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Grammy winner Mario Winans pleads guilty in income tax case

Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Mario Winans has admitted he intentionally failed to file federal income tax returns for several years.

Winans, a member of the Winans family, best known for its gospel music artists, faces two years in prison and a $200,000 fine after pleading guilty Thursday to charges he willfully failed to file tax returns from 2008-2012, federal prosecutors said. He's scheduled for sentencing in January.

Winans, who is 42 years old and is from Fort Lee, is the singer of "I Don't Wanna Know." He has worked with artists including R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, Brian McKnight and the Notorious B.I.G.

He was nominated for his first Grammy Award in 2005 for Best Contemporary R&B Album with "Hurt No More." He won his first Grammy a year later in the Best Gospel Performance category as writer/producer of "Pray," performed by his aunt CeCe Winans.

Prosecutors say he earned more than $2.8 million during the years he didn't file his tax returns. He must pay the IRS more than $400,000.

Winans said he had received royalty payments from checks to two companies he controlled. He has produced songs and albums for R&B, hip-hop and dance music artists, including several on the Bad Boy record label.

An attorney for Winans said he understands he made a mistake and wants to make things right.

Music Review: A legendary singer, into the music once again

When Van Morrison's fiercest critic likes his work it's easy to tell. There's an audible murmur of approval, and it comes from the man himself.

It's the sound Morrison makes when he's into the music. He does it a few bars into "Let It Rhyme," the opener to "Keep Me Singing" — an early hint that this might be his best album since "The Healing Game" nearly two decades ago.

With playful references to past lyrics, nods to heroes like Sam Cooke and Chet Baker, and heartfelt singing throughout, Morrison harkens back to the gentle, wistful spirit that made him Hollywood's go-to guy for movie soundtracks. He's in a better mood than on other recent albums, and it's easy to imagine songs like "Every Time I See a River," written with lyricist Don Black, or "In Tiburon," a name-dropping homage to the San Francisco Bay, playing as credits roll.

Morrison, who just turned 71, has penned good songs in recent years, but no album has approached the bursts of sustained brilliance that established him as one of the world's great songwriters. And this one doesn't soar to the heights of "Moondance," ''Astral Weeks" or "Into the Music."

But an older, less audacious Morrison can still soothe the soul when he is into the music — and he won't be the only one murmuring his approval this time.

Review: Sober mood dominates new Drive-By Truckers album

The Drive-By Truckers are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year in a grave mood. The cover art of an American flag at half-staff is a tip-off.

The liberal-leaning Southern rockers who have long struggled to both celebrate their roots and recognize its bitter past have delivered a sober new album with a withering view of today's South.

The often-gloomy but vitally important "American Band" sees the Truckers weigh in strongly on such issues as police shootings, the National Rifle Association, depression, school massacres, lying CEOs and even progress.

"Are you now or have you ever been in cahoots with the notion that people can change?" co-singer and co-guitarist Mike Cooley asks in the nihilistic "Once They Banned Imagine." His songwriting and singing partner, Patterson Hood, is similarly glum on another song: "Clouds are forming in this state of mind."

Previous Truckers albums have addressed economic struggles and race, but mostly using narrative devices. This time, the gloves are off.

The searing "What It Means" was influenced by the killing of Trayvon Martin — and Hood is in a scolding mood: "If you say it wasn't racial when they shot him in his tracks, well I guess it means that you ain't black," he sings.

There's precious little honky-tonk fun here. The band, known for its finely etched portraits celebrating Southern rascals and eccentrics, seems to have simply run out of patience.

"Despite our best intentions, it pains me to report/ we keep swinging for the fences, coming up a little short," Hood sings on "Ever South."

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Music Review: John Prine performs covers on duets album

Listening to one of this era's greatest songwriters perform material written by others is like watching Peyton Manning in a TV commercial. It's not what he does best, but it's still entertaining.

"For Better, or Worse" pairs John Prine with well-chosen covers and female singing partners as a sequel to his 1999 duets album, "In Spite of Ourselves." The best news is that Prine is in fine form despite his battle with throat cancer, and the familiar twinkle in his voice lends charm to every tune.

