Thursday, September 22, 2016

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: New Albums by The Handsome Family and Johnny Dowd

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 23, 2016

Like the best albums by The Handsome Family, their latest one, Unseen, is a literary as well as a musical adventure. With lyrics by Rennie Sparks and melodies and most of the vocals by her husband, Brett Sparks, this record is not just a collection of sweet country tunes. It’s full of amazing stories, unforgettable images, and echoes of ancient myths in contemporary contexts.

Recorded at the couple’s home studio in Albuquerque, Unseen starts out with a modern outlaw ballad called “Gold.” Brett sings:

 Got a tattoo of a snake and a ski mask on my face/But I woke up in a ditch behind the Stop ‘n’ Go/Lying in the weeds with a bullet in my gut, watching dollar bills fly away in the dust.”

The Handsomes don’t give us the full story on how this stick-up went awry. All we know is that this criminal mastermind is dying in some vacant lot and thinking about that girl with dark eyes who somehow led to his demise.

“The Silver Light” is a snapshot of a casino, a “forest of slot machines” with flashing lights, cigarettes, all-you-can-eat buffets, and old men with oxygen tanks dropping quarters in slot machines. That sounds pretty depressing, but the sweet dobro picking of longtime Handsome crony Dave Gutierrez makes it easy to imagine it as a happy saloon singalong.

The New Mexico State Fair should turn “Tiny Tina” into an ad next year. Brett and Rennie sing with childlike innocence about going to the fair; riding the Tilt-A-Whirl; eating chili dogs, funnel cakes, and fried beer; and “shooting water guns at grinning clowns.” But they have one huge regret: For some reason they didn’t go see Tiny Tina, “the world’s smallest horse,” and it only cost a dollar. “Why didn’t I go see that little horse?”

“The Sea Rose” is a sailor legend, similar to that of mermaids or sirens. A mariner hears the call of this sexy mirage beckoning him to join her and marry her in the seaweed. Even more mysterious is “The Red Door,” which sounds like some long-lost song by The Band with the late Richard Manuel channeling New Orleans R&B. It’s about a beautiful woman with implied supernatural origins.

One of the most memorable songs on Unseen is “Back in My Day,” the Sparks’ take on nostalgia. “We had maps that unfolded back in my day/You could drink from the river/We had gods made of clay.”

At first it seems as if they’re making fun of old coots bellyaching about the good old days. But Rennie Sparks would never write something that obvious. Instead, it seems she’s expressing a yearning for the good old days from an invisible world none of the rest of us have ever seen.

The next time I hear some vinyl fetishist yammering about the superiority of LPs and 45s, I’ll be tempted to sing these lines from this song: “And music sounded better. We recorded on rings of ice/And as the songs turned to water we couldn’t help but cry.”

Let the Handsome Family’s songs turn to water in your brain so that strange but beautiful plants can grow inside there.

Also recommended:


* Execute American Folklore by Johnny Dowd. You might not hear any obvious similarities between The Handsome Family and Dowd, but both appeared in a wonderful 2003 documentary by musician Jim White called Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.

Dowd, in fact, was touted as “alternative country” when his first album was released in the late ’90s. The first time I saw him live was at a party for No Depression magazine at the famed Austin honky-tonk the Broken Spoke.

But the only thing that sounds remotely country about Dowd on his last several albums is his Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, drawl.

This new album is much closer to hip-hop or electronica — though commercial radio stations devoted to those formats are no more likely to play this album than is your basic hot new country station. And some songs are infused with Latin touches (what might be described as a Martian mambo) or even metal. Truth be told, Johnny Dowd doesn’t really sound much like anyone but Johnny Dowd.

And I happen to love that sound. Here Dowd himself plays all the instruments — except the instrument named Anna Coogan, who sings background vocals on several songs and lead vocals on one. Dowd mostly speaks rather than sings his lyrics.

There are some doozies on Execute American Folklore. He dedicates the ultra funky “Last Laugh” to his mother, “a union maid if ever there was one.” In the song, however, his mom is a call girl. But the story, laced with Biblical imagery, actually deals with some bitter loser — lots of Dowd protagonists fall into this category — plotting unspecified revenge against those who have wronged him.

