Sunday, October 9, 2016
It must be challenging for Solange Knowles to be seen as an artist in her own right due to the overwhelming shadow of her superstar older sister. But she continues to go down her own path, stressing there is no rivalry and has very different artistic and creative goals. This is evident in Solange's tenacious third studio album, "A Seat At The Table" which is released on her own label, Saint Records through a distribution deal with Sony.
While the record may share some sonic similarities with her sister's own alt-r&b album, "Lemonade", Solange pushes the boundaries of soul music even further with her introspective lyrics and experimental sounds. She explores the complicated and volatile issues facing African-Americans today through powerful songs expressing anger, indignation, insight and empowerment.
Also like her sister, Solange is using the music video to help further express her creative vision and has released two clips for the songs, "Don't Touch My Hair" and "Cranes in the Sky" that were directed by Knowles and her video director husband, Alan Ferguson.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
The song that was on top of the U. S. pop chart during this exact time back in 1966 was "Cherish" by The Association. This group's record label had felt that the song sounded too old-fashioned yet it managed to spent three weeks at number one and has remained a timeless classic.
"Cherish" represents a much simpler time in pop music when the airwaves were filled with tender songs of love and romance. The worst thing you would possibly hear would be about some boy cheating on his girl and breaking her heart. In these darker, troubling times we are living in, it wouldn't be so bad to have a little more love and kindness in our music to help soothe people.
This Los Angeles based band first hit the charts earlier in 1966 with "Along Comes Mary" which reached number seven. "Cherish" became The Association's first number one smash and first record to sell over a million copies. The group, that initially featured Terry Kirkman on percussion, Jules Alexander on lead guitar, Russ Giguere on rhythm guitar, Brian Cole on bass, Jim Yester on keyboards and Ted Bluechel, Jr. on drums, had two more major hits the following year with "Never My Love" and "Windy" which also made it to the top of the U.S. pop chart.
By the end of the decade, the hits began to dry up and by 1978, with difficulties booking gigs and getting a recording contract, The Association called it quits. Ted Bluechel, who owned The Association trademark and heavily in debt, leased out the group's name for a replacement band to perform on tour.
It didn't take long before the founding members, Kirkman, Alexander, Giguere, Bluechel and Yester along with later additions, Larry Ramos and Richard Thompson reunited The Association to perform on a '60's revival tour with The Turtles in 1984. The group continues to go out on the road to this day in a variety of 1960's package tours.
"Cherish" - The Association (1966) mp3
Thursday, September 29, 2016
The Weeknd, who became one of the biggest pop acts of 2015, has just dropped a new track. "Starboy" is an unexpected collaboration with the French dance duo, Daft Punk and will be the title of his third album due in November. With a low throbbing electro-beat, the song is a dark examination at his struggles dealing with the overwhelming fame and success that came his way during that time. Be sure to check out his appearance on the season opener of "Saturday Night Live" on October 2nd where he will be the musical guest.
In the dramatic video for the track, it begins with the twenty-six year old Canadian killing off his former image before revealing that he has cut his trademark hair and struts around in a slick new style.
Fellow Canadian, Nelly Furtado had one of the hottest songs of 2006 when she teamed up with Timbaland and they produced a worldwide smash with "Promiscuous". She's been relatively quiet for a little while now but recently resurfaced earlier this year on a duet with Blood Orange for a song on his latest album. Then she dropped a tune "Behind Your Back" in July which she called an "appetizer" for her upcoming record.
Furtado has just released the official first single from "The Ride", her sixth studio album which is tentatively scheduled for early next year. Furtado says the beat-heavy ballad "Islands of Me" is about "narcissism, lust, isolation and altruism." and she premiered the song live during the New York Fashion Week kickoff party.
"Islands of Me" - Nelly Furtado (2016) mp3
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
The last time I went to a concert at Dodger Stadium was back in 2008 to see Madonna's Sticky and Sweet Tour. Due to the horrendous traffic to get in to the venue (which caused us to be late for the show), lousy sound system and the inability to see what was happening on stage, I swore I would never go back there to see a show.
