Wednesday, October 18, 2017

ABSENT FACES IN POP MUSIC

I had read a interesting article recently in the Los Angeles Times about the difficulties of a new generation of Black female singers being able to cross over to the pop charts. It really made me take notice and realize how true this has become. Female soul singers have regularly appeared on pop radio for decades and there was a high point back in the '90's when there were a large number of solo artists (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige) and vocal groups (TLC, SWV, Destiny's Child) who found major success on both the r&b and pop charts. But by the mid-2000's, these female performers seemed to fall out of favor as male-dominated hip-hop took over the charts.

What is making it particularly difficult for these new singers to crossover is that while they're using classic soul as their foundation, each one is taking their own individual approach by creating what would be considered alternative soul music, which merges electronic dance, rock and hip-hop, and doesn't easily fit in today's narrow pop music scene. As I love a great female voice, I'm going to do my little part and put a spotlight on a few of these very talented vocalists featured in this article.

If you want to read the story, please click below:

Los Angeles Times: Female R&B Artists Struggle For Attention

JHENE AIKO


Jhené Aiko, the twenty-nine year old, L.A. native, began her music career as a teen by providing backing vocals for the r&b boy-band, B2K in 2002. Due to her association with this act, she was able to get signed to Sony Records and recorded an album but the label would not released it. Following this disappointment, Aiko decided to go back to school to finish her education. When she made her return to music, Aiko did so on her terms by releasing a mixtape, "Sailing Soul(s)" in 2011 which features an impressive roster of musicians lending support including Miguel, Drake and Kanye West. This lead to her opening for Nas, Lauryn Hill and Drake before getting signed to ARTium Records. Aiko released an EP in 2013, "Sail Out" which featured the single, "The Worst" that peaked at number four on the U.S. Adult R&B chart and was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Song. The following year, Aiko finally has her debut album released. "Souled Out" is an alt-r&b concept album about a woman's journey to enlightenment and received plenty of critical praise. Now her follow-up album, "Trip" just came out last month without any advanced notice. Not only will Aiko be on a headlining tour to support the album through the end of the year but in January she will go on the road with Lana Del Rey with her LA To The Moon tour. Take a look at the video for the first single from the new album, "While We're Young":



SZA


Born Solána Rowe, SZA (with her stage name inspired from RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan) started her career in music purely as a lark. After dropping out of college without a future career plan, Rowe was inspired to write a few songs one day, later recorded them with a friend and eventually decided that this was something she seriously wanted to pursue. SZA self-released her first EP, "See SZA Run" in 2012 which was met with critical acclaim with music critics describing her sound as a fascinating mix of Beyoncé and Björk. She would release two more well-received mixtapes that led to her writing songs for other artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Rihanna before signing to a major label, RCA Records and releasing her debut studio album, "Ctrl" (pronounced "control") this past June. The first single, "Drew Barrymore" was named after the actress and inspired by her role in one of her early films, "Poison Ivy". You can hear SZA now on pop radio due to her recent collaboration with Maroon 5 on the rising hit, "What Lovers Do" which just reached the top-twenty. She also has just dropped another single from her album, "The Weekend" which is riding high on the r&b and pop charts.



SEVYN STREETER


Amber Streeter knew she wanted to be a professional singer ever since she was a little girl. She sang in church and talent shows (including tying for first place while competing on "Showtime at The Apollo") before becoming part of the teen girl-group, TG4 (which was short for "tom girls four") at the age of fifteen and signing her first recording contract. The group opened for other youth-oriented r&b acts like B2K, Immature and Lil' Bow Wow but their music never made an impact on the charts. Soon TG4 disbanded and Streeter would join another girl-group, RichGirl in 2007. This group managed to open for Beyoncé on tour but their promotional singles failed to take off. By 2011, RichGirl was done and Streeter was on her own again but her career would begin a major shift after meeting r&b bad boy, Chris Brown. She signed to his label, changed her name to "Sevyn"and sang on Brown's 2012 album, "Fortune".  Later that year, Streeter dropped her own singles, "It Won't Stop" and "Next" which brought her plenty of attention as a solo artist with them reaching the top-twenty on the r&b and hip-hop charts. This year, the determined thirty-one year old Streeter released her first album, "Girl Disrupted" with the singles, "My Love For You", "Before I Do" and "Fallen" serving as perfect representations of her brand of passionate and sensual modern soul. Check out the video for the ballad,  "Fallen" that features Ty Dolla $ign and Cam Wallace:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

TOM PETTY (1950 - 2017)


It has been sadly confirmed that Tom Petty, the hard-driving rock performer and songwriter, has actually passed away at the age of sixty-six after suffering from full cardiac arrest early on October 2nd. It had been reported that he had died when he had been initially found at his home in Malibu but that was inaccurate at that time. Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers had just completed a fortieth anniversary tour, which he had stated would be their last major cross-country tour, with the final shows held at the Hollywood Bowl near the end of September.

Petty was born on October 20th in Gainesville, Florida and first became interested in rock-n-roll as a child after meeting Elvis Presley when the singer was in town shooting a movie and later when catching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Petty decided he was going to be a rock performer. He dropped out of school at seventeen to play bass with the band, Mudcrutch. The group found minor local success but eventually disbanded with Petty deciding to go solo. With former Mudcrutch members, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench by his side, he found additional players to form an early version of The Heartbreakers.

The first self-titled album by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers  in 1976 didn't get much attention in the States but it broke through in Britain with the single, "Breakdown". U.S. audiences soon came around and Petty and the band would have many hits here with  "Refugee", "Don't Do Me Like That", "American Girl" and "The Waiting". Petty would also release three solo albums, was a member of the supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys which included George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan and had a smash hit duet with Stevie Nicks with the single,  "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" in 1982.

