Friday, June 29, 2012

Future D'L: Alicia Keys - New Day

One of the most respected contemporary R&B artists is back with a fresh new song just begging to be fed to your MP3 player. Alicia Keys, 14 time Grammy award winner, leaked a snippet of the song "New Day" from her twitter account on June 26. Now the track has leaked in full and is available to stream online. There is speculation that "New Day" may be the first single from Key's upcoming fifth studio album expected to be released in fall 2012.

The song starts off with a banging hip-hop beat and Keys chanting "New Day" to get listeners pumped up. Initially the song may scare off fans expecting a more traditional R&B sound from her, similar to past hits "No One" or "If I Ain't Got You", but the song deserves a closer listen.  Keys is married to producer Swizz Beats who no doubt provided the edgy beats. About 20 seconds in, a few pretty piano chords come out of nowhere to anchor the song. That familiarity should appease fans. Keys keeps the energy going as she plows through the first verse with her powerful and voluminous contralto voice. The lyrics are typical empowerment fanfare. Keys sings during the first verse:

"It's alright to feel however you want to/ There's no limitation/ If you lovin' life, let me see your hands up one time/ I'll celebrate mine/ Cuz I ain't gonna get no more."

I recommend New Day, and I hope it grows on me over the years. It's always nice to listen to something that makes you move and feel upbeat. If the song is chosen as a single, it will be released on music outlets everywhere for purchase. Be sure to get your copy.

Alicia Keys - New Day

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Amel Larrieux - Don't Let Me Down

One half of the hit making 90's duo Groove Theory, R&B veteran Amel Larrieux has worked hard for over ten years creating her own style and making sure to stay outside the box. She's dabbled in hip-hop, collaborating on a posthumous 2Pac album, as well as jazz, lending her vocals to Sweetback's single "You Will Rise," a record released by Sade band members. In 2009 Larrieux began releasing new material for the then unnamed album Ice Cream Every Day. Resulting were the two singles "Orange Glow" and "Don't Let Me Down," with the latter being my favorite. It hasn't left my MP3 player since I bought it.

Because Amel Larrieux, or "Mellie" as she calls herself, is so considerate, she released two versions of "Don't Let Me Down." If you get bored with the sentimental ballad version, get up and dance around to the disco mix. The tempo of Larrieux's voice is practically the same in both, her phrasing more delicate as to emphasis the song's pleading lyrics. She sings during the hook:

"You have turned on a light/And I've lost my sight/But my heart still remembers the sound/ Of a dream of a love one day found/So don't let me down."

As with most meaningful songs, this one evokes strong images in me while listening. The song seems to illustrate a turning point in a relationship where the past triumphs and failures are taken into consideration to make a new decision. Everything is on the table, including a possible dissolution. There's even a hint of bitterness as Larrieux sings during the bridge:

"Never seen love face to face/Just seen it walking away/Why would you think I would recognize/Something that's never been mine."

The song's melody is pleasant. It's not a far cry from previous singles "Make Me Whole" and "No One Else," where it was just Larrieux and her piano and few, if any, backing instruments, carrying a simple melody. No music video has been made for the single. It's not a song that demands a video, so that's understandable.

I highly recommend "Don't Let Me Down" or any of Larrieux's records to be force fed to your MP3 player. It's sorta like Billie Holiday in that I love Larrieux's whole style, not just particular songs. Although I think her strength is found mainly in her songwriting. There's something about the melody of her songs and their lyrical sentiments that get me.

Here's a Youtube link to Don't Let Me Down.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Surrealism: David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time

Film director David Lynch is known around the world for his take on the art of surrealism. Movies like Eraserhead, a cult favorite, and the Elephant Man, which was nominated for eight Oscars, have made him a pop culture icon. One curious fact that is lost on the mainstream media is that Lynch is a mult-instrumentalist and has been contributing to the soundtracks of his movies since Eraserhead in the late 70s. In 2011 Lynch released his first solo outing (he has previously released collaborative albums) Crazy Clown Time. Its title track is a little on the creepy side but shouldn't surprise longtime fans.

The song starts off simple enough with some bluesy percussion and creepy, zombie sounding synths. All's well until Lynch brings in his shaky voice -- high pitched, almost squealing and certainly deranged. He sounds absolutely twisted, even more-so given his spoken word delivery on the track. Then, after figuring the song to simply be weird or creepy, there comes a moment when you piece together the lyrics, and it gets worse: Suzy had ripped her shirt off "completely". Buddy screamed so loud, he spit. And Dede lit his hair on fire. Taken in together, the lyrics don't make very much sense (not that anyone needs a full understanding about something in order to be crept out by it) but neither do nightmares. While dreaming, one scene or locale can change without much explanation or much sense. The same can be said for the art of surrealism, which can easily be utilized in music if the lyricist uses a more abstract approach to writing.

