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Morgan James’ life story has the makings of a Broadway musical.
Born in Boise and high-schooled in Modesto, Calif., she went to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City where she studied opera. But she landed on Broadway, in “The Addams Family” and “Motown: The Musical,” among other shows. Then she decided to launch a career as a soul singer.
Promoting her late 2014 “Hunter” album on Epic, James arrived at the Dakota Jazz Club Wednesday for her Twin Cities debut. In her too-short 63-minute second show, she demonstrated considerable potential. She has a special voice, a knack for writing substantive pop-soul songs with her cowriter/guitarist Doug Wamble and the appealing presence of sweet ingénue who’s willing to battle all the challenges of her chosen life in New York City.
“I think I need the devastation,” she said, referring to the rigors of the big city.
She was chatty in a likable way, whether talking about braving the Minnesota cold in January (she said she was Norwegian, Grunerud is her given surname) or getting L.A. Reid, the boss at Epic, to reach out to Prince for permission for James to record Prince’s “Call My Name” (from “Musicology”).
The two Prince pieces (“How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” was the other) were among James’ stand-out efforts because, despite her rich upper register and potent screams, she was more impressive the softer she sang. Plus Wamble added some nasty guitar fills to “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.”
James' strongest original was “I Want You,” a slow-burn, emotion-filled, Bonnie Raitt-evoking number that started with James humming and ended with a remarkable melismatic coo. “The Sweetest Sound” was a deliciously understated medium-tempo soul croon, equal parts D’Angelo and Minnie Riperton.
There’s no question that James, 33, has an alluring voice. But her diction was all Broadway and no church. Every word was enunciated clearly and seldom infused with sanctified soulfulness.
As she explained, she’s studied Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Prince, D’Angelo and other great soul artists. But studying is no substitute for living with this kind of music in performance. Or as she put it before the encore: “You are what you listen to and you’re only as good as the knowledge you fill it with.”
She knows what she’s talking about. Because her encore reading of Aretha’s “Baby, I Love You” was like she lived it, wonderfully transcendent, a perfect arrangement with Wamble’s slide electric guitar (the rest of her quartet sat this one out) complementing her suddenly transformed Southern soul voice. It was the only number all night in which she got lost in her singing. And it showed just where this remarkable talent could go and possibly how her life story could unfold.
She’s already a member of Grrl Prty, but now Lizzo is about to become a card-carrying Riot Grrrl. Minneapolis’ thriving rapper has been tapped to open the first leg of Sleater-Kinney’s spring tour, the famed Northwest blast-punk trio’s first series of shows in a decade. It’s just her opening the gigs, by the way, no one else.
Still going around the world touting her late-2013 release “Lizzobangers” – she did a U.K. trek opening for Chvrches in November -- the real-life Melissa Jefferson will be there to perform at S-K’s Feb. 8 kick-off at the Knitting Factory in Spokane, Wash., and stay through the March 2 date in Toronto, with the Minneapolis stop at First Avenue coming a week into the caravan on Feb. 14. Talk about a hometown love fest.
Our show and most of the shows have long since sold-out. Milwaukee's performance quickly got moved to the Riverside Theater from Turner Hall, demand was so high. The going price locally for scalped tickets starts at just under $120 on Stubhub for the First Ave gig.
Lizzo’s management would not divulge how she landed the gig but hinted at a bit of good luck coupled, of course, with her rising reputation. The news was bittersweet for her DJ/producer partner Lazerbeak of Doomtree, whose troubled past as a punk-rocker (ex-Plastic Constellations) predictably means he’s a big S-K fan, but who has infant twins and a toddler to tend to at home and can’t make the tour. “Ryan Olson and I had a good 10 minute freakout over the phone when we both found out about it,” he said, mentioning “Lizzobangers” other co-producer. Instead, Lizzo will likely be joined by drummer Ryan McMahon (also of Har Mar Superstar’s band) and hype-grrrl Sophia Eris on the tour.
While she was only 17 and living in a very non-indie city the last time Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss performed as Sleater-Kinney (in 2006), Lizzo reportedly was turned onto riot-grrrl punk bands a few years ago and knows what she’s getting herself into. Everyone seems to agree that this could be the tipping point to turn our Prty Grrl into a major indie player -- if she’s not already there.
Sleater-Kinney's new album, "No Cities to Love," is now streaming via NPR Music ahead of its release next Tuesday. It's monstrous, too.
What is it like to travel with the Rolling Stones as their official photographer? What are the challenges of getting that decisive concert shot when you’ve got only two songs and you’re standing way back at the soundboard? What are key tips for photographers who are working with music stars and their handlers?
