Your Country's Right Here: Madison Violet Begin to Blossom in U.S.

For all the heavy-duty bluegrass star power at the most recent DelFest in Cumberland, Md., it was the Canadian folk duo Madison Violet that arguably was the most exciting “find” of the event.

Known individually as Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, the duo has won an array of awards and has ardent fans throughout their native Canada, in Europe, and beyond. Yet the two are just now making a name for themselves in the U.S. An unexpected illness forced the duo to cancel the last two dates of the U.S. tour behind their latest album The Good in Goodbye, but the pair hope to be back in American clubs soon.

“We haven’t toured in the U.S. very often in the 13 years we have been playing together,” said MacEachern citing work permits and other red tape that has kept them away. “Now we have more of a focus on the States and that’s great. Our music shouldn’t be a struggle in the States; it’s kind of got an Americana feel.”

Although that’s true, the music clearly also has international appeal as underscored by the many fans” especially from Germany”that fly to Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, to catch Madison Violet shows. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider the judges, including Elton John, Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige, that chose Madison Violet as the 2009 Grand Prize Winners of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. The duo are the first Canadians to win the award.

While the prize certainly bolstered the group’s confidence in their own abilities, they still see a long road ahead as they work to establish their names in the States. The joy for them is that fans are fans and seem to have similar responses to their music, wherever they play. If they can just get before a crowd, as they did on Memorial Day weekend at DelFest, chances are they’ll win converts.


Soundcheck: Charity Cases – Hip Hop Heroes Give Back

Although hip hop headlines usually highlight a new album, or the latest antics of riled up rappers; Lupe Fiasco gave people something else to talk about last week.

His charity, The Lupe Fiasco Foundation,  launched Block By Block, an initiative he pledged would feed 100 hungry Chicagoans a day for the rest of August. We basically go and just provide hot meals to different parts of the community around the city. He told WGCI’s The Morning Riot. Basically, we just feeding 100 people every day until the end of the month. And hopefully we’ll expand it. So last year, we just did it for a day. This year, we’re doing it for fifteen, twenty days, and hopefully, it’s something that we keep expanding on. It’s one of the little initiatives we do.  The foundation also supports educational programs and has a broader goal of empowering kids and young adults.

Photo: John Clarke Russ - Bangor Daily News

Lupe launched The Lupe Fiasco Foundation back in March, on the heels of his Lasers album release, announcing the launch at Chicago’s House of Blues.  Prior to that, the rapper had been a huge hometown supporter since 2003, and partnered with organizations like the New Birth Christian Center and West Englewood Methodist Church to give groceries to Austin residents.  Last year, he teamed up with Rhymefest (who was running for public office) for Vote To Eat, a campaign that provided registered voters a meal of turkey & cheesecake over the Thanksgiving holiday. Current initiatives for the foundation include The Little Man Project, The Youth Committee, Jaco Scholarship Fund and Off The Block programs.

It’s nice to know that Lupe isn’t all talk, and that his thought-provoking, conscious lyrics translate to his real life.  His outspoken attitude toward the education system, and political climate in our country is backed by real action in the community.  While his activism isn’t a surprise, he shares his do-gooder title with some of hip hop’s biggest stars.


Soundcheck: Is Kanye’s Bad Rap Overshadowing G.O.O.D. Music?

After Coachella announced Kanye West as their 2011 headliner, fans responded with disappointment and outrage, many claiming they would rather forego the festival than support the controversial superstar.

Despite West’s less than stellar public persona, I was admittedly puzzled by the magnitude of fans’ fury. Considering that his latest project”My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy” is arguably one of the best albums of the year and the charts are currently cluttered with Kanye-tinged hits like Monster and H.A.M., it was surprising that amid the banter people failed to notice the impressive quality West’s art. His slated 2011 release with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, is one of the most highly-anticipated projects in a while, and West’s label, G.O.O.D. Music, had an impressive year of releases from Kid Cudi, John Legend and The Roots and Kanye himself.

