Wednesday, October 18, 2017

ABSENT FACES IN POP MUSIC

I had read a interesting article recently in the Los Angeles Times about the difficulties of a new generation of Black female singers being able to cross over to the pop charts. It really made me take notice and realize how true this has become. Female soul singers have regularly appeared on pop radio for decades and there was a high point back in the '90's when there were a large number of solo artists (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige) and vocal groups (TLC, SWV, Destiny's Child) who found major success on both the r&b and pop charts. But by the mid-2000's, these female performers seemed to fall out of favor as male-dominated hip-hop took over the charts.

What is making it particularly difficult for these new singers to crossover is that while they're using classic soul as their foundation, each one is taking their own individual approach by creating what would be considered alternative soul music, which merges electronic dance, rock and hip-hop, and doesn't easily fit in today's narrow pop music scene. As I love a great female voice, I'm going to do my little part and put a spotlight on a few of these very talented vocalists featured in this article.

If you want to read the story, please click below:

Los Angeles Times: Female R&B Artists Struggle For Attention

JHENE AIKO


Jhené Aiko, the twenty-nine year old, L.A. native, began her music career as a teen by providing backing vocals for the r&b boy-band, B2K in 2002. Due to her association with this act, she was able to get signed to Sony Records and recorded an album but the label would not released it. Following this disappointment, Aiko decided to go back to school to finish her education. When she made her return to music, Aiko did so on her terms by releasing a mixtape, "Sailing Soul(s)" in 2011 which features an impressive roster of musicians lending support including Miguel, Drake and Kanye West. This lead to her opening for Nas, Lauryn Hill and Drake before getting signed to ARTium Records. Aiko released an EP in 2013, "Sail Out" which featured the single, "The Worst" that peaked at number four on the U.S. Adult R&B chart and was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Song. The following year, Aiko finally has her debut album released. "Souled Out" is an alt-r&b concept album about a woman's journey to enlightenment and received plenty of critical praise. Now her follow-up album, "Trip" just came out last month without any advanced notice. Not only will Aiko be on a headlining tour to support the album through the end of the year but in January she will go on the road with Lana Del Rey with her LA To The Moon tour. Take a look at the video for the first single from the new album, "While We're Young":



SZA


Born Solána Rowe, SZA (with her stage name inspired from RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan) started her career in music purely as a lark. After dropping out of college without a future career plan, Rowe was inspired to write a few songs one day, later recorded them with a friend and eventually decided that this was something she seriously wanted to pursue. SZA self-released her first EP, "See SZA Run" in 2012 which was met with critical acclaim with music critics describing her sound as a fascinating mix of Beyoncé and Björk. She would release two more well-received mixtapes that led to her writing songs for other artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Rihanna before signing to a major label, RCA Records and releasing her debut studio album, "Ctrl" (pronounced "control") this past June. The first single, "Drew Barrymore" was named after the actress and inspired by her role in one of her early films, "Poison Ivy". You can hear SZA now on pop radio due to her recent collaboration with Maroon 5 on the rising hit, "What Lovers Do" which just reached the top-twenty. She also has just dropped another single from her album, "The Weekend" which is riding high on the r&b and pop charts.



SEVYN STREETER


Amber Streeter knew she wanted to be a professional singer ever since she was a little girl. She sang in church and talent shows (including tying for first place while competing on "Showtime at The Apollo") before becoming part of the teen girl-group, TG4 (which was short for "tom girls four") at the age of fifteen and signing her first recording contract. The group opened for other youth-oriented r&b acts like B2K, Immature and Lil' Bow Wow but their music never made an impact on the charts. Soon TG4 disbanded and Streeter would join another girl-group, RichGirl in 2007. This group managed to open for Beyoncé on tour but their promotional singles failed to take off. By 2011, RichGirl was done and Streeter was on her own again but her career would begin a major shift after meeting r&b bad boy, Chris Brown. She signed to his label, changed her name to "Sevyn"and sang on Brown's 2012 album, "Fortune".  Later that year, Streeter dropped her own singles, "It Won't Stop" and "Next" which brought her plenty of attention as a solo artist with them reaching the top-twenty on the r&b and hip-hop charts. This year, the determined thirty-one year old Streeter released her first album, "Girl Disrupted" with the singles, "My Love For You", "Before I Do" and "Fallen" serving as perfect representations of her brand of passionate and sensual modern soul. Check out the video for the ballad,  "Fallen" that features Ty Dolla $ign and Cam Wallace:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

