Tag Archives: art writing

Sia, “Reaper”

Sia’s upcoming LP, This Is Acting, collects a handful of shelved songs from the Australian songwriter’s undoubtedly massive archive. Although the 12 tracks (14 tracks if you snatch up the Target Exclusive Version) were returned by the likes of Adele, Beyonce, and Shakira, Sia nevertheless feels the compilation consists entirely of unrecognized hits.

The fun, yet ominous “Reaper,” proves to be one of the most promising of five singles released on iTunes so far . Cowritten and produced with Kanye West for Rihanna’s elusive Anti project, the promotional single is a bass-driven slice of charming pop radio. The upbeat, rhythmic production, however, juxtaposes with Sia’s despondent lyrics, with proclamations such as “So come back when I’m good to go/I got drinks to drink, and men to hold/I got good things to do with my life” meant to ward off an early Death.

While the track will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Sia’s 2014 release, 1,000 Forms Of Fear, the award-winning songwriter revealed her own indifference to the song in a recent Rolling Stone interview.  Sia herself preferred “One Million Bullets” and the Beyonce-outtake,”Footprints,”to the sinister “Reaper,” which was only included on the final tracklist of Acting after her manager’s insistence.

Sure, “Reaper” is no “Chandelier” or “Alive.” However, as pickings from the cutting room floor of one of contemporary pop’s most pervasive songsmiths, the track showcases the flexibility that allowed Sia to transition from indie songstress to pop’s most in-demand writers.

Sia’s This Is Acting hits shelves on January 29th. 

 

 

 

 

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6 REAL Aretha Franklin Covers You Need To Hear!

With the release of last month’s Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, Clive Davis praised  Aretha’s new album as

“. . .purely and simply sensational. She’s on fire and vocally in absolutely peak form. What a thrill to see this peerless artist still showing the way,  still sending shivers up your spine, still demonstrating that all contemporary music needs right now is the voice. What a voice.”

Aretha Franklin’s catalog attests to the singer’s status as one of the greatest singers in music (Trust me, I’ve had many an argument over who deserves the crown!). Franklin’s latest release, however, isn’t one of those contributing records. It’s clear the Diva has lost much of the power that made her one of the biggest acts in modern music. To make matters (and our ear drums) worse, Franklin’s latest of many cover albums strives for relevancy by incorporating some of the “contemporary diva classics” with four-on-the-floor beats and tacky R&B mixes. Aretha’s rendition of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep,” in particular, has been trending for the past couple weeks online which encouraged Arista to push it as the album’s lead single. I’m convinced the attention the track has garnered is nothing more than media sensationalism, seeing as the track sounds like a South Park parody.

Let’s face it, though: The Queen still sings better now at 72 than most of today’s newcomers (Lana Del Ray, anyone?). Still, there’s no denying that time has finally gotten hold of Aretha’s singing chops, with auto-tune pervading every track on her latest CD. After listening to the album, I decided to hunt out the Queen’s most impressive, yet overlooked, covers from her prime. Below are six Aretha covers I feel capture the flawless vocal technique Aretha was once known for and that this generation has, unfortunately, forgotten with this latest release.

6.)  “At Last” (Let Me In Your Life Outtake),

from Rare and Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of The Queen of Soul.

Do yourself a favor. Skip the weak, half-hearted karaoke version on 2014’s “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics,” and indulge in the ’74 studio outtake of the Blues classic. In all honesty, I doubt anyone will ever sing a better rendition than Etta James’s bittersweet version. The Matriarch of R&B layers a seemingly optimistic declaration of finding true love with the unnerving sense that this long-awaited love could very well be gone as soon as it came. The listener can hear the undertones of pain and heartbreak that have finally led James to this sigh of relief in finding love. In short, the complexity of emotion that James offers in her performance has solidified the most unlikely blues lyrics into a hallmark of the genre.

Still, Aretha Franklin is the Queen 0f Soul, not the Bitch of Blues. As such, Franklin’s studio take is a warm, vocally flawless track more superficially appropriate for weddings. While not a single teardrop is shed in Franklin’s version, the track is an awesome testament to the Diva’s superior vocal technique. Many songstresses have taken a stab at the 1941 Mack Gordon/Harry Warren classic: Cyndi Lauper, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, even Beyonce during her portrayal as James in Cadillac Records. Though impressive, none seem to truly revolutionize the song by steering it away from underwhelming imitations of James’s passionate, yet pensive performance besides Franklin’s, which opts for an assured mood that makes the Diva’s take truly her own.