“Sexual Revolution” is not about the joy of sex. Dowd recites a tale of a frustrated man whose cheating wife leaves him in a sad world where “pornographic fantasies infect my brain, filling me up with guilt and shame.”

Then in the deceptively upbeat “Whiskey Ate My Brain,” the singer catalogs his physical and mental deterioration. “Cancer ate my liver, God’s an Indian giver … Cocaine ate my nose, I can’t smell the roses.”

Coogan steps out front in “Brains-a-flame,” which sounds like Dowd has been listening to the old Brazilian psychedelic Tropicália band Os Mutantes. She sings about her dream man who “chain-smokes my heart three packs a day/He’s like a bad habit who won’t go away.”

In the closing track, “A World Without Me,” built on the classic “Louie Louie”/”Hang on Sloopy” hook, Dowd muses about the fact that memories of his life will quickly fade.

But the song only makes me fantasize about archaeologists in a future century stumbling across a cache of Dowd albums, prompting them to write surreal theories about life in the early 21st century.

Some videos for yas

Here's "Gold" from The Handsome Family. This one has some nice footage of East Central in Albuquerque.



Another favorite from Unseen




Here's some live Johnny Dowd with his latest band The Sex Robots. (You might want to skip the first 20 seconds or so. Weird buzz before the song starts.) Despite what the YoutTube title says, this is "Whisky Ate My Brain."



Anna Coogan steps out front with "Brains A Flame."



And just for the heck of it, here's the trailer for Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.


THROWBACK THURSDAY: Who Exactly Is Coming 'Round that Mountain?


Here's one of those corny old songs from my childhood that everyone should know.

"She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" was taught in kindergarten. It was sung in cartoons and was the title of an Abbott & Costello movie. Mitch Miller & The Gang invited you to sing along with it. Barney the Dinosaur did his own take on it.

I never paid the song much mind actually. I was never quite sure who the "she" in the song was and why everyone seemed so excited that she was coming. Was this some kind of mail-order bride for some horny cowboy in some Old West town?

But it took a record by Neil Young a just a few years ago to make me realize that there was something much deeper -- much spookier going on here.

The song we know comes from a slave spiritual called "When the Chariot Comes."  In Neil's version on his 2012 Americana album it's titled "Christ's Chariot."

Some of the verses start out:

King Jesus, he'll be driver when she comes ... She'll be loaded with bright Angels when she comes . . . .  She will take us to the portals when she comes . . . .

I like the way that this article in Cracked describes it:

"When the Chariot Comes" and, by extension, "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain," are both songs about the Rapture -- the day when Jesus comes back to earth to play favorites. "She" actually refers to the chariot he'll be riding down to bring about the End of Days. ... Christ's big ol' Rapturous Red Flyer. So there you have it: That merry old-timey prospector song your kids are singing out in the yard is actually rejoicing about the imminent death of all humanity.

I couldn't find any old, old versions of "When the Chariot Comes." But here folksinger Roy D. Durrence does this recreation.



Carl Sandburg was the first to publish the song his 1927 book, The American Songbag.
Here's Ramblin' Tommy Scott, an old medicine show singer, playing a nice and lively version of it.



This Famous Studios Screen Songs cartoon below might be the first place I ever heard "Comin' Ruond the Mountain."

The saucy school marm in this version will be "lookin' for a feller" when she comes. "She don't want no city slicker, just a man who holds his liquor."

The actual song -- with the bouncing ball --starts at about the 4:19 mark.


Fast forward to the mid '70s and bluesman Hound Dog Taylor turned it into a hopped-up house-rockin' instrumental

 

Around that time Funkadelic took it to the funky cosmos, calling out to the Mother Ship.

 

Finally here's that monstrous version by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WACKY WEDNESDAY: Happy Birthday Bill Murray!


Bill Murray is 66 years old today. He was born in Evanston, Ill.

