Country music with a conscience
Way before all the girls in your family sang "Redneck Woman" karaoke-style at the last family barbecue and every boot-scoot joint in town praised the outspoken wit of Jo Dee Messina's "My Give a Damn's Busted," Emmylou Harriswas holding a seat for today's otherwise assertive ladies of country. Now 30-plus years into it, Harris isn't so much outspoken in a kick-your-ass-to-the-curb way as in a socially conscious one.
After starting out in the '60s in the Greenwich Village folk scene, Harris rose through the country ranks by weaving folk, roots, and alt-country, showing us all that country isn't just background noise at the Republican National Convention.
The frosty-locked songstress also bends country's lyrical barriers of wine and women and gives her fans something to think about, whether it's female genocide or poking fun at high fashion and TV culture. But not all of Harris' songs come with a message; there are plenty of love and loss songs with her airy, ethereal voice.
Harris collects Grammy awards faster than your grandmother stocks Hubble figurines on the mantle. And while other divas work on sitcoms or theme parks, Harris is busy connecting the stitch between the traditional and alternative, recording with Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, and Beck. Harris is a card-carrying member of PETA and active in cultural preservation issues like the Country Music Foundation.
Sidestepping the rowdy Skoal-in-cheek stereotypes of country singers, Harris creates authentic, handcrafted tunes and lets us know that those stereotypes are only a small part of the varied paths of the music. She's the yin to the yang of über-patriotic drivel like Toby Keith. If country music were to have a family barbecue, Keith would have his spur-lined heels pierced into the picnic table with his bottle of Bud spilling into the ambrosia salad -- and Harris would be the guest you'd invite back time and time again.
Made in U.S.A.
Apple Pie Rock
It's impossible to miss the less-than-subtle sarcasm in the name All American Rejects. The obvious oxymoron is like naming a band from France Frogs with Balls or a group from Toronto Canadians Who Don't Suck. The unintentional irony is that this Oklahoma quartet's unthreatening boy-next-door looks and sugary-sweet pop-rock sound is so tailor-made for MTV, you'd think they were created in a laboratory by Kurt Loder and the Cast of Real World IV -- hardly what you'd expect from a group of rejects. But despite the criticism the band may get from music snobs or the too-cool-for-radio rock scene, it's hard to deny that the Rejects' fairly generic sound is about as contagious as a midnight romp with Ron Mexico. Playing Saturday at Revolution (200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale), the band looks to wrap up the first leg of its new tour before hitting the road on this summer's Van's Warped Tour. Will the sweetness ever end? Doors for the all-ages show open at
The Menacing Mencia
BY PAUL A. LEONE
In a lot of ways, Carlos Mencia's "tell it like it is" style of comedy is a classier way of saying "ethnic humor" -- playing up his Hispanic heritage for laughs. But beyond his semi-stereotypical Hispanic shtick, Mencia is able to succeed where other comics fail by inserting some actual social commentary, appealing to a wide audience, and remaining genuinely funny. His two HBO specials and the success of the Three Amigos Tour, which he headlines along with fellow comics Pablo Francisco and Freddy Soto, has made Mencia one of comedy's biggest names. That's why it should come as no surprise that he looks to be the next comic to make his way from the standup stage to the small screen with a Comedy Central series in the works. Catch him this weekend at the Palm Beach Improv (550 S. Rosemary Ave., Ste. 250, West Palm Beach) with seven shows from Friday, May 27, through Sunday, May 29. Tickets cost $26.62. Call 561-833-1812, or visit www.palmbeachimprov.com. -- Paul A. Leone
Hardcore Meets Teen Angst
Singing about broken hearts may be sappy, but luckily for the Gainesville-gone-L.A. quintet From First to Last, screaming about it is all the rage now. The band's album Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Bodycount delivers a new twist by sounding like emo snorting powdered Adderall off a high-school desk. From First to Last looks like every other Hot Topic band, but its sound is unique. While lyrics like "Note to self, I miss you terribly/This is what we call a tragedy" sound trite, 17-year-old vocalist Sonny Moore keeps them sincere, loud, and free of pubescent cracking. It's the audio equivalent of Morrissey in a mosh pit. They join Emanuel, Halifax, and He Is Legend at the Music Factory (2674 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale). Show starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10. Call 954-564-ROCK. -- Jake Smith