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Monday, March 4, 2024

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Arts + CultureMusicUnder the Stars: Yes, Tracy Chapman is a country...

Under the Stars: Yes, Tracy Chapman is a country star

Plus: The Helltones lay down sultry rock, Destroy Boys return, Maxwell plays SF Symphony, more music news

It’s Under the Stars, babe. A quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and a number of other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes, thinking outside the margins. Where we praise the fact that Jamie Foxx and Colin Firth are about to produce the first-ever documentary on Luther Vandross and the Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum project Princess (a Prince cover band with commentary between songs) just booked a September gig in LA. Could SF be next? 

Let’s get to the music.


The United States seems to be amazed that Tracy Chapman, the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter and four-time Grammy winner who has sold over 32,951,249 albums (20,000,000 of which were from her debut album in 1988 called Tracy Chapman), has hit the top of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart due to Luke Combs covering her already international best-selling song “Fast Car.” 

We will not engage in the discourse that many people like to indulge in, as we do not partake in that narcotic. What needs to be understood is that when Tracy Chapman started her career, she did in fact play her guitar in the Boston MBTA stations in the deep cold of winter, busking for coins. 

But it’s that a couple of her singles from that debut album immediately became Reggae dancehall hits, which was proof enough that her songs translate to every walk of life. 

“Fast Car” and “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight” were the “Murder She Wrote” jams before “Murder, She Wrote” became a smash in the dancehall. Meaning, if you were in a reggae club and those Tracy Chapman covers came on, you had to hold tight, real tight, to your lady because those cuts had magical powers. Cats were creepin’ Jack.

 Country music, just like reggae, has been repurposing songs with great stories forever. You can tweak a musical arrangement if the story speaks universally. 

So, hey, I’m glad country music folks are finding Tracy Chapman. That’s good! 

But Jamaica BEEN knowing  about Tracy Chapman for a minute. Actually that would be a couple decades. But hey, I’m glad some folks could catch up.


So, I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to promoting this vibecore, punk-rock, sultry, indie amalgamation of so many guitar-based and notable genres. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to give a heads up about two shows they had planned for July. I can only blame it on timing and loads of repetitive emails about the same artists from the same publicist clogging my program up. Excuses aside, I dropped the ball.

This band is exactly what I envision when I think of a rock and roll outfit. The Helltones perform with screeches and howls, rough and ready for the primal devotee. Based out of Oakland, they describe themselves as a six-piece surf-soul rock and roll outfit that celebrates a wide swath of retro music and culture, recycling snippets from early garage rock, Motown, surf, and blues. I particularly like that.

With a new album on the way this fall and more gigs undoubtedly on the horizon, it seems like an active summer for The Helltones. Keep your sights focused on this band here.


It was about a year ago when Sacramento’s indie-punks scorched the Great American Music Hall right here in SF during a welcome home performance. Ridic, dude, ridic. 

The full-tilt show was packed to sold-out status with hundreds of young women (the majority of the crowd) shouting intensely along to quotable lyrics like “Hunting witches has turned into hunting bitches” from the undeniable earworm “Locker Room Bully,” along with making space for a non-binary and trans mosh pit. Band members Alexia Roditis, Violet Mayugba, and Narsai Malik put on a rowdy spectacle based on love and affection for their ardent fans.

Destroy Boys have dropped a new single, “Shadow (I’m Breaking Down),” via Hopeless Records and it’s smokin. Once again working with Carlos de la Garza of Bad Religion, Paramore, and The Linda Lindas, the new single exemplifies the classic Destroy Boys sound as explained by the band in concert last year: “What would happen if Blondie fell into a Misfits recording session.”

In the midst of a non-stop tour that started in New York and ends in Mexico, not to mention their slot this year at Coachella in April, hopefully, the band will be back in the Bay early next year.

Maxwell comes to the Symphony


Over the next couple of weeks, your live music options are about to quadruple in variety and magnitude. So, let’s get on with it and ask: Do you know what the San Francisco Symphony has got cooking? A lot. Almost too much, but in the right way. From July 27 to August 5, the SF Symphony will perform live with the film Raiders of The Lost Ark, execute a “seamless fusion of classical music’s Romantic master—Tchaikovsky—with the Grammy-winning hip-hop arrangements of Drake’s,” soundtrack the film The Batman (the Nirvana-vibey mopey one featuring Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz, for point of clarification). And, the coup de grâce, conduct six performances with R&B luminary Maxwell. You can go to the link here to get those specifics, but brewery closures and driverless cars be damned, this city still kicks ass.


Danish producer, composer, singer, and DJ Astrid Engberg has collaborated with a lineup of Nordic talent, as well as Los Angeles-based Miguel Atwood-Ferguson—a venerated multi-instrumentalist known for his esteemed orchestral reimagining of J Dilla’s back catalog titled Suite For Ma Dukes—for her upcoming sophomore album Trust. The album does the thing, I’ve heard selections that ride cool and modern, giving personality to genres than many attempt to conquer. It features contemporary soul, nu-jazz, electronic, and more, showcasing Engberg’s quirky and orchestral production chops and that unswerving vocal bearing.

During the pandemic, she reached out to Miguel with some of her music after he put out a call for fans interested in his teachings. He enjoyed her music and proposed to connect on a one-to-one level, and they had their first of several Zooms. On sending him the three Trust LP tracks he features on, she recalls being red-faced when he said it was an honor to contribute.

“I’m so grateful for these tracks. He’s a representation of the music business that I want to be part of. If I can, in my own way, with what I am and who I am, be a kind of representation of that world, that’s cool for me.” With talent like Miguel Atwood-Ferguson giving their time to the project, that’s the co-sign.

Make space for Astrid Engberg. You can pre-order Trust here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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