by Mike Corrigan and Leah Sottile

With a sophistication that comes from doing your homework and a focus-forward sensibility that comes from total immersion in some of the most innovative modern music scenes on the planet, San Francisco's Crown City Rockers spin a hip-hop show that not only drastically alters perceptions -- but also blows minds. That's exactly what you'll find in store for you this Sunday night when this multi-cultural sound-shaping amalgam returns to Spokane for a date at the B-Side.

Crown City Rockers bring together Berklee School of Music-trained musicians with an MC and a beat commander from southern California. What they create together is a genre-bending, influence-blending contemporary music mash more soulful and intelligent than in-your-face and provocative. Their act calls to mind such progressive hip-hop groups as De La Soul, the Roots and A Tribe Called Quest along with rappers like KRS-One.

The collective -- emcee Raashan Ahmad, producer/programmer Woodstock, keyboardist Kat Ouano, bassist/producer Headnodic, and drummer Max MacVeety -- first formed in Boston's Roxbury district during the late '90s. Once the band worked out its game in Beantown clubs, it made a transcontinental trek out west to the Bay Area to reproduce some of that live magic in the recording studio. After considerable bad juju that would have snapped the will of most bands like a dry twig -- an altercation with an 18-wheeler left the group without instruments or transportation -- the Crown City Rockers (then known as "Mission") prevailed. They were wildly hailed in the underground music press for their inventive studio work.

Earthtones is the latest fruit of their considerable labors, a 19-track fusion of rich, funky grooves, soul and R & amp;B thrust into the new age on the back of deftly chosen, smoothly delivered samples and thoughtful, thought-provoking rhymes for these troubled times.

As anyone who caught the group last time it was in town can tell you, when the Crown City Rockers are conducting hip-hop school, you'd best not be late to class.

Pour on the Sauce -- I've never been a big "special sauce" eater, or an eater of any major spreads for that matter. Mayo, mustard, barbecue sauce, "tangy" sauce, "zesty" sauce -- I live a happy and healthy life without any of them. I am a sauce-free food purist. Getting sauced is a different story, of course -- but actually eating those sauces that everyone rants and raves about is an activity I don't participate in. It's something about the way a chunk of Miracle Whip gets caught on someone's lip, quivering as if waving as they "ooh" and "ah" about their sandwich and how I just have to try it with sauce. Or it could be something about the way chewed-up food looks when mixed with "sauces" as people talk with their mouths full. I don't do sauce.

So when I first heard of "Special Sauce" -- as in G.Love and Special Sauce -- a few years back, you can imagine that I was biased against their music from the get-go. If sauce doesn't positively add to my food, then it was hardly going to add to my musical tastes. But G. Love and his buddies are hardly just an added benefit when you order original music -- they're the main course. And you can try it for yourself Saturday at the Gorge's final show of the year.

G. Love (who is actually a young white kid from Philadelphia, born Garret Dutton) got together with Jeff Clemens (drums) and Jim Prescott (upright bass) back in 1994. They released their self-titled debut on Epic/Okeh Records, and found instant attention. In a time when the heavy-handed lyrics of grunge were bogging down listeners like three Big Macs, G. Love and Special Sauce offered a serving of light, calorie-free music about -- well, nothing really. Take their first hit, "Cold Beverage." It's a song with honest, pointless lyrics ("I like cold beverages") But it's that lackadaisical, carefree tone that took G. Love and his cronies straight to the MTV airwaves. The simple hits continued with songs like "Baby's Got Sauce" and "This Ain't Living." None were too serious, and all were easy on the ears and mind. G. Love had created his own niche, and it was one that was totally unlike anything that his hometown Philadelphia had heard. Instead of preaching the life of Philly's muggy alleyways or living off a paper cup of thrown-away pennies, G. Love was just singing about whatever inspired him.

After doing a tour on the now-defunct H.O.R.D.E Festival, the group released its second album, Coast to Coast Motel. Though it was arguably a stronger album, Coast to Coast hardly did as well as its predecessor, and things started to get hairy among the members. No matter how simple they kept it, the band started to squabble over finances -- and it was enough for the trio to take a break from each other.

During their break, G. Love lived simply -- surfing, loafing and most likely drinking plenty of cold beverages in the California sun. It was then that he met Jack Johnson. The two jived and jammed, dreaming up the song "Rodeo Clowns." They'd soon record that song together, and, after the original trio made amends, release a version of it on G. Love and Special Sauce's 1999 album Philadelphonic.

It would be that connection with Johnson that would give the group that "special sauce" they needed. When Johnson started his own record label, Brushfire Records, G. Love was one of the first groups to sign up. Their styles carried the tone of the label: relaxed, kicked back, creaky front porch melodies and banterings. And even for the most discriminating listeners, it's easy on the ears. For me, their Special Sauce is one that even I don't mind dipping into. -- Leah Sottile

Tonight, They're Yours -- As the first major all-female vocal group of the rock era, the Shirelles not only get credit for coining the term "girl group" but for introducing the world to the sound -- a fusion of soul, R & amp;B, doo-wop and pop with smooth, sweet harmonies -- that would dominate the charts through the early '60s. They were true innovators, a viable crossover act at a time when few black performers were reaching white audiences and virtually no female groups were charting. Phil Spector and Motown would soon capitalize on this appeal, but when the Shirelles first came together in 1958 (as four high school friends from Passaic, N.J.), they represented the cutting edge. Sole original member Beverly Lee is the current leader of the group and will be bringing that patented Shirelles sound to the Northern Quest Casino along with the Crystals and Kathy Young for the "Divas of Rock 'n' Roll" show this Saturday night.

The Shirelles were pioneers. But they also had some great material to work with. They wrote their first hit themselves ("I Met Him on a Sunday") for a performance at a high school talent show. Later, some of the biggest names in pop (Gerry Gofin, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Hal David) would get their start penning hits for the group. And what a hit parade they had. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" opened the floodgates in 1960 (reaching No. 1 in the pop charts and No. 2 in R & amp;B), but there were many more, including "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Tonight's the Night," "Mama Said," "Soldier Boy" and "Baby It's You."

Though three of the original four members have either died or left the group -- Shirley Alston left for a solo career in 1975, Micki Harris had a heart attack during a performance in 1982 and Doris Kenner-Jackson succumbed to breast cancer in 2000 -- Beverly Lee's current incarnation of the group brings all the grace and vocal chops of the Shirelles into the modern age with a touch of class. And, yes, just the right amount of sass. -- Mike Corrigan

Publication date: 09/23/04

  • or