Saturday, February 27, 2016

NEW SOUNDS

SIA


"This Is Acting", the seventh studio album by the hesitant pop star, Sia, has a very clever concept. The record is made-up of songs the Australian songwriter wrote with other pop artists in mind but were rejected. The idea to use material that superstars like Rihanna, Beyoncé and Adele passed on doesn't seem encouraging yet Sia appears inspired and brings these songs to life with her own unique style. Produced with fellow hitmakers, Greg Kurstin and Jesse Shatkin, the songs feel less glossy than if those other vocalists had performed them but are no less potent.

One of the highlights is "One Million Bullets", an original song that was never offered to anyone else. Sia delivers her reliably fiery passion that makes this track all her own:

"One Million Bullets" - Sia (2016) mp3

RIHANNA


With her eighth album, "Anti", Rihanna has made a radical departure from the dance-powered pop that first brought her fame. With no apparent concern for musical trends, the new music reflects a much more personal side than what we're used to hearing from the performer. She has collaborated with some rising production talent like Boi-1da, Hit-boy and DJ Mustard to help guide her in a new direction with more of an emphasis on edgier alt-soul and dancehall. Not all of the songs are successful and there aren't many obvious pop singles to be found here but Rihanna is attempting to grow as an artist, making a creatively adventurous work that should definitely be heard.

For the first single, "Work" (that features Drake), there are two different music videos for the track. One is set at a Jamaican dance hall party with the young crowd enjoying weed and jerk chicken, The other is just Rihanna and Drake, in a tacky living room, bumping and grinding on each other. Here are both videos together so you can watch them and decide which one you like best:



BLOC PARTY


After taking a hiatus in 2013 which resulted with two members ultimately leaving the band, the British alt-rock group, Bloc Party has returned with their fifth album, "Hymns". New band-mates, Justin Harris on bass and drummer, Louise Bartle join Russell Lissack on guitar and lead vocalist/guitarist, Kele Okereke on music that moves closer towards dance and electronic sounds. Okereke explains that he was inspired by religious hymns and symbolism which resulted with an abstract spirituality moving throughout the record.

Take a look at the fun video for the first single, "The Love Within":

Sunday, February 21, 2016

2016 OSCAR NOMINEES FOR BEST ORIGINAL SONG

It had been previously announced that pop stars the Weeknd, Sam Smith and Lady Gaga were invited to perform their nominated songs on the 2016 Oscars telecast next Sunday. Now, it's just been revealed that the other two nominees, J. Ralph & Antony Hegarty and David Lang were NOT invited to perform their songs.

The lame excuse is due to "time constraints" but I must ask when has the Oscars ever seriously been concerned about time? With the show to surely run well over three hours long, what's another ten minutes to give these performers their deserved moment in the spotlight? The real reason is clearly because these nominees are relatively unknown and their songs are not conventional enough to fit comfortably in to the star-filled evening. I think it's shameful, a disgrace and completely unfair. It should be all or nothing!

Let me get off my soapbox and let you listen to the two nominees snubbed from the show:

Simple Song #3” from "Youth" (Music and Lyric by David Lang)



Manta Ray” from "Racing Extinction" (Music by J. Ralph and Lyric by Antony Hegarty)



And here are the other nominees:

Earned It” from "Fifty Shades of Grey" (Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio)



Til It Happens to You” from "The Hunting Ground" (Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga)



Writing’s on the Wall” from "Spectre" (Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

THE 58TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS


Compton rap performer, Kendrick Lamar received the most awards at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards with five although country-turned-pop singer, Taylor Swift took home the top prize of Album of The Year. Ms Swift and the alt-rock band, Alabama Shakes each received three Grammy awards. In fact, all of the Album of The Year nominees, which included the previously mentioned artists as well as urban soul vocalist, the Weeknd and country singer, Chris Stapleton, won the album award in their respective categories this year. British pop-folk artist, Ed Sheeran won Song of The Year  while Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars received Record of The Year for "Uptown Funk".

LL Cool J once again was our host and the program was filled with twenty musical performances.
Taylor Swift kicked off the awards with her new single, "Out of The Woods" and this bombastic but unimpressive appearance seemed to indicate the direction of most of the show. We had a chemistry-free country performance by Best New Artist nominee, Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood, a low-energy the Weeknd doing his hit "Can't Feel My Face", a very nervous duo of Best New Artist nominees, Tori Kelly and James Bay and just plain weird set by Justin Bieber, Diplo and Skrillex. Even Adele, who sang "All I Ask" (from her mega-smash, "25" which she co-wrote with Bruno Mars) had difficulty connecting although it wasn't entirely her fault as she clearly had sound issues.

