Ain't No Mountain High Enough
NEITHER THE SETTING nor the set time seemed particularly auspicious for Shawn J's CD-release party on May 9, when the local R&B hopeful performed a concert in the Fine Line Music Café on a sunny Mother's Day afternoon. The layout of the supper-clubby nightspot encouraged seated appreciation over dancing, and any 21-plus venue rules out the underage consumers who make up a large chunk of modern R&B's audience. Still, the heavily comped and fairly crowded event promoting J's lithe pop-funk single, "Shake it Off Take it Off," was a mix of generations and races--if somewhat heavy on the artist's personal and business acquaintances.
Mom's Day also seemed an unusual booking choice for the sensuous, solidly built singer of bedroom ballads. ("We had the opportunity to push the show up a week," offers J's partner Shane Odden, "but we didn't want to compete with the opening of fishing season, either.") The date occasioned a fittingly goopy ballad from J to his appreciative mother. Not exactly the sort of adult-oriented fare you'd expect judging by the bare back and thonged booty of the model seen rubbing J's chest on the event's promotional poster, or from the shamelessly direct single-entendre of "Shake it Off Take it Off." But the flashes of wholesomeness were hardly a stretch for a 26-year-old professional entertainer, who began his career 13 years ago performing as one half of a breakdancing team in a talent show at the Anoka County Fair.
Back then his moves caught the attention of Sandy Grable, owner of PSI Inc., a promotional company that put on a revue of celebrity impersonators. Under her tutelage, Shawn Jaros developed a Michael Jackson routine that also incorporated contemporary pop tunes by New Edition and Ready for the World. "I was always ready to perform," J recalls of his brat days in the biz, in between bites of a Tremendous Twelve breakfast at the Uptown Perkins. "As long as you could get me in front of some pinball machines and get me something to eat, we'd be straight."
He performed for a few years in area hotels and resorts, including the Medina Ballroom, before taking off the dance shoes to concentrate on playing music. And by his late teens, the multi-instrumentalist was collaborating with whichever local funk/R&B musicians were in search of a sideman or tunesmith. In 1997 he and dancing cohort Odden, with whom he continued collaborating for eight years, founded DONE Entertainment to protect their own business interests and, potentially, to provide a network of economic and creative support for the local R&B/hip-hop community.
If J's initial inspiration was, unsurprisingly, Prince (with whom he claims to have shared a baby sitter), the success of "Too Close" obviously sparked his vision of becoming the next Next--that is, of splitting the difference between shrewd and lewd and parlaying a Twin Cities pedigree into national exposure. Like most R&B contenders, J may have only a court-length shot at the success he envisions, but his steamily ingratiating single and clear-cut business plan have generated early support from KMOJ (89.9 FM). DONE now hopes to crack KDWB's notoriously tight playlist by focusing on the still untapped local youth market for R&B.
"We want to start up a production that's primarily made of young people," J says. "There's a lot of talent around here, and a lot of older people skip over that. These kids need to be entertained too." (Keith Harris)
"Shake it Off Take it Off" will be in stores the first week of June.
Wu's Tan Clan
THIS WEEKEND, THE West Bank's favorite post-Dead funk-pop band, the Big Wu, holds a second annual "Big Wu Family Reunion" in Geneva, Minnesota. The three evenings of "kind music and camping" in Harmony Park include performances by the Wu, Nasty Goat, Dean Magraw and Friends, Cloudsplitter, Bobby Llama, Medulla Oblongata, Philadelphia "trance-fusion" rockers Disco Biscuits, and former Jerry Garcia bandmate David Nelson. Tickets are available through www.thebigwu.com, Ticketmaster, and Third Stone; (612) 824-8560.
The celebration also marks a sort of family-sanctioned parting of ways: Wednesday, May 26, marks the final installment of one of the Cabooze's longest and most successful continuous runs, "Big Wu Wednesdays," where the band has held court since September 1996. To paraphrase Steely Dan, Are they really just a shadow of the band that you once knew? Come judge for yourself before they begin their East Coast tour. (Peter S. Scholtes)
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