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
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Today's tune comes from Stevie Wonder who has reliably given us wonderful music throughout the years. "If You Really Love Me" is such an amazing song with it's unusual arrangement and vibrant vocals. America agreed as this single reached number eight on the pop chart and number four on the r&b chart.
Where I'm Coming From" which was written by the then twenty-year old singer and his new bride, Syreeta Wright, a songwriter, singer and former secretary at Motown. The album was released with much resistance from Berry Gordy who liked to have complete control over the content of his label's artists. However, Wonder wanted to be able to creatively express himself without interference to explore different musical ideas and write about social issues.
This caused some serious tension between Wonder and Motown. When he turned twenty-one, his recording contract had a clause which allowed Wonder to void it upon becoming legally an adult and refused to resign with the label. During this standoff, Wonder worked on his music independently before finally signing a new contract with Motown in 1972 which allowed him complete creative control and a higher royalty rate.
After all the drama, the singer's most successful and popular period began, leading to the albums, "Innervisions", "Fulfillingness' First Finale" (with each winning Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards) and "Talking Book" (which features the classic songs, "You Are The Sunshine of My Life" and "Superstition").
"If You Really Love Me" - Stevie Wonder (1971) mp3
Friday, August 12, 2016
Terence Trent D'Arby seemed to come out of nowhere and dropped, "Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby" which became a critical and commercial smash selling more than eight million copies worldwide before just as quickly falling off the radar. With his striking good looks, slick dance moves and musical gifts which had him also writing, producing and playing multiple instruments on the record, D'Arby appeared on his way to becoming a major act yet his follow-up work failed to generate much wide appeal.
It would seem obvious to compare him to Prince, who had just entered superstar status around this time, but D'Arby is a performer with a grittier edge, closer in style to James Brown than the Purple One. The album, celebrating it's thirtieth birthday next year, is frenzied collection of glossy soul that still holds up very well today.
He was born in New York and his family moved frequently around the country before settling in Florida. As a teen, he had some success as a lightweight boxer but decided to go to college. After dropping out of school, D'Arby joined the army but was dishonorably discharged for desertion while stationed near Frankfurt, West Germany. He decided to stay in Europe and joined a band called The Touch and recorded an album in 1984.
If You Let Me Stay" reaching number seven on the pop chart there. His home country was slower to pick up on the artist, with the first single not even cracking the top forty, but the next single, "Wishing Well" would hit number one on the U.S. pop and r&b charts. With additional singles, "Dance Little Sister" and "Sign Your Name" reaching the charts, D'Arby had one of the biggest albums of the year.
However during this time of his new found fame, D'Arby's behavior became erratic and difficult. Long before Kanye West made arrogance an art form, he boldly announced that "Hardline" "was the most important album since the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper". The relationship between the singer with his record label and management team also became seriously strained by his antics. His next three albums, which were far less commercial in sound than his first, did not impress the buying public or critics and by 2000, he left behind his record company and the name "Terence Trent D'Arby".
The Rise Of The Zugebrian Time Lords" was released last year.
Have a listen to two of my favorite songs by the artist formerly known as "Terence Trent D'Arby":
"Dance Little Sister" - Terence Trent D'Arby (1987) mp3
"Let's Go Forward" - Terence Trent D'Arby (1987) mp3
If you are unfamiliar with the former Mr. D'Arby, then you probably should have a visual introduction as well. Here is a bonus of the video for one of his biggest hits, "Wishing Well":
Sunday, July 24, 2016
For over twenty years with the funky, horn-driven back-up band, The Dap-Kings by her side, Sharon Jones has been a driving force at keeping the spirit of good old-fashioned soul music alive and well.
Back in 2013, Jones was in the process of releasing another record and going out on tour to promote it when the singer was diagnosed with cancer. After postponing the album, she had surgery on her liver and underwent chemotherapy. In "Miss Sharon Jones!", Oscar-winning film maker, Barbara Kopple examines her struggle to recover from the disease while Jones' long-time band mates, who are all very close and supportive, have growing concerns about money and the future of their careers since they are far from household names. As pressure mounts and the situation looks very bleak at times, Jones' deep faith and infectious optimism keeps her steady on a positive path.
The documentary made it's premiere at last year's Toronto Film Festival where it was rapturously received. "Miss Sharon Jones!" will open in New York on July 29th before hitting the rest of the country throughout August. Be sure to check this out.
And that postponed album, "Give the People What They Want" was released a year after her recovery with Jones and the band making it back on the road. The record received plenty of critical acclaim and would earn the band their very first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album. Now, it you are unfamiliar with Miss Jones and the Dap-Kings, here's a little sampler of exactly what they do:
Saturday, July 16, 2016
First up, we have Britney Spears who has just dropped a new song, "Make Me" which is the first release from her upcoming ninth studio album. With an obligatory guest appearance by a rapper (here we have G-Easy), this beat-heavy, sexy ballad has Spears cooing seductively about having her man make her do whatever he'd like. I think this just might be the hit that will bring her back to the top of the charts.
With the 2016 Rio Olympics just a few weeks away, it's time to hear an inspirational anthem to help get everyone pumped up for the event. Katy Perry has been assigned that job and "Rise" is the song. This Max Martin produced ballad is intended to lift up and inspire and does so with Perry's robust vocals and lyrics with an encouraging positive message. The music video drives it all home with powerful images from past Olympics.
Finally, we have Tinashe with "Superlove", an '90's inspired, throw-back jam. The track is a part of "Joyride", her highly anticipated follow-up to her 2014 studio debut, "Aquarius" that featured the million-selling smash, "2 On". This hypnotic song, produced by The Dream and Tricky Stewart, may feature a familiar vibe that will certainly remind you of the great Aaliyah yet Tinashe manages to make "Superlove" stand out as a modern classic.
"Superlove" - Tinashe (2016) mp3