What did manage to work best were the tributes to important musical artists, some that have recently passed away. We had a fun celebration of the music by Lionel Richie that included John Legend, Demi Lovato and Meghan Trainor before being reduced to a flood of tears after predictably wining Best New Artist. The a Capella performance by Steve Wonder and Pentatonix to honor the late Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire was amazing. B.B. King was remembered by Bonnie Raitt, Gary Clark Jr. and Grammy-winner, Stapleton with a rousing take of the Blues man's hit, "The Thrill Is Gone". There were still a few clunkers here with The Eagles reuniting with Jackson Browne to pay their respects to the band's founding member, Glen Frey with a listless version of "Take It Easy" while the tribute to hard rock legend, Lemmy Klimister by The Hollywood Vampires, a new rock super-group that features Alice Cooper and actor Johnny Depp, was just loud and a little tragic. And I have to add that the Grammys could have done much more regarding a remembrance to the late r&b singer, Natalie Cole. The nine-time winner deserved better.


Then there was Lady Gaga and her hotly anticipated performance to honor the memory of rock chameleon David Bowie. With Nile Rodgers by her side, Gaga did not disappoint, giving it her all with a spirited set that featured visual effects, dancers and Bowie-inspired costume changes as she burned through the singer's hits like "Life On Mars", "Fame" and "Let's Dance". Another highlight was Kendrick Lemar's politically charged performance of "The Blacker The Berry" with the rapper coming on stage out of a prison cell in chains to make a pointed and creative statement on social injustice and police brutality against African-Americans.

Lamar wasn't the only one who had something to say. Before Beyoncé presented the Record of The Year, she spoke about the importance of artistic expression which indirectly referenced the silly fuss made over her Super Bowl performance. A fed-up Taylor Swift finally took aim at Kanye West for his offensive lyrics regarding her in his new music and ridiculous claim of being responsible for her fame. Never mentioning the rapper by name, she encouraged young female artists during her Album of The Year speech to stay strong and focused, reminding them there will be people out there trying to diminish your accomplishments.

The most inspired moment of the entire evening was presenting the opening number of Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit Broadway musical, "Hamilton" to the television audience. The winner for Best Musical Theater Album was dynamic, innovative and thoroughly modern which was everything this year's Grammys was not. Overall, not a memorable night for the music world's biggest event.

Here is a partial list of winners from the 2016 Grammy Awards:


Album of the Year: "1989" - Taylor Swift
Song of the Year: "Thinking Out Loud," - written by Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge
Record of the Year: "Uptown Funk," - Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
Best New Artist: Meghan Trainor
Best Pop Vocal Album: "1989" - Taylor Swift
Best Pop Solo Performance: "Thinking Out Loud" - Ed Sheeran
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: "Uptown Funk," - Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: "The Silver Lining: The Songs Of Jerome Kern" — Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap
Best Rap Album: "To Pimp a Butterfly" - Kendrick Lamar
Best Rap Song: "Alright," - written by Kendrick Lamar
Best Rap Solo Performance: "Alright," - Kendrick Lamar
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration: "These Walls," - Kendrick Lamar featuring Bilal, Anna Wise, and Thundercat
Best Country Album: "Traveler" - Chris Stapleton
Best Country Song: "Girl Crush" - written by Little Big Town
Best Country Solo Performance: "Traveller" - Chris Stapleton
Best Country Duo/Group Performance: "Girl Crush" - Little Big Town
Best Rock Album: "Drones" - Muse
Best Rock Song: "Don't Wanna Fight" - Written by Alabama Shakes
Best Rock Performance: "Don't Wanna Fight" - Alabama Shakes
Best Metal Performance: "Cirice," - Ghost
Best Alternative Album: "Sound & Color" - Alabama Shakes
Best Dance/Electronic Album: "Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü" - Skrillex and Diplo
Best Dance Recording: “Where Are Ü Now” — Skrillex And Diplo With Justin Bieber


