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Black Mass Review by Darryl Roach

 

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger
Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger

One film critic, after recently reviewing Johnny Depp’s Black Mass, called it his second best film of 2015 – I suppose making the acclaimed Mortdecia his best. I’ll defer to his judgment on that, I missed the latter. Johnny Depp is James “Whitey” Bulger and as soon as you melt into your seat – your Jack Sparrow – Poof! Gone like last year’s fruitcake. He struts like a bantam rooster, all stiff and spry ready to pounce. And off you go, from the rip the movie springs like a rusty steel trap and soon you see and feel the distinction between “informing and informing.”

The real winner in this drama is the dialect coach, the “Southie Boys” long R’s and missing A’s shines early and often. Even the sultry Cumberbatch stylizes the “wicked” tongue and calls for his “Kar.” This film begins and ends with deception and rolls along into a tale of two paths, the hard scrabble streets of South Boston that produces both cops and killers and the line between the two is razor thin. Agent John Connolly, whom the Bulger brothers save from a street beat down, becomes the future agent embattled and tied at the hip with a common enemy – the eradication of the “real problem in Boston” – the Italian mob. Joel Edgerton shines as Agent Connolly, he, more than Depp, becomes the anti-hero obsessed and determined to make good – no matter how “bad” good becomes. In the end, Agent Connolly’s misplaced loyalty robs him of his career, his family and finally his freedom. Sadly, other than being a neighborhood kid, who in passing knew the Bulgers – his affection and belief in Whitey is clear and as the movie progresses – clearly misplaced,

Bulger’s Winterhill Gang began as numbers runners, coin-op schemers and low-level henchman talking business at the “The Triple O” bar and lounge, helping little old ladies with their groceries and playing gin rummy with mom – innocent enough. Bulger’s long-time girlfriend and the byproduct of that “longtime” enjoy a simple yet complicated life of “comings and goings” late night tuck-ins and early morning “breakfast with daddy” moments chock full of wisdom from “Mornings with Whitey” – where he delicately explains to little “Whitey” when and how to deliver a sock in the eye and other wistful nuggets.

Along the way, the venerable Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the long-suffering brother, Bill Bulger; described by some in the movie as the “most powerful man in Massachusetts…” though never described as such within earshot of James Bulger. Cumberbatch appears at times as polished and demure as Cape Cod, yet deep in his veins a running battle ensues – what does he know and when did he know it? The two brothers share only a handful of scenes together, I suppose the juxtaposition is just to great or too easy- as neither star outshines the other. The implication throughout, though unsaid and certainly unseen is that Bill Bulger shelters or mitigates Whitey, choosing to look kindly as opposed to critically as his brother’s crimes become more emboldened and Whitey slips into legend and infamy. The movie leaves questions and the story suffers as a direct result – how did Bill become golden and James become rotten?

As for the period look and feel, this movie reeks of the 1970’s, plaid pants, big lapels, crooked cops, slimy dives and diners. Beautiful Chevys, beat-up Buicks and neighborhoods in yellowing decay – hanging on to their Irish roots while slipping into the pocket of a few South Boston derelicts. Each to a man – a rat, informing, giving half-truths, lying, cheating, murdering right under the auspices of “special informant” and with the blessing of Agent “James, you can’t murder anybody” Connolly. While murder is definitely on the menu, it only moves the story to the credit of the Director Scott Copper. Violence is seen and felt, but you needn’t rush home and bathe afterwards.

Black Mass clearly shows the progression of Whitey Bulger from street hood to psychopathic killer. Just as it shows the misplacement of trusts that the FBI had in its star agents – so long as the results were in-line with their “best laid plans.” Johnny Depp as James “Whitey” Bulger – real, yes, really good – maybe… The sweat and swagger, the neighborhood hood’s descent into madness it’s all there. The ensemble cast; Depp, Edgerton, Cumberbatch – yep, star-studded one and all. The “true story” byline looms large and while truth dibs and dabs along, cherry-picked for maximum effect – it never fully engages the audience, you never want Whitey Bulger as a friend or foe and while you might spend a Saturday afternoon lapping up his Winterhill gang’s languid wisdom, you’ll likely walk away wondering: “This was good – why wasn’t it great?” If you find yourself stuck between The Perfect Guy and A Walk In The Woods – go see Black Mass and tell ’em Whitey sent you.

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New Arrivals (August 1st)

We just bought a bunch of new records. Check it out.

All these records are now available in store. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on new arrivals.

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Grateful Dead - Wake of the Flood
Grateful Dead – Wake of the Flood
Raw Sienna
Savoy Brown
Pink Floyd - Umma Gumma
Pink Floyd – Umma Gumma
The Blues Project
The Blues Project (featuring Al Kooper)
Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same
Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same
Tommy James and the Shondells - The Best Of
Tommy James and the Shondells – The Best Of
John Mayall - A Lot of People (Recorded Live)
John Mayall – A Lot of People (Recorded Live)
Led Zepplin - Zepplin IV
Led Zeppelin – Zeppelin IV
John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat - Hooker and Heat
John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat – Hooker and Heat
The Yardbirds - For Your Love
The Yardbirds (with Jeff Beck) – For Your Love
Neil Young - Time Fades Away
Neil Young – Time Fades Away

The Incredible String Band - I Looked Up
The Incredible String Band – I Looked Up
Panic at The Disco - Too Weird to Live Too Rare to Die
Panic at The Disco – Too Weird to Live Too Rare to Die
Memphis Mayfire - Challenger 
Memphis Mayfire – Challenger
The Pretty Things - Self Titled
The Pretty Things – Self Titled

All these records are now available in store. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on new arrivals.

