribute

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljHsz2Zzzhs

The folks over at Chapel Records have been working on a treat- a tribute to Uncle Tupelo featuring some of our favorite artists! Two Cow Garage, Have Gun Will Travel, Drag the River, and Empty Orchestra each play a classic Tupelo song. Check it out over on their website– they’re looking for interest to see if they should press this thing to vinyl so give them a shout.

THUNDERBITCH!

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Alabama Shakes frontwoman, Brittany Howard, has a side project that surfaces from time to time in the Nashville scene called Thunderbitch. Well, Thunderbitch went and dropped an album this week and it’s everything I wanted the new Alabama Shakes album to be but wasn’t. Check out the video below, stream the entire album over on their website and buy it from the Alabama Shakes webstore.

You’re welcome.

Around The Web – Late August Edition

We’ve been awful quiet this week, there’s a lot of real life stuff going on for all us and that’s put a bit of a damper on our output. Unfortunately you can expect things to be sporadic for a couple more weeks due to my schedule if nothing else. However slammed we are there’s been some really interesting stuff going on this week and it’d be a shame if you missed any of it, so here’s what I think you should have paid attention to while we were off doing things that pay our bills and such.

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tcgYou may remember when our friends, Two Cow Garage, had their van broken in to in St. Louis, MO and “a radio DJ in Denver” (read: the very same Charles Hale we still wish hadn’t left) started a funding campaign to replace their stuff. Well things got a little weird after that and Riverfront Times published an article this week about them finding their stuff on E-Bay and how the cops and E-Bay don’t seem to be able to get their shit together and even talk. It’s all a little disheartening when you get right down to it but the TCG boys did replace their gear and have been playing shows like they always do. Those kids never fail to impress me!


I makewar-photo-5-livewas the one that originally wrote up the Sad And French self titled release and I had mixed feelings about it but I realize some of you loved it and I can see why. Well they’ve changed their name to MakeWar and revamped their sound and to celebrate the release of their new album they’ve given New Noise Magazine an exclusive stream. If you’ve ever read my reviews you know I respect a band that can change and keep going and that’s just what they’ve done. The linked article has more details and you really should read it but rest assured you’ll be getting my opinion on their new album just like you did for their first full length.


tiamThis Is American Music dropped a sampler on us this week, for the low low price of whatever the fuck you want to pay! This is a great sampler and more than worthy of skipping a latte or two and giving the guys over at TIAM some much deserved support. I went to their Facebook page today and was a little disappointed that under 3,700 like it, so if you haven’t then you should definitely show your support by liking their page, they are putting out really great music and I really feel like they should have more exposure than they do right now or I could just be naive. Anyway since they allow the sampler to be embedded you don’t even have to wait to check it out, just click below and then go buy the thing.

Matt Phelan is Probably Cooler Than You

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For the last five months Matt Phelan, bassist for the now defunct Truckstop Darlin’, has been hiking across the country. At this point he’s covered over 2,100 miles, on foot! He’s been hiking The Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico and is currently in Washington, headed for Canada. As far as social media goes he’s been pretty quiet but over the weekend he announced a site chronicling his journey in both pictures and words. This is a very cool thing that he’s doing and things like this are things you are supposed to do when you’re young.

I got to meet Matt, and the rest of the band, on their last tour when they came through Houston. They were all amazing guys and it makes me happy to see him accomplish something like this, a thing that most of us will only ever dream about. I hope that folks can take inspiration from Matt and maybe start their own epic journey! Normally I’d ask Matt if I could use a couple pics from the site but I think this is something that you should go view, start to finish. Instead of pics from his journey, here are some Truckstop Darlin’ songs to listen to while you go through the site…

Joey Kneiser / Kelly Smith – Live From Standard Deluxe – Release

If you aren’t living under a rock then you’ve probably already heard about this release by the time this post goes live but here are the details straight from Cory over at This Is American Music:

Hey guys, so I think most of y’all are aware that a Joey Kneiser full length is coming out later this year. It’s called “The Wildness” and is slated for an 11/20 release date. Vinyl and all that…sexy time. I think you all will dig it. It’s a full band, damn near Glossary sounding. Anyways, Joey and Kelly recently trekked down to the beautifully odd Standard Deluxe compound in Waverly, Alabama to record a live record in what we refer to as “The Little House”. They wanted to use this as some sort of a teaser for the new record, play some old Glossary favorites as well as a few off of Joey’s various solo EP’s. It’s available on CD via TIAM and digitally today — Bandcamp, Itunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc.