Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
OK, I'll admit it: I'm having trouble letting go of 2007. Before Christmas, we ran a countdown of the top 10 local albums of the year. Below, I've included all the musical and cultural tidbits that didn't fit that format, developments I couldn't leave alone even as we've entered the New Year, a time I'd usually suggest should be free of year-end countdowns. But, lest we wallow too much in last year, I've run down local pop-cultural things to look out for in 2008, too.
Five welcome developments in local music (in no particular order):
1. Local rap's continued obsession with Arkansas love. With fitted LR hats tipped high and No. 5 Razorback jerseys worn with pride, local rappers, in what's becoming a firm tradition, couldn't keep Arkansas out of their mouths in 2007. Rap has long been a provincial genre, with MCs and crews always ready to represent where they come from. But Arkansas rap's propensity to show state pride must, in some ways, be born out of a feeling of being overlooked — a kind of righteous waving of the flag. No one captured that sentiment better in 2007 than Arkansas Bo's “Arkansas Sound.” The song opens with a lyrical hook, which starts out, “They want to know what the Arkansas sound is, I tell them, shit, I don't know, but it sounds like this…” The rest is unprintable herein; just imagine Bo raising his middle finger in defiance of anyone ready to dismiss Arkansas as a backwater or lump its talent into one catch-all category. Meanwhile, the 4X4 Crew went the sample route on its infectious single “Tell Yo Mama,” grabbing the “Arkansas” lyric from Ray Charles' “What'd I Say,” and Grim Muzik released “Ridin' in the A State,” a song as effervescent as anything in rap, a feel-good Southernized g-funk anthem for the summer. Concerts even got into the act. Over Thanksgiving weekend, rapper and producer Rockst*r hosted “Little Rock Luv,” a showcase of local talent that resurrected Razormack's “Little Rock Luv” as its theme song (the event even merited a YouTube commercial). The show was a success. Jermain Taylor, who might be the most passionate A-state representer, even showed up.
2. Local music videos. Anyone can make a homemade music video. See, for example, the dozens of bedroom YouTube shorts of folks doing “Da Jumprope,” the local club hit of the year. Increasingly, though, more experts are jumping into the mix. Though they'd never be mistaken for something on BET or MTV, the best local videos lent an extra air of credibility to featured acts, even if it just demonstrated that those featured cared enough about their careers to spend a couple days and, often, a couple hundred bucks to make the video. Plus, most of what came out was pretty fun. The dudes with Deluxe36 made folks into corporate zombies for, appropriately enough, the Moving Front's “Zombies.” Jordan Atwater and H.A.P.S. productions used about a dozen locations and all kinds of rap video cliches (most awesomely and hilariously, the girl sucking, lustfully, on a lollipop). Wood of Woodtainment Ent. had the hardcore rap clientele on lock, notably with “Booty Clap,” a posse cut that, as you might guess, mostly featured booties, shaking.
3. Online show posters. For years, musicians handy with Photoshop have been whipping up show posters to dot their Facebook and Myspace accounts. But last year, Paul Dellostritto stepped the game up in a major way. A web designer by trade, Dellostritto initially started making his lavish posters to support local music he liked. He's since signed on with White Water Tavern to do all the venue's shows, which often amounts to several a week. The web is the main gallery for his art (at www.myspace.com/whitewatertavern and www.dellostritto.com), but you'll also find his posters hung around town. But not for long. Lately, folks have been snatching them for mementos.
4. Local compilations. 2007 was the year of the compilation. None pleased me more than Thick Syrup's “Arkansas Compilation,” a survey of various strands of contemporary underground music. White dudes with guitars dominate, but within that niche there's a wealth of diversity, a veritable who's who of local rockers — the Good Fear, the Moving Front, Kevin Kerby, the American Princes, Tel Aviv — often with B-sides or unreleased tracks. Then there was “Again,” an electro burner from the obscure local duo Les Attaques from years back. There are 24 good reasons to buy the comp, but that track alone should justify the expense. Towncraft started as a documentary project to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Max Recordings and ended up a sweeping multimedia project, encompassing the last 20 years of local underground music. The second of the two-disc soundtrack covered territory similar to the “Arkansas Compilation,” but with little redundancy. The first, though, unearthed gems from the DIY era of the 1980s and 1990s, with groups like Chino Horde, Class of 1984, Substance and Five-O. On the rap side of things, the 4X4 crew released “Radio Ain't Ready, Vol. 2,” an essential comp that covers a wide stretch of local hip-hop over the course of nearly 30 tracks. Just before the New Year, Localist magazine released “Local Access II,” a contemporary collection of intensely diverse local music. It's available for free download on localistmagazine.com.
