Thursday, February 22, 2018

BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM


Unless you were living uncomfortably under a rock over this past weekend, then you must be aware that the Afrocentric super-hero movie, "Black Panther" had one of the biggest four-day openings in movie history with it accumulating domestically $242 million dollars. I saw it and it was fantastic but what I'm going to talk about here is the incredible soundtrack album for the film with director Ryan Coogler selecting one of the hottest and most inventive musical artists right now, Kendrick Lamar to curate the music. Originally, Lamar was only going to provide a few songs for the film but after viewing extensive footage, he wanted to become more involved in the creation of the music. The album features songs that are in "Black Panther" and were inspired by the movie and includes an interesting selection of contemporary hip-hop and r&b artists such as Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Khalid, Vince Staples and Jorja Smith. There has been three singles released to date with Lamar teaming up with Jay Rock, Future and James Blake on "King's Dead", the Weeknd is featured on "Pray For Me" and my favorite has SZA providing a dazzling hook for him on "All The Stars".  While this collection works impressively on it own, it does the job by experimenting with sounds and textures, beautifully enhancing the rhythmic energy of this film.





Sunday, February 18, 2018

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

Country music has been making a big impact on the pop charts lately and that has been reflected with an interesting merging of the sounds. Some recent examples include Maren Morris, a hot new artist with her 2016 debut, “Hero” reaching number one on the country album chart, is a part of an unusual duet with EDM artist, Zedd with the single, “The Middle”. This catchy dance track is not only burning up the international pop charts but it also serves as the song for Target’s spring style campaign. Chris Stapleton, a recent big winner at this year’s Grammys, taking home three awards including Best Country Album, has teamed up with Justin Timberlake on “Say Something”, the second single off his new album, “Man of the Woods”. This guitar-driven track is a nice blend of dance and country. And the least likely artist of them all is dance diva, Kylie Minogue who has just dropped from her upcoming fourteenth studio album, “Golden”, the single, “Dancing” which features an undeniable country twang.








And this year, we’ve sadly had the passing of two important musical artists. Dolores O’Riordan, the dynamic lead vocalist of the Irish alt-rock band, The Cranberries, passed away unexpectedly at the age of forty-six while in London for a recording session. No cause of death has been currently disclosed. In 1990, she became a part of the band initially called “The Cranberry Saw” before becoming The Cranberries. The group’s debut album, “Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” in 1992 became an instant smash thanks to the singles, “Linger”and “Dreams”. Their follow-up in 1994, “No Need To Argue” featured the hit song, “Zombie” about the 1993 IRA bombing which reached number one in five countries and became The Cranberries ‘ biggest seller. The band took an extended break in 2003 to pursue individual interests before reuniting in 2009 to release an album and world tour. O’Riordan recorded two solo albums during their time apart; “Are You Listening in 2007 and “No Baggage”in 2009.



Dennis Edwards, who joined the legendary Motown r&b group, The Temptations in 1968 as their new front man, died on February 1st, just two days shy before what would have been his seventy-fifth birthday. He first began singing as a child in his father’s Detroit church before later joining the gospel group, The Mighty Clouds of Joy as a teenager. Despite his family's disapproval, Edwards decided to sing secular music professionally and performed with several bands. In 1966, he auditioned for Motown and was put on retainer. His first break came when he joined the Contours later that year. The group opened for the The Temptations on tour with members, Eddie Kendricks and Otis Williams noticing Edwards as they were considering replacing David Ruffin who was becoming increasingly difficult, largely due to his drug abuse. Ruffin was eventually fired and Edwards was brought in as his replacement as lead vocalist. He would continue to perform with The Temptations off and on until 1989. Edwards did pursue a solo career and had a hit single in 1984 with “Don’t Look Any Further”, a duet with Siedah Garrett. Edwards is survived by a daughter, Issa from his brief marriage to Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters and she currently performs with her mother in the group.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

CAMILA


After it was announced that Camila Cabello was departing Fifth Harmony, the X-Factor created female singing group, at the height of their success to pursue a solo career, my initial reaction to the news was that we would never hear from her again. But how very wrong I was.