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Sister Rosetta Tharpe – By Jessica Fisher

There is a constant cultural obsession with the ‘father’ and ‘grandfather’ and ‘godfather’ of rock-n-roll. The patriarchal nature of our society has the musical historian ignoring even entertaining the idea that women have been involved in the formation of music, either in sound or subculture.

It is important to push back against white-washing and recognize that there existed rock-n-roll roots prior to Elvis Presley. Any cursory Google search will list the names of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, which still leaves something to be desired.

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As Alexis C. Madrigal pointed out in a piece for Fusion, “Rosetta Tharpe was born 100 years ago today – March 20, 1915, twenty years before Elvis, a decade before Chuck Berry. And she could play the rock and roll guitar better than anyone, before anyone.”

(A great example of Tharpe’s guitar virtuosity is her song “Didn’t It Rain”.)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born on March 20, 1915 in Arkansas. She started playing guitar and singing at the age of four. Tharpe, by the age of six, was joining her mother as a regular performer in a traveling evangelical troupe.

Tharpe was heavily influenced by her mother, Katie Bell Nubin. Nubin was a singer, mandolin player, evangelist and preacher for the Church of God in Christ. The Church of God in Christ was founded by black Baptist bishop named Charles Mason. Mason was known to encourage rhythmic expression, dancing in praise and allowing women to preach in church.

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Tharpe was not able to record until the age of 23. She recorded four sides with Decca Records. For these recordings she was backed by “Lucky” Millinder’s jazz orchestra.

These initial recordings for her were also the first gospel songs ever recorded by Decca. The songs included were: “Rock Me,” “That’s All,” “My Man and I,” and “The Lonesome Road”.

While Tharpe was deemed an ‘overnight sensation’, her recordings also caused a bit of a stir. Churchgoers were shocked by her mixture of gospel lyrics with secular music. While churchgoers weren’t happy, the secular audiences loved the music.

Tharpe was revolutionary in the sense that she performed gospel music in front of a secular audience and in nightclubs. She performed alongside blues and jazz musicians and dancers. This caused those within conservatives religious circles the fact that a woman performed guitar at all, let alone in secular settings, was frowned upon.

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For all the external conflict, there is evidence to suggest that not all was well internally for Tharpe, either. It has been said that she may have had little choice in the material she was contracted to record with Millinder. Gayle Wald wrote in Shout, Sister, Shout!, “Rosetta and Millinder were increasingly at odds in 1943, as Rosetta itched to quit the big-band circuit and renew her career as a strictly gospel act. As Roxie Moore remembers, she hadn’t wanted to do light fare poking fun at old-time religion or worldly material like Tall Skinny Papa, but found herself bound by contractual obligations.”

Her 1944 record, according to Wald, has been credited by some as being the ‘first rock and roll record’.

Another component of Tharpe, a rock-n-roll godmother of sorts, was her bisexuality. Tharpe, who was married three times, was also known to have relationships with women. The blog Queer Museum quotes Wald in discussing Tharpe’s bisexuality, “Tharpe’s biographer, Gayle Wald, found some of the singer’s contemporaries who were willing to talk off the record about her bisexuality; one fellow musician claimed to have walked in on Tharpe and two other women in bed together during her ‘honeymoon tour’ right after her third wedding in 1951.”

Anil Vora, in “Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Bisexual Music Legend” for Bi Magazine, wrote, “Halfway through [PBS documentary Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll] we learn that Tharpe was bisexual and lived as openly as she possibly could in that period. Her close friendship with singer Marie Knight is discussed briefly after which the documentary respectfully moves on to other matters in Tharpe’s life.”

Another piece, entitled “Black History Month 2014: Sister Rosetta Tharpe”, discussed the idea that her marriage(s) were a ‘sham’, “Although married a number of times, Tharpe was at least bisexual; many close friends have described her as a ‘secret lesbian,’ living out the sham marriages to protect her career and personal safety. In every other way she was a determined, outspoken woman who pushed musical boundaries, spreading joy on her own powerful terms – she so deserves to be celebrated.”

Rock-n-roll has a diverse history, full of diverse people. Understandably, the narrative of cisgender, heterosexual, white (and sometimes-secular) does not have room for folks like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, but that doesn’t change the fact that her music had an impact. She was a bisexual Christian black woman from the southern United States who played blues, gospel and rock-n-roll. It makes me wonder who else is hidden in the ignored annals of the history of the music we all love.

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Brand New Online Store!

We’re hard at work overhauling our online store!

We have several new (and a few not so new) products available for purchase online.

It’d be really great if you’d take a look. The store is a work in progress, so feedback is appreciated!

[ecwid widgets=”productbrowser” categories_per_row=”3″ grid=”3,3″ list=”10″ table=”20″ default_category_id=”0″ category_view=”grid” search_view=”list” minicart_layout=”attachToCategories”]

 

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Announcing Sunday School!

Analog Revolution is pleased to announce Sunday School!

This is a weekly video series, featuring live performances from local artists.

Check out our already posted performances, and subscribe to our youtube channel!

New videos will be posted every Sunday. (Be on the lookout for performances from John Thefruitman, Fairshake, Honesty Again, Couch Hopper, Back There, Brett Schieber, and more!)

If your band is interested in performing, please contact us.