Tom Petty was inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, won three Grammy Awards and has sold over eighty million records throughout his impressive career. Petty is survived by wife, Dana York and three children. Let's look back on some musical highlights from this incredibly gifted musician who will truly be missed:









Sunday, October 1, 2017

DOUBLE DUTCHESS


After eleven years, Fergie has finally released the long-awaited follow-up to her mega-successful debut solo album, "The Dutchess". Although an unfinished version of the entire album was leaked in July, the official version of  "Double Dutchess" is now out. Much like her debut, the forty-two year old mother and soon-to-be former wife to actor, Josh Duhamel has created another solid collection that features an eclectic mix of sounds ranging from hip-hop, reggae, soul, dance and modern pop.

Fergie decided to take full control of this project with her co-producing and co-writing nearly all of the tracks. She also decided to leave her record label, Interscope and to launch her own label, Dutchess Music. The album does feature the singles that failed to get much attention including "L.A. Love (La La)" which was dropped back in 2014 and "M.I.L.F.$" and "Life Goes On" from last year. But the new single, "You Already Know", that includes Nicki Minaj providing her trademark sassy rap, seems to be the step in the right direction. As for the hyper-sexual imagery she's projecting all over the promotional album pictures and videos, it does come across a little extreme and desperate. But I guess you do what you gotta do to get noticed in this competitive pop environment.

Taking a page from Beyoncé and her "Lemonade" album, Fergie has made videos for each of the songs on the album and assembled them together as a film called "Double Dutchess: Seeing Double". Take a look at a few of these videos:







Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THE NEW "MEANING" OF KELLY CLARKSON


When she was a contestant on a new television singing competition fifteen years ago, Kelly Clarkson was able to dabble in many different genres of music each week in front of millions of viewers. That show was "American Idol" and she impressed everyone so much with her dazzling voice that Clarkson went on to become the very first winner.

The big prize was a recording contract with RCA Records and Clarkson has had a glorious career with many worldwide hits singles.  However, she has recently revealed that her time with the label was not easy. Over the seven albums she released, Clarkson had little input on song selection on most of these albums and was not allowed to venture outside of the safe and narrow world of pop music.

Now after completing the terms of her recording contract, Clarkson decided to move on to a new label, Atlantic and with that, an new opportunity to take more control of her music. For her new album, "The Meaning of Life", the singer has decided to dive deeper in to a r&b and soul sound which she was previously unable to do. Clarkson was involved in all all aspects of the recording of the album and this busy wife and mother of two even managed to find time to co-write a few tracks.

To give us a sample of what's to come from "The Meaning of Life", two songs have been released. "Love So Soft" is a blast of classic funky soul with modern trap rhythms and features members of Earth, Wind & Fire playing on the track. Meanwhile, "Move You" is a emotional ballad with Clarkson's beautiful vocals soaring in to gospel territory. If you are a fan of Kelly Clarkson, you will be very excited by this new direction and if you are not, I think this dynamic collection might make you want to reconsider:



Thursday, September 21, 2017

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

First up, here are some interesting music videos I like:











After taking some time off to get married and have her first child (it's a girl!) last year, Jessie Ware didn't seem to have wasted anytime getting back to music. The British songstress has just released two new songs. "Midnight" is a haunting uptempo ballad delivering what we love about Ms Ware as it features her sensual vocals and sophisticated songwriting. While "Selfish Love" is another ballad but guitar-driven with a slight bossa-nova beat that presents a completely different vibe from the singer. Look for her upcoming third album, "Glasshouse" in October. In the meantime, check out the music videos for these songs:





I recently just heard one of his songs from back in the day and it made me wonder; what happened to Christopher Cross? This singer, born Christopher Geppert and originally from San Antonio, Texas, released his debut album back in 1979 and it was an immediate success. His collection of soft rock tunes included the hits, "Ride Like The Wind", "Never Be The Same" and the number one single, "Sailing" which helped sell five million copies of the album. Cross would go on to win five Grammy Awards including Best New Artist and Album of The Year. His follow-up album in 1983, "Another Page", continued the hits with "Think of Laura", "All Right" and included "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" from the hit comedy, "Arthur" which would go on to win an Oscar for Best Original Song. But after all this immediate pop success, the easy-listening rock of Christopher Cross soon wasn't having much of an impact on the charts. He's still around making music and about to embark on a cross-country North American tour. Here are a couple of songs that I love from Christopher Cross:

"Ride Like The Wind" - Christopher Cross (1979) mp3

"Sailing" - Christopher Cross (1979) mp3

Sunday, September 10, 2017

STREETS OF FIRE


Did anyone ever see "Street of Fire"? It was a 1984 film by Walter Hill that was a crazy mix of action, comedy, drama and musical and featured a retro-futuristic look. Self-described as "a rock & roll fable",  Michael Paré (a rising star at the time that never really got off the ground) plays as an ex-solider who is called on to save famous rock singer (and former girlfriend), Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) who was kidnapped by a biker gang lead by Willem Dafoe in an early film role. The film also featured Amy Madigan and Rick Moranis.



"Streets of Fire" is a hot mess of a movie but still a thoroughly watchable and entertaining mess. One bright spot is the music soundtrack. The film's title comes from a Bruce Springsteen song from his 1978 album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and was supposed to be sung by the Ellen Aim character at the end of the film. However, negotiations broke down and the song was dropped. Jim Steinman, best known for his theatrical rock ballads performed by such artists as Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler, was brought in to provide new material. He wrote "Nowhere Fast", the thrilling opening number and the ballad, "Tonight Is What It Means To be Young" for the finale. Diane Lane did not actually sing so professional vocalists, Laurie Sargent and Holly Shepard performed the songs with their voices blended together and were called Fire, Inc.





The biggest hit from the movie was "I Can Dream About You", written by Dan Hartman. In the film, the song was sung by session singer, Winston Ford and performed by the fictional doo-wop-soul group, The Sorels that featured Mykelti Williamson (recently seen in the film, "Fences") and future director, Robert Townsend ("Hollywood Shuffle", "Eddie Murphy Raw"). Hartman recorded his own version and was released as a single where it reached number six on the pop charts.