She had already begun taking steps to break out on her own while she was still in the group by collaborating with Shawn Mendes on a duet they wrote together, “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. The song reached the top twenty on the U.S. pop chart and then Cabello provided the hook on Machine Gun Kelly’s single, “Bad Things”. This song made it to number four on the pop charts in 2016 and Cabello was soon out of Fifth Harmony and ready to get to work on a solo album.

Cabello first continued working with other artists on their singles including a song for the “The Fate of the Furious” soundtrack which she teamed up with Pitbull and J. Balvin on “Hey Ma” with the Spanish-language remix doing very well in Latin America. Her first official single as a solo artist was “Crying In the Club” and released last May. It was a modest success but didn’t really make her particularly noticeable in the crowded dance-pop field. It would be her follow-up that would cause a major shift in her aspiring career.

Using her Cuban heritage for inspiration, the Miami-raised singer co-wrote “Havana”, a sensual, mid-tempo dance track driven by a Latin-flavored beat. This song became an international smash last year, reaching number one in several countries including Britain and the U.S. This prompted Cabello to alter the direction of her debut album and "Camila" which was released last month, features far more elements of Latin music and r&b than was originally planned. This certainly helped the twenty year old singer stand out and the album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart. Enjoy a sample of a few of my favorite tracks from the album:







Friday, February 2, 2018

THE 60TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS


For the first time being held in New York City in fifteen years, the Grammys made a grand point by having U2 perform their latest single, "Get Out of Your Own Way" outside in the frigid temperature in front of the Statue of Liberty, giving the moment a dramatic effect. And to celebrate sixty years of honoring the best in music, the 2018 Grammys surprisingly didn't do much of anything. With the exception of Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow briefly mentioning the milestone in his annual speech on the program (before unintentionally offending many female performers by telling them to "step up"), there was not a single moment throughout the evening of looking back at highlights of the Grammy Awards' rich yet admittedly flawed history.

James Cordon returned as host of the show and continues to be an enthusiastic ringmaster and cheerleader. One of his highlights was a funny bit involving bringing his popular "Carpool Karaoke" to the New York City subway along with Sting and Shaggy (where did they find him ?) for the ride but the passengers were hilariously not having it. But the biggest laugh of the night was about how non-musicians can win a Grammy and imagines a variety of different people reading an audio book of the recent "Fire and Fury", which examines the current White House administration, including a former female Presidential candidate.

Bruno Mars was the unexpected but deserving big winner of the night with his modern take of retro-soul, "24K" taking three of the top awards, Song of The Year, Record of The Year and Album of The Year, and winning a total of six Grammys. Kendrick Lamar didn't do so bad himself winning a total of five for his highly acclaimed, "DAMN." including Best Rap Album. Lamar even kicked off the show with an explosive performance that featured appearances by U2 and Dave Chappelle. Jay-Z did not fare as well, having not performed on the program and went home empty handed. But at least he did have his beautiful family by his side for support.

The evening was clearly not only about awards but about celebrating all genres of music. Some of my favorite performances included SZA making an impression with her brand of alt-soul with "Broken Clocks", a rare tribute to the musical theater on the show with dramatic performances from Ben Platt of "Dear Evan Hansen" and the legendary Patti LuPone, DJ Khaled and Rihanna doing a extravagant production of one of my favorite tunes of 2017, "Wild Thoughts" and Bruno Mars brought Cardi B on stage with him to do my current favorite song of this year, "Finesse" .  A tribute to the Las Vegas shooting victims that featured country artists, Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris and Eric Church didn't have the impact they were hoping for and their choice of song (Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven") wasn't exactly right and while the pairing of Miley Cyrus (who looked absolutely beautiful) with Elton John on his classic, "Tiny Dancer" may have been to promote an upcoming Grammy tribute special for the singer, it only came across as a lackluster stunt.

