April 2007 | Art & Soul

Reviews

BOOKS

Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives
By Edwin Black
(St. Martin’s Press)

As author Edwin Black warns early on in Internal Combustion, “This book is not about green, it is about greed.” Although it’s essential reading for any eco-minded idealist seeking solutions for global warming and the looming oil crisis, the meaty tome is chiefly devoted to uncovering how such potentially catastrophic problems emerged in the first place.

That story begins in the early 1500s B.C., when fuel-hungry smelters, woodcutters and builders deforested nearly all of Cyprus, a land that remains largely treeless today. Moving on from the ancient Mediterranean basin, Internal Combustion guides us through an exhaustively researched history of the world’s consistently reckless energy use, exposing a “millennium of monopolistic misconduct” and repeated sabotage of efforts to keep oil from “fracturing our very world.”

Among the most maddening — and riveting — revelations: the tragic thwarting of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s early 20th century scheme to make electric cars the wave of the future, and the mid-century “rapacious crippling and looting of mass transit” by General Motors (a corporation that during the 1930s “became a key Nazi collaborator in the growing Hitler war machine” according to Black).

Despite the author’s pledge to hone in on greed rather than green, his final two chapters switch focus from problem to solution, calling for a “massively financed crash program” (a la the Manhattan Project) to make the shift from oil to alternative fuels. Holding up Honda’s hydrogen-powered FCX model as a beacon of hope, Black deems hydrogen as the key to total energy independence and “the answer to a planet cracking and choking under the rule of petroleum.” — Elizabeth Barker

For info, visit internalcombustionbook.com

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats
By Steve Ettlinger
(Hudson Street Press)

When Steve Ettlinger looked at the wrapper of his daughter’s ice cream bar, polysorbate 60 was among the long list of ingredients, and he was pretty sure that whatever it was, it didn’t grow on a tree. Thus began his quest to track down the origins of the 39 ingredients in Twinkies: whey, cellulose gum and other substances commonly found in packaged foods.

Simply put, polysorbate 60 is goo. It’s a very, very, very small part of the cream filling. Complicatedly put, polysorbate 60 is a chemical that’s manufactured by mixing a bunch of stuff. Namely, sorbitol, which comes from corn syrup; and stearic acid, which comes from palm oil, forming sorbitan monostearate. Next, ethylene and oxygen are mixed to form ethylene oxide (used in tunnel-busting shells during the Vietnam War), then the sorbital monostearate and the ethylene oxide are mixed and that makes polysorbate 60.

Polysorbate 60 is an emulsifier — meaning, it helps ingredients bind. In a Twinkie, it binds the water and fat molecules in the cream. Normally, if you were making a cake in your kitchen, you’d use butter or egg yolk as a natural emulsifier, but Hostess can’t use those because the Twinkie would go stale in just a few days.

In Twinkie, Ettlinger bounces all over the country as he explains how the iconic spunge cake’s various ingredients are harvested, milled, crushed, bleached and refined; proving that a making a mass marketed snack cake is incredibly complex. In a roundabout way, the book encourages readers to stick with healthful, natural foods — the kind without laboratory names, and that can be plucked off a tree. — Jenny Rough

For more info, visit TwinkieDeconstructed.com


MUSIC

Migrations
The Duhks
(Sugar Hill)

Bands like the Duhks — a fantastic Canadian folk/bluegrass collective — often do better on the festival circuit then they do on the album charts. This is a shame, and not because the Duhks don’t cut a considerable rug across the stage. It’s just that there is so much life buzzing through Migrations that it’s a shame this music isn’t given the chance to be discovered in more homes. Though that might change with the news of their Grammy nomination for “Best Country Performance.”

“Ol Cook Pot” kicks off the disc on a gritty, bluesy note, showing how completely joyous The Duhks’ take on North American folk music is — they respect the past, but don’t adhere to it slavishly. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, “Heaven’s My Home” (the Grammy-nominated song) and “Out of the Rain” prove that music that exposes the hidden, solitary pains of life can be as liberating and oddly unifying as the upbeat foot-stompers and spirituals at which The Duhks also excel.

While three members lend superior vocal support, it’s Jessica Havey who stands out. Havey has a wide-open but intimate voice that organically merges subtle influences from a swath of black and white America. This is a strength that the entire band shares — instead of just fusing disparate roots elements, the Duhks consume styles, bring their own perspectives to them, making the styles their own in the way that rock acts from The Band to The Clash have done over the years. Cutting out all the fancy talk, Migrations is just a whole lot of fun. And who doesn’t need a little fun in their life? — Nick Dedina

For a copy, visit duhks.com

Vieux Farka Toure
Vieux Farka Toure
(World Village)

When Malian guitar great Ali Farka Toure died in 2006, it resonated around the world. Even if you didn’t know his story — the struggles with exploitative record labels, the cancer that ultimately killed him — you had heard his story in his music, in his keening voice, in the plaintive guitar that could pierce you or roll over you like water. He cast a long shadow, and no one felt that more than his son Vieux.

Despite Vieux’s musical talent, which became evident early on, Ali discouraged him from playing music — even insisting that he become a soldier to avoid the trials of an artist’s life. But thank heavens for rebellious kids: with some assistance from family friend and internationally renown kora master Toumani Diabate, Vieux defied his father, moved to Bamako and began studying and making music.

The rebellion paid off. Vieux’s debut album, released less than a year after his father’s death, taps into those same rolling desert rhythms that make his father’s music so entrancing. But Vieux is no copycat: he owns this album, stealing a gentle reggae rhythm here, referencing rock ‘n’ roll there and inviting his mentor Diabate to guest on “Toure De Niafunke” and “Diabate” (both of which show the kora as an instrument that’s at once intellectual and strangely tender).

Ali Farka Toure eventually accepted his son’s talent, and his contributions to “Tabara” and “Diallo” (recorded just before his death) practically sear the vinyl. Vieux Farka Toure may mark the debut of a promising young artist, but it also symbolizes a passing of the torch. Toure is dead; long live Toure. — Sarah Bardeen

For info, visit vieuxfarkatoure.com


FILM/DVD

Shut Up And Sing
Directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck

In the documentary Shut Up and Sing, we follow Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire from the apex of their career as the highest-selling female band of all time until and after the fateful moment in 2003, when Maines, on the eve of the Iraq War, uttered, “We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas” — catapulting the trio from America’s darlings to the center of massive political controversy that has defined them ever since.

The film is a straight documentary format, with the only exposition coming from news clips or the occasional text flashed on the screen — all else is footage of the trio in performance, talking to their manager, hanging out with their families or otherwise being real. The documentary is part answer to America’s reaction to Maines’ statement, part explanation of how the controversy started, how the Chicks handled the aftermath, why they shot that famous Entertainment Weekly magazine cover, where they are now, and why Robison and Maguire didn’t hang Maines out to dry, when they so easily could have.

The doc switches between 2003, the year Maines spoke out against the war; 2005, the year the girls recorded their highly personal album Taking The Long Way; and 2006, when they began their tour to publicize their new sound — and new identity.

The result is an interesting portrait of these women as musicians, people and friends — and how these sweet Southern girls become the quintessential anti-war voice from America’s heartland.

It also seems to be the perfect PR tool, painting the girls as supportive, sweet, family-oriented (with babies and husbands and ranches at home) Southern ladies — but at the same time, displaying their fiery attitude and an unwavering commitment to their beliefs. — Molly Freedenberg

View the trailer at myspace.com/shutupandsing