Friday, September 8, 2017

THE RETURN OF SAM SMITH


Sam Smith, the British singer who burst on the scene back in 2014 with a debut album, "In The Lonely Hour" which won him four Grammys including Best New Artist, has made his return to music. Today, he just released a new single, "Too Good At Goodbyes" and it's another mournful ballad that Smith does very well. It may be a little safe and predictable but the song is quite moving and I can't wait to hear more. Have a listen for yourself:

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

WALTER BECKER (1950 - 2017)


Walter Becker, the inventive guitarist, producer, songwriter and co-founder of the jazz/soul influenced rock group, Steely Dan, passed away on September 3rd. No cause of death has been given at this time but he had missed performances in July as the group was a part of the Classic East and Classic West rock festivals due to an undisclosed illness.

Born in Queens, New York, Becker was quite musical as a child and first learned to play the saxophone before later switching to the guitar. In college, he met Donald Fagen where they formed a a connection through music. They formed several bands together before Becker dropped out of school and they went to Brooklyn to try their hand as a songwriting team.

The duo ended up in Southern California in 1971 and formed Steely Dan, which at the time was a full group which included guitarists Denny Dias, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and drummer Jim Hodder. Becker was mainly the group's bass player and co-songwriter with keyboardist and vocalist, Fagen at the time before eventually becoming the guitarist by their third album, "Pretzel Logic" in 1974. This was the group's breakthrough and featured the hit, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" that peaked at number four on the pop chart. This was the last album with Steely Dan as a band as Becker and Fagen would just rely on studio musicians to fill out their sound on albums and tours which included Michael McDonald who would later join the Doobie Brothers and drummer, Jeff Porcaro who would become a part of Toto.

During the time of their success, Becker had become seriously addicted to drugs and along with that came other problems. In 1978, Becker's girlfriend, Karen Stanley died from an overdose in his apartment and was later sued by her family for wrongful death. Shortly after that, Becker was hit by a cab in New York. After the stressful recording sessions for Steely Dan's 1980 album, "Gaucho", Becker decided to end his musical partnership with Donald Fagen.

Becker moved to Maui where he sobered up and eventually found his way back to music. He produced for several acts including Ricki Lee Jones' 1987 album, "Flying Cowboys".  He first worked again with Fagen in 1986 as they both played on model/singer, Rosie Vela's debut album, "Zazu". The duo officially came back together in 1993 as they went on tour as Steely Dan for the first in nineteen years. They didn't record an album until 2000 with "Two Against Nature" which went on to win four Grammy Awards including Album of The Year. Becker released two solo albums during his career with "11 Tracks of Whack" in 1994 (which Fagen co-produced) and "Circus Money" in 2008. The musician is survived by his wife, Elinor and they have two children.

In tribute to Walter Becker, here is a song he created with Donald Fagen as Steely Dan:

"Deacon Blues" - Steely Dan (1978) mp3

Monday, August 28, 2017

TAYLOR SWIFT'S LATEST DISS TRACK


After the incredible success of her 2014 album, "1989" and the following world tour which was the highest-grossing of 2015 that placed her into global superstar status, Taylor Swift decided to lay low for a while. During this time, she made a couple of musical collaborations (most notably with a One Direction member she didn't date) but her most news-worthy events were spent fighting for artist's rights against Apple Music and Spotify and winning a legal battle against a grabby DJ.

At the stroke of midnight on August 25th, Swift has reemerged with new music. She has been known to use her music as a way to express her unpleasant experiences with people she has known while paying them back for perceived or actual slights. Yet with her newest single, "Look What You Made Me Do", the singer seems to have taken an even darker turn.

Co-written and produced by the busy Jack Antonoff (who also produced tracks on "1989"), the song uses elements from an unlikely source of Right Said Fred's 1991 hit, "I'm Too Sexy" while Swift goes on a rampage about someone who has wronged her. It also ignites plenty of speculation on who she may be referring to as her recent bouts include Katy Perry and Kanye West along with his wife. This intriguing bit of dance-pop presents Swift in a different light. Gone is the sweet and good-natured singer and now we have an edgy and angry persona. But is this the new Taylor Swift? For in the middle of this record, she boldly announces that the old Taylor Swift is dead. From the tone of this song, I'm not quite sure I really like this new version of the singer.

Taylor Swift's sixth album is called "Reputation" and will out on November 10th.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN


People have been in a wild frenzy over the solar eclipse happening on August 21st, beginning around 8:46 AM Pacific time. For those who may not know, this occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partially obscuring the image of the sun from view. The last total eclipse which was visible across the U.S. happened almost one hundred years ago on June 18, 1918.

If you plan to watch, remember you can seriously damage your eyes if you look directly at this eclipse. Make sure you get special protective glasses (regular sunglasses will not do) if you plan on watching.

So in tribute, here is a musical offering in celebration of this once-in-a-lifetime event:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


I can't believe it but it's been forty years since "Best of My Love" by The Emotions landed at number one on the pop chart during this week. This enduring classic, written by Maurice White and Al McKay of Earth, Wind & Fire, spent five weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, won the group a Grammy for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group and the single would sell over a million copies.

The Emotions, made up of the Hutchinson sisters, Jeanette, Sheila and Wanda, hail from Chicago and began singing together professionally in 1962 as teens. Their first taste of success came when their single, "So I Can Love You" reached the soul chart in 1969. After their record label, Volt folded in 1975, the trio met Maurice White and he took an interest in the group. He got them signed to his label, Columbia and began work on an album. Their first project together, "Flowers" was released in 1976 and the singles, "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love" and the title track, became big hits on the soul chart. But it was the follow-up album, "Rejoice" that gave the Emotions' the biggest smash of their careers. Their last major chart appearance would be providing backing vocals on Earth, Wind & Fire's 1979 top-ten hit, "Boogie Wonderland".