Politics, unsurprisingly, found it's way on to the Grammy stage and that was reflected in some of the evening's highlights. Logic had Best New Artist nominee, Khalid and the eventual winner of that award, Alessia Cara join him to perform a moving version of "1-800-273-8255", his nominated song that brings awareness about suicide prevention. At the conclusion, he spoke out against hatred, bigotry, sexual harassment and even the President's anti-immigrant stance.

Janelle Monáe made a passionate speech that honored the working women in all areas of the music industry and reiterated that "time's up" for the abuse of power against women before she introduced Kesha. Supported by the powerful voices of Cyndi Lauper, Camilla Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and Bebe Rexha, the singer delivered a fiery version of "Praying" which deals with her experiences with sexual and emotional abuse. After the performance, Cabello, a Cuban immigrant, offered words of support to "the Dreamers" and their complicated struggle to stay in the only country that many of them have ever known.

While this year's awards stressed the support of women, with many people wearing white roses in a show of solidarity, the Grammys doesn't seem to be exactly following through on this message. First, Lorde was the only female nominated for Album of The Year yet she was not given a solo set on the show (unlike most of the other male nominees) and was only offered to be a part of a tribute to the the late Tom Petty to be performed with other artists which she respectfully declined. And Alessia Cara was the only female to take an award during the entire televised ceremony.

Back in 2011 when the Grammys decided to end segregating the categories by gender, I was concerned that men would dominate the nominations and ultimately, the winners. That didn't happen immediately but as we have come to 2018 with only nine percent of the total Grammy Awards going to women over the last six years. it seems my fears have sadly become reality. But as I have seen a conscious shift in gender politics over the previous year, I am optimistic that change is possible and most certainly will come.

Here is a partial list of winners of the 2018 Grammy Awards:

Album of the Year: "24K Magic" - Bruno Mars

Record of the Year: "24K Magic" - Bruno Mars

Song of the Year: "That's What I Like" - Bruno Mars - Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip (songwriters)

Best New Artist: Alessia Cara

Pop Vocal Album: "÷" - Ed Sheeran

Best Pop Solo Performance: "Shape of You" - Ed Sheeran

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: "Feel It Still," Portugal. The Man

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: "Tony Bennett Celebrates 90" - Tony Bennett and various artists


Best Rap Album: "DAMN." - Kendrick Lamar

Best Rap Song: "HUMBLE." - Kendrick Lamar

Best Rap Performance: "HUMBLE." - Kendrick Lamar

Best Rap/Sung Performance: "Loyalty" - Kendrick Lamar featuring Rihanna

Best R&B Album: "24K Magic" - Bruno Mars

Best R&B song: "That's What I Like" - Bruno Mars

Best R&B Performance: "That's What I Like" - Bruno Mars

Best Traditional R&B Performance: "Redbone" - Childish Gambino

Best Urban Contemporary Album: "Starboy" - The Weeknd

Best Country Album: "From a Room, Vol. 1" - Chris Stapleton

Best Country Song: "Broken Halos" Chris Stapleton

Best Country Solo Performance: "Either Way" - Chris Stapleton

Best Country Duo/Group Performance: "Better Man" Little Big Town

Best Dance/Electronic Album: "3-D The Catalogue" - Kraftwerk

Best Dance Recording: "Tonite" - LCD Soundsystem

Best Rock Album: "A Deeper Understanding" - The War on Drugs

Best Rock Song: "Run" - Foo Fighters

Best Rock Performance: "You Want It Darker" - Leonard Cohen

Best Metal Performance: "Sultan's Curse" - Mastodon

Best Alternative Music Album: "Sleep Well Beast" - The National

Best American Roots Song: "If We Were Vampires" - Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit

Best American Roots Performance: "Killer Diller Blues" - Alabama Shakes

Best Contemporary Christian Album: "Chain Breaker" - Zach Williams

Best Gospel album: "Let Them Fall in Love" - CeCe Winans

Best Jazz Instrumental Album: "Rebirth" - Billy Childs

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album: "Prototype" - Jeff Lorber Fusion