Those topics and more will be discussed at a panel on The World of Rock & Roll Photography at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Mpls Photo Center. Panelists will be Twin Cities music photographers Steven Cohen and Tony Nelson along with longtime Chicago photographer Paul Natkin, who has traveled with the Stones, shot magazine and album covers, and has become Buddy Guy’s personal photographer. Star Tribune critic Jon Bream will moderate. The discussion is free.
The panel is a prelude to the Rock & Roll Call for Entry Exhibit, which opens on Friday at 2400 N. Second St., Mpls. The exhibit features music-related photos by photographers from all over the United States and as far away as Slovenia and Uruguay. Natkin, who took the photo of Keith Richards above, served as the juror. Cohen received the first-place prize.
Dianne Hill-Hines as "Mother Goose" at Children's Theatre Company in 1995 (with Robbie Droddy and Cassie Fox). Photo by Rob Levine.
Dianne Hill-Hines “never thought of herself as God’s gift to the stage,” said Gary Gisselman, who directed Hill in many theatrical productions. “But she was. She could sing and act, she had great warmth and you could put her in any role and she’d be terrific.”
Hill-Hines, 67, was a longtime presence in the Twin Cities theater scene under the name Dianne Benjamin-Hill. She died Monday of cancer at N.C. Little Hospice in Edina.
“She was everything I wanted to be,” said Molly Sue McDonald, a veteran actor and singer who counted Hill as a close friend. “There was something about Dianne. She had that gift you can’t describe that made you want to watch her.”
Hill-Hines was born in Aberdeen, S.D., with an early love for theater. After receiving an MFA in Theatre at Wayne State University in Detroit, she moved with her then-husband to Los Angeles. After a divorce, she relocated to the Twin Cities.
She and actor Jim Cada dated for years while they were both working with Actor’s Theatre of St. Paul.
“She had a lot of trust from actors and directors,” Cada said. “She took it very seriously — a real pleasure to work with backstage and on stage.”
Actor Sally Wingert, who notably worked with Hill-Hines in “Blue Window” at Actor’s Theatre, considered her a mentor.
“I idolized her,” Wingert said. “She was really gorgeous and such a good actor — just a beautiful, wicked sense of comic timing but also very heartfelt.”
She was one of the top performers at Chanhassen from 1977-85. Gisselman remembered her appearances in “Hello Dolly” (There has never been a better Irene Molloy,” he said), “Beyond Therapy” and “Blithe Spirit.” She also filled in for Susan Goeppinger in “I Do, I Do” for eight months and “Quilters,” which ran for 12 months in 1984-85.
Hill-Hines also acted at Old Log, Mixed Blood and other theaters locally.
For several years in the late 80s and 1990s, Hill-Hines stepped away from the stage to raise her son, Matt.
“She was definitely a hands-on mother,” said her husband, Paul Hines of Minnetonka. “We used to tell her that eventually she couldn’t accompany Matt wherever he went, especially to school. But she got a bus pass and got on the bus with him for the first day. True story.”
She returned to the stage at Children’s Theatre Company, where she developed a strong kinship with director/choreographer Matthew Howe. Hill-Hines played the Wicked Witch in two productions of “The Wizard of Oz” and also performed in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Pippi Longstocking” in 2001 under Howe’s direction.
“Dianne brought so much to the rehearsal room and the stage,” Howe wrote in an email from Vancouver, B.C., where he now teaches. “She had talent, a generous heart, and a deep love and appreciation for those she worked with.”
Paul Hines said that in recent years, Dianne worked in the Hopkins school district with special-needs children. She also spent recent summers working for friends who owned Southern Colorado Repertory Theatre Company. She and Twin Cities actor Clyde Lund performed “On Golden Pond” there in 2013.
In addition to Paul and Matt Hines, Hill-Hines is survived by her mother, Doris Evenson, stepchildren Brad Hines and Lesli Launer Hines and four siblings. Her life will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday, at All Saints Lutheran Church, 15915 Excelsior Blvd., Mtka., with visitation one hour before the service.
LOS ANGELES -- Minnesota's Hubbard family aren't done with the Kennedy saga.
Stanley Hubbard, president of ReelzChannel, which famously acquired the rights to the Emmy-winning mini-series, "The Kennedys," provided details Tuesday of the followup, "The Kennedys: After Camelot," at the TV Critics press tour.
Katie Holmes will not only return as Jackie Kennedy; She'll also direct one of the four episodes.The production will air sometime next year.
Hubbard also announced the April 11 debut of "Polka Kings," a reality series about a band's quest to bring polka to the masses.
Also appearing Tuesday at the TCA tour: David Spade, Harvey Levin and several members of "Community," which will premiere on Yahoo on March 17.
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