The Emotions still occasionally perform together, with younger sister, Pamela filling in for Jeanette. Enjoy this rare live appearance of the group performing their hit on "The Midnight Special" show back in 1977:

Saturday, August 12, 2017

PINK ASKS "WHAT ABOUT US?"


The last time we heard from Pink it was with her musical contribution to Disney's 2016 "Alice in Wonderland" sequel, "Alice Through The Looking Glass" and the top-ten hit, "Just Like Fire" (which was probably the best thing about that movie).

Now the thirty-seven year old singer is officially back with a song from her upcoming seventh album, "Beautiful Trauma" due out in October. "What About Us" (co-written with Johnny McDaid and Steve Mac who also produced the track) seems to be about bringing attention back to all the people that have been forgotten during this current volatile political climate. This low-key, uptempo ballad is a bit of a surprise and even a little underwhelming as a lead single but it's message is important and right on time. Have a listen:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

GLEN CAMPBELL (1936 - 2017)


Glen Campbell, who was a popular entertainer in the '60's and '70's on the country and pop charts, has passed away on August 8th after a valiant battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was officially diagnosed with this in 2011 and soon embarked on a final tour the following year. He made his final television appearance on the 2012 Grammy Awards where he did a thrilling performance of one of his biggest hits, "Rhinestone Cowboy" with this song reaching number one on the country and pop charts back in 1975. Campbell also did his last recordings in 2012 and 2013 which would become his sixty-fourth studio album, "Adiós" and was just released this year in June.

Born the seventh of twelve children to Wesley and Carrie Campbell in Billstown, Arkansas, Glen was given a guitar as a child and learned to play from his Uncle Dick Bills who was a professional musician with his band, the Sandia Mountain Boys. Campbell dropped out of high school and later went to join his uncle's band in 1956 and stayed with the group until he started his own band in 1958.

Campbell decided to head to California to try and become a solo artist in 1960. He did manage to get a recording contract with Capitol Records but his singles were not successful. However Campbell did become a very popular studio guitarist and was part of the famous "Wrecking Crew" session musicians who backed everyone from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra.

Campbell did not give up on his dream to become a recording artist of his own and finally had a breakthrough in 1967 with "Gentle On My Mind" which hit the Billboard Top 40 and earned Campbell two 1968 Grammy Awards for Best Country Male Vocalist and Best Contemporary Male Vocalist. The hits continued for the singer with "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Wichita Lineman", "Galveston" and "Southern Nights" to name a few. Campbell became so popular that television came calling with him first making appearances on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" before getting his own variety show, "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" which ran from 1969 through 1971. Campbell even made a few movies with the most notable being the 1969 John Wayne film, "True Grit".

A documentary, "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me" was released in 2014 and covers his struggles with Alzheimer's and the farewell tour. A song from the film, "I’m Not Gonna Miss You", written by Campbell and Julian Raymond, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. In tribute, here are a few clips of the talented Glen Campbell performing some of his best known songs:







Friday, July 28, 2017

MY TUNE OF THE DAY


This tune is a song I have heard many times and my reaction is the same every time I hear it. So this time I want to make a comment on this.

"Woman To Woman" was a number one soul hit in 1974 for Shirley Brown and even crossed over to the pop chart, reaching number twenty-two. She was an artist on Stax Records with this single selling over a million copies and was one of the last big records for the legendary label.

If you are not familiar with this tune, let me fill you in; the song starts off in spoken word with Shirley finding the phone number of her man's mistress, Barbara in his pockets and decides to call her. Now I can understand someone wanting to confront a person messing with their spouse and setting them straight but Shirley lost me completely when she rattles off her reasons why Barbara should back off. She proceeds to boast that she pays for her man's clothes, car and "every piece of food he eats" and will do anything to keep him. It just seems sad to me that this woman so desperately wants to hang on to her cheating man who clearly doesn't respect her nor appreciate everything she has done for him. I know I may be betraying my gender but I think she deserves better than this. Have a listen to the song and judge for yourself:

"Woman To Woman" - Shirley Brown (1974) mp3

The following year, Barbara Mason (best known for her 1965 hit, "Yes, I'm Ready") came out with an answer song to Shirley Brown's tune. After a lengthy musical intro and a snippet of Brown's opening line "Barbara, this is Shirley", "From His Woman To You" tells Barbara's side of this affair. What I find humorous is that the man in the middle of all this drama between these women remained silent. Now that's an answer song I would have liked to have heard. Here's a bonus of Barbara Mason's song:

"From His Woman To You" - Barbara Mason (1975) mp3

Monday, July 24, 2017

KOOL & THE GANG 2017 TOUR


Just as much as audiences love new music, they also enjoy looking back at their old-school favorites. Those concert packages that puts together several vintage bands of the past are a rite of the summer and the latest features the slightly odd combo of Village People, Morris Day and The Time and the headliners, Kool & The Gang. I caught them on the first day of a two-night stand at the Hollywood Bowl on July 21st.

The Village People kicked off the night with a surprisingly brief twenty minute set although in hindsight it was plenty of time as it soon began to feel like they were doing slight variations of the same song. It's not really unexpected that most of the original members of these acts have departed in one form or another but this disco novelty act of gay male fantasy types features the most of their founding members. With the Indian (Felipe Rose), the GI (Alex Briley) and lead vocalist, the cop (Ray Simpson who replaced Victor Willis in their heyday) still around, the People did a fun, high-energy show that featured them doing their signature butch-dance moves while performing their greatest hits like "Macho Man", "In The Navy" and the enduring smash, "Y.M.C.A" which they did a detailed demonstration before the song on how to properly do the hand movements.

