Get Stewed with Stew and The Negro Problem's Making It

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Listen to this while high: Stew and the Negro Problem's Making it.

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Stew and Heidi Rodewald

Behind the buzz: Before decamping for Broadway and glory, Stew was among L.A.'s most puckish live performers and the Negro Problem the focus of a devoted local cult. Post Minstrel Syndrome (1997) was my gateway bite, and I developed a taste for the weird pop confections whipped up by Stew and partner Heidi Rodewald. The Big Time followed with Passing Strange, which won Stew a Tony award for Best Book for a Musical and was filmed in 2009 by Spike Lee. This paean to relationships and all they entail drops January 24, 2012.

Today's dope: The NP's melodic caresses and lyrical pungency call for nothing less than a gravel-sized pinch of Private Reserve, an indica strain sporting an insanely high THC count.

That Shakespearian rag: Stew once complained that the problem with working on the Broadway stage is you simply can't just bust into "Cat Scratch Fever" any time you like. So the title track gets the band's ya-yas out in a single blast of pan-fried Meat Loaf. "Pretend" is the downside of Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs," and a funny sideswipe at the schmaltz that purifies. "Black Men Ski" turns on the familiar joke of appearance-based bigotry, with Stew using it to celebrate the upending of stupid expectations. Of all the NP's many relationship songs, "Curse" is the keeper -- an irresistibly catchy meditation on the loss of romantic illusion, salted with lines like "You don't need a new girlfriend/What you need is a nurse." "Speed" is a predictably witty take on a drug for which I've always had about as much use as a third kneecap. Heidi takes lead on "Love is a Cult," bringing unusual force to "Love is a great gig, but the pay is crap," and "I'm tired of waiting around for nothing to change." "Suzy Wong" is late-nite TCM contemplation, "Pastry Shop" aborted political satire, and "Tomorrow Gone" ends with a cheery five-mile long fadeout that abruptly snaps off at just the correct moment. "Leave Believe" is a lovelorn duet between Stew and Heidi overlaid with dainty soul harmonies and crashing George Harrisonoid guitar. "Treat Right," being a confession you can't really put love's "mystery into a melody," winds things up with a post-it on a pillow and a tenderly swinging climax to the band's best-ever album.

Psychedelic verdict: If you like doing bong rips to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, this will be your 2012 album of the year and could well be even if you don't.

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mcla bcrc
mcla bcrc

Stew & The Negro Problem, tonight in #NorthAdams, #Berkshire!

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