PAPERBOY: Slow Jamming The Alt Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week, PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!


CP: Isaiah Thompson takes a deep, thoughtful look at the mission of radical Christians who have taken roots in Kensington and other troubled neighborhoods. It centers on the work of two groups, The Simple Way and Circle of Hope, whose adherents seek to live among and serve the city’s poor. It’s clear that the groups’ progressivism is deeply felt rather than knee-jerk, and, because The Simple Way first took root 11 years ago, it isn’t of a piece with the boom in megachurch evangelism associated with Bush-style Christianity.

Sometimes, The Simple Way and Circle of Hope’s missions don’t seem so different from those of other cp_2009_03_12.jpgprogressives. Circle of Hope visits prisoners and gives out energy-efficient light bulbs. Recently Grace’s congregation prayed in solidarity with the revolutionary Mexican Zapatista movement. Likewise, when the United States invaded Iraq, The Simple Way protested (Claiborne actually went to Iraq for the invasion). When City Council passed an ordinance allowing for more aggressive fining of the homeless, The Simple Way led the march against it.

But they’re also into Jesus, big time, and not afraid to talk about it. Secular folks — atheists, agnostics, even just people who keep their faith private (disclosure: You can place me somewhere in there) —tend to be wary of people who go around proclaiming their faith in Jesus.

Thompson comes away impressed by the willingness of The Simple Way’s Shane Claiborne and Circle of Hope’s Joshua Grace to take on tough questions and to practice what they preach, and so did I. He even keeps his skepticism on hold and references PW’s attempt to tell a similar story — a venture the author’s biases rendered pointless. One odd note: For an article that purports to show the “face,” i.e. Claiborne, of this movement, there’s actually more from Grace and Jamie Moffett, another follower of The Simple Way, than from Claiborne. Nonetheless, kudos are still due.

PW: Owen Biddle, bassist for the Roots, was met with a storm of criticism when he joined the band. Tara Murtha scopes out the man who stayed cool amid all that furor and who’s keeping things funky as the band consistently outshines Jimmy Fallon on Late Night. ?uestlove had his back the whole time, so you know he’s gotta be good.

pwcover.jpgOf course, ?uest knew something the disappointed and fickle fans would soon to find out: Biddle is one whale of a bassist. “He can bring what a lot of people would consider the feel of a black bass player, a black funk soul bass player, but that’s a whole Pandora’s box,” says Kevin Hansen, a local musician who’s worked with Biddle on the Roots and other projects, and shares a production credit with him on the track “In the Music” off the Roots’ 2006 album Game Theory. Brian McTear, Philadelphia workhorse producer and co-owner of Miner Street Studios, says of Biddle, “Owen’s simply the best bass player I have ever worked with, and maybe ever will work with.”

The bassist from Down with Webster, the Canadian band that opened for the Roots on the Montreal date where Biddle made his debut, came to Biddle’s defense, writing that he had checked out Biddle’s bass playing that night, and that it was brilliant. Others wagged their finger: Biddle may not seem the most obvious new Roots member at first glance, but since when was ?uestlove not able to spot talent? The tide began to turn as fans witnessed Biddle thump the low end live, and quickly got behind what one fan called Biddle’s “cool and quiet swagger.”

We get recollection of his Roots audition, stories from his former bandmates on the Philly scene, and some surprising testimony that Biddle might even be funnier than Fallon himself.

In an interview about the Roots’ move to Late Night, ?uestlove said, “I think the comedian now in the Roots is actually the most unassuming one, our bass player Owen. He’s … comedy tonight, that’s all I can say. He’s straight comedy.”

Sounds good enough to make me want to stay up late and watch in hopes of a Biddle comedy breakout. That, and “Slow Jamming the News.” That’s some good shit, too.

CP: In the pocket, outside the box: Beyond jazz at Chris’. The Nutter approach: “Nyah nyah, I can’t hear you!” The skills behind Explicit Ills (Webber can’t be happy about his name being misspelled on the cover, though. Tsk tsk.). Brilliant combination: Awesome singer plus adorable dog.

Newspaper industry, you might as well hang it up: Steven Wells says so. Elsewhere, there’s insensitive and inane video games, a cliché-riddled guilt trip about the homeless, and Thai food so good you won’t have to spring for a trip to Bangkok.

CP takes it, for a cover story that’s smart and inquisitive and, especially, for not sneering at the most deeply-held beliefs of a group of people doing good in this community.

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