We got a preview of the G.O.O.D. Music roster during a 2010 BET AWARDS segment that featured Kanye and his talented team. In it, we saw Pusha T, John Legend, Big Sean, CyHi Da Prince, and Common delivering some serious verses and debuting a sophisticated, intriguing Rosewood Crew style. The black and white spit-session peaked my interest at what Kanye and the G.O.O.D. Music family has up their sleeves for 2011; and made me wonder why I didn’t already know more about the six-year-old label with such a famous head hancho. Below, a glimpse of the G.O.O.D. Music bench, a probable force to be reckoned with:

Pusha T: The younger half of the Clipse, signed up with G.O.O.D. to release his first-ever solo project (sans brother Malice), making his comeback during Kanye’s MTV VMA performance in September. The Virginia-bred rappers had been struggling with pushed projects, an incarcerated manager and other setbacks for years, making us wonder if they would ever resurface. Thankfully, Kanye picked up on the prize-horse” a decision that reaffirms my inclination that he truly knows what he’s doing. His biting lyrics on West’s So Appalled have had critics’ tongues wagging since the albums release.

CyHi Da Prince: Not much is known about Kanye’s newest protégé, but his inclusion in the Rosewood Crew has certainly peaked interest. He heats up West’s So Appalledalongside Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz and RZA; and his Royal Flush mixtape scored high marks on the street. He’s also featured on Bobby V‘s latest single, Gotta Get Dat Money and is expected to make a mainstream splash when his time comes.

John Legend: The six-time GRAMMY winner has released power-house projects on G.O.O.D, with his most recent release, Wake Up!, a collaboration with The Roots, is up for five awards more this year, including Best R&B Album”, Best Collaboration, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance. He will be headlining the upcoming Jazz Fest in New Orleans along with Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Bon Jovi. His current Kanye collabo, Blame Game is one of the most hypnotizing tracks on MBDTF.

Kid Cudi: The 26-year-old rapper burst onto the scene in 2009 when his debut single, Day ˜n’ Nite broke the Top 5 on Billboard Hot 100 and made Rolling Stone’s list of Top 25 Songs of 2009. His debut album, Man On The Moon: The End of Day received three GRAMMY nominations including Best Rap Song. His sophomore release Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, debuted at Number 3 on The Billboard Top 200 Chart and prompted praise from critics across the board.

With such a promising line-up, it’s a wonder why this label doesn’t seem to have the credibility it deserves. Can the strength of the music overpower the negative press of the label president? Only time and tempers will tell.

Needle In The Haystack Artist Takeover: Ma'ayan Castel

If you haven’t already checked out this week’s Needle In The Haystack artist shame on you. Ma’ayan Castel is a Hebrew beauty with the voice to match. You can check her out on MTV Music and download a free track of her hit “Now I Don’t”, but no one can tell you about her influences and aspirations better than Ma’ayan herself. Read on…

Quick! What….

…is playing on your iPod right now? The Black Keys, Tinariwen, Muse . . .

…do you and your bandmates disagree on? McDonald’s.

…do you agree on? Coffee.

…did you dream about last night? My dog Luna.

…is your favorite meal on the road? Anything my mom cooked.

…is your favorite dance move? The Butterfly!

…instrument do you wish you could play? The Sitar, I took a few lessons in India, enough to totally cut my finger but not nearly enough to count. In India they practice most of their lives before they go out and perform¦. just like young bands today¦ Not!

My name, Ma’ayan, is Hebrew for wishing-well. Hard to pronounce, I know. My parents obviously had no idea they would end up moving my sisters and I to the States.  I’m a singer, songwriter, musician and somewhat of a synth-tweeking-geek.  I have been making music since I can remember. Probably around the same time I learned to read and write I also learned to press play/rec on my trusty little tape machine. The first song I heard that changed my life forever was “Creep” by Radiohead! I was on a ski trip with a few other families, all of us teenagers piled into a car probably looking to do something we weren’t supposed to, and I remember looking out the window at the stars when the song came on and I felt my skin start tingling, then when that crunchy guitar hit, my heart just exploded and I knew.

I have been influenced by so many different artists and styles of music from The Police to Nina Simone,  Queen to World and Electronica.  The last couple of years Ihave been playing a ton of shows in New York and Boston and the experience has really shaped my writing. I always think about the live aspect because I find it so real and exciting, and my fans have been so amazing to me that I love putting on a great show for them.  It’s really been interesting to be able to connect with young hip-hop kids, hipsters, mothers, daughters, artists, musicians, and the occasional creepy old man¦ haha! I’ve had the privilege of opening for some real cool acts too like VV Brown or having artists I respect like Wyclef Jean, calling my song “Now I Don’t” a smash.