Before The Time came out, a tribute to Prince, who they were closely associated with, played on the video screens that featured his music and early pictures of him with Morris Day. Then the band arrived on stage to the sound of the Purple One's "1999" with Day checking out his look in a mirror carried by his "valet", Jerome Benton before launching in to their first hit, "Get It Up". They sounded great but seemed to have a hard time getting this crowd engaged. I think it may be for a lack of recognizable hits as The Time didn't have a major impact on the pop charts in their day as Prince did. The group fared better when they touched on his music with them doing a cover of "D.M.S.R". During the sentimental ballad, "Gigolos Get Lonely, Too", Day had his son, Derran come on stage to belt out a verse. While he has an impressive voice, it still came across like a shameless plug with the proud father advising the audience to find him on social media afterwards.

By the time Kool & The Gang arrived to close out the show, the crowd was warmed up and ready to party. Bass player and the namesake of this popular band, Robert "Kool" Bell (who is still on hand) started this group as a funk band in the late sixties before moving towards r&b and pop with the arrival of James "J.T." Taylor as lead singer in 1979. They got everybody on their feet with solid versions of their hits "Hollywood Swinging", "Ladies' Night", "Jungle Boogie" and "Get Down On It" enhanced by a fantastic horn section that features a couple of original players. Taylor has been long gone from the group but Lavell Evans does a serviceable job of filling in for the former vocalist yet not completely escaping moments that made them sound like a wedding band. Kool and company wanted everybody to know they are still in the game as they performed a new song, "Sexy (Where'd You Get Yours)". While it was perfectly keeping with their funky spirit, it was hardly anything noteworthy and just gave people a chance to head out for a beer run. With the sound of Kool & The Gang's biggest hit, "Celebration" signaling that the night is coming to a close, it was an enjoyable evening of music and memories.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

TAKE TWO: TEDDY PENDERGRASS


Back in the '70's, if you wanted to create a sexy mood, all you had to do was turn down the lights, pop open a bottle of wine and put on a Teddy Pendergrass record. Shifting effortlessly from a seductive whisper to a libidinous growl, this undeniable sex symbol used his robust voice to create songs filled with longing and carnal desires and there was no shame in his game. His live concerts were known to be sensual and sweaty affairs that left his largely female audiences extremely hot and bothered.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pendergrass would develop his singing style, not surprisingly, in the church. While it's rumored that he was ordained as a minister at the age of ten, it's factual that he did perform at services as a singer and drummer. As a young man, Pendergrass would join several soul groups playing the drums and providing the occasional vocal. It was during his time with the Cadillacs that would change the course of his musical career.

Harold Melvin, who had his own group The Blue Notes, caught the Cadillacs in concert when Pendergrass took a turn singing at the mike. Thoroughly impressed with his voice, Melvin quickly offered him the chance to be the lead vocalist of The Blue Notes and Pendergrass seized the opportunity. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, who hadn't had much commercial success, signed to a new label, Philadelphia International Records in 1971.

With the label's founders, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff taking a special interest in guiding their new artists, the group had their breakthrough hit the following year with a song written and produced by Gamble & Huff, "If You Don't Know Me By Now" which reached the top of the r&b chart and the top-ten of the pop chart. Other hits soon followed like "Bad Luck", "The Love I Lost" and "Wake Up Everybody" but with big success came bigger problems within the group. Resenting continuously being mistaken for "Harold Melvin", Pendergrass felt his name should be part of the band's title while also unhappy with his financial arrangement with Melvin. In 1975, he decided to leave the group to go solo while Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, who never found a suitable replacement for Pendergrass, eventually faded in to obscurity.

Teddy Pendergrass released his self-titled debut album in 1977 with it receiving a lot of attention on the soul chart with the help of the singles, "I Don't Love You Anymore" and "The Whole Town's Laughing at Me". With his subsequent albums, he began to chart his path as a sexy balladeer with such seductive bedroom jams as "Close The Door", "Come Go With Me", "Turn Off The Lights" and "Love T.K.O.". When Shep Gordon, Pendergrass' manager,  realized his audiences where largely made up of excited women of all races, he created "women only" concerts that proved to be a very popular gimmick.

By 1982, Pendergrass was at the height of his fame as one of the biggest artists in soul music when tragedy struck the singer in March of that year. He was involved in a terrible car accident that left his passenger with minor injuries but he suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. After spending several years in rehabilitation, Pendergrass triumphantly returned to music in 1984 with the album, "Love Language" and found himself back on the pop charts with "Hold Me", a duet with then-new artist, Whitney Houston. He would later find himself back at number one on the r&b chart with "Joy" in 1988.

After being treated for colon cancer, he later developed severe complications causing respiratory issues and Teddy Pendergrass passed away on January 10th 2010 at the age of fifty-nine. He left behind an powerful body of music that is still able to get people in an amorous mood. Here are two of my favorite songs from the great Teddy Pendergrass:

"When Somebody Loves You Back" - Teddy Pendergrass (1978) mp3

"Come Go With Me" - Teddy Pendergrass (1979) mp3

As a bonus, here is a live version of the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' timely hit, "Wake Up Everybody" performed on "Soul Train":



Finally, I couldn't resist giving you the love ballad, "Hold Me" by Mr. Prendergrass and Whitney Houston:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"PRAYING" FOR KESHA


After being forced to put her career on hold, Kesha is finally able to return to music. She had been embroiled in a nasty legal battle with her former producer, Dr. Luke over contractual and personal issues during the last five years and the thirty year old's first single, "Praying" seems to be directly about all of the emotional turmoil she has been through.

Kesha reveals in this moving piano-driven ballad, co-written and produced by Ryan Lewis (of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis), that despite all of the pain and abuse one can go through, you can survive and heal. What I found most surprising about this track is that it shows what a full-bodied voice the singer actually has which was never properly put on display on any of her hit singles like "Tik Tok" and "We R Who We R". This is a dramatic and uplifting moment for the singer and will certainly have people anticipating her upcoming third album, "Rainbow" which is due out in August.