5.) “Track of My Tears,” 1969

from Soul ’69

A Grammy Hall of Fame inductee and honoree of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs” list, this Miracles track (no pun intended) is also among the most covered songs of all time. Congress even chose the hit for preservation in the National Recording Registry in 2008 as an artifact of soul music! What more of a reason does the Soul Queen need to add her own flair to one of her Majesty’s biggest competitors?

That said, Franklin’s version is as much a true-to-form soul single as it is a battle cry. The brash and brassy chorus shows how, contrary to the lyrics, a hurting Franklin tends not to be seen but rather heard. Fresh into the commercial success of her Atlantic years, Aretha’s “Tracks” includes all the attitude and bold vocals that would transform later hits of this era (also covers, mind you) such as Redding’s “Respect” and Warwick’s “I Say A Little Prayer,” into Aretha’s most famous classics.

4.) “Skylark/Skylark (Alternate Version),” 1964

from  Laughing on the Outside

Ironically, this jazz standard would be released on one of the first Aretha albums to feature a self-penned tune, “I Wonder (Where You are Tonight).” “Skylark” is  often cited by critics as one of the highlights of the album, mainly due to Franklin’s masterful sense of control. Wavering between subtle, sensual whispers and soaring belts, no vocal trick or phrase seems out-of-place. Aretha’s rendition shows a strategic, calculating singer whose every lyric is planned and executed.

The album version is complete on its own; if you’re an avid Aretha fan or just appreciate the various ways professional singers can shape a song, be sure to check out the “Alternate Version” included on The Essential: The Columbia Years compilation album. Swapping a lower piano melody for the original’s characteristic high-octave trill, the alternate version takes a tame, moody approach, while highlighting the seemingly infinite interpretations a singer can offer a rehashed standard.

3.) “Somewhere,” 1973

  from  Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)

The magic in this cover lies in the minute-long introduction, the moment right before the West Side Story classic shifts into a lackluster jazz affair. The opening showcases a soulful and yearning Aretha showcasing an exquisite sense of articulation and control. I’ve never felt music in such a way as when Aretha sings the lines “It waits for us/ Somewhere” between 0:47-0:56; in some obscure ventricle of the heart, Aretha’s voice in that 9 second snippet alone makes another tear in my heart. I’ve literally listened to that snippet countless times on repeat. Singing just doesn’t get any emotive, any more heartbreaking, any more perfect than that!

Although my favorite version of the Streisand classic has to be Katharine McPhee’s live performance for the TV special, Hitman: David Foster & Friends, Franklin’s version could have easily stolen the spotlight if the intimate beauty of the intro didn’t flounder in a tame arrangement that included, among other misses, a lazy, drawn out sax solo. Many Quincy Jones fans must have been left disappointed with this cut.

2.)If I Had A Hammer,” 1965

from  Yeah!!!!

I’ll be honest. The first time I’ve ever heard this song was after buying Franklin’s Yeah!!!! album during iTunes’s $7.99 sale on select Franklin albums last week. Needless to say, the track is flawless. The musicianship, the arrangement –and Franklin’s impassioned live vocals, of course! Since then, I’ve had the song on repeat everywhere I go. When reading up on the song, I learned that the tune was cover of the Pete Seeger-penned Peter, Paul, and Mary hit. I hunted out the original version (The Weevers) of this genius song only to find the song’s fantastic songwriting — as masterfully arranged in Franklin’s version– stripped of its rich rhythms and muddled by garish folk guitars and a thin harmony. Peter, Paul, and Mary offered little improvement.

On the very first listen, the listener is hooked by the Franklin’s quartet assertive piano riff before Franklin roars onto the recording with a power that lasts for the entire performance. While the crowd you hear throughout was actually just an overdub of a murmuring audience, the track was recorded live at Columbia Studios during a session overseen and produced by Clyde Otis. Raw 60’s vocal jazz at its best, Franklin’s “If I Had A Hammer” melds the power of soul with the Lady’s precision as a Jazz singer.

1.)Let it Be,” 1970

from This Girl’s In Love With You

The Story seems simple for this song: “Let It Be” was the song a King wrote for the Queen. The whole story, however, has a complicated history. Aretha’s version of the Beatles tune was first commercial recording of the song; it was even released before The Beatles by 3 months. While “Let it Be” was initially inspired by a dream visitation from his deceased mother, Mary, writer Paul McCartney envisioned the soulful track for the Queen:

“Paul McCartney had sent me an acetate of ‘Let It Be’ with a note that it was written for Aretha. We recorded it. Afterwards, though, Aretha told us to hold up the release. She liked the melody but wasn’t sure what the lyrics meant. Time passed and the boys from Liverpool were tired of waiting. They put me on legal notice that we no longer had right of first release. They cut it themselves and, of course, enjoyed a huge hit. By 1970 Aretha saw the light and allowed us to include it, along with ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ producer Jerry Wexler on This Girl’s In Love With You.