My dream scenario as a musician is doing shows like Coachella or Glastonbury with a sea of people going crazy, singing along, or scoring a Sophia Coppola film for example. I also wouldn’t mind making a hot music video with “Don Draper” of Mad Men….  but I have to keep my feet on the ground because this is not the easiest climate for independent musicians. Being an independent artist means doing everything yourself, and I mean e-ve-ry-thing. It’s a lot, but I have been lucky to have great fans and to find a musical soul-mate in my writing partner and producer Leo Mellace. We have very different musical backgrounds but that is exactly what makes the magic happen. Right now we are working on a new project that I’m really excited about and I actually have to stop here because I’m heading to the studio to record vocals.

-Ma’ayan Castel

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees announced

Champagne’s a flowin’ at the homes of Bon Jovi, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, LL Cool J and Dr. John, who among others, were all nominated into the 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week. The induction ceremony will take place on March 14th in Cleveland, Ohio. We would like an Alice Cooper/Neil Diamond duet please ¦ to whoever is taking requests.

Joe Jonas is ridin’ solo

Following in his little bro’s footsteps, or maybe heeding the advice of Jason Derülo, Joe Jonas announced plans to record a solo all by himself. Something with a sexier, Justin Timberlake vibe, says the Middle One. Sexier than Camp Rock? Can it be done? We’ll all find out in 2011¦

The Bad

Mariah Carey falls in Singapore

If you’re gonna fall, fall with class. Like Mariah Carey, who took a tumble in Singapore but smiled the whole way down. Then things got a little more diva-ish when Carey yelled for her assistant to come help her take her shoes off while the band kept playing Make It Happen. Check it out below.

Katy Perry avenges her Sesame Street snub

On SNL this past weekend, Katy Perry avenged her Sesame Street-banned bust by donning a low-cut Elmo t-shirt and bouncing around on a sofa. Those muppets must be seeing red!

The Ugly

MC Hammer starts beef with Jay Z

This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Back story: On Kanye West’s song So Appalled, Jay-Z delivers a line about blowing through $30,000 like Hammer. Well, Mr. MC Hammer was none too pleased about that, and responded on Twitter by linking to a video of himself beating up a punching bag. You want my attention [Jigga] you got it. Punch, punch, punch. It’s all kind of embarrassing and feeble, but we’ll play along. Please Hammer, don’t hurt him!


Discourse & Dischord

The Good

OK Go get dogged in new video

If you’ve ever watched an OK Go video, you know choreography is key. Exhibits A, B, and C right here. This latest installment is no different, but adds man’s best friend to the mix with heart-warming results. If one of these furry little rapscallions doesn’t get a gig on Dancing With The Stars then there is no justice in this world. Oh, and 10 points if you can spot the goat.

And then, these guys jumped on the bandwagon …

Ever heard of a band called OK Go? Quirky, ambitious videos? Winsome electro-pop? Subject of blurb Number 1 in this column? Here’s video that lampoons their whimsical, electro-pop methodology … using a giant pie!

The Bad

Aretha Franklin’s son beaten at Detroit gas station

Eddie Franklin, 52, son of soul singer Aretha Franklin, ended up in the hospital on Monday night after three men jumped him and beat him severely in a Detroit gas station parking lot. Franklin underwent emergency oral surgery and was released on Wednesday. Charges have not yet been filed.

The-Dream and L.A. Reid fired from Def Jam

L.A. Reid and The-Dream

Word on the street is that producer L.A. Reid (responsible for cultivating the careers of Mariah Carey, Pink, Usher, Ciara and countless other stars) and R&B singer/producer The-Dream were just fired from Def Jam Records due to disappointing sales figures and exuberant spending. If true, this would be The-Dream’s second break-up of 2010. If he gets strapped for cash, maybe he can sell the pointless hyphen in his name.

The Ugly

50 Cent threatens his dog with a knife

50 Cent and Oprah

In an attempt to be funny, 50 cent posted pics to his Twitter page of him threatening his yorkie, Oprah Winfrey, with a knife. Totally lame, and kind of disturbing. Seriously, someone call animal rescue on this tool. In happier news, here’s a video of kittens massaging each other.