Didi lighting his hair on fire

"Crazy Clown Time" is likely to evoke strong images into the minds of its listeners. Given a good crowd of friends and maybe a few drinks, it can evoke some pretty interesting discussion as well. I would recommend feeding "Crazy Clown Time" to your MP3 player -- just for the fun of it. The music video, which, of course, Lynch directed himself, takes the cake as far as creepiness is concerned, perfectly illustrating the song's twisted lyrics. Lynch has experience directing music videos for Michael Jackson and Moby, so he knows what he's doing.

You can watch the music video here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gems: Billie Holiday - I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone

Nicknamed Lady Day by tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Billie Holiday is probably my favorite vocalist of all time. It's always hard to pick an individual song from an artist whose style I like as a whole. But there are several gems in Lady's 500 plus stock of recorded material. The Buddy Johnson Band classic "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone" was recorded with Lady by chance in 1949 with the Red Norvo Orchestra. She did a set of ten songs that were broadcast in June of the same year on Just Jazz, a radio show hosted by record collector and jazz enthusiast Gene Norman.

The song is special in that Lady has only recorded it once. And the version we're left with is of low quality sound-wise, possibly because of the limited recording technology of the day. I'm sure it's been remastered over the years but that doesn't really matter. One of Lady's calling cards -- her ability to manipulate the phrasing of her voice to where it glides back and forth and loops beautifully like a saxophone -- is intact. The melody of the record is absolutely gorgeous. By the late 1940s, Lady's voice was just beginning to deteriorate from drugs, so her rendering here is slower, more depressed, almost tired. Arguably it works to good effect given the song's theme of heartbreak, a theme closely associated with the singer given her ability to sell it so well. Lady sings during the climax:

"Oh what did I do, and what did I say/That ever could lead you to treat me this way/If I've been untrue, I'm willing to pay/And darling, if that's not enough, I'll do anything you say."

It's hard to believe that "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone" is typically sung by males (Arthur Prysock, Lou Rawls), because what I visualize through Lady's voice is a woman on her hands and knees, fully devoted to some dead-beat man who just wants to leave her for another woman. Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration but given the right mood or set-up, a Billie Holiday record can have you in tears. If you don't cry over the circumstance of the characters in the song or your own circumstances, you can simply listen to the beauty of Lady's voice and how it rides the gorgeous melody of "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone," and then you can start crying over that.

You should feed Billie Holiday's "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone" to your MP3 player; it's hungry for it, I'm sure. Every MP3 player needs some Lady Day. You can find I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone on Rare Live Recordings, 1934-1959 from various music outlets.

Billie Holiday - I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Flashback: Oasis - Champagne Supernova

One of the most popular bands in recent British history, Oasis has a long string of influencial hits across the globe dating back to their 1994 debut Definately Maybe. A major influence on fellow English rockers Coldplay, the band struck gold in the U.S. with radio-only single "Champagne Supernova," the chill, epic and reflective closing track of their most popular album (What's the Story) Morning Glory?.

For those who were alive and of age during 1996 (that's a little too far back for me), there's no telling what type of memories you have associated with this song. Lines like "Someday you will find me/Caught beneath the landslide/In a champagne supernova/In the sky" evoke such strong daydreams in me. I can imagine if this song was played at someone's 1996 prom how easy it would be for him or her to visualize everything again. Noel Gallagher, the song's lyricist, was a mainstay of the British tabloids because of his tumultous relationship with fellow band member and brother Liam Gallagher, but the man's a genius at wordplay. The song's climax "'Cause we don't believe/That they're gonna get away from the summer/But you and I will never die/The world's still spinning around/We don't know why" is poetry at its best. It's a celebration of life and friendship, I think.

I don't believe I can get by without mentioning the song's most repeated line "where were you while we were getting high?" That's sure to get a lot of giggles from people who are just discovering the song.

"Champagne Supernova" remains one of the band's biggest hits in the U.S. after the top ten smash "Wonderwall," which has over 50 million hits on Youtube. It has become a fan favorite and was included on their greatest hits release Stop the Clocks. Although "Champagne Supernova" is not actually on my MP3 player, my friends have been asking me to feed my mp3 player with the song for quite some time. It is a deep record. If I were to get into the band heavily later in life, I'll definately say this song got me started.

Oasis - Champagne Supernova

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lloyd - Valentine

R&B veteran Lloyd struck gold with his 2007 release Street Love, his best selling album to date. Many may remember the bona fide hit "You" or the pop smash "Get It Shawty". But there's another record from Street that barely grazed the charts but has never left my Mp3 player, Valentine. The track's vocals, and nearly everything Lloyd sings, reminds me of Michael Jackson. I think Valentine is descendant from Jackson's I Can't Help It -- those falsetto notes, the undulating melody. For those who don't know, I Can't Help It was written by my favorite songwriter Stevie Wonder, who's the king of melody in my opinion. Everything about Valentine is golden. It begins with a latin flavored guitar intro and then the throbing base comes in with Lloyd singing softly over it. There aren't any standout lines in the lyrics. They're pretty standard love fare. The brige is a tad notable. Here Lloyd coos:

"If this is a dream, don't wake me/the thought of you just takes me/to the moon and the stars/the world revolves around my heart."

What a perfect way to climax a song. I wonder if anyone has ever made love to it?

