Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NEW SOUNDS

STING


After first finding success as the driving force behind the ska-rock band, the Police in the mid-seventies and later enjoying an equally successful career as a solo artist, Sting decided he was done with the life of a pop star around 2003. He certainly did not give up creating music as he explored classical using the lute and wrote a Broadway musical, "The Last Ship" based on his own childhood experiences. Not that it's really all that surprising but the sixty-five year old Brit has just returned to the rock arena with "57th & 9th", the singer's twelfth studio album. The title refers to the intersection in New York where he passed each day on his way to the studio. Recorded over three months, a relatively short period of time for a music project, Sting states it helped him not overthink the music and brought a sense of urgency to the songs. The album blasts through with hard-driving guitars and covers a range of topics that are of high interest to the singer right now like climate change, politics, aging and his own mortality.

Listen to Sting's first single, "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" which manages to feel familiar and fresh at the same time:



EMELI SANDE


Emeli Sandé began her professional career in music as a successful, go-to pop songwriter and producer before she dropped her debut "Our Version of Events" in 2012. This record quickly elevated her to a whole new level with it becoming a worldwide smash, particularly in England where it spent ten non-consecutive weeks at number one and became the best-selling album of the year. Only in the U.S. did Sandé not become a major sensation although the single, "Next To Me", received some airplay and peaked in the top thirty on the pop charts. That may change as the twenty-nine year old British performer has just recently released her follow-up, "Long Live the Angels". This new record does not easily fit in to the current pop atmosphere, offering moody, introspective songs that are far more spare and stripped down. But it's still her soulful voice, filled with deep emotion and electrifying power, that makes this collection truly effective.

Check out the music video for the first release from the album, "Hurts":



TOVE LO



Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson had always loved music and began writing songs when she was a child in her native Sweden. As a teen, she performed with several rock and punk bands and while in music school in Stockholm developed a close friendship with Caroline Hjelt, who would later form the pop duo, Icona Pop. This soon led her to Los Angeles and the opportunity to work with Swedish producer Max Martin. Nilsson developed her skills as a songwriter and wrote for several pop acts including Icona Pop. She started self-releasing songs with her singing under her childhood nickname "Tove Lo" on-line and "Habits (Stay High)" began to receive some attention. With this new-found popularity, Tove Lo was signed to a recording contract, released an EP, then her debut album, "Queen of the Clouds" in 2014 which brought her international fame thanks to the songs "Habits" and "Talking Body". After having to take a forced break due to vocal-cord surgery, the now twenty-nine year old singer is finally back with "Lady Wood". The title comes from the singer's expression for an aroused female and these bold songs on the album reflect a 21st century young woman's raw and honest views on feminism, love and sexuality.

Take a look at the short film, "Fairy Dust", directed by Tim Erem, which in essence is a long-form music video and features the first five songs on "Lady Wood":

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

SHARON JONES (1956 - 2016)


I was very sad to hear that Sharon Jones had lost her battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away on November 18th at the age of 60. This fiery vocal powerhouse lead the band, The Dap-Kings and together were responsible for keeping the spirit of good, old-fashioned soul music alive and well.

Born in Augusta, Georgia but raised in Brooklyn, New York, Jones did not start her music career in a traditional fashion. She sang frequently in church and performed the occasional show but she wasn't able to make a living as a singer. After spending the early part of her life as an armored car guard and a corrections officer at Rikers Island, Jones had a life-altering moment. She met musician Lee Fields in 1996 and invited her to provide background vocals on a track. However she impressed producers and musicians of the backing band, the Soul Providers, Gabriel Roth and Phillip Lehman so much, they had her sing lead on a song. And at the age of forty, Jones became a professional singer. She recorded several singles on Desco Records that were well received.

By 2000, Roth and Lehman decided to split up and Roth went on to form Daptone Records and a new band, the Dap-Kings with Jones as the lead vocalist. The following year, they released "Dap Dippin' With Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings", a collection of retro soul and funk, which helped them gain significant attention and a cult following. Jones and the Dap-Kings would record seven studio albums with "Give The People What They Want" earning the band their first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album in 2014 and released a Christmas album last year.

Jones was the subject of the documentary, "Miss Sharon Jones!" by Oscar-winning film maker, Barbara Kopple. Originally the goal was to focus on her unlikely career but during filming she received a cancer diagnosis and the doc shifted on her struggle to beat the disease. By the time the film premiered at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, Jones revealed that the cancer had returned and would have to go through chemotherapy again.

Take a look at the amazing Sharon Jones along with the Dap-Kings as they successfully made the world a much funkier place:





Friday, November 18, 2016

LEONARD COHEN (1934 - 2016)


Leonard Cohen, the enigmatic and influential poet, singer and songwriter, has passed away on November 7th at the age of eighty-two. The singer had been struggling with cancer over the last few years and just released his fourteenth album, "You Want It Darker" last month which focused on his mortality and inevitable death with his signature wit and sense of humor. While he was greatly admired as a performer, it was his gift as a songwriter that made the most indelible impression.

Born in Westmount, Quebec, an English-speaking section of Montreal, Cohen first became known as a poet while attending McGill University. He won the prestigious Chester MacNaghten Literary Competition and had his work published in magazines. Cohen's first book of poetry, "Let Us Compare Mythologies" was published in 1956 and wrote other books of poems and fiction throughout much of the '60's.

However, Cohen was not making much of a living as a writer and decided to turn to music after seeing Warhol superstar, Nico perform. His song, "Suzanne", originally created as a poem, became a hit for Judy Collins in 1966 and she would later record many of his other songs. Not a natural performer, Cohen eventually gained confidence which lead to him receiving the attention of Columbia Records who signed him to the label. His debut, "Songs of Leonard Cohen" was released in 1967 which included his version of "Suzanne" and became a cult favorite in the U.S. and Britain.

