Monday, July 29, 2013

HOT AND FRESH OUT THE KITCHEN

"CIARA" - CIARA


To be honest, I never paid much attention to Crunk&B goddess, Ciara as I thought her music was just too generic for my taste. With the release of her self-titled fifth album, this artist has now gotten my full attention. I was already loving the sexy single, "Body Party" and Ciara has delivered a beat-heavy collection that is from the heart.

L.A. Reid (who first signed her to his own label, LaFace back in 2004) is now the president of Epic Records and brought Ciara on to the label and executive produced this new project. The singer co-wrote and produced much of this adventurous record along with production assistance from Rodney Jerkins, The Underdogs, Mike Will Made It and rap vocals provided by 2 Chainz, Future and Nikki Minaj, who is featured on the second single, "I'm Out".

Have a listen to the track:

"I'm Out" - Ciara featuring Nikki Minaj 

"ELECTRIC" - PET SHOP BOYS


Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been performing together as Pet Shop Boys for an incredible thirty years and have just put out their twelfth studio recording, "Electric". This is their first album to be released on their own label, x2 and the duo have enlisted Grammy-winner, Stuart Price to handle production duties on this dance-heavy record.

The album reliably delivers everything you love about Pet Shop Boys but the boys have always offered something a little unexpected and this new release is no exception. They have included rap for the first time to their electro sound with Example providing his vocals to the track, "Thursday" and have taken on rock-god, Bruce Springsteen with their own spin of his song, "The Last To Die".

Enjoy the first single from the new album:

"Vocal" - Pet Shop Boys

Take a look at the trippy video for the follow-up single, "Axis":




"WHERE DOES THIS DOOR GO" - MAYER HAWTHORNE



With the release of his third album, Mayer Hawthorne has decided to shift directions and expectations on "Where Does This Door Go".  He first made his name as a retro soul artist so, now he's ready to show the world what else he's got to offer.  While classic r&b is quite present on this record but there is also 70's style rock, hip-hop beats and more modern soul sounds. The hot producer of the moment, Pharrell Williams contributed his skillz to a few tracks but his presence doesn't overwhelm this record. The end results remains a impressive collection that is still pure Hawthorne.

This track features one of my favorite singers of the moment, Jessie Ware:

"Her Favorite Song" - Mayer Hawthorne featuring Jessie Ware

"YEEZUS" - KANYE WEST


Kanye West has made it clear that he's now no longer interested in following any musical trends, winning awards or even if the public buys his new music. With this proclamation coming from the man with the biggest ego on the planet, you would have every reason to be highly skeptical. However, the controversial title of Mr. West's latest disc and his insistence that there be no traditional promotion indicates that his self-destructive tendencies are working on overdrive. Sales began briskly but soon dropped off just as quickly with the album becoming his lowest selling ever of his career.

"Yeezus" is the name of his sixth studio release and presented without album art. Mr. West has assembled an impressive list of producers and musicians including Daft Punk, Mike Dean and Rick Rubin who came on board as an executive producer just fifteen days before the release date of the album. Frank Ocean, Bon Iver, Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson (formerly of The Gap Band) lend their voices to a few tracks. As for the music, it is just barely over forty minutes of stripped-down, wildly experimental sounds and noises. The lyrics of these songs are clearly meant to provoke as they are filled with rage, aggression and an abrasive sexuality that will most certainly be off-putting to some listeners. I greatly appreciate his willingness to take chances, begin conversations and shake up pop music but most of the tracks are just too out there for my taste.

Here is one tune that I really like, "Bound 2" which features Charlie Wilson:

"Bound 2" - Kanye West Featuring Charlie Wilson

This is the dark and eerie music video for another song I like, "Black Skinhead" or as it's also known, "BLKK SKKN HEAD". This is really fantastic clip that features a computer generated version of Kanye (with a body he wishes he actual had):



It appears that Disney pop princess, Miley Cyrus has officially and completely shaken her good-girl image. In the video for her latest single "We Can't Stop", the heavily tatted Miley is now a hardcore party chick as she "twerks" and makes out with a female mannequin. I don't know how accurate all this bad girl behavior is to the real-life Cyrus as it comes across as she's trying just a little too hard but it's still a great vid:



Finally, here is the powerful clip for "Same Love", the latest single by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The song already touched me deeply but this music video just enhances it even more. I'm so glad that radio is beginning to play this important tune about love and tolerance:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

TAKE TWO: JOURNEY


Journey first began as a back-up band before eventually evolving in to one of the most globally successful American rock bands in music history. Recent interest in the band has grown ever since the brilliant use of their song, "Don't Stop Believin'" during the final moments of the last episode of the television series, "The Sopranos".

The band was formed in San Francisco in 1973 and first called The Golden Gate Rhythm Section with their original goal was to support local musicians. Former members of Santana and The Tubes made up the group including keyboardist and vocalist, Greg Rollie and guitarist Neal Schon (who is the only original member still performing with the band). After a roadie came up with the name, "Journey", they moved to a jazz-fusion sound and signed with Columbia Records in 1974. Their first three albums didn't garner much attention and soon the label wanted Journey to change their musical direction to focus more on a pop/rock sound and to find another lead vocalist. They decided to try this approach and hired Robert Fleischman to perform vocal duties. He only lasted a year before Steve Perry was brought in as the new lead singer in 1977.

