Sunday, August 3, 2008

Michael Friedman/Akon mashup in the pines

Appalachian songster Michael Friedman and pop phenom Akon probably don't belong in the same rhetorical space, but they got ganged up this morning on drives to and from the Fayetteville (N.C.) airport to return a rental car.

Following my brother Pafio to the airport, I rode with Michael's second record on Perdition in the rental rig's CD deck. Cool of the Coming Dark was produced by Roy Kasten in 2002, very much in the wake of 9/11, with the help of a particularly vital version of the Undertow posse (Adam Reichman, Todd Schnitzer). Its gentle, acoustic textures disguise a broken heart and mind that is gradually becoming unhinged. When Michael sings, "Don't let your mind screw your heart out of a song," he is first in line among the people who need the advice.

Michael is a son, as he can't help but keep reminding us, of West Virginia, and now he lives in Raleigh-Durham, where I picked up the car I returned this morning (without managing to connect with the songster in the flesh). His is very much a Southeastern intelligence. "Cape Fear," much in evidence on road signs in this part of the world, crops up in a song; and, in another lyric, he mourns the days of being twenty-one in the month of May, drunk and high on Exstasy on a Virginia freeway.

It felt like repatriating Michael's artistic gift, to consider it amind the gently rolling, tall-pine-lined landscape of eastern North Carolina. It also convinced me, again, that Cool of the Coming Dark is ripe for a redicovery - or, really, an initial launch, since producer Roy Kasten has great talent and impeccable instincts, but not much industry hustle, of the debased variety that tends to get artists heard.

The woman at the airport Alamo desk was disconsolate. She said she has had a headache at some point every day since she was bitten by a brown recluse.

Then, into Pafio's car for the drive back home. I instantly recognized the plaintive, somewhat metallic wail of Akon's vocals. I'd like to think I uphold people's names, rather than drop them, but at any rate I had to rattle off my various Akon connections: all my mutual friends with his father, Senegalese drummer Mor Thiam, who was brought to East St. Louis by Katherine Dunham; how Akon was born in St. Louis and still has family there; how he sang on a track on All City, the great, gritty hip-hop record by my friends in The All Stars; how I had met him at a birthday dinner he threw for my friend Tiffany Foxx.

Pafio said he owes his taste for Akon's music to his daughter. DeDe, age five, is the reason why my family is vacationing on the outskirts of Fort Bragg. DeDe is best friends and favorite cousins - "sisters" is the word the girls themselves use - with my daughter, Leyla.

DeDe is a major Akon fan. Pafio and I cruised along to his record Konvicted, from the five-year-old's collection. "If you want to have a good time with DeDe, especially in the morning, you should play her this," Pafio said, with the hard wisdom of a daddy.

As these two little girls continue to rub off on one another, I predict, I will need to be adding some Akon to my family's record collection.

p.s. Yes, the father is aware of the allegations of Akon's dirty dancing and bad behavior with a minor.

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