TOM PETTY (1950 - 2017)


It has been sadly confirmed that Tom Petty, the hard-driving rock performer and songwriter, has actually passed away at the age of sixty-six after suffering from full cardiac arrest early on October 2nd. It had been reported that he had died when he had been initially found at his home in Malibu but that was inaccurate at that time. Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers had just completed a fortieth anniversary tour, which he had stated would be their last major cross-country tour, with the final shows held at the Hollywood Bowl near the end of September.

Petty was born on October 20th in Gainesville, Florida and first became interested in rock-n-roll as a child after meeting Elvis Presley when the singer was in town shooting a movie and later when catching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Petty decided he was going to be a rock performer. He dropped out of school at seventeen to play bass with the band, Mudcrutch. The group found minor local success but eventually disbanded with Petty deciding to go solo. With former Mudcrutch members, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench by his side, he found additional players to form an early version of The Heartbreakers.

The first self-titled album by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers  in 1976 didn't get much attention in the States but it broke through in Britain with the single, "Breakdown". U.S. audiences soon came around and Petty and the band would have many hits here with  "Refugee", "Don't Do Me Like That", "American Girl" and "The Waiting". Petty would also release three solo albums, was a member of the supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys which included George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan and had a smash hit duet with Stevie Nicks with the single,  "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" in 1982.

Tom Petty was inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, won three Grammy Awards and has sold over eighty million records throughout his impressive career. Petty is survived by wife, Dana York and three children. Let's look back on some musical highlights from this incredibly gifted musician who will truly be missed:









Sunday, October 1, 2017

DOUBLE DUTCHESS


After eleven years, Fergie has finally released the long-awaited follow-up to her mega-successful debut solo album, "The Dutchess". Although an unfinished version of the entire album was leaked in July, the official version of  "Double Dutchess" is now out. Much like her debut, the forty-two year old mother and soon-to-be former wife to actor, Josh Duhamel has created another solid collection that features an eclectic mix of sounds ranging from hip-hop, reggae, soul, dance and modern pop.

Fergie decided to take full control of this project with her co-producing and co-writing nearly all of the tracks. She also decided to leave her record label, Interscope and to launch her own label, Dutchess Music. The album does feature the singles that failed to get much attention including "L.A. Love (La La)" which was dropped back in 2014 and "M.I.L.F.$" and "Life Goes On" from last year. But the new single, "You Already Know", that includes Nicki Minaj providing her trademark sassy rap, seems to be the step in the right direction. As for the hyper-sexual imagery she's projecting all over the promotional album pictures and videos, it does come across a little extreme and desperate. But I guess you do what you gotta do to get noticed in this competitive pop environment.

Taking a page from Beyoncé and her "Lemonade" album, Fergie has made videos for each of the songs on the album and assembled them together as a film called "Double Dutchess: Seeing Double". Take a look at a few of these videos:







Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THE NEW "MEANING" OF KELLY CLARKSON


When she was a contestant on a new television singing competition fifteen years ago, Kelly Clarkson was able to dabble in many different genres of music each week in front of millions of viewers. That show was "American Idol" and she impressed everyone so much with her dazzling voice that Clarkson went on to become the very first winner.

The big prize was a recording contract with RCA Records and Clarkson has had a glorious career with many worldwide hits singles.  However, she has recently revealed that her time with the label was not easy. Over the seven albums she released, Clarkson had little input on song selection on most of these albums and was not allowed to venture outside of the safe and narrow world of pop music.

Now after completing the terms of her recording contract, Clarkson decided to move on to a new label, Atlantic and with that, an new opportunity to take more control of her music. For her new album, "The Meaning of Life", the singer has decided to dive deeper in to a r&b and soul sound which she was previously unable to do. Clarkson was involved in all all aspects of the recording of the album and this busy wife and mother of two even managed to find time to co-write a few tracks.