Take a look at the striking music video for "Praying", directed by Jonas Åkerlund, which shows that Kesha has lost none of her colorful, eccentric style:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

CALVIN HARRIS IS BRINGING THE "FUNK"


After teasing us throughout the year with several tasty jams featuring an eclectic roster of artists, Calvin Harris has just released his fifth studio album, "Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1". This ten track collection has the thirty-three year old Scottish DJ/producer moving away from the dance floor and more towards a hip-hop/soul/ska vibe. And he has enlisted the help from some of the biggest names in music right now; Frank Ocean, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Ariana Grande, John Legend and Snoop Dogg to name just a few. One of my favorite songs so far this year is "Slide" which features Ocean and Migos and the album is filled will plenty of other solid grooves that will perfectly add some additional heat to the summer.

"Feels" is the latest single which features Perry, Williams and Big Sean riding on a Caribbean-flavored beat. Enjoy the official video for that tune and here are two other tracks to check out: Nicki Minaj also grooves to a tropical beat on "Skrt On Me' while two rising artists, Kehalni and Lil Yachty deliver a mid-tempo jam with "Faking It".





Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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. "Girls Girls" delivers the duo's signature sing-shout sound with a throbbing tropical beat. With a co-songwriting assist from fellow Swede, Tove Lo, this shimmering jam will make a cool addition to the summer much like Icona Pop's last major pop hit, "I Love It". Check out this lyric video that features selfies from the singers and their fans:

Monday, June 19, 2017

BUCKINGHAM + MCVIE: TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME?


This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the release of one of the biggest selling albums of all-time; Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours". Recorded during a difficult time of personal upheaval within the group with the divorce of bass guitarist John McVie from keyboard player/vocalist Christine McVie along with the romantic break-up between guitarist and vocalist, Lindsey Buckingham and singer/songwriter, Stevie Nicks. Even Fleetwood Mac's co-founder and drummer, Mick Fleetwood was dealing with martial problems as his wife at the time was having an affair.

Yet despite all of the emotional chaos for each member of the band, somehow all of this tension set off a profound creative spark. While all four singles, "Go Your Own Way", "Don't Stop", "You Make Loving Fun" and the number one hit, "Dreams",  made it to the top-ten on the U.S. pop chart, every song from this near-perfect album received some radio play. "Rumours" would become a world-wide massive hit, go on to win a well-deserved Grammy Award for Album of The Year and to date, has sold more than forty million copies.

Now two members of the group, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie have just released a self-titled album. After coming out of semi-retirement to rejoin Fleetwood Mac in 2014, McVie hit the recording studio with Buckingham to help get herself back in to the groove. This proved to be successful sessions with new material coming together for a potential new Fleetwood Mac album. The project was put on hold to start the Fleetwood Mac On With The Show tour. Stevie Nicks was going to contribute songs for the Fleetwood Mac album after their tour but decided to pursue her own career retrospective project, "24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault" and tour for that album. Deciding not to wait for Nicks, Buckingham and McVie continued on with the project as a duo.

"Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie" is a solid album bringing a familiar, comfortable vibe by merging Buckingham's experimental style and McVie's smooth pop sound. While it's just the two musicians' name of the project, two other members of Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie participated on a number of the tracks. This duo will be hitting the road this summer starting on June 21st in Atlanta to promote the record. Listen to the first single, "In My World", a Buckingham lead song and "Feel About You" which features McVie on vocals:



Friday, June 16, 2017

NEW SOUNDS

BETH DITTO


Beth Ditto, the fiery, big voice behind the alt-punk band, Gossip, has officially become a solo artist after the group mutually decided to come to an end last year. The Arkansas native had dabbled with EDM on her 2011 self-titled EP but has returned to her musical roots with her just released debut, "Fake Sugar". This collection of country-lite rockers and electrifying dance tunes features lyrics that touches on her Southern upbringing, life as a queer feminist artist and her almost four-year marriage to Kristin Ogata. Enjoy the video for the first single, "Fire":



PERFUME GENIUS


One way to describe the visionary music of Perfume Genius is that he is the star-child of Kate Bush and David Bowie. Born Mike Hadreas in the suburbs of Seattle, WA, he was victimized as a young child due to being openly gay and even received death threats. Hadreas found solace in music and learned to play the piano. After dropping out of high school, he moved to New York in an attempt to experience a more open-minded, creative environment. Hadreas soon returned to Seattle where he decided to pursue a life in music on his terms. Reborn as "Perfume Genius", he created songs inspired by his sexuality and the dangers that confront gay men in contemporary society. For his fourth album, "No Shape", Perfume Genius has created another bold art-rock expression on his views of love and relationships. Here are the music videos for two singles from the album, "Slip Away" and  "Die 4 You" which perfectly display this artist's inventive gift for performance art.





Finally we have some new music from the glam-disco outfit, Scissor Sisters. it's been almost five years since we last heard anything from the group, which still consists of Babydaddy, Jake Shears, Ana Matronic, and Del Marquis, and they have come together with producer, MNDR for a good cause. The song, "Swerlk" was created to pay tribute to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting one year ago with a sassy dance-floor remembrance. It is being released in conjunction with GLAAD with proceeds from the sales benefiting the Contigo Fund, a non-profit organization for LGBTQ individuals.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A SALUTE TO PRINCE


It's hard to believe that it's been a little over a year since we lost the phenomenally talented musician, Prince. He would have turned fifty-eight on June 7th and the world still hasn't seem to have recovered from the tragic passing of this truly iconic artist.

