Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Hannah and Miley: Best of Both Worlds in 3-D

by Wayne Robins

Last weekend J and I went to see "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds"
concert in the local multiplex. It was my idea. As she was getting dressed, J, who is
13, asked if anything else was playing. I told her it didn't matter: I wasn't interested in any other movie. I wanted to see Hannah/Miley.

And I wasn't disappointed. The movie represents the pinnacle of
digital 3-D in movies. There really hadn't been much progress in the field between William Castle's "13 Ghosts," (1960) one of my childhood favorite horror movies, and the disappointing "Spy Kids 3: Game Over" (2003). The "Hannah" concert movie takes 3-D to a new level (I haven't seen the U2 concert film yet). It brings you to the foot of the stage and to the faces of the musicians, yet offers a relaxed perspective. A guitarist tosses a pick and you instinctively reach out to grab it; a drummer twirls his sticks in the air and you think you might get poked
in the eye before you watch the stick's smooth descent back into his hands.

I found the music first-rate, or at least well-played and well-rehearsed and preferred the first half of the concert ("Hannah's" music) to the slightly more rote Miley teen-rock.
J. said later she could have gone for
more backstage or documentary presentation, and I agreed with her. The rehearsals featuring master choreographer Kenny Ortega are especially
rich and rewarding: I could watch a whole movie of Ortega bringing the star,
band and dancers up to speed. (Kicking and catching a guitar stand while counting
time is not as easy as it looks).

Is this the future of live musical entertainment? I sort of hope so. After 30 years of attending rock concerts as my business, I am much more comfortable with 3D and state of the art sound in the local mall theater rather than actually having to deal
with the crowds, noise, parking, lousy seats and drop dead insane prices of arena concert tickets.

As a sidelight, I identified with Miley's dad Billy Ray Cyrus, who had a huge country and pop hit in 1992 with "Achy Breaky Heart" before disappearing from the charts. Ten years ago I was in Nashville in the office of Luke Lewis, then president of Mercury Records Nashville, interviewing him for a book-length history of Mercury Records that Danny Goldberg commissioned me to write. Towards the end of the interview, I offered Lewis my sure thing to the return Cyrus to the top of the charts.

"I've got three words for Billy Ray's next hit," I told Lewis. "Polk. Salad. Annie." The 1969 Tony Joe White hit that had become a staple of
Elvis Presley's live show seemed to me to be low-hanging fruit, a tune Cyrus could cover that even brain dead country radio would embrace. It didn't happen, but it is nice to know that failure to dent the charts again was not the end of Billy Ray Cyrus' story. In some ways, it was just the beginning.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Depressing News: No Depression To Cease Publication

by Wayne Robins

It is a sad day for music and for magazines, and a terrible day for those who love well-written music magazines: After 13 years, No Depression is going out of business. What should have been a celebratory gala 75th issue, the May-June 2008 issue, will be its last.

No Depression, for the uninitiated, originally used the slogan "alt-country . . . whatever that is." (It took its name from the title of Uncle Tupelo's debut album.) It cast its net wider than that, but it remained essential for anyone interested in the American indies roots music scene.

The news is already up on the
No Depression Web site.

In a letter on the page 2 "Hello Stranger" column of the March-April 2008, which will hit mailboxes and stores any day now, publishers Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock (the mag's co-founders) and Kyla Fairchild write, in part:

"The circumstances are both complicated and painfully simple. The simple answer is that advertising revenue in this issue is 64% of what it was for our March-April issue just two years ago. We expect that number to continue to decline...

"Because we’re a niche title we are dependent upon advertisers who have a specific reason to reach our audience. That is: record labels. We, like many of our friends and competitors, are dependent upon advertising from the community we serve...

"That community is, as they say, in transition. In this evolving downloadable world, what a record label is and does is all up to question. What is irrefutable is that their advertising budgets are drastically reduced, for reasons we well understand...

"The decline of brick and mortar music retail means we have fewer newsstands on which to sell our magazine, and small labels have fewer venues that might embrace and hand-sell their music. Ditto for independent bookstores. Paper manufacturers have consolidated and begun closing mills to cut production; we’ve been told to expect three price increases in 2008. Last year there was a shift in postal regulations, written by and for big publishers, which shifted costs down to smaller publishers whose economies of scale are unable to take advantage of advanced sorting techniques.

"Then there’s the economy…"

I reviewed CDs with some regularity for No Depression circa 2001-2003. In fact, when I took a hiatus from contributing, I really missed it, so I dropped Grant Alden a note. I wrote about it
four years ago (see archives: Jan. 4, 2004), describing it as "the only music magazine I know done with spunk, spirit, and style..."

These are hard times. Living without No Depression in this new depression will be that much harder.

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