          –liner notes for Rare & Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of The Queen of Soul, 2007.

This gospel-infused rendition brought Aretha back to her roots while bringing the God-gifted voice it fostered to the forefront. It all started in the church for Aretha, with her preacher father managing the young Diva during “gospel caravan tours.” In fact, Franklin’s debut album, Songs of Faith, was a collection of hymns featuring Aretha singing and playing piano. With “Let It Be,” Franklin evokes these early years with her spirited plea for inner peace. Although ultimately overshadowed by the success of McCartney’s rendition, Aretha’s take —with it’s background harmonies, organ, and sax solo—seems to be more of a manifestation of McCartney’s vision than even the Beatle’s own version.

The above covers are only a handful of the Queen’s catalog. Check out this site for more Aretha covers from her prime!

Nick Jonas, “Jealous”

2014 seemed more concerned with Nick Jonas’s body than with the pop-singer’s actual career.  After releasing 2010’s surprisingly mature debut with “The Administration” (his back-up band made up of Prince’s New Power Generation, a.k.a. something meant to rival Selena Gomez’s “The Scene”), Nick took on Broadway in “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” before returning to the studio. Free of the Administration (and the Elvis Costello comparisons) and the stage-make up, Nick has returned to the pop scene with a slew of singles from his forthcoming album.

Nick_Jonas_-_Jealous_(Official_Single_Cover)

Barely reaching the Top 40, Jonas’s second single, “Jealous delivers the most out of these buzz singles with pop hooks a la white-boy-Billy Ocean/Lionel Ritchie. The song is a typical 22-year old boy–er, man’s (I mean, c’mon. Have you seen those pictures yet!?) attempt at “puffing his chest” for that night’s girl (Olivia Culpo?). Falsetto-ridden, current, and simply catchy, “Jealous” does its job well as 3-minutes of radio airtime filler.

Nick’s underestimated voice, however, sounds confined on his return to the studio after  hearing his recordings from Succeed. True, the demands of Broadway/theatre singing aren’t always appreciated by the Top 40. The strong tone, control, and pacing found in Broadway performers, however, would serve any singer well. Jonas (whose impressive performance as J. Pierrepont Finch took many off-guard) could learn a lot from Idina Menzel. Perhaps the most overplayed song of the year, “Let It Go” nevertheless shows a seasoned Broadway singer able to bring her expertise to the Top 40.

Don’t get me wrong. For an ex-boy band member, Nick is in a good place with  “Jealous.” — in other words, he’s everything Jesse McCartney wasn’t when he was crooning 2004’s “Beautiful Soul.”

The Monster of Scholarly Consumerism: Frankenstein and Monetizing the Public Domain.

In looking at the public domain edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we see how Google Books displays traits of both innovative and inheritance methodology. The limited accessibility of the multiple editions and their subsequent specifications is only accessible to the scholar willing to pay for such access. Duguid’s characteristics of innovative and inheritance technologies ultimately highlight the ways in which resources like Google Books seek to monetize admittance into the public domain.
The edition scanned into the Google Archives originated from the Princeton University Library; the text is a direct scan of The Cornhill Publishing Company’s 1922 edition. With it’s inclusion of the parenthesized clarification of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly as “Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley,” the reader might conclude this version was published prior to the revival in Mary Shelley as an influential feminist figure (given the need to be associated with her more well-known husband).  Unlike many scholarly editions now in circulation, this edition of the text cuts not only any introductory essays, but also disregards including either Percy or Mary’s prefaces. Furthermore, the previous divisions of the novel into three sections (that mark the three volumes the novel was originally published in) aren’’t included; instead, the chapters are listed as one cohesive, linear progression without any breaks.DuGuid faces a similar phenomena when examining Tristan Shanty, in which Laurence Sterne’s divisions and preceding blank pages are not included in the scan.As a direct scan, the book has obviously avoided reformatting. No errors or quality issues are present in the scan, with the little color included (as seen in the stamps and titles) preserved. The clear preservation of the text highlights Google books as an inheritance technology in which the actual physical quality of the text includes no added features outside of the internet; namely, no hypertext links or interactive features within the text itself make the work anything more promising than Princeton University library could offer.
Google Books’ ability to search the text for keywords and scroll format are the only qualities that mark it as an innovative method of study. The search bar allows users to browse the text for pages where a certain phrase occurs. Instead of having to manually flip through hundreds of pages to locate a certain term, the standard internet technology of the search bar allows both the scholar and the casual reader to locate a term within seconds.
This ability to search also applies more generally to the inquiry of multiple editions of the book; as a public domain text, Frankenstein has dozens of editions catalogued in the Google Books archive with the more recent publications containing copy written material allowing the guest user to merely be able to preview the text. Interestingly enough, while both the 1831 and 1818 editions of the text are under public domain and are included in the archive, the only fully accessible version is the former 1831 edition.
The ability of Google Books to include many versions of a public domain text such as Frankenstein, make it a fantastic resource for the scholar and collector. The limited regard, however, for the plurality of a diverse text that includes multiple editions, supplemental material and divisions are not accounted for. In some ways, Google Books is very much a consumer tool rather than a scholarly resource in which gains can only be made through what the viewer is willing to pay for convenience.