Let's honor him in song with some of his classic bits as Nick the Lounge singer. (His last name changed depending on where he was playing.) Decades after Murray left Saturday Night Live, Nick remains one of the most popular that show ever produced.

Rolling Stone wrote of Nick: "For all his schmaltz, Murray put real heart and soul into this crooner — no matter how miserable the dump where he's singing, he wants to win the audience's love, one rendition of the Star Wars theme at a time."

This clip allegedly is the first Nick sketch ever -- before Saturday Night Live when Murray was part of the Second City comedy troupe.



Nick pays tribute to Italian singer and actor Mario Lanza. (NRBQ does a great version of this song.)



Here's a slightly older Nick (and Paul Schaffer on piano) at an celebrity-infested Indian casino. (From SNL's 25th anniversary.)



But Nick will always be best remembered for his rendition of a certain 1970s science-fiction theme. Did he scare you as much as he scared me?









Sunday, September 18, 2016

TERRELL'S SOUND WORLD PLAYLIST




Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 
KSFR, Santa Fe, N.M. 
10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time 
Host: Steve Terrell
Webcasting!
101.1 FM
email me during the show! terrell(at)ksfr.org


Here's the playlist

OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres
Mean Evil Child by The Raunch Hands
Jack Pepsi by TAD
The Tasteless Blues by Musk
Ain't You Hungry by James Leg
My Baby Does the Bird by Deke Dickerson & The Trashmen
Amazons and Coyotes by Simon Stokes
Where Wolf by Gino & The Goons
Whiskey and Wimmin by John Lee Hooker & Canned Heat

Jump into the Fire by Psychic TV
Last Laugh by Johnny Dowd
When Fate Deals Its Mortal Blow by Meet Your Death
Skylab by The Grannies
CIrcus by Left Lane Cruiser
The Gay Pirate Dance by Ray Stevens
Get the Wow by Shonen Knife

Going South by Dead Moon
Let's Get Funky by Hound Dog Taylor
Flat Foot Flewzy by NRBQ
Standing on the Verge of Getting It On by Funkadelic
I've Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body) by Parliament 
Little War Child by Oblivians

Shady Grove by Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Thin Man by Archie & The Bunkers
Go Home Girl by Frank Black & Gary U.S. Bonds
Sinnerman by Nina Simone
Smile by Dex Romweber
CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis

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Friday, September 16, 2016

THE SANTA FE OPRY PLAYLIST



Friday, Sept. 16, 2016
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
Webcasting!
10 p.m. to midnight Fridays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell with special guest co-host Scott Gullett

101.1 FM

Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Buckaroo by Buck Owens
Look at That Moon by Carl Mann
I Got Stoned and Missed It by Shel Silverstein 
Love Song of the Dump by Washboard Hank
He's in the Nuthouse. Now by Angry Johnny & GTO
Tiger by the Tail by The Waco Brothers
U.S. Rte. 49 by Paul Burch
Fool's Hall of Fame by Johnny Cash
Long White Line by Sturgill Simpson
Small Bouquet of Roses by Wayne Hancock
Purple Rain by Dwight Yoakam

You Bet I Kissed Him by Myrna Lorrie
Harder Than Your Husband by Frank Zappa featuring Jimmy Carl Black
Lonesome Low by Al Scorch
How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away by Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks
Strange Night by Tony Joe White
Heartache, Meet Mr. Blues by Loretta Lynn
Cool Arrow by The Hickoids
Stranger in Your Mind by Miss Leslie & Her Juke Jointers

Cherokee Boogie by Hank Williams
Lost Highway by Sabah Habas Mustapha
Your Cheatin' Heart by Pairote
I Saw the Light/ Mother's Best Biscuits by Hank Williams

The Week of Living Dangerously by Steve Earle
Don Houston by Slackeye Slim
Hungry Eyes by Merle Haggard

Blue Skies by Willie Nelson
Little Floater by NRBQ
This Guitar is For Sale by Bobby Bare
Roses by Alice Wallace
The Red Door by The Handsome Family
Boxcar Beep by Joe West
CLOSING THEME: Comin' Down by The Meat Puppets


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Steve Terrell is proud to report to the monthly Freeform American Roots Radio list

Thursday, September 15, 2016

THROWBACK THURSDAY: All Hail the Andean Princess of Exotica!