The set starts strong with Prine and Iris DeMent savoring the wit of "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out," a Loretta Lynn-Ernest Tubbs chestnut. Prine and his wife, Fiona, sound sweet together on the Elvis Presley tune "My Happiness," and Alison Krauss comes off like an angel while meshing surprisingly well with her gravelly partner on "Falling in Love Again." Best is the finale, "Just Waitin,'" an obscure Hank Williams gem that Prine performs solo with a masterful delivery. The lyrics will resonate with every impatient husband, which is to say every husband.

Other tunes are less successful. With Kathy Mattea on "Remember Me," Prine shows he should not sing harmony, and Miranda Lambert's unusual harmony on "Cold, Cold Heart" doesn't quite work.

The liner notes include a charming message from Prine but lack details about the songs that are worth a mention. "Falling in Love Again," for example, was written in German in 1930 and performed by the Beatles in their club days in Hamburg. Even the most precocious songwriter finds a good cover tough to resist.

Music Review: Winslow-King appreciates charms of the blues

Luke Winslow-King's electric guitar cries on the song "No More Crying Today," and that contradiction sums up the blues.

Winslow-King has a firm grasp on the charms of the simple but complex genre, and explores them in an impressive variety of styles on "I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always."

The gospel opener "On My Way" comes from church, "Louisiana Blues" comes from the swamp, "Heartsick Blues" comes from the hills and "Act Like You Love Me" comes from "Animal House." There's harp, fiddle and organ to complement Winslow-King's fine guitar work, but nothing's overcooked. On "Louisiana Blues," a single cymbal tap stands out.

The New Orleans-based Winslow-King isn't a blues shouter. He delivers his nine original tunes in an easy tenor that turns crooner at times, and laughs at the end of one cut. But the material has plenty of bite and is good for late-night listening in solitude.

Winslow-King quotes Hank Williams, Ray Price and the Beatles as he sings about the breaking up and making up, troubles and sunny days — in other words, the cycle of life. That, too, is the blues.

Miley Cyrus drops pay bombshell about 'Hannah Montana' days

She may be one of the biggest names in showbiz, but when she got her start she didn't bring in the big money you'd think she would have. 

In a new sit-down interview with Elle Magazine, Miley Cyrus may have just shocked her fans from her "Hannah Montana" days.

The former Disney Channel child star claims she may have been the star of the show, but was paid the least of the cast. 

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"I mean, at one point - they'll probably kill me for saying it - I was probably the least paid person on my [Hannah Montana] cast because I didn't know any better," Cyrus told the magazine. "I was just like, I can be on Disney! Yeah, I want to do it! My name was Miley on my show, but I didn't own my name - we didn't think about it like that."

The hit show also stared Emily Osment as Lilly, Jason Earles as Miley's brother Jackson and her real-life father Billy Ray Cyrus as her TV dad, Robby Ray.

Cyrus played high school student by day and hit teen singing sensation Hannah Montana by night. 

The show became a hit that spurred a line of clothing and dolls for fans, live concert tours and "Hannah Montana: The Movie."

Cyrus went on to say that, "My mom started understanding how many people take advantage of a child, so she hired smart people to protect me in that way. I'm happy that when I was younger, people protected me and put me in a position where I can now control my music."

Cyrus has taken what started as a children's television show gig and turned it into a career. 

She has reinvented herself after her Disney years, with an edgy, more adult persona, with hits like "Wrecking Ball" and "Party in the U.S.A." and serves as one of the mentors on this season of NBC's "The Voice."

Cyrus is also appearing in Woody Allen's new Amazon Studio series "Crisis in Six Scenes."

New satellite channel to be talk radio for music fans

It seems like a contradiction in terms, but the SiriusXM satellite radio network is launching a talk channel devoted to music.

Volume, a mix of talk shows, interviews and even a quiz show, will debut Oct. 17. Lady Gaga, Robert Plant, David Crosby and T.I. will be among the musician guests during the channel's first week on the air.

