Tag Archives: music

Riding The “Landslide”: A Post for a 26th Birthday

Every time I attend a Stevie Nicks concert, I call my Dad the moment “Landslide” begins. Nicks often opts to perform this iconic ballad as an encore, acknowledging the leverage such artists as the Dixie Chicks and Smashing Pumpkins have given the track. At this point, the crowd is deafening and my cell phone reception becomes sporadic. My goal, however, isn’t to bootleg a Madison Square Garden rendition of “Landslide”; my sole aim is to remind my family of how they provided me with the greatest love of my life—music.

I discovered Stevie Nicks while rummaging through my father’s old vinyl. Among picture discs of Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman and KISS records, I found copies of both Fleetwood Mac’s 1977’s Rumours and Stevie Nick’s solo debut, Bella Donna. I had spent the first 13 years of my life hooked on my stepmother’s country pop and my sister’s obsession with 90’s R&B. Once I heard the opening verses of “Dreams,” however, my musical direction would shift lanes. ’70’s Stevie Nicks wasn’t the bouncy optimism of Shania Twain or Carey’s flashy belts and whistles; Stevie’s sang with both the humility of an early Dolly Parton and the eccentric mysticism that underscored Led Zeppelin’s most iconic songs. By the time I had reached Bella Donna‘s gruff, Police-inspired “Edge of Seventeen,” I interrogated my father about everything and anything that was Fleetwood Mac.

My father has devoted his life to his guitar. A gifted neoclassical guitarist, he dedicates every spare minute to his craft. He spent decades gorging himself on Yngwie Malmsteen imports and Van Halen videos. A self-taught guitarist before the coming of the Internet, he’s rehashed for me the nights spent playing along to guitar solos on vinyl records for hours on end. Before tablature on the web or DAWs, there were only haphazardly printed songbooks and the discipline to learn an upcoming gig’s setlist by ear. He mourns the lost art of discipline and dedication in the contemporary musician, who has endless Youtube tutorials and tab forums at his disposal; in this era of information overload, I envy his willingness to devote his time to nothing more than his guitar and his favorite records. My biggest musical hero, my father was the recipient of every inquiry I had—Fleetwood Mac would be no different.

Shortly after my Fleetwood Mac discovery, my father dug out his copy of their 1997 live album, The Dance. I wore out the gears in my yellow Walkman listening to a version of “Landslide” dedicated to her father. While I admired Lindsey Buckingham’s Travis-picking and Stevie’s wizened, yet emotive vocals, it was the timeless lyrics describing the reluctance and uncertainty in aging that kept the song on repeat. Any 13 year old would feel the gravity of such lyrics; with the arrival of a younger brother and strained ties within my family, “Landslide” reigned me in, easing the rough transition and reigniting my passion for writing.

As I write this, I am only half an hour away from my 26th birthday. The past year has been riddled with unexpected bouts of illness, uncertainty regarding graduate school, and a new romantic relationship. I’ve often told myself that this year was the most challenging in my life, despite family and friends reassuring me otherwise. For the past week, I’ve been listening to “Landslide” on repeat, contemplating the many paths I must choose from. I’ve found comfort, however, in remembering that Stevie was only 25 when she wrote “Landslide.” Dropped from Polydor Records after a failed record, Stevie created “Landslide” out of indecision: Would she appease her parents by finishing college or chase after a music career with Lindsey Buckingham? Stevie chose the latter, living off Hamburger Helper and a waitress’s paycheck until Mick Fleetwood signed the duo a year later.

The last time I saw Stevie Nicks was on her 24 Karat Tour. I left during the middle of “Rhiannon,” a song Stevie claims she’s performed at every concert since its release in 1975. As I scooted around hollering fans, I reasoned that “Landslide” must have been booted in favor of more obscure 80’s recordings. As I opened the door leading to the stairs, however, I heard the first chords to “Landslide,” soon followed by an arena full of cheers. The crowd roared and the reception wasn’t too great. Still, I dialed my father and waited as I listened to the concert from the fire escape.

photo credit: golfnride Stevie Nicksphotopin (license)

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Frank Ocean, “Chanel”

With last year’s release of Blonde, listeners found a liberated Frank Ocean flaunting his freedom from the constraints and demands of his record label, Def Jam. Under Def Jam’s supervision, Ocean’s openly bisexual status would only be hinted at on Channel Orange‘s “Thinkin’ of You” and a coming out letter on his Tumblr account. While writing Blonde, Ocean sought inspiration from his own turbulent past, with songs such as “Self Control,” and “Good Guy” allowing for a deeper self-expression of his bisexuality.

