Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

STOMP At The State

It’s in-your-face loud. It’s a whirling dervish of constant hyperactivity. Between its kinetic nature and hard-working cast of dancers and percolating percussionists (non-stop banging brooms on garbage cans), this British production has enthralled audiences for the last 29 years. It had already played all over the world before making its Broadway debut in 1994. Quincy Jones loved it so much he had them on his 1995 Q’s Juke Joint album. In ’96 they brought down the house at the Oscars. The HBO special came in ’97. In 2000, they played the Lincoln memorial at President Clinton’s televised Millennium Celebration. That was the year they were on Sesame Street before settling in San Francisco for a two-year run. The IMAX movie came out in 2002 and they did a year on West End in London before settling in Boston for an extended stay. In 2006, they celebrated their 5,000th performance back on Broadway at the Orpheum Theater. Then came the Vegas run and a celebrated appearance at the 2012 London Olympics.

The State Theatre in Easton Pennsylvania hosts an eclectic range of entertainment, but I dare say no night was louder and more exciting than when it hosted STOMP. The near-two hour performance flew by so fast, I never even realized there was no intermission. Percussion. Choreography. Bingo. That’s it.

It’s been my experience that these traveling roadshows of Broadway productions are just as good as the ones in Manhattan. The State will host Rent (now in its 20th year) on February 9, another Brit production—The Choir Of Man—set in an Irish pub and billing itself as “the best singing, dancing, stomping show you’ve ever been to” on February 13. Comedy rules on February 15 with Ron “Tater Salad” White and on February 28 with the “No Apologies” tour of Aaron Berg, Tom Cotter, Mark Riccadonna, and Mitch Fatel.  Doo-wop is the order of the day on February 29 when Kenny Vance hosts The Coasters, The Passions, The Dubs, and the all-acapella Classic Sounds.

The Best Rock of 1996

Miracle Of Science, by Marshall Crenshaw, was one of the best rock records of 1996. Sure, Metallica, Alanis Morrisette, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Counting Crows, Van Halen, Bush, Rage Against The Machine, and Hootie & The Blowfish sold more but this crossroads in Crenshaw’s career has aged well enough to be re-released by Shiny-Tone/Megaforce. Recorded at home with the new technology of the day, and finished in Nashville, the first of five records for indie label Razor & Tie, Crenshaw had quit the major-label game. “The playing is loose and wild,” he says in his liner notes, “…a much different approach… and a real breakthrough… ”

In retrospect, with its Beatle-esque melodic and harmonic structures, its jangly power-pop guitars, the strength of its vocals, the avant-garde experiments, the daring arrangements and production, and the absolute profundity of a song like “What Do You Dream Of,” Miracle of Science is exactly that. Consider Crenshaw a sound-scientist (he always was), tinkering with his overlooked and underrated lead guitar mastery. Complete with bonus covers of “Misty Dreamer” by Scottish indie-pop artist Daniel Wylie and “What The Hell I Got,” a 1974 Canadian find by Michel Pagliaro, Crenshaw’s experiments knew no boundaries. Freed from corporate restriction, he had the temerity to even include “Rouh Na Selim Neves” (“Seven Miles An Hour” backwards). True to his muse, both songs, backwards and forwards, are now included. And the backwards one actually works well throughout its 4:29 length. It’s like looking through a fun house mirror.  

These Are College Kids?

The sophisticated and satisfying musical arrangements that adorn the self-released Embargo by The University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra were all written by the students. These same students also composed six of the eight tracks, as well as performing and improvising like crazy. You’d think you were listening to the Duke Ellington Orchestra! Kudos to the faculty of this great university for fostering, nurturing, and releasing this great music, a follow-up to their equally impressive 2017 Sweet Ruby Suite. The Duke connection is most pronounced on Billy Strayhorn’s 1939 “Take The `A’ Train. The sole non-student arrangement is by Rob MConnell, the beloved Canadian trombonist who led his Boss Brass Big Band for 32 years and who bequeathed all his papers and scores to the university. This band—five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, two French Horns, piano, guitar, bass, and drums—swings mightily. Many of Canada’s currently working jazz musicians have come out of this band. Being married to a music teacher, I know the importance of music education. I’ve heard of the studies that say kids who learn to play instruments at an early age grow up smarter. I applauded the Obama Administration’s 2015 designation—passed by Congress—of music as a core subject like math and science. It’s true. Kids do better with music in their lives. So do adults.   

For The Unions…


Singer/songwriter Tom Breiding is so earnest, his middle name should be Hemingway. Like Guthrie, Seeger, Ochs, and early Dylan before him, he writes of injustice. Folk music, before rap, was always the CNN of its time. You could learn a lot about America through the songs of those aforementioned folksingers. Love Commits Me Here (AmeriSon Records) continues the tradition. Cecil Roberts, the International President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) calls Breiding “the greatest labor singer in the United States today.”

“Farmington #9” recounts the tale of the 1968 West Virginia mining disaster that trapped 78 and left 19 lost in the rubble. Breiding performed the song at the 50thanniversary of the event to family members. That took guts. He memorializes “Fanny Sellins,” whose murder galvanized the Great Steel Strike of 1919. He sings of Karen Gorrell, whose name should be taught in schools for her organizing the elderly to withstand the pressures of a corporate giant for six years until they were successful in restoring health care to over a thousand retirees. He sings of immigrants. He sings of the hatred that prompted the Pittsburgh synagogue killings that took place just blocks away from the studio where he recorded this. Yeah, he’s earnest, alright. His is a voice that should be heard.