Here are six things we're looking forward to in 2008 (in no particular order):
1. Arkansas Times Musicians' Showcase. Yes, a shameless plug. But, really, I'm getting super-pumped for this year's showcase. There are still details to be finalized, but it looks like this year we'll have a steady group of judges from start to finish, all of whom are passionate music fans. Already, the slate of participants appears to be one of the strongest and most diverse in years. If you haven't submitted your entry form, there's still time. Monday, Jan. 14 is the entry deadline, and you can either fill out the form attached to the showcase ad in this week's paper or sign up online at www.arktimes.com/showcase. Winners get a main-stage spot at Riverfest, free studio time, loads of free promotion in the Times and more.
2. The Arkansas Tent at Riverfest. This year, Riverfest is introducing a special Arkansas Music Tent, where a diverse array of local acts and maybe a few national acts with local ties will play. Whereas in years past the biggest local acts would get stuck in marginal time-slots on main stages early in the day, the Arkansas Tent will host bands from 5 p.m. until late night. This is a great move for Arkansas's biggest music festival. Bonus appeal: The tent will be situated near the fancy beer stand.
3. New albums. Here are four to anticipate. Arkansas's biggest rock group next to Evanescence, the American Princes, will release “Other People” on Yep Roc Records on Feb. 19. Recorded in New York with Chuck Brody, who's worked with everyone from the Wu-Tang Clan to Peter, Bjorn and John, the album is the first with third guitarist Will Boyd (Evanescence). Likely in February or March, the Good Fear will put out its long-in-the-making sophomore record, “Low Down Dirty Adventure,” on Max Recordings. If it's even half as good as the band's debut, it'll be one of the local albums of the year. No release date has been set, but I'm breathless with anticipation for the debut album from Suga City, the best local rap group in town. Koch Records, a large national indie label that's put out records from the Roots and Jadakiss, will release the album, which might be first local rap record to come out nationally. You can bet they'll come with all they've got. We'll have to wait almost a year for this last one, but 607's “Christmas in Arkansas,” originally scheduled to be released this year, promises to be one of the wildest, weirdest holiday albums ever released. In the meantime, the local rapper is sure to put out at least three or four new albums, and in April he'll be on CNN as part of a special on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.
4. The Little Rock Film Festival. Last year's inaugural festival was such a cultural boon to Little Rock. The programming was near perfect — a mix of incisive documentaries, indie features, local fare and even big-budget previews like “Knocked Up.” Couple that with scores of parties and filmmaker panel discussions and you've got the makings of one of the region's strongest festivals. I can't wait to see the line-up for next year. Mark your calendar: May 15-18.
5. Arkansas-connected TV and movies. HBO just started showing teaser trailers for “True Blood,” Alan Ball's (“Six Feet Under”) adaptation of Magnolia-based writer Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series. Anna Paquin stars as Sookie Stackhouse. In Ball's hands, “True Blood” is apt to be downright Lynchian. Also coming to HBO, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's (“Evening Shade,” “Designing Women”) “12 Miles of Bad Road,” starring Lily Tomlin as the matriarch of a wealthy Texas family. Above all, I'm crossing off dates on my calendar in anticipation of this summer's release of “Pineapple Express,” the first big-budget foray by Little Rock native David Gordon Green. It's an action/comedy, stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as stoners and is produced by comedy it-man Judd Apatow. Early word is that it's funnier than “Superbad.”
6. The continued rise of marginally famous Arkansans. Far from household names, three Arkansas natives established themselves as cult heroes in 2007. Might their trajectory send them into the mainstream in 2008? Probably not, but we'll be watching closely. Glenwood, Ark. native Clark Duke made, with Michael Cerra (“Arrested Development,” “Superbad”), what New York magazine called the best web TV show of the year, “Clark and Michael.” Duke also started a band with former “Veronica Mars” star Kristen Bell. Fort Smith native Brad Neely made stupid-funny cartoon web videos for superdeluxe.com and became a contributing writer for “South Park.” Meanwhile, Little Rock native and Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Matt Besser had a prominent role in Judd Apatow's “Walk Hard” and appears to be on the verge of becoming a force in online comedy with the coming launch of UCB.com.