I just recently caught up with watching this year's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction and my favorite part of the program had nothing to do with any of the inductees. It was a brief musical tribute to the Purple One by Lenny Kravitz that blew me away. I have to say it's the absolute best out of the many tributes paid to Prince to date, so please check out Mr Kravitz performing inspired live versions of "When Doves Cry" and "The Cross":

Saturday, May 27, 2017

YOUR SONG


Americans probably know Rita Ora more for her fashion-forward looks on a red carpet (including her recent appearance at the Met Ball), her acting roles ("Fast & Furious 6", "Fifty Shades of Grey") or for her short stint as the host of the revived "America's Next Top Model" show. However, the twenty-six year old Brit began her career as a singer with her first two singles from her 2012 debut, "Ora", "How We Do (Party)" and "R.I.P." going to number one on the UK pop chart. Although she provided the hook for Iggy Azalea's hit, "Black Widow", Ora's own music didn't get much attention here in the States.

Ora is wanting to change that and has just released a new song entitled "Your Song".  This is her first solo single in two years and seems to be the first music from her long delayed follow-up album (although part of that had to do with her successful lawsuit to release herself from contract with Roc Nation Records). The singer has teamed up with a fellow Brit who is quite popular here, Ed Sheeran along with producer, Steve Mac to help write this song. The Sheeran connection is interesting and will certainly get people to pay some attention but I don't think "Your Song" is strong enough to get Ora to stand-out in this tough pop musical landscape.

"Your Song" - Rita Ora (2017) mp3

And as a bonus, here is the video for Ora's 2012 first single, "How We Do (Party)' which I really liked and don't know why it didn't do better here:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

NUMBER ONE FLASHBACK


U2 are in the middle of a thirty anniversary tour in celebration of their 1987 album, "The Joshua Tree". This critically acclaimed record, produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, reached number one in over twenty countries, won two Grammy Awards including Album of The Year, sold over twenty-five million copies and, most importantly, turned the band in to full-fledged rock superstars.

This number one flashback is "With or Without You", the first single from the album which stayed in this position for three weeks and became U2's first number one hit in the U.S. Bono wrote the lyrics that details his struggles with being a rock musician and a family man and how he can, ultimately, manage to be both. With his inspired vocals and The Edge's electrifying guitar work, the song builds to an intensity that makes this rock ballad soar to an incredible height. The follow-up single from "The Joshua Tree" , "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" also made it to top spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NEW SOUNDS

CAMILA CABELLO

After leaving one of the hottest girl-groups out right now, Fifth Harmony last December, Camila Cabello has wasted no time getting her solo career in order. The twenty year-old singer has already hit the top-twenty this year by providing vocals on Shawn Mendes' "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and Machine Gun Kelly's "Bad Things". And now she has dropped her first single as a solo artist. "Crying In The Club", using an island-flavored beat and a sample of Christina Aguilara's "Genie In a Bottle", is about the power of music helping to make it through heartbreak. This mid-tempo ballad is hardly groundbreaking and if it makes you think of a Sia track, that's because the singer co-wrote the song with Cabello along with current hit-makers, Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat and Happy Perez. Let's see what else will come as Cabello's debut album, "The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving." is due out this fall.



KATY PERRY

Katy Perry has just released a third song from her upcoming fifth studio album, "Witness". But what makes this tune, "Swish Swish" most notable is that it may be a swipe at fellow pop princess, Taylor Swift who apparently penned a thinly-veiled attack on Perry with her 2015 song, "Bad Blood". Just like Swift, Perry does not confirm nor deny this claim but will say it's about anti-bullying with a '90's inspired dance beat. She was the musical guest on the season finale of "Saturday Night Live" and here is a live performance of the song:



IGGY AZALEA

The Aussie rapper, Iggy Azalea is back trying reignite her music career with a new track. Her latest single, "Switch", that features Brazilian pop star, Anitta delivering the hook, is certainly catchy but I don't know if it's enough to get her back on the pop chart. Time will tell but have a listen to judge for yourself:

"Switch" - Iggy Azalea featuring Anitta (2017) mp3

SELENA GOMEZ

Finally, we have my favorite out of this batch of new songs. Selena Gomez has returned with "Bad Liar", a slinky, beat-driven ballad from the team of Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter who brought us the singer's hits, "Good For You" and "Hands To Myself".  Using the bassline from Talking Heads' 1977 song, "Psycho Killer" as inspiration, the song has Gomez singing about unconvincingly denying her feelings for a new love interest.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

RANDOM SIGHTS + SOUNDS

Miley Cyrus has certainly caused a little whiplash with her drastic image shifts. She was introduced as the cute "Hannah Montana" character then becoming a more natural, sweet country-rock princess before shocking everyone as a raunchy, pot-smoking provocateur. Now the twenty-four year old singer has evolved once again. With a semi fresh-scrubbed, drug-free persona and leaving hip-hop far behind, Cyrus has returned to her pop-rock roots with a new song, "Malibu". Inspired by a reconnection with her former fiance, actor Liam Hemsworth, the guitar-driven song is about her falling in love again. I really like this and find "Malibu" a refreshing sound for pop radio.



Here are some recent music videos of follow-up songs from artists with new albums on the horizon:







I had mentioned earlier of TLC releasing new music but there is another female r&b group from the '90's also making a comeback. En Vogue, who brought us such hits like "Hold On", "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" and "Don't Let Go (Love)". are back with a new single, "I'm Good". Now down to a trio which includes original members, Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron along with Rhona Bennett,  the song may not be as memorable as when they were riding high on the charts but it features a classic soul vibe and their perfect harmonies. En Vogue's seventh studio album, "Electric Cafe", which feature production assistance from Raphael Saadiq and the group's original founders and producers, Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, is due out later this year.