So I sat down at my laptop Tuesday morning to Google the meaning of life and I noticed up by the Google logo this picture of a woman in colorful ethnic garb surrounded by musical notes.

I didn't recognize the lady and I couldn't figure out what ethnicity her costume represented, So I couldn't resist clicking on her picture.

And I'm glad I did. I soon learned that this was a South American singer with an amazing
voice, Yma Sumac.

 She was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri Del Castillo in the mountains of Peru on Sept. 13, 1922. According to her official website she "is the only singer known to possess close to a staggering 5 octave voice. While less than a handful of singers have managed to capture Sumac's high notes, none have managed to acquire those notes including Sumac's lowest registers. More amazing, is that Yma Sumac had no formal training! It has been said she is unable to read musical notes!"

Apparently five octaves really draws out the exclamation points!

More from her bio:

Around the age of 9 she could often be seen high atop a mountain in the High Andes singing ancient Peruvian folkloric songs, to a group of rocks, which she pretended was her audience. Entranced by the beautiful birds that sang nearby, she began to imitate them, by incorporating their high pitched sounds into her"repertoire."

At the age of 13 she began appearing on Argentine radio, which led to a recording career. She and her husband, conductor Moises Vivanco, moved to New York. With her group  Inca Taqui Trio she performed on the Arthur Godfrey's television show. According to the Allmusic Guide, the trio "became a fixture on the Borscht Belt circuit and the Catskills."

Sumac was discovered by a talent scout from Capitol Records. In 1950 Yma recorded the album Voice of the Xtabay, considered to be a classic in the sound that later would be known as exotic.

So what did she sound like? Glad you asked.

Here's a song she did in the 1954  Charlton Heston movie called The Secret of the Incas.

 

She did a mambo album in 1954. Here's a song from that called "Five Bottles Mambo."


Here she performs a song called "Midnight in Moscow" in a 1960 concert in Russia.



This is one from her "psychedelic" album Miracles (1972), which she recorded with bandleader Les Baxter.



She appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987.


Sumac lived until 2008. She died in Los Angeles at the age of 86.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

WACKY WEDNESDAY: An International Salute to Hank Williams




Are you getting ready for Hank's birthday?

Yes, there are only three shopping days before what would have been Hank Williams' 93rd birthday. In a world that hadn't gone insane, this would be a national holiday.

Hank's songs are beloved by all true Americans. But even though we claim him as our own, love for Hank Williams does not stop at our borders. Truly, he belongs to the world as the following videos will attest.

Happy birthday Hank!

Juáner Dominguez takes us to the bayou country ... of Spain



Yes, they have Hank in Thailand. Apparently they also have chipmunks. Here's a band called Pairote.



Some Swedish hillbilly sounds on a much-loved Hank song by The Long Gone Smiles Band



In Brazil, The Fabulous Bandits see the Light!



Sabah Habas Mustapha, aka Colin Bass, is an Englishman who was in a wonderful faux Balkan group 3 Mustaphas 3, then in the '90s recorded several albums in Indonesia. Here's his Dangdut cover of "Lost Highway" (written by Leon Payne but made famous by Hank.)



Brace yourself, Bridget, here's a Tuvan band called Ya-Kha doing "Ramblin' Man."



And back to "Jambalya" with a Jakartan hip-hop take on Hank's faux Cajun classic.





