Hail Caesar

Years later, the lines still resonate.
As a little boy, most nights I'd sit down with my family to enjoy a night of programming on Black Entertainment Television. The inevitable commercial break would arrive, and I'd be riveted by the image of a child about my age handing his mother a note of thanks. Then I'd hear it, making the corny scene come alive: "For the nine months I carried you / So deep inside me / No charge."

The song in the ad was "No Charge," part of one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" TV offers for a collection of gospel favorites (available on LP, cassette and, of course, eight-track). And you can bet that the woman behind "No Charge," Shirley Caesar, has risen far above such dubious company.

For the past four decades, Caesar has rightfully retained her title as the First Lady of Gospel; in the biz of singing for the Lord, she is just shy of omnipotent. Those less familiar with the genre may know the North Carolina native from the feature films The Preacher's Wife and Rosewood, in which she belted it out to heavenly effect. She's been nominated for a Grammy no less than 16 times (winning, last year, with her Shirley Caesar Outreach Convention Choir, for Best Gospel Album by a Choir or Chorus), and has been a longtime favorite at the gospel-exclusive Dove and Stellar awards. Last year, along with the release of her 14th album, A Miracle in Harlem, she published her autobiography, The Lady, the Melody and the Word.

Caesar was also the first gospel artist to be featured on the QVC Home Shopping Network, back in 1996. What the performer was hocking escapes me. But the way she sings, she could sell the word of the Lord to Marilyn Manson.

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Shirley Caesar performs with the Colorado Mass Choir and Joe Pace II at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 31, at the Houston Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Tickets are $24.50. For info, call 629-3700.

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys -- Big Sandy's some righteous dude -- graciously retiring to the proverbial dressing room while his long-suffering backup quintet is allowed to take center-stage on its first-ever solo CD. Actually, not quite. First off, the Fly-Rite Boys have never been the long-suffering type; second, Sandy knows he'd be lost without the spiffy, fail-safe hillbilly swing of his crack support unit. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that his endorsement figures prominently in the marketing and packaging of the new Big Sandy Presents His Fly-Rite Boys, a mostly instrumental work-over of the jazzed-up seltzer-boogie the Fly-Rites routinely deliver with such fizz. And there's nothing quite so reassuring as any new product from the Big Sandy/Fly-Rite camp, because it gives all the guys an excuse to hit the road -- as if they ever needed one. On Thursday, May 28, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Showtime 9 p.m. Tickets $6. Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines open. 869-COOL. (Hobart Rowland)

Sportsguitar -- Sportsguitar's jangly, guitar-based sound recalls the heady, naive days when indie rockers believed they could change the world -- a time when Kurt Cobain was still around and Pavement was too confused to be serious. On its latest album, Happy Already, the Swiss outfit keeps the production and instrumentation simple, conjuring up the snoozing sonic soul of Galaxie 500. And with an emphasis on Oliver Obert's plaintive vocals and simple melodies, their innocence is endearing in its purity -- that is, until Obert starts indulging in nasty four-letter words. Even so, playing complex emotions off basic musical ideas is a tricky proposition, one that Sportsguitar executes with considerable smarts. On Thursday, May 28, at Rudz!, 2100 Waugh Drive. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets $3. (David Simutis)


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