Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
By Lindsey Millar
If 2007 taught us anything, it's that Little Rock continues to have a vibrant local music scene that thrives in disproportion to our size. This year, the scene was self-aware. Compilations came out left and right. Thick Syrup Records surveyed the local indie scene with the essential “Arkansas Compilation,” while “Towncraft” revisited the roots of Little Rock's D.I.Y. culture with a feature film and an encyclopedic website that sparked interest about Little Rock all over the country.
The hip-hop community continues to evolve in positive and bizarre ways. Backyard Entertainment made a movie about a hip-hop superhero and a companion CD. Our most prolific and compelling rapper, 607, outsourced himself to “hip-hop starved” Russia and put out at least three new albums. Conduit Entertainment released a compilation album that demonstrated that they're our best hope to break through nationally.
The acts listed below represent some of the best and brightest in Arkansas. For no real good reason, I've excluded compilation CDs, and I feel certain that I'll be kicking myself in a week for forgetting something. Plus, there are several albums, like Grand Serenade's “Lean Times” and the Munks' “Sing Dirty Songs,” that came out too late in December for me to really absorb.
Happy New Year. Buy local.
1. Jim Mize, “Release it to the Sky” (Fat Possum)
In a banner year for local music, nothing resonated more deeply than Jim Mize's sophomore album. Born out of honky-tonks, juke joints, post-punk and catastrophe, “Release It to the Sky” fits firmly in the Southern musical tradition, but still manages to sound unique. Mize, who's in his 50s, sings full-throated, in a gravelly voice seasoned by bourbon and country living. His lyrics have a literate, plainspoken beauty to them. They're largely obsessed with American unease — impermanence, crumbling relationships, the road — which figures, since Mize works as an insurance adjustor and conceived most of the album “on windshield time,” en route to survey the wake of natural and man-made disasters. The powerful dirge “After the Storm” came from repeated trips to the Gulf post-Katrina. “Disappear in America” charts the promise of release across the miles of the U.S.: “Thunder, it hides as lightning/the sun rides the horizon/Once we get out of here/disappear in America.” Buy this record. Available via fatpossum.com.
2. Magic Cropdusters, “The Apartment”
(Basement Front Records)
A Google search for the Magic Cropdusters pops up a listing for Magic Cropdusters concert tickets via Ticketmaster. If only. The Cropdusters play out about quarterly, if that, and release albums, at least lately, once every decade. But count me in the thankful camp. “The Apartment” is filled with enough mind-searing, infectious pop to hold me for another 10 years. With help from bassist Jeff Matika and (at least on the album) Burt Taggart on drums, David Jukes has delivered an unassuming epic of an album marked by hooks that don't quit and a skewed, literate picture of life. Jukes' cryptic songwriting sounds at first like nonsense, stream of consciousness at best, but repeated listens reveal a strange, nostalgic world of cats and dogs come home, garden hoses, car parts and other seemingly mundane topics that become anything but in Jukes' hands. Available via iTunes.
3. Arkansas Bo, “I Know That's Right”/Goines,
“Lead by Example” (self-released)
There are dozens of impressive local rappers, but none seem as ready to represent nationally than the duo Suga City, Arkansas Bo and Goines. Deeply Southern, with twin baritones and drawls thick enough to make any word sound new, the duo favor laid-back, soul-infused beats and rhymes weightier than the typical party bullshit. A unit for sure, but lest you missed their individual quirks, each released a solo mixtape this year. Arkansas Bo led the way early in the year with “I Know That's Right,” a highly curated album drawn from string-heavy '70s soul — Teddy Pendergrass, the Lost Generation, William DeVaughn — that proved to be the perfect soundtrack to driving slow in the summer. Goines dropped “Lead By Example” in August. Equally curated and cool, but more minimal and biting, it showcased Goines at his clear-eyed lyrical best. Look for a Suga City full-length on national indie label Koch next year. Available via myspace.com/sonnygallins and myspace.com/goines1.