Tuesday, June 19, 2018

SO SAD SO SEXY


The title of Lykke Li’s fourth album, “so sad so sexy” perfectly describes her music. The Swedish singer/songwriter has always crafted dark and moody songs yet there is an undeniable sensuality that manages to drift through her material. After the release of “I Never Learn” in 2014, she took the last few years off and went in to seclusion while facing personal loss and career exhaustion.

Now living in Los Angeles and creatively revitalized, Li has taken some of the difficult experiences during her time away to reflect and reveal through this new music. She has further expanded her alt-pop sound through adventurous collaborations with diverse producers like Skrillex, Rostam and Ali Payami while including hip-hop and even rap (with a guest verse provided by Aminé) on the record. "so sad so sexy" is a strong collection and a welcome return from a vital artist. Check out the music videos for two tracks from the album that offer very different vibes:


Thursday, June 14, 2018

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


Fifty years ago this week, "Mrs. Robinson" by the folk-rock duo, Simon & Garfunkel was the number one song in America. It is closely associated with the hit 1967 romantic-comedy drama,  "The Graduate" which it was included in the movie and soundtrack in a partial form. A full version of "Mrs. Robinson" was not recorded until after the film was released.

Theater turned movie director, Mike Nichols had been a fan of Simon and Garfunkel and decided he wanted to use their music for his upcoming second film, "The Graduate". Paul Simon had written a couple of original songs for the movie but Nichols wasn’t impressed with them and asked if he had anything else. He played a song that he had been working on but not yet completed called "Mrs Roosevelt". The director loved it and soon the song was changed to the name of the character in the film and "Mrs. Robinson" was born. Although it was heavily used to promote the movie, the single was not officially released until almost three months after the movie came out.

"Mrs. Robinson" was not eligible for an Academy Award nomination as it wasn't written expressly for the movie but it did go on to win two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary-Pop Performance Vocal by a Duo or Group and Record of The Year. This is considered to be one of the first rock songs to win this prestigious prize.

This song and their popular 1968 album, "Bookends" made Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel one of the biggest acts of the day. But their relationship had always been contentious and complicated and the duo broke-up for the first time not long after the release of the biggest album in their career, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in 1971.

Simon and Garfunkel would reunite for recordings and tours off and on many times since then (including a free concert in Central Park in 1981 that was seen by over a half a million people) yet it would often end in an acrimonious manner. The last time they staged a major tour was in 2010 but Garfunkel was suffering from serious vocal issues and they had to cancel the remaining shows. Simon has recently stated that it's unlikely they will ever perform together again as he's retiring from live performing this year and for the basic fact that the duo just don't get along.

Let's listen to Simon and Garfunkel in less difficult times with their number one hit:

Friday, June 8, 2018

NEW SOUNDS

JAKE SHEARS


With the queer, electro-rock band, Scissor Sisters on an indefinite hiatus, lead vocalist, Jake Shears has been keeping himself busy. Following making his Broadway debut in the musical, "Kinky Boots" and writing his autobiography, "Boys Keep Swinging", Shears is about to release his first solo album. The self-titled record is due in August and the first single, "Creep City" is out. The track may not stray too far from the sound with his band but it's still quite enjoyable and welcome. Check out the recently released music video filled with the singer in full glamorous camp mode:



KIM PETRAS


There has been a lot of media attention about German singer, Kim Petras due to her gender reassignment at the very young age of twelve. But the focus should be on the now twenty-six year old's unabashedly pure pop songs that she has been creating since a teenager. Her latest single, "Heart To Break" is another great tune but it's been mired in controversy due to production by Dr. Luke who has been accused of sexual abuse by singer, Kesha. Petras got herself further in to hot water by stating that she would never work with someone who abused women which came across as dismissing Kesha's claims. She has since clarified her stance and apologized for any misunderstanding. Be sure to check out Petras who will be opening for the Australian pop star, Troye Sivan on his upcoming U.S. tour. In the meantime, check out the delightfully charming music video for the Euro princess of pop's new song:



COURTNEY BARNETT


After Courtney Barnett's debut album, "Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit" (I love that title) was released in 2015, plenty of acclaim and accolades greeted the Aussie alt-rocker. She is finally back with her follow-up, "Tell Me How You Really Feel",  another vigorous collection of guitar-driven songs filled with her frustrations and fears which seemed to have intensified with her sudden fame. But she helps her dark tunes go down easier with high-energy pop structures and classic rock flourishes. Listen to one of my favorite tracks from the album, "City Look Pretty":



And we have the latest from Sam Smith. The single, “Pray” has gotten a remix treatment with rapper, Logic providing some verses to the gospel-inspired ballad. While the song treads familiar territory, it is uplifted by Smith’s glorious vocals. For the music video, it was shot at a mansion in beautiful Lake Como, Italy and takes advantage of the scenic location:

Saturday, June 2, 2018

TAKE TWO: STEVE WINWOOD


Much like many of his peers, Steve Winwood was inspired by the American blues and soul music that invaded Britain in the 1960’s. He took those sounds and filtered it out to create his own brand of bluesy rock. This gifted artist has not only been a successful solo performer but also has collaborated with many important musicians throughout his career.

As a young boy in Birmingham, music had always been an important part of his life as his father was a semi-professional musician who performed after his day job and at the age of four, Steve started to play the piano.  He eventually joined his father and older brother, Mervyn or “Muff”, who picked up the bass and they all played together with local jazz bands by the time he was eight.

In 1963, a fourteen year-old Steve joined the Spencer Davis Group along with his brother. This British r&b band first reached the top of the U.K. pop chart with "Keep On Running" in 1965. They had more hits including "Somebody Help Me", "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" which reached the top-ten in the U.S. before the Winwood brothers left the group in 1967 over creative differences.

With "Muff" moving in to A&R at Island Records (and eventually becoming a successful producer), Steve (after a brief stint with an early band with Eric Clapton) went on to form his own band, Traffic that featured a psychedelic rock sound. Despite developing a cult following, Traffic was short-lived and disbanded by 1969.

Winwood quickly went on to form another band called Blind Faith which he joined forces with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. As established and respected British musicians together in one band, they were considered one of the first super-groups. But this blues-rock fusion outfit only lasted a year with a self-titled album and a U.S. tour to show for their time together.

Unsure of what direction to go in, Winwood briefly reformed Traffic and became a session player for a number of years before his record label encouraged him to become a solo artist. He released his self-tilted debut in 1977 and his follow-up album, "Arc of a Diver" featured his first solo hit, "While You See a Chance" in 1980.

But it was his fourth album in 1986, "Back In the High Life" that became Winwood's major breakthrough and biggest commercial hit of his career. The title track, "The Finer Things", "Freedom Overspill" and the number one smash, "Higher Love" helped the album sell over five million copies and win Winwood three Grammy Awards including Best Pop Male Vocal Performance and Record of The Year.

Winwood had another number one hit on the U.S. pop chart with "Roll With It" in 1988 but soon his subsequent albums failed to get much attention with "Nine Lives" in 2003 as his last studio record to date.  However, the now seventy year old musician is hardly idle as he continues to perform live and currently on a Greatest Hits Live tour to support the album he released last year. Enjoy two of my favorite songs from Steve Winwood:





And as a bonus, here is a very young Steve Winwood during his time with Spencer Davis Group in a promotional clip for their biggest hit, "Gimme Some Lovin'". It's hilarious to watch the expressionless Winwood lip-sync the high-energy vocals of the song:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

ULTIMATUM


After their breakthrough of moving successfully from the dance floor to the pop charts back in 2012, Disclosure, the British EDM duo made up of the Lawrence brothers, Guy and Howard, began a whirlwind of recording, remixing, production and touring the globe. By early 2017, the brothers decided to take a much-needed break from the scene.