Best Latin Pop Album: "El Dorado" - Shakira

Best New Age Album: "Dancing on Water" - Peter Kater

Best Comedy Album: "The Age of Spin & Deep in the Heart of Texas" - Dave Chappelle

Best Spoken Word Album: "The Princess Diarist" - Carrie Fisher

Best Music Video: "HUMBLE." - Kendrick Lamar

Best Song Written for Visual Media: "How Far I'll Go" from "Moana" - Lin-Manuel Miranda (songwriter)

Best Score/Soundtrack for Visual Media: "La La Land"

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media: "La La Land"

Best Musical Theater Album: "Dear Evan Hansen"

Best Music Film: "The Defiant Ones" - Various artists

Thursday, January 25, 2018

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


Today's number one flashback, "Together Again" by Janet Jackson held the top spot during this week back in 1998. This poignant dance track pays loving tribute to lives lost to AIDS and was the second single off her critically acclaimed concept album, "The Velvet Rope".  The song would become Jackson's eighth of ten career number one U.S. singles and would enjoy two weeks in this position.

"Together Again", co-written by Jackson with her long-time producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and her-then-unknown-now-former-husband, René Elizondo Jr., began as a moving ballad inspired after the AIDS-related death of a friend of Jackson's before being transformed in to a celebratory beat-heavy appreciation to anyone who has lost a loved one. The song traveled the world reaching the top-ten on many international charts and would go on to sell six million copies worldwide.

"Together Again" - Janet Jackson (1998) mp3

Here is a little-seen music video directed by Elizondo, Jr. of a remix of the song which turns it to a sensual ballad with Jackson clearly singing about wanting to reunite with a lover:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

HOT AND FRESH OUT THE KITCHEN


One of the first big songs of the new year is a remix of "Finesse" by Bruno Mars. This single is off his 2016 album, "24K Magic" and has gotten a boost by one of the breakout stars of 2017, Cardi B who kicks off the track with her trademark sassy rap. The song pays homage to the new-jack sound of the late '80's and the music video gives props to the '90's comedy show "In Living Color", in particular to "the fly-girls", the young women who danced in between skits. People are responding well to this version of the song and has already reached the U.S. top-forty in it's first week on the charts.





For his latest single, "Family Feud", Jay-Z has called on some major talent to put together the music video. He has gotten Ava DuVernay to direct this clip and the musician co-wrote the story with her. It begins in the future of 2444 with a dramatic family feud ending in death before going back to 2050 with the U.S. now run by an all-female government who are in the process of rewriting the Constitution. We continue back until we reach our current year with Jay-Z walking his daughter, Blue Ivy through a church. The father/rapper begins the song which he confesses his infidelities and wants to keep his family together. His wife, Beyoncé appears on the track and in the video, dressed as some type of glamorous high priestess, listening patiently to what her husband has to say. And there are plenty of famous faces scattered throughout the video including Thandie Newton, Michael B. Jordan, Mindy Kaling, David Oyelowo, Niecy Nash, Trevante Rhodes, Constance Wu and Jessica Chastain.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

MY FAVORITE MOMENTS IN MUSIC IN 2017

2017 has come to a close and it was another year of some great music. I've always shared the tunes that I've loved and enjoyed throughout the year but time didn't permit me to get to everything. So to end 2017 properly, here's a round-up of a few of my favorite songs and videos from the previous year I didn't get a chance to share:



"HUMBLE" - Kendrick Lamar (2017) mp3

"High" - Ledisi (2017) mp3

"Stay" - Zedd featuring Alessia Cara (2017) mp3

"Feel It Still" - Portugal. The Man (2017) mp3



"Shining" - DJ Khaled featuring Beyoncé and Jay Z (2017) mp3

"Sorry Not Sorry" - Demi Lovato (2017) mp3











"Now or Never" - Halsey (2017) mp3



BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM

Unless you were living uncomfortably under a rock over this past weekend, then you must be aware that the Afrocentric super-hero movie, &...