Country Cookin'

Local rapper Nelly takes his Country Grammar to No. 1

Mark August 26, 2000, on your calendar as a historic day in St. Louis music: For the first time ever, an artist born, raised and residing in St. Louis has the No. 1 album in the country. Seven weeks after it debuted, Nelly's Country Grammar has finally nudged the records that have kept it from the top (work by Eminem and Britney Spears) and arrived at the No. 1 position.

That it took Nelly almost two months is a testament to the strength (at least in the commercial realm) of the record. Much as in the film industry, where opening week makes or breaks a movie, most big-time music releases peak early in the cycle and then gradually slide down the charts. Lil' Kim, whose Notorious K.I.M. debuted the same week as Country Grammar (and who has much more star power than the fledgling St. Louis rapper), is all the way down at 34.

Nelly's No. 1 record is worth more than simple bragging rights, though; it suggests to other record labels the existence of a "St. Louis sound," and if that is indeed the case, we can expect more St. Louis signings in the coming months as money-grubbing record labels look to ride his coattails. And on the Nelly front, his label, Universal, has loosened its purse strings and begun tossing money by the fistful at both the artist and the group of which he's a member, the St. Lunatics. In the next year, expect big-deal releases from the Lunatics and from the individual members of the group -- Kyjuan, Murphy Lee, Ali, City Spud and Jason (the last two produced Nelly's record) -- as well as a second record from Nelly himself.

Ah, success. Ah, money. Fun fact: Country Grammar will, in the next couple of weeks, outsell the previous best-selling record by a St. Louis-area artist, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Both have sold more than 2 million right now. It's taken Nelly seven weeks to get there; it's taken Miles 41 years.

SPIN THE BLACK CIRCLE: The current two-turntables-and-a-mixer trend in clubland hasn't done much for the rockers of the world, mainly because the DJs, heads buried in the breakbeats and trance bliss, think there's only one way to rock, and their version mostly has more to do with rollin' than it does with rockin'; it ignores the electric guitar, and the result is all beat, no bristle. The secret truth, one that seems lost on most spinners, is, guess what -- those rock LPs and 12-inchers work on the turntables, too.

Most electronica DJs have little knowledge of the music world around them; the range of their tastes has more to do with beats per minute than with killer riffs, which would be fine if most weren't also disgustingly dismissive of the Rock. This is why Wednesday nights at Tangerine on Washington Avenue were so damn refreshing. You could see the DJ, Joe Raglani, perched high above, peering down on the space, and the picture contradicted the music coming out of the speaker -- "Street Fighting Man." Wha? An amazing Rolling Stones song being played by a club DJ? Hell yeah, and it sounded great. And, until just before press time, we were going to insist that readers check out the rock action down on the Avenue. But a last-minute rumor turned into a fact: No more rock. So our excitement was quashed before we were able to spread the news (though Raglani had been spinning the guitar music for a few months; we were late converts).

Raglani did the spin every week, both Wednesdays and Thursdays, and he had a wonderful taste for the stuff. On one recent night -- and, it turns out, his last spinning the stuff -- Raglani deftly mixed the old and the new: X, Verbena, the Who, the Stones, Television, Joy Division, the B-52s, Nirvana, the Creation, the Replacements, Mudhoney and My Bloody Valentine, just to name a few. It was great night of music, a pleasant diversion. But the rock center, it couldn't hold, and guitar rock's brief, shining moment within Washington Avenue's beat eclipse has been snuffed. Rock is dead, at least downtown.

INDIAN BURNS: Though Puerto Muerto, the duo consisting of husband Tim Kelley and wife Christa Meyer, have abandoned us lowly St. Louisans for the more refined world of Chicago, they still occasionally slum in St. Louis, and they're doing it this weekend as they celebrate the release of their first proper full-length, titled Dirty Indian. The record highlights their timeless version of the song, one that moves from guitar-and-timpani duet to weird show-tuney classicism to operatic Weillian drama, courtesy of Meyer's gorgeous voice and Kelley's rough, sturdy one. Whereas early on they seemed married to the weirdo-folk tradition, on Dirty Indian their full range is exposed: Electric guitars, drums and organs appear. Meyer multitracks with herself, and a whole angelic chorus follows her around. And though it sounds like total lip service to say this, it's not: Every time we've seen them perform, they've walked onto the stage in front of crowds less than interested in them -- except for the smart few diehards -- but within a few songs Puerto Muerto has engaged these souls through the use of drama and charisma, and by the end of the performance, the band has the crowd not just obedient but awestruck and pleading for more. They celebrate the release of Dirty Indian at the Lemp Mansion on Saturday, Aug. 26.

 
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