Lloyd held a brief "Be My Valentine" contest in honor of the song. Several women posted videos on Youtube to win. The winner was given a free photoshoot with the R&B singer seen below.

Here's a link to the song's Youtube Video.

This song's a must have for your MP3 player.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

90's Gem: Zhane - Crush

You probably know them by their 1993 anthem Hey Mr. D.J, but there are other gems in the Philadelphia R&B duo Zhane's repertoire. The tantalizing "Crush," released as their final single from 1997's Saturday Night, is one. Save for a feature on Naughty By Nature's "Jamboree," the song would end up as the group last effort on the charts before disbanding in 1999. It's a pity seeing as how Crush is arguably their best work. It starts off with a few simple piano chords and then goes into this funky baseline so characteristic of the 90s. Then it slips into some sexy but subtle lyrics:

 "I needed sunshine in my day/something to wash away the pain/I saw a very gentle side of him/that took my heart and made it sing".

While listening, I always imagine drag queens trying to seduce some man they have a crush on. Maybe it's because of the heavy make-up the two wear in the video. I don't know, but the whole song evokes this narrative of a man who's out of a woman's reach. Anyhow, the smooth and creamy vocals of these two, especially Renee Neufville's lower register, carry "Crush" to such a soulful apex, it'd be hard to EVER delete this piece from your MP3 player. If you do (and I've done it before) you're likely to download it again a few months to a year later. It's just that sexy.

Here's the Youtube link.

D'L Their Ish: Quadron - Average Fruit

Dannish group Quadron released their self titled debut album in 2009 and have been steam rolling ever since. I'm quickly becoming a fan of this sophisticated R&B duo. I don't know why, but it seems Europe is spitting out the best soul artists of late (Adele, Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae, Duffy). One track that's been on my MP3 player for probably some years is the much remixed "Average Fruit." The song bears no resemblance to the classic and historic Billie Holiday number "Strange Fruit." It's a slick, seductive track that, for some reason, makes me imagine a black cat scurrying across a roof-top. The violins, coming in full force mid-way through the song, feed my mind images of the Victorian era or maybe Madonna performing Vogue at the 1990 VMAs. The ending, where vocalist Coco O purrs "I like your heart/I want to start" is just dripping with sophistication. Throughout the song, Coco's voice is layered over itself which makes the track sound even more hypnotic. Check it out on Itunes, Amazon or whereever you buy your music and sync it to your MP3 player IMMEDIATELY!

Click here for the Youtube video.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: The Slakadeliqs - The Other Side of Tomorrow

BBE artist Slakah the Beatchild has been making lush, soulful records since his 2008 debut "Soul Movement, Vol. 1". He even caught the eye of Canadian rapper Drake who, after a collaboration, called him "one of my favorite producers I ever worked with" on Twitter. Lately, Slakah's been teaming up with fellow soul crooner Justin Nozuka for a couple of music videos and singles from his new album "The Other Side of Tomorrow" which we'll review in a moment.

"The Other Side of Tomorrow" was released without a record label and under the pseudonym The Slakadeliqs, which I'm assuming is an alter-ego of Slakah. I must say, it is definately an album I've been feeding my MP3 player. I recommend heading over to Itunes (or wherever you purchase your music) and feeding a few tracks (or the whole album!) to your MP3 player as well. Here's why:

The Other Side of Tomorrow is an album where its entire style, not just a few tracks, I have on repeat. It's cohesive. Lyrics like "don't let your nine-to-five eat you alive," or "all I know just keep breathing," for example, are down-to-earth and inspirational and found throughout the entire record. Slakah isn't going for any big statements here. He just wants to tell his favorite girl to keep her head up. In fact, some of the tracks have few words or repeated verses. Lyrically, the album's easy on the brain. Take "Call Me Your Friend," with Sandie Black for example. Sandie sings during its hook:

"Call me in the morning/call me at night/call me when you need me, it's alright/tell me what you're thinking, I'll understand/If you call me, call me, call me, call me your friend"

I hear some motown influence in tracks "Dear Lucy" and "Speed of Time," maybe "Tears of a Clown" by Smokie Robinson or something from that era. Lucy's "lu-lu-lu" hook is infectious. Nozuka assisted tracks "Love Controls the Sun" and "Keep Breathing," the two singles with accompanying music videos, are both melodic, layered with ethereal vocal deliveries from the two soul titans. Slakah cites Lenny Kravitz as one of his primary influences and this influence is crystal clear in the track "Beneath It All." On first listen, I can imagine someone thinking its a Lenny Kravitz track just from the rocked out vocals. Track "Defective"is chill and "Love Judge" with its long length is quite atmospheric. All in all, this album is drenched in soul from the opening track to the bouncy instrumental closing. I recommend The Slakadeliqs' "The Other Side of Tomorrow" for those who want some melodic, easy-on-the-ears, soul dripping R&B.

Tracks for your MP3 Player: 

The Slakadeliqs ft Sandie Black - Call Me Your Friend
The Slakadeliqs - Dear Lucy
The Slakadeliqs ft Justin Nozuka - Love Controls the Sun