Pick Six is a half-dozen cool things in music, from two points of view.


Cecilia Johnson of Minneapolis:

1 “Better Not [bleep] This Up,” First Avenue. Organizer Andrew Broder united teen-pleasers Hippo Campus; the 100-emoji, heart eyes-emoji Dizzy Fae; Ojibwe drum group Iron Boy; and many others. Proceeds went to an equally varied list of Minnesota community organizations.


2 Half Moon Run, “Favourite Boy.” This song touches the same nerve as the Jayhawks or America’s “Horse With No Name.” It’s polished and lush with harmonies, while endlessly bittersweet.


3 “America Is Not the Heart” by Elaine Castillo. This 2018 novel weaves music through the lives of its Pinoy protagonists: mid-’80s synth-rock (Talk Talk, Fiction Factory), late-’80s garage-party DJ fodder (Afrika Bambaataa, Jungle Brothers) and Filipino classics (the disco-soaked VST & Company, Kundiman legend Ruben Tagalog).

Jon Bream of the Star Tribune:

1 Janelle Monáe, “Come Alive” on the Academy Awards. Who needs a host when this brilliant triple threat can dazzle in song, dance and spoken-word commentary to open the Oscars?


2 Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Phoenix. This 60-year-old group wowed with musicality and physicality, humor and harmonies at the Musical Instrument Museum. The nine-man a cappella South African ensemble features four sons of founder Joseph Shabalala, who died in a Pretoria hospital a few days after this performance at age 78. He’s gone to Graceland.


3 Voxspex, Icehouse. In a fascinatingly quirky concept, Twin Cities vocal coach/keyboardist Lara Bolton paired arias with pop-soul arrangements. The highlight was a mashup of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Puccini’s “La Rondine,” featuring opera singers Dominique Wooten and Brittany Renee. As a bonus, trumpeter Omar Abdulkarim offered a movingly plaintive reading of Schubert’s “Ständchen” using the “Instrument of Hope” made with bullet shells.