Best Urban Contemporary Album: "Beauty Behind the Madness" - the Weeknd
Best R&B Album: "Black Messiah" — D’Angelo And The Vanguard
Best R&B Song: "Really Love" - written by D'Angelo and Kendra Foster
Best R&B Performance: "Earned It" - the Weeknd
Best Traditional R&B Performance: “Little Ghetto Boy” — Lalah Hathaway
Best Jazz Vocal Album: "For One To Love" — Cécile McLorin Salvant
Best Blues Album: "Born To Play Guitar" — Buddy Guy
Best Gospel Album: "Covered: Alive Is Asia [Live] (Deluxe)" — Israel & Newbreed
Best Americana Album: "Something More Than Free" — Jason Isbell
Best Reggae Album: "Strictly Roots" — Morgan Heritage
Best Latin Pop Album: "A Quien Quiera Escuchar (Deluxe Edition)" — Ricky Martin
Best Comedy Album: "Live At Madison Square Garden" — Louis C.K.
Best Musical Theater Album: "Hamilton"
Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media: "Birdman" - Antonio Sanchez
Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media: “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”
Best Song Written for Visual Media: "Glory" - Common and John Legend
Best Music Film: "Amy"
Best Music Video: "Bad Blood," - Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar
Producer of the Year (Non-Classical): Jeff Bhasker

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

VANITY (1959 - 2016)


I am very sad to report that Vanity, the beautiful singer who once fronted Prince's girl group, Vanity 6, best known for the sexually provocative song, "Nasty Girl", passed away on February 15th. She had left behind show business and a wild lifestyle years ago and became a born-again evangelist in the '90's. The former singer/actress had recently been suffering from kidney failure and being treated with peritoneal dialysis due to many years of drug abuse.

She was born Denise Matthews in Ontario, Canada and started in beauty pageants before moving on to some modeling and acting in low-budget films as "D.D. Winters". She soon traveled to America and landed in Los Angeles and it didn't take long for her to get noticed.

Matthews met Prince during the American Music Awards in 1980 and encouraged her to move in to music. The Purple One renamed her "Vanity", teamed her with his former girlfriend, Susan Moonsie and Brenda Bennett and they became "Vanity 6". The sexy trio released a self-titled album in 1982 and with the help of the hit song, "Nasty Girl", the record sold over half a million copies.

Vanity decided to leave the group to start a solo career and signed with Motown Records in 1984. She recorded two moderately successful albums on the label and appeared in films like "The Last Dragon" and "Action Jackson" with Carl Weathers. It was during this time she got heavily involved with drugs. After nearly dying from an overdose, Vanity claims to have seen Jesus and told her if she left this life behind to devote herself to him, he would save her. Matthews recovered and never looked back, spending the rest of her life as a born-again Christian.

Here are some notable songs during her time as Vanity:

"Nasty Girl" - Vanity 6 (1982) mp3

"Mechanical Emotion" - Vanity (1984) mp3

Take a look at the music video for one of Vanity's songs from her solo career, "Under The Influence":

Monday, February 8, 2016

SUPER BOWL SPECIAL


First, on Super Bowl eve, Beyoncé dropped a surprise new single, "Formation" with an accompanying music video. The song (available as a free download via the Tidal music streaming service) is about her pride in being from the South, African-American, rich and fabulous. Directed by Beyoncé's long-time video collaborator, Melina Matsoukas, the clip for "Formation" is an amazing work of art. It was shot in New Orleans and utilizes the city's beautiful culture and makes references to Hurricane Katrina and the struggles to rebound from that disaster. Even Blue Ivy, Jay Z and Beyoncé's daughter, makes a brief appearance:



Although Coldplay was the actual Super Bowl half-time act, it was Beyoncé and Bruno Mars that everyone is talking about. Mars (with DJ/producer, Mark Ronson) first came out to do "Uptown Funk", then Bey worked the crowd in to a frenzy to do her latest song before their merged their tunes together to close out the show. It was really an electrifying performance. If you happened to miss it (which I think I'm the only one since I'm no football fan), here's a look at their part:

video



Missy Elliott also made an appearance during the Super Bowl but not on the actual show. She was in the humorous commercial for the Amazon Echo which also gave a brief plug for her new song, "Pep Rally" which was released this weekend. While it's not nearly as catchy as "WTF (Where They From)", it's still worth a listen:

"Pep Rally" - Missy Elliott (2016) mp3

Take a look at the funny commercial for Amazon Echo with Alec Baldwin, Jason Schwartzman, Dan Marino and Ms Elliott:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

MAURICE WHITE (1941 - 2016)


2016 is proving to be a really tough year in music as we have lost yet another great performer. Maurice White, founding member and creative force behind the soul & funk super band, Earth Wind & Fire, has passed away on February 4th. He had been struggling with Parkinson's disease since the late 1980's.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, White first began his musical career as a session drummer for Chicago's Chess Records in the 1960's playing on recordings for Etta James, the Impressions, Buddy Guy, Fontella Bass and Ramsey Lewis. In 1966, he joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio and played drums with the jazz band for several years and appeared on nine albums. By 1969, White decided to form his own soul group with friends Wade Flemons, Don Whitehead and brother, Verdine. They originally called themselves "the Salty Peppers"  but after getting a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, White decided to rename their act "Earth, Wind & Fire", which refers to the elements in his astrological chart.