It's believed to be the first such channel of its kind, a chance for music fans to share their passion. One weekday afternoon show, "Debatable," will feature hosts Mark Goodman and author Alan Light talking about issues that music fans argue about.

"Volume is sports radio for music fans," said Roger Coletti, the channel's executive producer.

Singer Melissa Etheridge will have her own show, "Melissa's Basement," swapping stories and songs with other singer-songwriters at her Los Angeles-area home.

Television producer Bill Flanagan, who collected some of his best interviews for the defunct Musician magazine in the book "Written in My Soul," will host an interview program. Plant is his first guest.

Gaga will appear on the debut of Volume's morning show, "Feedback," which will be hosted by former VH1 personality Nik Carter and journalist Lori Majewski. DJ Eddie Trunk, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and former MTV star Kurt Loder will have their own programs, and there will be shows devoted to rap and music technology. The Rolling Stone Music Now podcast will also air on Volume.

SiriusXM has more than 30 million subscribers.

Prosecutors: Give concert promoter 17-plus years for fraud

A former South Florida concert promoter who staged tours for major acts such as the Rolling Stones, Elton John and Aerosmith deserves more than 17 years in prison for running his company as a $200 million fraud scheme, a federal prosecutor told a judge Thursday.

Jack Utsick, 73, should get a lengthy sentence for defrauding some 3,000 investors by running his Worldwide Entertainment Inc. company as a Ponzi scheme in which older investors are paid with money from new ones, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gonsoulin said.

Gonsoulin said Utsick lied repeatedly to investors to hide steep losses from 1996 to 2005, instead promising handsome double-digit returns.

"This was not an accident. This was not a mistake. This was not confusion," Gonsoulin said at the hearing. "He lied from the beginning. He lied all the way to the end."

Utsick's attorney, Eric Lisann, said the promoter didn't intend to defraud anyone and had hoped to turn the company's fortunes around. By the time a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit effectively shut down Worldwide in 2006, the company was staging 1,000 shows a year and selling millions of tickets, Lisann said.

"He thought he was really building up something of value. He was going to overcome every obstacle that was out there," said Lisann, who recommended a lenient sentence of about six years.

Other major tours promoted by Utsick's company featured Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, the Riverdance show and Britney Spears. In addition, Lisann said, Worldwide owned concert venues and other properties around the world.

Utsick, who was extradited from Brazil in 2014, pleaded guilty in June to a mail fraud charge a few days before he was to stand trial on a multiple fraud charges.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga is expected to impose a prison sentence Friday, after hearing from defense witnesses including others in the concert promotion business and a doctor who has treated Utsick for bipolar disorder.

The judge also heard at Thursday's hearing from several investors, many of them former airline pilots, as Utsick had been, or friends of pilots. They urged Altonaga to be harsh in sentencing Utsick, who they portrayed as no more than a thief. A court-appointed receiver has been able to return only about $34 million of the $207 million in estimated losses to the investors, court documents show.

"He broke into my life with his lies and stole my money," said Vincent Brunasso of La Verne, California, who said he lost $300,000. "I just can't believe another human would do that to somebody."

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/miamicurt

For Idina Menzel, new CD is 'a new beginning' after tumult

It's only five letters — just her first name, unadorned. All in lowercase, with a period at the end.

"Frozen" and Broadway star Idina Menzel has a new introspective album out this month after a tumultuous few years and its simple title — "idina." — is as stripped-down as it gets.

"I guess I want people to feel like they really get to know me on a first-name basis," she says. "The period says some kind of confidence but the lowercase is like not completely arrogant."

In the eight years since her last original studio CD, Menzel has shot to global fame singing "Let It Go," had her name mangled by John Travolta at the Oscars, given birth to a son, poured her heart into a new Broadway show and seen her marriage to Taye Diggs collapse. She's come out the other end with a mature pop album and a new engagement to actor Aaron Lohr.

"It's a new beginning — personally, in my life," she says. "The music was written and is about things that I was experiencing in the last couple of years, sort of putting an end to one era of my life and figuring out how to start again."