Sunday, September 11, 2016

TERRELL'S SOUND WORLD PLAYLIST




Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016 
KSFR, Santa Fe, N.M. 
10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time 
Host: Steve Terrell
Webcasting!
101.1 FM
email me during the show! terrell(at)ksfr.org


Here's the playlist

OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres 
Low Life Baby by DD Owen
The Wolf by The Bloodhounds
Bollywood Woman by The Above
Bleed Me by The Upper Crust
White Glove Service by The Grannies
Froggy by The A-Bones
Dogjaw (Do Some Things You Say) by James Leg
What Happens When You Turn the Devil Down by The Mystery Lights

Atom Spies by The Fleshtones
Mystic Eyes by Them
Rats in the Gas Tank by Ex-Cult
Glendale Junkyard by GØGGS
Trouble of the World by Dex Romweber
Plastic Plant by Thee Oh Sees
Unease and Deviance by Johnny Dowd
When Death Deals It's Mortal Blow by Meet Your Death
Meanwhile, Back in the Jungle by Hipbone Slim & The Knee Tremblers

She Ain't No Child No More by Sharon Jones 
Trouble in the Land by Charles Bradley
Bitch I Love You by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
All the Way Wrong by Wiley & The Checkmates 
What Have You Done by Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens
Baaad News by JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
Burn it Down by Charles Walker & The Dynamites
I'm a Millionaire by Lee Fields
I'm No Good by Amy Winehouse
Jon E.'s Mood by Jon E. Edwards
Ain't a Sin by Charles Bradley
Lying Lying Lying Woman by Swamp Dogg
This Land is Your Land by Sharon Jones

Moonbeam by King Richard & The Knights


CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis

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Friday, September 09, 2016

THE SANTA FE OPRY PLAYLIST


Friday, Sept. 9, 2016
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
Webcasting!
10 p.m. to midnight Fridays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Buckaroo by Buck Owens
I Gotta Drive by Dale Watson
Slingin' Rhythm by Wayne Hancock
I'm a Nut by Leroy Pullens
Wildwood Flower by Mike Ness
Straight Tears, No Chaser by Paul Burch
Lonesome Road Blues by Martha Fields
Lord, Mr. Ford by Jerry Reed
Blue Collar Dollar by Kevin Gordon
Drinking Problem by Audrey Auld 
Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones

The Color of a Cloudy Day by Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires
Corn Money by The Defibulators
One More Night Alone by Dan Whitaker & The Sidebenders
Granny's Got the Baby ('Cause Mama's Doin' Time) by Trailer Radio
Loners for Life by Hank 3 
Everybody's Had the Blues by Merle Haggard

Poison by The Waco Brothers
Payphone by Eric Hisaw 
Where Do You Roam by Dex Romweber
I'm Gonna Dress in Black by Eilen Jewell
Cheap Whiskey by Patty Loveless
Europe by Lydia Loveless
What Do I Care by Eddie Spaghetti
Days of '49 by Bob Dylan

Green Willow Valley by The Handsome Family
Hello Stranger by Carolina Chocolate Drops
Tennessee Blues by Jim Kweskin & Geoff Muldaur
Lord I Need Somebody Bad Tonight by Rhonda Vincent
Takin' Names by Josh White
Black Jack David by Loretta Lynn
CLOSING THEME: Comin' Down by The Meat Puppets


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Subscribe to The Big Enchilada Podcast! CLICK HERE
Steve Terrell is proud to report to the monthly Freeform American Roots Radio list

Thursday, September 08, 2016

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: The Struggles and Triumps of Miss Sharon Jones



A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 

Sept. 9, 2016

Even before soul singer Sharon Jones’ triumph over cancer, her story was one of the most inspiring tales in modern popular music. First, it’s the story of talent and determination overcoming show-biz shallowness. When she auditioned for Sony Records back in the 1980s, some cretinous executive rejected her, telling the young singer she was too black, too fat, too short, and too old. 

That was a setback for certain. She had to work at a series of day jobs — including as a corrections officer at Rikers Island — before she began her recording career. Jones was in her forties when she released her first album, in 2002, on the musician-owned Daptone Records. The fact that she built a respectable career with millions of fans and critically acclaimed work — without the help of a major record label or commercial radio — is heartening in itself.

So it’s only logical that Jones’ battle against cancer would also be an inspirational story — and that’s the main focus of Barbara Kopple’s documentary Miss Sharon Jones!


