The Smoking Section – along with every other member of Rolling Stone's music department – was beyond stoked to receive our advance copy of our hero Bob Dylan's latest masterpiece, Modern Times. But as thrilled as we were, imagine how Alicia Keys feels: The soul starlet is name-dropped on the opening track, "Thunder on the Mountain." Keys is swamped in the studio, slugging away on her next album, but she e-mailed the S.S. with her reaction. "It's such an honor to be mentioned," she writes. "I'm really wondering what prompted him to do so. I heard he recorded the album in my old stompin' grounds of Hell's Kitchen, an area that provided me with a lot of my own inspiration, so I can't wait to hear the whole album. He is such a legendary man – being immortalized in the Bob Dylan songbook is blowing my mind!" Right on!
I just didn't think I'd ever do something like this," says Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., who will release his debut solo album, Yours to Keep, in October. The project began as an experiment about a year ago, when he summoned the courage to record one of his first compositions, "Cartoon Music for Superheroes." "I've always been really shy about singing in front of people," he says. "I thought everyone was gonna laugh when they heard it, but they seemed to be diggin' it." With those votes of confidence, Hammond dived into the project, logging studio time on both coasts whenever the Strokes had even the slightest break from the road. When the S.S. first heard the album, at a party in New York's Electric Lady Studios, Hammond was a nervous wreck. "I was downing wine, and I smoked a whole pack of cigarettes that night," he says. "It was fucking intense." But everybody loved it — check out a few cuts for yourself, posted on his MySpace page. Way to go, Berto!
Last May, the Smoking Section was bummed to hear that singer Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs – one of our favorite young British rock acts – was on the losing end of a hit-and-run accident in his hometown of Leeds. After a gig, he tells us now, he was running home to catch a TV airing of the Colin Farrell flick Phone Booth. "Maybe the guy that hit me was an Arctic Monkeys fan who knew of my shit taste in films," says Wilson, "but I smashed through his windshield. In the hospital, the doctor told me, 'I've never met anyone who's smashed a windshield before – they usually come in dead.'" Somehow, Wilson walked out of the hospital unassisted and soon was back in the band's rehearsal room, amassing an arsenal of more than thirty hot songs – including "Everything Is Average Nowadays" and "Highroyds," about a local mental institution – for the Kaisers' second disc. "On our first album we had so much bitterness about it taking so long to get a record deal," says Wilson. "This time, we wrote about normal stuff that pisses us off, like being off the road, having to see too much of your girlfriend."
This story is from the September 7th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.
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