Now Disclosure has quietly dropped some new music. "Ultimatum" is a choppy beat-driven track and features the vocals of West African singer/actress, Fatoumata Diawara. This is a teaser of the band’s upcoming third album as they are still in the process of putting it together and we won’t see it until sometime next year. While “Ultimatum” is not nearly as memorable as some of their previous work, it’s still a really nice appetizer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

REVAMP AND RESTORATION


While audiences have long enjoyed his theatrical costumes and energetic showmanship, it's been the music of Elton John that people have responded to for over fifty years. With his co-songwriter, Bernie Taupin (who John has worked with throughout most of his career), they have created songs that have appealed to everyone due to their eclectic mix of genres.

In celebration of their longtime creative partnership, two albums were assembled with the help of many performers who have gladly come together to interpret the team's musical history. With "Revamp", John enlisted contemporary pop artists to create new versions of his songs. These musicians include Coldplay, Sam Smith, Alessia Cara, Ed Sheeran, The Killers and Lady Gaga.

Mr. Taupin, a big country fan, oversaw "Restoration" which features several artists that range from legendary (Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson) to modern (Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley, Kacey Musgraves) that rework the duo's classic and more obscure songs in a mellow country vein.

Miley Cyrus is the only artist that appears on both albums. But her take of "Don't Let The Sun Come Down On Me" on "Revamp" and particularly "The Bitch Is Back" on the country album come across painfully like karaoke versions of these songs.

Now at seventy-one, Elton John has decided to slow down and will be embarking on a three-year long farewell world tour which will begin in September. To be honest, I doubt he will never be on stage again after this tour but just in case, make sure you take this opportunity to check him out live.

For now, listen to a few of my favorite songs from both albums that I think truly honors the extraordinary work of Elton John and Bernie Taupin:












Wednesday, May 9, 2018

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

Sugababes have had six number one singles, eighteen top-ten hits and have sold over seven million records. I'm sure many of you that are American might be asking, "Who are Sugababes?" Well, they were a very popular British female pop act formed in 1998 who not only had this incredible success in their native country but also throughout much of the rest of the world with the notable exception of the U.S. where they never charted. There have been singers that have come and gone in this trio but the most popular line-up included Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Heidi Range. With all of the founding members gone by 2011, Sugababes eventually faded away and ended. For American ears, enjoy a brief sample of the best of Sugababes:







Here are a few new songs I'm enjoying right now:









If this new song by Céline Dion called "Ashes" makes you think of her classic love ballad from the movie, "Titanic", well, it's actually intentional. David Leitch, the director of the upcoming sequel to the smash, comedic super-hero movie, "Deadpool", explains that they wanted a highly melodramatic song for the film and approached the singer to perform the track. And she delivers some remarkably beautiful vocals, taking this ballad to incredible heights. It will be interesting to see how this will be used in the movie but I'm sure it will be both moving and hilarious. Leitch also directed the music video which features an interpretive dancing Deadpool. Be sure to check out the very funny ending of this clip:



Finally, one band from the past I've been thinking about recently are Fine Young Cannibals, a British group, lead by the distinctive vocals of Roland Gift, who had worldwide success throughout much of the '80's and had such hits as "She Drives Me Crazy" and "Good Thing" which both reached the top of the U.S. pop chart. Taking their name from a little-seen 1960 Natalie Wood movie, bassist, David Steele and guitarist, Andy Cox had left the ska band, The Beat (The English Beat in the U.S.) and came together with Gift who had departed his ska outfit, Akrlykz in 1984.  The trio released their self-titled debut the following year and found international success with the singles, "Johnny Come Home" and a cover of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" . The glaring exception was in America where the group only achieved a cult following. But that all changed with their next album. "The Raw and Cooked" that brought Fine Young Cannibals to everyone's attention in 1989 and the album went on to sell over three million copies worldwide. But by 1992, the group had disbanded and each moved on to other less high-profile musical directions. Let's take a look back to the sounds of Fine Young Cannibals:



SO SAD SO SEXY

The title of Lykke Li ’s fourth album, “ so sad so sexy ” perfectly describes her music. The Swedish singer/songwriter has always crafted...