Debutante of Science Fiction: A History of the Publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Despite Mary Shelley’s well documented writing process of Frankenstein in her journals (having documented the completion of the novel on the specific date of May 14th, 1817) [Walling], not enough is known about the novel’s publishing and marketing to satisfy all the requirements of Darnton’s communications circuit model. Shelley’s most renowned work is notorious for it’s multiple publications within a short span of time: the novel was first published anonymously as a Victorian three-volume or “triple-decker” collection by the “London printers Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor and Jones on January 1st, 1818 (Hindle) after previous rejections from both Percy Shelley’s publisher, Charles Ollier, and Byron’s publisher, John Murray (Walling). A subsequent two-volume French publication accrediting the novel to Mary Shelley was published on August 11, 1823 by the publishers, G & W.B. Whittaker in order to capitalize on the success of Richard Brinsley Peake’s stage adaptation. (Bedford Publishing). The renowned “1831 edition” of the text appeared in a one volume publication by Henry Colbum and Richard Bentley on October 31st, after heavy revisions made by Shelley in order to create a morally conscious monster, a new preface cataloging Mary Shelley’s infamous inspiration for the novel, and revisions made in order to quell the novel’s assertive implications (Karbiener).

Despite mostly negative reviews from the like of the Quarterly Review and The Edinburgh Magazine (Walling), a letter to Shelley from friend, Thomas Love Peacock, showcases how by the first year of publication,  the novel came to “be universally known and read” (Walling) in part due to “the criticism of the Quarterly, though unfriendly, [which] contained many admissions of its merit, and must on the whole have done it service” (Walling).

The anonymous nature of Frankenstein’s initial publication attests to the harsh standards under which Victorian women author’s were exposed, with critical praise for Percy Shelley’s flowery 1818 preface  showing an inclination toward the poetic prose popular in the face of a Romantic Renaissance. Specifically, the Quarterly Review applauds Percy Shelley’s contribution as “highly terrific” and rational (Walling) while Mary’s revolutionary, yet direct narrative is condemned as “inculcat[ing] no lesson of conduct, manners, or morality” (Walling).

Furthermore, the novel’s prior publications in multi-volume sets appears to disrupt the continuity needed in order to appreciate Shelley’s framed narrative. For the 1818 reader, a single novel publication may have been more than a necessity than a treat in appreciating Shelley’s multiple perspectives of the unnamed narrator, the views of Victor Frankenstein, and the heart-wrenching account of the monster himself.

According to an uncited segment on Wikipedia’s entry, the novel was “published in an edition of just 500 copies.” Such ambiguity concerning the details of the novel’s publication undoubtedly contributes to a lack of appreciation for how the first science-fiction novel evolved from a widely-read scandal into a canonical contribution to English literature.

Miley Cyrus — “We Can’t Stop”

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After witnessing Miley Cyrus’ intense bout of media spectatorship this past year (centered primarily on a fickle engagement to Liam Hemsworth), one might hope that the Disney alumnus would take the opportunity to defend her openly criticized affairs in her much anticipated summer release.

“We Can’t Stop,” however, not only fails to invoke the personal but also reinforces the same philosophy that jeopardized her career with “Can’t Be Tamed”: conformity. Lines such as “To my homegirls here with the big butts/Shaking it like we at a strip club” and the rampant Red Solo cups littering the single cover capitalize on college party-scene consumers. Despite assertions of a maturing musical direction, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus resorting to targeting the now-collegiate generation that first brought her fame in her Hannah Montana days.

Aligned with the electronic minimalist leanings of her previous album’s cuts, “We Can’t Stop” also offers flashes of the hip-hop promised in Cyrus’ recent CNN interview. Released a year after her country Youtube performances entitled Backyard Sessions, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus swapping intimate performances for generic productions meant to cater to —rather than move— an already loyal fan base.