Well, I have found myself returning to the scene of the crime to witness Beyoncé's Formation Tour on September 14th. Only the Queen Bey had the power to lure me back. Now I still think that a colossal baseball field makes it virtually impossible for a performer to connect with their audience but Beyoncé certainly tried to make it work. Using a towering, LED lighted vertical parallelogram that served as a stage prop as well as flashing images and projecting what was happening on stage upon it, this helped somewhat to draw us in to her glittering orbit.
Formation", the slinky first single off her critically acclaimed recent album, "Lemonade". The emphasis of the show was on those eclectic new songs and she covered most of them with highlights included the Jack Black penned, guitar-driven "Don't Hurt Yourself", the unrepentant electro-soul track, "Sorry" and the unexpected country-pop of "Daddy Issues".
But she certainly didn't forget her older material. While some of the songs were done in abbreviated forms, she performed full versions of her hits "Run The World (Girls)", "Me. Myself and I", "Drunk in Love" and "Crazy in Love". Girl power was on full display as Beyoncé once again had an all-female band, background vocalists and dancers by her side on this tour.
During one interlude, which Bey changed from one revealing bodysuit in to another, the stage was awash in purple as Prince's version of "Purple Rain" played in honor of the late artist.
Perhaps the most amazing moment in the show came near the end when the entire front of the stage was transformed in to a shallow pool of water with Beyoncé and her ladies splashing about during energetic performances of "Freedom", Destiny Child's, "Survivor" and "End of Time". I wonder if I was the only one concerned that if Bey dropped her mic during these numbers that we would be witnessing a high-profile electrocution.
By the time a drenched Beyoncé reached her final song of the night, "Halo" (and one of my favorites from the singer) alone on stage, she looked physically and emotionally drained yet quite content. She knew that she had given her all and left the audience, judging from their enthusiastic response, with a thrilling, magical and memorable evening.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
After briefly setting aside her pop music glory to pursue some acting and trip the light fantastic with the legendary Tony Bennett to record a collection of jazz standards, Lady Gaga is back to reclaim her crown. She has just dropped a new song "Perfect Illusion" and it's another surprise move from the glittering, over-the-top artist.
With writing and production assistance from Mark Ronson, Bloodpop and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, Gaga has crafted a blistering raw dance-rock track instead of the usual slick pop extravaganza. She delivers a full-throated vocal assault on the song without the aid of any noticeable correction to sweeten her voice.
While I appreciate the low-key approach and change of pace from Gaga, I must admit to still being underwhelmed by "Perfect Illusion". The song is certainly catchy but I don't know if I would really pay much attention to it if it wasn't from the Lady. I know it will grow on me and makes me even more curious about her upcoming album. Check it out and judge for yourself:
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Culture Club, the British new wave soul group led by the flamboyant, gender-bending vocalist, Boy George, burst on to pop scene and ruled the charts beginning in 1982 before imploding due to in-fighting and George's growing drug addiction a few short years later. The group managed to kiss and make-up for the first time in 1998 and now all the original members (which include Roy Hay on piano and guitar, Mikey Craig on bass and Jon Moss on drums) are on their first major world tour together in fifteen years.
I caught one of their West Coast stops on August 27th at the Hollywood Bowl and the band's sound was greatly enhanced with backing by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra who also opened for the band. The last time I heard George live, during a Halloween event in West Hollywood last year, the singer sounded raspy and had difficulty hitting all the notes.
When the group came out performing "Church of The Poison Mind", the Boy, in the first of three costume changes, wearing a wildly colorful, over-sized hat with matching suit, was in fine voice with three amazing female vocalists helping to fill out the song. Their hits came in a steady stream with "I'll Tumble 4 Ya", "It's a Miracle", "Time ( Clock of The Heart)" and "Miss Me Blind". Culture Club even performed a couple of songs from Boy George's solo efforts with his versions of Bread's "Everything I Own" and "The Crying Game".
