Published January 22, 2009
Here’s news from the music biz that’s weird and interesting but also potentially troubling for two record companies.
Josh Groban, the young velvet-voiced singer who bridges opera and popular music, is getting ready to make a new album with Metallica producer Rick Rubin.
Yes, it’s a cool idea, but here’s the wrinkle: Groban records for Warner M. Group and producer David Foster. Rubin is the highly paid chief in orbit of Sony Music. Not only should the twain not meet, as they say, but critics of Rubin and struggling Sony might wonder what in the heck he’s doing with a Warner artist and why he isn’t doing a Sony project.
Of course, Metallica isn’t Rubin’s only credit. Recently he produced a dud (sales wise) album for Sony/Columbia’s Neil Diamond. That was nice, but it produced no revenue. Rubin has already cost Sony a bundle and has yet to generate cash. To make matters worse, he made the music company move its west coast HQ to really expensive digs in Beverly Hills from just fine space in Santa Monica. The rub, of course, is that Rubin doesn’t come into the office anyway.
Where did this Rick Rubin mania start? Was it just because he once had Johnny Cash sing a Nine Inch Nails song? I just don’t get it.
But I digress: While Sir Howard Stringer and his Japanese bosses figure out why Rubin would be helping the competition, the competitor is having its own problems. On Tuesday, Warner stock dropped to an all time low of $1.89. Yesterday it closed at $2.30. Maybe Wall Street realized that the company sold only 39,000 copies of the soundtrack of "Notorious" on its Bad Boy label. WMG paid $30 million for Sean P Diddy Combs’s Bad Boy a couple of years ago, a deal that turned out to be more of a dry cleaning than anything Combs has ever needed for his wardrobe.
Bad Boy was really founded on Combs’s early on ownership of tracks by his old pal, the obese murdered rapper Christopher Wallace aka Notorious BIG, or Biggie Smalls. Astutely, Combs milked and reissued the Biggie catalog since his death, but interest may finally have evaporated. If 39,000 is what they sold in the first week of release, that means Bad Boy is in Big Trouble and WMG must be getting sleepy from eating all that turkey.
It’s ironic, too, because "Notorious" had the biggest opening weekend ever for a Fox Searchlight film last weekend. The well reviewed film took in almost $24 million. Critics are raving, too, about the sensational Anthony Mackie as the late Tupac Shakur. I predict there’s a strong possibility of a spin off film about Tupac starring Mackie, who just got an Indie Spirit nomination for a movie not yet released but reviewed in this column called The Hurt Locker.
Here’s a clip of Stevie and Sting on the latter’s "Brand New Day," which closed the show.
Later, Sting headed over to the beautiful Harman Center Theater to do his third show in 24 hours as special guest for Sam "Soul Man" Moore. Full disclosure: I helped put these musicians together gratis, along with the very fine Elvis Costello.
What I didn’t know: that Costello and Moore would duet for the first time in 25 years on Moore’s Sam & Dave hit, "I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down." They did the early, slow version, and segued into the Costello rave up. It was brilliant, and breathtaking.
(Costello, by the way, had opened the evening with a 90 minute set of songs solo, just acoustic, picking cherries from his extensive catalog including "Shipbuilding," "What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding," "Alison," and "Pump it Up.")
Then Sting joined Moore for "None of Us Are Free," with the song’s writer Brenda Russell on background vocals. They did this duet on Moore’s "Overnight Sensational" album in 2006. The two singers then turned in an R&B energized gospel version of "Every Breath You Take" featuring Moore’s band with Ivan Bodley and the Uptown Horns. I can only hope it turns up on YouTube soon. There were many standing ovations all night, especially when Moore, Sting, and Costello joined forces on "Soul Man" and a tribute to Billy Preston, "You Are So Beautiful." (see picture)
During the final number, Moore with friends on "Amazing Grace," the song and the moment were so moving that an African American female U.S. Army officer on stage, in her dress uniform, was moved to sobs. Actor Billy Baldwin, who was standing near her, comforted the officer until her husband got to her. It was very poignant.
The audience was in fact filled with stars who’d been junketed into Washington by the hard partying Creative Coalition. Among them: Matthew Modine, Dana Delany, Susan Sarandon, Gloria Reuben, Richard Schiff, Lawrence O’Donnell, Barry Levinson, Tamara Tunie, Connie Britton, Tim Daly, Tony Goldwyn, Marisa Tomei with actor boyfriend Logan Marshall Green and so on. It’s a good thing the tickets to this event were $5,000 and up: The group was put up at the tony St. Regis Hotel and had exclusive tickets to the swearing in.
Toward the very end of the show, Allman Brothers’ ace guitarist Warren Haynes, considered a rock god, showed up after his band played the MidAtlantic Ball, also at the Convention Center. "Sam Moore is my hero," he said, and two are planning to work together again soon.
Backstage, I ran into Fisher Stevens, who’s on his way back to Sundance today because his documentary, "The Cove," is getting rave reviews. Ben Silverman, NBC’s wunderkind programming chief, was also there to root on Sam, Elvis, and Sting, along with the latter’s glamorous wife, Trudie Styler, sporting a patriotic electric blue gown. Just to show her support for President Obama, Styler took time out earlier in the evening at the Neighborhood Ball to snap up over a thousand bucks’ worth of souvenirs for the couple’s six kids.
But it was Moore’s show that had the most relevance maybe of the whole Inaugural weekend. Back in the mid 60s, Sam & Dave used to tour the South raising money for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Mahalia Jackson and others. Moore is 73 and his voice has never sounded so vibrant. Like Bennett, he just keeps getting better and better. The audience felt it too. By the end of the show, half of their number were on the stage, trying to dance along. Very, very cool.