In 2013, Jones was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This was before the release of her album Give the People What They Want. After a brief montage of music clips and biographical narrative, one of the first scenes of the documentary shows Jones in a barber shop getting her head shaved. After that, she tries on various wigs — one, she jokes, makes her look like Tina Turner, another like Oprah. But that’s about the last time we see her in a wig. During her chemo treatments, she prefers to be defiantly bald.

Not surprisingly, this movie is not always pleasant. We see Jones at her highs — like when she finds out she’s booked for an appearance on Ellen, one of her favorite TV talk shows. And we see her lows, such as the scene where she lashes out at her band, the Dap-Kings, because their Thanksgiving dinner was canceled. 

One of the most moving scenes is an interview in which Jones, full of shame, talks about a low point when she wrongfully accused her loyal, longtime manager Alex Kadvan of being more worried about the money the band was losing than about her health.

But the truth is that Jones’ cancer was a huge financial strain on the Dap-Kings and others who work with her — all of whom depend on performing with Jones to make a living. For starters, the band’s tour was canceled the summer she was diagnosed. Dap-King guitarist Binky Griptite tells how the news of Jones’ condition came right after he and his wife decided to split. All at once he realized he was “divorced, laid off, and my friend had cancer.” And bassist Gabe Roth tells how a couple of banks balked at refinancing his home after they read about Jones’ illness.

After viewing Miss Sharon Jones! the first time, my initial criticism was that Kopple spends too much time in Jones’ chemo clinics and not enough time at concert halls. My knee-jerk reaction as a fan of her music was that I’d much rather watch two hours of Jones and her band doing what they do best, proving that good old-fashioned funk and soul never die, no matter what the musical industrial complex is trying to sell you at the moment.

But watching the documentary a second time softened that reaction somewhat. While I’d still like to have more music in the film, I realized that seeing the energetic, confident Jones at these moments of weakness, exhaustion, and frustration is important in understanding the singer.

Kopple intersperses bits of Jones’ biography into the film. We hear Roth talk about how back in the ’90s, he and Jones themselves remodeled the building that would become Daptone Records, even doing the electrical wiring themselves. 

The film takes us to North Augusta, South Carolina, where Jones was raised, along with nearby Augusta, Georgia, where Jones tours a museum dedicated to another famous musician from the area, James Brown. And Jones talks about growing up in the South during segregation, remembering how a cruel shopkeeper taught a parrot to say racist slurs anytime a black child entered the store.

And there are powerful musical moments in this film. At one point, Kopple literally takes us to church. Jones sings a mighty version of the old hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow” (best known for versions by Ethel Waters and Mahalia Jackson). Jones is winded by the end of the song, but then again, it also has a breathtaking effect for those of us who are listening. Unfortunately, this song is not on the soundtrack album for the movie.

We see Jones backstage at New York’s Beacon Theatre, where she kicked off her comeback tour in February 2014 —a tour that included a sold-out show at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe. 

As guitarist Griptite goes through his soul-show spiel announcing her entrance, we see Jones’ stage fright poignantly illustrated by her hand shaking uncontrollably as she grips a paper cup. But only seconds later, she walks onstage and transforms into the superheroine her fans know best, visibly soaking up the applause, the cheers, and the love.

Spoiler alert: Miss Sharon Jones! has a happy ending, in which Jones is cancer-free and the Dap-Kings are again going strong. However, after the film was made, the cancer returned. Jones had to resume chemo treatments last year. Early last month, she was forced to cancel a European tour. 

“Sharon is doing well, but must undergo a medical procedure related to her cancer and the recovery time will conflict with these European dates,” her website says. However, it also says that an American tour scheduled to begin this month will go on.

Miss Sharon Jones! opens Friday, Sept. 9, at The Screen on the campus of Santa Fe University of Art and Design, 1600 St. Michael’s Drive.

Video time!

Here's a song from Give The People What They Want called "Retreat!"



Here's Sharon at South by Southwest in 2010.



And here is the official Trailer for Miss Sharon Jones!