During one of the costume changes, there was a surprising and quite moving moment with a brief musical tribute to David Bowie. As images of the late singer from his Ziggy days flashed on video screens, the band performed "Life on Mars?" as an instrumental with backing from the L.A. Phil which sounded amazing.
The Boy was in good spirits, making jokes about our political race and announcing some of the famous faces in the crowd (which included Sting as he told a silly, semi-uncomfortable story about him) although he appeared to almost get in to some sort of scuffle with a person in the front row but quickly dismissed them. It seems the notoriously feisty singer has actually mellowed with time.
The show closed with a re-working of their minor 1984 hit, "The War Song" which George recalls the group receiving a lot of flak back then for the over-simplistic message but now quite proud of how timely the tune has become. Culture Club came back out by audience demand and performed an encore of their best-known song, "Karma Chameleon" and closing the evening with a hard rocking cover of T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On)". It was a really fun trip back down Memory Lane with one of my favorite bands of the '80's.
Here is the music video for "It's a Miracle" which featured highlights of the group's career at that point:
And here is Culture Club performing live recently in Australia one of favorites songs, "Black Money", which George said during our show that he has no idea what it means. And he wrote the song:
Monday, August 29, 2016
I caught the Rock Hall - Three-For-All tour on August 23rd at it's L.A. stop at the Forum in Inglewood which features three legendary rock bands of the '70's, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and Heart. Due to my late arrival, I didn't catch Cheap Trick (although I must admit I'm not really much of a fan) but two out of three ain't bad.
At fifty-seven, Jett is still in ass-kicking shape, decked out in a leather and sequins body-suit and combat boots, as she tore through a tight set of hard-driving rock & roll. With her long-time producer, Kenny Laguna playing on keyboards and percussion, she delivered the expected hits like "Bad Reputation" and "I Hate Myself for Loving You" along with her popular covers of Gary Glitter's "Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)" and Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover".
Jett was only just inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just two years ago which is shameful because she's been an important, long-time crusader of the music. As a teen, she was a part of the first all-female rock group, The Runaways and takes us back with a performance of their biggest single, "Cherry Bomb".
Jett also went back to her starring role in the family drama, "Light of Day", where she played the sister of Michael J. Fox (!) who both play in a local bar band seeking fame. The singer performed the title track, written by Bruce Springsteen, as images from the 1987 film played on the large screen behind the band. I had forgotten that Gena Rowlands was in it playing their mother (!!). The best was saved for last as Jett and The Blackhearts closed out their set with the smash 1982 number one hit, "I Love Rock & Roll" where the audience sang along, loudly confirming that phrase.
Heart was also only recently added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and I hate to think that Ann and Nancy Wilson's gender played a role in the long delay but there were bands that are less influential and sold far fewer records that were quickly inducted in to the hall.
Anyway, on the road to promote their recently released record, "Beautiful Broken" which is made-up mostly of re-interpretations of music from their earlier albums, Heart blasted on to the stage with "Wild Child", a cut off their 1990 album, "Brigade". They followed that up with a string of some of their classic tunes, "Magic Man", "Even It Up", and "What About Love". Ann, whose gritty, soulful voice has lost none of it's power, surprised the audience by giving us a little James Brown and his "Get Up Offa That Thing" before launching in to a funky version of their song, "Straight On".
Taking center stage briefly, Nancy slowed things down by performing two ballads; Heart's number one smash from the '80's, "These Dreams" and one of the new tracks off the current album co-written by Ne-Yo, "Two".
The Wilson sisters have never made it a secret that Led Zeppelin were the inspiration that lead them to pursue music and Heart paid tribute to that iconic band during their encore by performing "Immigrant Song" and the song at the center of a recent lawsuit, "Stairway To Heaven". It was a perfect way to end a perfect evening of electrifying music.
If you missed the show, have a listen to the original recordings of some of my favorite tunes. It's not the same as hearing them performed live but it's the next best thing:
"Bad Reputation" (1980) - Joan Jett mp3
"Crimson and Clover" (1981) - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts mp3
"Barracuda" (1977) - Heart mp3
"Straight On" (1978) - Heart mp3