Friday, July 29, 2011

Concrete Blonde

I love rock music. Always have. It brings me a joy that I can't describe. That being said, there are a handful of things about rock music that I'm none too crazy about. Topping that list is the way immensely talented artists can be practically ignored while talentless hacks find a way to take up precious space atop the charts. Taking the high road, I will not name any of those talentless hacks, but I will name a prime example of criminally underrated talent. I give you Concrete Blonde led by the transcendant Johnette Napolitano.

Singer/songwriter/bassist Napolitano formed the band Dream 6 with Guitarist James Mankey in Los Angeles in 1982. They released an eponymous EP in France on the Happy Hermit label. When they signed to IRS Records in 1986, labelmate Michael Stipe of R.E.M. suggested Concrete Blonde as a name for the band, describing the combination of their hard rock and introspective lyrics. "Concrete Blonde" is also a derogatory term applied to 80s hair metal bands. During an MTV interview, Napolitano said that she thought they were just two words that sounded good together. Drummer Harry Rushakoff joined the band for their debut self-titled IRS album. Rushakoff was replaced by ex-Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson in time to record their sophomore release Bloodletting. Rushakoff rejoined the band in 2002 after the release of their Mexican Moon album but was dismissed shortly thereafter for missing shows. He was replaced by drummer Gabriel Ramirez.

The band's music can most easily be labeled as alternative rock fueled by Johnette Napolitano's singularly emotive voice which alternates between plaintive and snarling with an impressive range , particularly in the lower registers. Her songwriting is top-shelf, clever and catchy, showing a wide range of influences. With the added bonus of Mankey's beyond tasteful guitar work, they are a truly incandescent studio and live act.
The songs of Concrete Blonde did not escape the ears of several filmakers. The band's music was prominently featured in the 1987  film The Hidden, as well as appearing in 1986's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1991's Point Break and  the film Pump Up The Volume featured the exquisite "Everybody Knows".

The band's most successful album was 1990's Bloodletting which featured the top 20 hit "Joey". They broke up in 1993, reunited in 1997, and again in 2001, releasing the albums Group Therapy in 2002 and Mojave in 2004. Concrete Blonde finally disbanded officially in 2006.
Johnette Napolitano embarked on a series of solo and collaborative projects after the breakup. She also tours currently featuring many Concrete Blonde songs in her shows. She, along with Concrete Blonde have made a huge contribution to rock music as an art form and most importantly to its credibility and worth. And for that I humbly thank them.

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