Cohen would go on to record several acclaimed and highly regarded albums, with many experimenting with a variety of sounds and musical genres but it was his live performances where he would make his biggest impact. He toured extensively, traveling all over the globe for many years but after his 1992 album, "The Future", Cohen took an extended period of time away from his career.

Cohen's music was used in several films in the 1990's like "Pump Up The Volume" and "Natural Born Killers" which introduced the artist to a younger audience. It would be almost ten years before he would make new music with "Ten New Songs", a collection co-written and produced with Sharon Robinson, Cohen's long-time collaborator and was well received.

After discovering his former manager had stolen nearly all of his life savings in 2005, Cohen had to resume his career in earnest and recorded new music, "Old Ideas" in 2012 and "Popular Problems" in 2014 and went back on the road to support them.

Cohen's songs have been covered by countless musicians with his best known, "Hallelujah" is said to have at least three hundred versions recorded. It was just recently performed by Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton during the opening number of the November 12th episode of "Saturday Night Live" the preceding week following both Cohen's death and Clinton's unexpected loss to Donald Trump in the Presidential Election.

Here is a small selection of some of the fine work from Leonard Cohen:





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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

After her major breakthrough album, "Come Away With Me", a sultry collection of jazz-pop that went on to sell over twenty-six million copies and win five Grammy Awards including "Album of the Year" in 2002, Norah Jones wanted to keep her options open. Not wanting to be pigeonholed as just a jazz singer, she went on with her subsequent work to cover country, folk, blues and indie rock. Jones even gave acting a try with a lead role in the poorly received Wong Kar Wai film, "My Blueberry Nights".

With her sixth studio album, "Day Breaks", Jones has returned to her roots, so to speak, as she has slipped back towards the piano-driven sounds that first brought her fame. Recorded live and inspired by a wide range of jazz music, the singer co-wrote and produced the album. Her adventurous side is still evident as Jones includes some interesting covers from Neil Young and Duke Ellington. Take a look at the video for the first single, "Carry On":



Here are a few new tunes I've been digging:

"Sexual" - Neiked featuring Dyo (2016) mp3

"Keep It Moving" - Alex Newell (2016) mp3





If you want to get a party started right, I recommend you put on anything by The Whispers. This r&b group, formed in Los Angeles in 1964 and featured Marcus Hutson, Nicholas Caldwell, Leavell Degree and twins, Wallace "Scotty" and Walter Scott, scored some minor hits throughout the 1970's but had their biggest smash on the U.S. dance chart with "And The Beat Goes On" in 1980 which topped that chart as well as the soul chart. The Whispers used their classic soul vocals and merged them with a throbbing funky beat, a perfect remedy during the post-disco era for people who still wanted to dance. Enjoy two of their big hits:

"Keep On Loving Me" - The Whispers (1983) mp3

"Rock Steady" - The Whispers (1987) mp3

The Dixie Chicks had loved Beyoncé's country-flavored track "Daddy Issues" and covered it while on their reunion tour. So it was supposed to be a magical moment when the two decided to team up to perform the song during the 50th annual Country Music Awards. But the reaction to the performance brought out a lot of ugliness and thinly-veiled racism, making a big deal about her having no place on the show. I don't seem to recall this response when another pop act, Justin Timberlake sang on the show just last year. Anyway, in case you missed it, here is a clip of the Dixie Chicks and Queen Bey performing the song on the program and I think it's amazing:


Beyonce & Dixie Chicks - Daddy's Lessons (CMA... by sophanit-smart

Sunday, October 30, 2016

PETE BURNS (1959 - 2016)


I had been out of the country for the last couple of weeks and was saddened to learn on my return the passing of Pete Burns, the outrageous lead vocalist of the dance-pop group, Dead or Alive, at the age of fifty-seven from sudden cardiac arrest on October 23rd.

The appearance of the British singer had been heavily altered since the days of the group's worldwide smash, "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" back in 1985. He began with a simple nose procedure before claiming to have had about three hundred cosmetic surgeries which gave him a more feminine look with over-sized lips and a sculpted face. There were several major complications and Burns wound up spending his life savings on many reconstructive surgeries, particularly on his lips.

Since he was a child, Burns always had a unique and theatrical nature. He dropped out of school at fourteen after being called to the headmaster's office for arriving with flaming red hair, no eyebrows and an earring.

Burns went on to work at a Liverpool record store and was not exactly a model employee as he gave customers a hard time if he didn't like their selections. During this period, he met some musicians and joined several early goth bands before forming what would become Dead or Alive in 1980. By the time of their 1984 debut album, "Sophisticated Boom Boom", the group had evolved in to a synthpop outfit. The first single, a cover of KC & the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)", became a minor success in Britain.

After their first hit, Dead or Alive had several other songs reach the charts throughout the rest of the '80's like "Lover Come Back To Me", "My Heart Goes Bang (Get Me To The Doctor)", "Something In My House" and "Brand New Lover".

With the '90's and '00's, Dead or Alive had a sporadic musical output and what was released failed to find much of an audience. Burns later turned to reality television to make ends meet and appeared on the UK versions of "Celebrity Big Brother" and "Celebrity Wife Swap". He is survived by an ex-wife, Lynne Corlett and a husband, Michael Simpson.

To honor this dynamic musical personality, here are a few videos featuring my favorites songs that spotlighted Pete Burns and his time with Dead or Alive:





Sunday, October 9, 2016

A SEAT AT THE TABLE


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

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


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