Journey's fourth album, "Infinity" was released in 1978 and became a definite step in the right direction. The singles, "Lights" and "Wheel In The Sky" both hit the charts and the album would be their first million seller. More hit albums followed with Journey's biggest commercial success was "Escape" in 1981. Four singles reached the top twenty on the Billboard Hot 100 with the highest charting was "Open Arms" peaking at number two. "Escape" reached number one on the album chart and went on to sell over nine million copies in the U.S. alone.

After the tour to support their "Frontiers" album, bassist, Ross Valory and drummer, Steve Smith were fired from Journey in 1986.  Session players filled in during the recording of their follow-up, "Raised On Radio" (including future "American Idol" panelist, Randy Jackson) and went on the world tour with the band. The album was another multi-platinum seller and Journey was in the middle of their tour when Steve Perry had to take extended time off due to a family illness. The band came back together (including Valory and Smith) to record "Trial By Fire" in 1996 but Perry soon developed his own health issues and decided he needed to leave Journey for good by 1998.

Journey have brought in several singers to fill in for Perry over the years with Amel Pineda currently in the role of lead vocalist. Their last release to date was "Eclipse" in 2011 and the band is still a very popular touring act.

Listen to two of my favorite songs by Journey:

"Wheel In The Sky" - Journey (1978)

"Anyway You Want It" - Journey (1980)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM

"20 Feet From Stardom" is a dazzling new documentary about the unsung heroes of the music business; the back-up singer. This film by Morgan Neville brings long overdue attention to these (mostly) female vocalists who use their gifts to not only enhance the lead but help deliver some unforgettable musical moments. Sometimes their contributions can even be the most memorable component about a song. Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler are just a few of the very well-known performers who appear to sing the praises of these under appreciated  musicians.

The film interviews long-time background singers such as Tata Vega, Gloria Jones, Janice Pendarvis, Cindy Mizelle, Claudia Lennear and The Waters family. Some of these names may not be familiar to you but you'll most certainly recognize their voices. The spotlight in this feature is placed on a few notable singers, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill. The twenty-nine year old Hill is the youngest here and you may remember her as a contestant on the fourth season of "The Voice". Although she didn't win the competition, Ms Hill is still out there, struggling to make it as solo performer. But in the meantime, she will still occasionally take a few gigs as a back-up vocalist in order to make ends meet.

"20 Feet From Stardom" is slowly rolling out across the country, so be sure to check it out when it hits your area.



Now I'm going to put my own spotlight on the other three veteran performers:

DARLENE LOVE

Darlene Wright grew up in Los Angeles and developed her singing in her local church as a child. While still in high school, she joined an all-girl group, The Blossoms. The trio caught the attention of music producer Phil Spector and began using them to provide vocals on his records in 1962. They soon became very sought after background vocalists and can be heard on many hit records of the early sixties. Darlene was renamed "Love" by Spector and he used her to sing the leads on the songs, "He's A Rebel' and "He's Sure The Boy I Love" but gave the credit to his girl group, The Crystals. After difficulty with Spector and never being able to achieve great success as a solo performer, Love walked away from the business. By the 1980's Darlene Love returned to music but also displayed her talents in films (the "Lethal Weapon" movies) and the stage ("Leader of The Pack"). Love recorded a holiday song, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" for a Phil Spector Christmas album in 1963 that has become her signature tune and  has sung this classic on David Letterman's show every year since 1986. Darlene Love was finally inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011

Here is Darlene Love's first major hit but it's credited to The Crystals:

"He's A Rebel" - The Crystals (1962)

MERRY CLAYTON

Best known as the powerful female voice behind the 1969 Rolling Stones song, "Gimme Shelter", Merry Clayton made her first recording at thirteen with "Who Can I Count On (When I Can't Count On You)",  a duet with pop star, Bobby Darin in 1962. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and Clayton's first big break came when she became one of The Raelettes, Ray Charles's background singers. She went on to work with a variety of musicians such as Neil Young, Tom Jones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker and Carole King. Clayton has recorded six albums as a solo performer over the years but none of them would become a major breakthrough for this talented singer. She also turned to acting and has appeared in the 1987 film, "Maid To Order' and television shows such as "Cagney & Lacey.

This is Merry's stirring solo version of "Gimme Shelter" that appeared on her debut album in 1969:

"Gimme Shelter" - Merry Clayton (1969)

LISA FISCHER

Brooklyn born and bred, Lisa Fischer first started her music career out under the name "Xēna" and performed dance music. She later went on to do background work for some of her idols; Chaka Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, Roberta Flack and most notably, Luther Vandross. Fischer had the opportunity to record a solo album, "So Intense" in 1991 and it was highly successful with the single, "How Can I Ease The Pain" reaching number one on the r&b chart and earning the singer a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. However, when it came time for a follow-up, Fischer had second thoughts about being in the spotlight and realized she preferred life in the background. Lisa Fischer continued as a much sought-after session singer and touring vocalist. She performed background for Vandross on tour for twenty-two years up until his death as well as being part of every Rolling Stones tour (including their current one) since 1989.

This is one of my favorite tracks off of Ms Fischer's only album. Her beautiful remake of "Wildflower" was produced by Luther Vandross and he even provides his legendary voice on background as well:

"Wildflower" - Lisa Fischer (1991)

Here is the music video for the award-winning song, "How Can I Ease The Pain":



RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

Miley Cyrus has certainly caused a little whiplash with her drastic image shifts. She was introduced as the cute "Hannah Montana&quo...