"I'm Good" - En Vogue (2017) mp3

Finally, let's go back in time with a few of my favorite songs from the 1990's:



"Can We Talk" - Tevin Campbell (1993) mp3



"Get On Up" - Jodeci (1996) mp3

"All Night Long" - Faith Evans featuring P. Diddy (1999) mp3

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

WANT YOU BACK


The Haim sisters, Este, Danielle and Alana, have been performing music together professionally since they were children, singing and playing multiple instruments at churches, hospitals and weddings. The group known as Haim released their first major label album in 2013 , "Days Are Gone", a fascinating collection of songs they wrote inspired by their musical parents' 1970's rock albums and modern pop and hip-hop.

After taking their time, Haim has finally returned with some new music. "Want You Back", which is once again produced and co-written with Ariel Rechtshaid, is a tasty slice of classic California rock made for the 21st Century.

This first single will be on Haim's second album "Something To Tell You" which is due out on July 7. Be sure to catch the band previewing their new music live on May 13th as they are slated to be the musical guests on that evening's episode of "Saturday Night Live" with host, Melissa McCarthy.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

NEW SOUNDS

NAO


After thrilling the crowd during her first appearance at this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts event, it's clear that the British electro-soul singer, Nao seems to be on the verge of jumping to the next level. The helium-voiced, twenty-nine year old artist (her name is pronounced "neigh-yo" and it's a variation of her given name Neo Jessica Joshua) has continued to build momentum ever since she released two EP's, "So Good" in 2014 and "February 15" the following year. 2016 saw her drop her acclaimed debut album, "For All We Know" with the singles, "Bad Blood" and "Girlfriend" helping it reach the top-five on the U.S. dance chart. I'm quite sure that Nao is a name you will be hearing a lot more from. Enjoy the music video for "Girlfriend" and a live performance of "Bad Blood":





KHALID


Khalid is another young artist pushing the boundaries of soul music by merging other genres with it to create something different. The now nineteen year old spent his early years living in various places due to his mother serving in the army. After settling in El Paso, TX, Khalid Robinson studied singing and musical theater in high school. When he decided to pursue a music career instead of going to college, his mother, who sang with the U.S. Army band, supported her son's decision. He released his debut album, "American Teen" earlier this year after the positive response of his 2016 first single, "Location" which the tune reached the top-twenty on the pop chart and top-ten on the r&b/hip-hop chart. With his career off to a great, promising start, Khalid has made sure his mama ain't got nothing to worry about.

Monday, April 17, 2017

THE RETURN OF THE POP PRODIGY


Lorde has already given us a little taste of her upcoming second album, "Melodrama" with "Green Light" , a song burning up the charts right now.  In an in-depth profile written by Rolling Stone writer, Jonah Weiner for the New York Times Magazine, the young singer discusses what she had been doing in the four years since her breakout debut album, "Pure Heroine" and the fascinating process involved in the creation of her new music which is due out in June.

Click below to read:

The Return of The Pop Prodigy

As a bonus, here is another song from the album, "Liability", a ballad she performed live during her recent appearance on an episode of "Saturday Night Live":

Saturday, April 15, 2017

WAY BACK


TLC, one of the biggest girl groups of all time that ruled the charts back in the 1990's,  has just returned with new music after taking a recording hiatus following the tragic death of member, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes in 2002.  With the use of Kickstarter to help raise funds to record what will be their fifth and (apparently) final album, the surviving members, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas have released the first single, "Way Back" that features a rap verse by Snoop Dogg. The song delivers a nostalgic vibe with lyrics that reminisces about the past while name-checking some musical greats like James Brown and Michael Jackson. This is a great jam that really should return TLC back to the charts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

WELCOME BACK

BLONDIE


Blondie began as a scrappy New York punk band in the mid-'70's before "Heart of Glass", their worldwide smash rock/disco hybrid, transformed them in to a slightly glossier pop-rock outfit yet they managed to maintain their rebellious spirit. The group, with a line-up at the time that featured Nigel Harrison on bass guitar, Jimmy Destri on keyboards, Frank Infante on guitar, Clem Burke on drummer, Chris Stein on guitar and his girlfriend at the time, Debbie Harry who was the official voice and unofficial face of the band, enjoyed mainstream success for a few years before jealousy, in-fighting and Stein's near-fatal illness drove them apart by 1982.

Each member went on to explore their own musical endeavors, including Harry's moderately successful solo career, before the original five band members of Blondie (which includes Gary Valentine on bass before he was replaced by Harrison in 1977) came back together first for a few live performances in 1997, an international tour the following year and then a new album, "No Exit" in 1999 although Valentine had left the band again before the recording of it.

Now down to Harry, Stein and Burke (with Leigh Foxx on bass, Matt Katz-Bohen on piano and Tommy Kessler on guitar filling out the rest of the band), Blondie has kept plugging away ever since and are preparing to release their eleventh studio album, "Pollinator" in May.  The first single, "Fun" features the early propulsive energy of the band while feeling quite modern.



DEPECHE MODE


The members of the British band, Depeche Mode dabbled in rock and acoustic before moving on to exploring synthesisers in the early '80's. The quartet, consisting of Martin Gore, Vince Clarke, Andy Fletcher and Dave Gahan, helped usher in the new wave-synthpop scene in England and reached the top twenty on the UK chart with "New Life", "Dreaming Of Me" and "Just Can't Get Enough" from their debut album, "Speak & Spell" in 1981. Due to his apparent discomfort with their pop success, Clarke left Depeche Mode although he quickly went and formed Yazoo ("Yaz" in the U.S.) with Alison Moyet and later Erasure with Andy Bell. Clarke was replaced with Alan Wilder in 1982 and he remained with the band until 1995.

The sound of Depeche Mode has evolved over the years with the utilizing of more guitars and offering songs with far weightier subjects. The trio have just released their fourteenth album, "Spirit" and are speaking on these politically charged times. The first single, "Where's The Revolution" pretty much says it all. The band has returned to filmmaker, Anton Corbijn to create the video for the song.



ABSENT FACES IN POP MUSIC

I had read a interesting article recently in the Los Angeles Times about the difficulties of a new generation of Black female singers being...