EWF's first two albums brought them attention but not much radio play. Clive Davis, then head of Columbia Records, saw the band perform and was quite impressed. He was impressed enough to buy out their recording contract and sign them to his label in 1972. Earth Wind & Fire didn't find instant success at their new home but their 1975 release, "That's the Way of the World" was a major breakthrough. The album had three hit songs; the title track, "Reasons" and "Shining Star" which reached number one on the pop and soul charts. More hits followed including "Serpentine Fire", "Fantasy", "Sing a Song" and "Boogie Wonderland".

White also managed to find time to work with other artists. He produced the debut albums for Deniece Williams and Broadway star, Jennifer Holiday, worked on records for Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and co-wrote and produced the Emotions' 1977 number one smash, "Best of My Love". In 1985, White released his only solo album which became a modest hit that included a cover of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me".  Listen to a few of my favorite songs by Earth Wind & Fire featuring the voice of the great Maurice White:

"After The Love Is Gone" - Earth Wind & Fire (1979) mp3

"Let's Groove" - Earth Wind & Fire (1981) mp3

And here is the music video for one of EWF's biggest hits, "September":

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TAKE TWO: TUPAC SHAKUR


Although we lost him far too soon at the age of twenty-five, Tupac Shakur managed to accomplish much in his short life and remains one of the most influential artists in hip-hop. During the early '90's he used his music as an outlet to address the themes of racism, social injustice, police brutality and inner-city violence, which was revolutionary during a time when much of rap was focused on expensive cars, sexy women and petty squabbles. The undeniable power of Shakur's words made the world take notice and changed hip-hop forever.

Shakur was born Lesane Parish Crooks in East Harlem, New York but a year after his birth, he was renamed after the 18th-century Peruvian revolutionary, Túpac Amaru. His parents were actively involved with the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army which would influence him as a child. As a teen, Shakur enrolled in the 127th Street Repertory Ensemble where he performed in various plays. By the time he was seventeen, the family moved to Marin County, California where he would continue with theater and poetry.

He was soon captivated by rap music and got involved with the alt-hip-hop group, Digital Underground as a back-up dancer. This lead to Shakur performing with the band on their albums before breaking out on his own as "2Pac" with his debut release, "2Pacalypse Now" in 1991. While it wasn't a commercial hit, it did bring attention to the aspiring rapper. The follow-up released two years later, "Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z..." did even better with two top-twenty hit singles, "Keep Ya Head Up" and "I Get Around".

Around this time, Shakur began to flex his acting muscles and appeared in the films, "Juice", "Above The Rim" and "Poetic Justice" with Janet Jackson. It was also during this time that he had major troubles with the law including accusations of shooting two off-duty police officers, assaulting director Allen Hughes while filming "Menace II Society" and the most serious offense; sexually assaulting a female fan which he was found guilty. Shakur served nine months of his four year sentence before Suge Knight, CEO of Death Row Records, posted his bail under the condition of him recording three albums for his label.

2Pac's third album, "Me Against the World" was released while he was in prison in 1995 and it entered the Billboard album chart at number one. Reflective and very personal, the album was critically acclaimed with the single, "Dear Mama", an emotional tribute to his mother, Afeni Shakur, becoming one of his biggest hits reaching the top of the rap singles chart and the top-ten on the pop charts.

A few months after the release of Shakur's fourth CD, "All Eyez on Me", he was leaving a boxing match in Las Vegas with Suge Knight when their car was fired upon by an unknown number of assailants. Knight was injured by fragmentation but Shakur was fatally hit multiple times and passed away four days later on September 13, 1996. To preserve Shakur's legacy, his mother founded the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation in 1997 to help students enhance their talents. The prolific artist left behind a large body of unreleased material and six albums were released posthumously between 1996 through 2006.

To celebrate the life and artistry of Tupac Shakur, here are just two of my favorite tracks:

"Keep Ya Head Up" - 2Pac (1993) mp3

"Dear Mama" - 2Pac (1995) mp3

ICONA POP ARE "GIRLS GIRLS"

Those Swedish musical party-girls, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, otherwise known as  Icona Pop are back with a new club-banging anthem. ...