To give us a sample of what's to come from "The Meaning of Life", two songs have been released. "Love So Soft" is a blast of classic funky soul with modern trap rhythms and features members of Earth, Wind & Fire playing on the track. Meanwhile, "Move You" is a emotional ballad with Clarkson's beautiful vocals soaring in to gospel territory. If you are a fan of Kelly Clarkson, you will be very excited by this new direction and if you are not, I think this dynamic collection might make you want to reconsider:



Thursday, September 21, 2017

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

First up, here are some interesting music videos I like:











After taking some time off to get married and have her first child (it's a girl!) last year, Jessie Ware didn't seem to have wasted anytime getting back to music. The British songstress has just released two new songs. "Midnight" is a haunting uptempo ballad delivering what we love about Ms Ware as it features her sensual vocals and sophisticated songwriting. While "Selfish Love" is another ballad but guitar-driven with a slight bossa-nova beat that presents a completely different vibe from the singer. Look for her upcoming third album, "Glasshouse" in October. In the meantime, check out the music videos for these songs:





I recently just heard one of his songs from back in the day and it made me wonder; what happened to Christopher Cross? This singer, born Christopher Geppert and originally from San Antonio, Texas, released his debut album back in 1979 and it was an immediate success. His collection of soft rock tunes included the hits, "Ride Like The Wind", "Never Be The Same" and the number one single, "Sailing" which helped sell five million copies of the album. Cross would go on to win five Grammy Awards including Best New Artist and Album of The Year. His follow-up album in 1983, "Another Page", continued the hits with "Think of Laura", "All Right" and included "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" from the hit comedy, "Arthur" which would go on to win an Oscar for Best Original Song. But after all this immediate pop success, the easy-listening rock of Christopher Cross soon wasn't having much of an impact on the charts. He's still around making music and about to embark on a cross-country North American tour. Here are a couple of songs that I love from Christopher Cross:

"Ride Like The Wind" - Christopher Cross (1979) mp3

"Sailing" - Christopher Cross (1979) mp3

Sunday, September 10, 2017

STREETS OF FIRE


Did anyone ever see "Street of Fire"? It was a 1984 film by Walter Hill that was a crazy mix of action, comedy, drama and musical and featured a retro-futuristic look. Self-described as "a rock & roll fable",  Michael Paré (a rising star at the time that never really got off the ground) plays as an ex-solider who is called on to save famous rock singer (and former girlfriend), Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) who was kidnapped by a biker gang lead by Willem Dafoe in an early film role. The film also featured Amy Madigan and Rick Moranis.



"Streets of Fire" is a hot mess of a movie but still a thoroughly watchable and entertaining mess. One bright spot is the music soundtrack. The film's title comes from a Bruce Springsteen song from his 1978 album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and was supposed to be sung by the Ellen Aim character at the end of the film. However, negotiations broke down and the song was dropped. Jim Steinman, best known for his theatrical rock ballads performed by such artists as Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler, was brought in to provide new material. He wrote "Nowhere Fast", the thrilling opening number and the ballad, "Tonight Is What It Means To be Young" for the finale. Diane Lane did not actually sing so professional vocalists, Laurie Sargent and Holly Shepard performed the songs with their voices blended together and were called Fire, Inc.





The biggest hit from the movie was "I Can Dream About You", written by Dan Hartman. In the film, the song was sung by session singer, Winston Ford and performed by the fictional doo-wop-soul group, The Sorels that featured Mykelti Williamson (recently seen in the film, "Fences") and future director, Robert Townsend ("Hollywood Shuffle", "Eddie Murphy Raw"). Hartman recorded his own version and was released as a single where it reached number six on the pop charts.

Friday, September 8, 2017

THE RETURN OF SAM SMITH


Sam Smith, the British singer who burst on the scene back in 2014 with a debut album, "In The Lonely Hour" which won him four Grammys including Best New Artist, has made his return to music. Today, he just released a new single, "Too Good At Goodbyes" and it's another mournful ballad that Smith does very well. It may be a little safe and predictable but the song is quite moving and I can't wait to hear more. Have a listen for yourself:

ABSENT FACES IN POP MUSIC

I had read a interesting article recently in the Los Angeles Times about the difficulties of a new generation of Black female singers being...