The new album is strong and incredibly personal, with storm clouds seemingly everywhere. "Heaven knows, I went through hell," she sings on "Show Me." On "I See You," she says: "Here's to the hopeless/The almost forgotten/To those who got lost along the way/I see you." The woman who once sang "Defying Gravity" is now singing "goodbye gravity" on one song.

Menzel leaned on two producers — Eric Rosse and Greg Wells — and she had a hand in writing virtually every song, from "I Do," with its clear dig at Diggs ("Remember you told me/You're my one and only"), to the upbeat, hear-me-roar "Queen of Swords " ("Don't go asking me for apologies").

The 45-year-old singer and actress says her personal turmoil came at the same time as career success, spinning her head. She'd go into the studio angry at the world and yet emerge with hopeful songs.

"I was going through a divorce and, simultaneously, my career was taking off in a bigger way than ever, with 'Frozen' and all of that. And so here I am singing at the Oscars and then dealing with mediation and visitation agreements," she says. "The dichotomy of that, the contradictions and the guilt and regret that I was feeling all at this wonderful time professionally, was very dynamic for me."

Dan McCarroll, president of Warner Bros. Records, signed Menzel three years ago while she was starring in the Broadway musical "If/Then." The two met over dinner and talked about what kind of album she wanted to make.

"She was very clear that night about what she wanted to do. For me, the album represents exactly what we talked about," he says. "She was true to who she is and said what she needed to say." He added: "There's some really deep stuff on this record."

Menzel also recently finished shooting a Lifetime remake of the 1988 film weepie "Beaches," taking on the role originated by Bette Midler. That's quite a change for an actress who likes original roles.

"People think I'm so cool because I'm in all these original musicals but it's also because I don't want to be compared to Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler. I'm too scared. So it was a hard decision for me to do it. But then I learned there's a whole generation of women that have never seen 'Beaches' or heard of it," she says.

The remake has her singing some classic Midler songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "The Glory of Love" but Menzel is used to belting out big tunes. Her Oscar-winning "Let It Go" remains a monster hit.

"People ask if I get sick of it. I really don't. Often when I'm singing onstage 'Let It Go,' there's these beautiful young faces in front of me that maybe have never seen a concert before," she says.

"It changed my life. It's afforded me new opportunities in my professional life and also it came at a time in my life when I was going through some crappy stuff so it's like this beacon, out in the distance, that saved me a little bit."

There's only one critic of the tune — and he lives with her. Her son, Walker, 7, is like any kid: He gets easily embarrassed by mom and he often asks her to remain silent.

"If he hears 'Let It Go' or anything 'Frozen,' it means someone's around trying to take mommy from him," she says. "But he likes to use it to flirt with the girls. I overheard him, when I was volunteering in his class, try to offer one of the cute girls an autograph. Did she know that his mom was Elsa from 'Frozen'?"

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Online: http://idinamenzel.com

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Review: Grateful Dead's Bob Weir delivers earthy solo effort

The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir, showing more than a little touch of grey at age 68, delivers a heartfelt and earthy solo record with "Blue Mountain."

It's Weir's first solo effort in a decade and the first of entirely original material in 30 years.

Weir, who sang with the Dead that he may be going to hell in a bucket but at least he's enjoying the ride, strikes a more reflective pose on "Blue Mountain." It's a deeply personal collection of cowboy songs drawn on his memories working as a teenager on a Wyoming farm.

Say "cowboy songs" to many Grateful Dead fans and they will go running for the skip button. And, to be sure, songs like "Ki-Yi Bossie" on "Blue Mountain" aren't likely to convert those who can do without tales from the dust-covered trails.

Still, Weir's collaboration here with Josh Ritter and The National's Bryce and Aaron Dessner results in a moody, dense record unlike anything he's done before. The production, and subject matter, fits his road-weary vocals.

The closer, "One More River to Cross," feels as heartfelt as anything Weir has ever written and should resonate with fans who have been along for any part of the long, strange trip of his unparalleled career.

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