On his 2017 single, “Chanel,” Ocean continues to fuel the public’s perception of him as an ambassador for LGBTQ artistry within the relatively hostile domain of R&B and Hip-Hop. Ocean opens with the assertive declaration:”My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell/ I see both sides like Chanel, I see on both sides like Chanel.” Later on, Ocean details an intimate encounter with another man, whose “straight-acting” persona soon gives way to a malleable, “dirty plastic” sense of identity. Both encounters highlight the dichotomies that have become a motif throughout  Ocean’s catalog; the allure of “Chanel” relies on such observations concerning the binaries inherent in his “post-breakout” experience: sexuality, gender norms, and status.

The musical arrangement of “Chanel” recalls the hazy, ambiguous production of Blonde, with programmed drums setting the pace for the slow piano progression, and vague synth leads that loop throughout the song. The subtle instrumentals, however, bow to Ocean’s rapping, which holds most of the song’s conflict and appeal. With its social commentary and avant-garde production, “Chanel” reflects the newfound artistic freedom of the

With its social commentary and avant-garde production, “Chanel” reflects the newfound artistic freedom of the Blonde sessions; Ocean’s empathetic confessionalism, however, hasn’t been lost in the experimentation, making for another raw hit that we’ve come to expect from him.

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

Azealia Banks, ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’

Azealia Banks fans have had to wait a few years for her debut LP, Broke with Expensive Taste, to finally hit shelves. After several delays, Bank’s first full-length release was dropped unannounced on November 6th. Banks’s last multi-track release was 2011’s 1991, which featured the lifted track, “212.” In the meantime, the 23-year-old became the Queen of Twitter feuds while hinting at collaborations with the likes of Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Pharrell (the latter was eventually released in 2013), and pushed her 2012 mixtape, Fantasea.

As with any “post-Nicki” rapper, the comparisons with Minaj have become unavoidable. Both rappers attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High SchoolMinaj was rejected by the Vocal Department but went on to the theater department. Banks seems to have followed the same route (although, tracks like “Nude Beach A-Go-Go” prove Banks probably could have been accepted into the rigorous department). Banks has also followed the “femcee” trend, delays aside.

Before listening to Broke, I must warn you: Banks is not a British rapper. The album itself is heavily influenced by UK Garage and house rap, with many of the tracks being prime candidates for any rave mix. “Luxury” and “BBD” in particular, blend trance with 808 trap samples. Still, one word sums up the Broke experience: Witch-hop.

“sonically, it’s very mature…I didn’t want to do anything that was like, young [or] mainstream. I stayed far away from dubstep, and I tried to stay far away from trap, but I have one trap record…everything on my album is going to be like, anti-pop, or just anti-what’s-happening-now.”

Meanwhile, cuts such as the catchy opener “Idle Delilah” and “Wallace” incorporate Latin kits and marimbas into Banks’s collection. While the relatively sluggish “Wallace” stagnates as album filler, “Idle Delilah” stands as one of Bank’s most relevant tracks —touching upon economic competition and suicide—despite it’s inspiration from a supposed 20th Century retaliation murder.

Besides “Idle Delilah” and 2011’s “212,” the majority of the album’s first half pales in comparison to its more experimental counterpart. One of the major pitfalls of Banks’s debut is her tendency to recycle identical rhythms on her rap tracks while overindulging in her “trademark” combination of mumbling and rapping. While Azealia Banks is no Mariah Carey—or Ariana Grande for that matter—it’s a refreshing change when Banks warms up her pipes as it shows a surprising versatility many listeners wouldn’t expect. “Chasing Time,” and the formidable, surf-rock jam “Nude-Beach-A-Go-Go” charts territory Banks’s fans have probably never explored. If surf-rock doesn’t work out, however, the irresistible “Soda” and aggressive “Luxury,” seem likely candidates for any club mix, offering a promising avenue into dance-floor diva-dom.

Such adaptability in genres, however, shouldn’t appear as promising career paths for when the monotonous rapping no longer works for Banks. Rather, such diversity only highlights an innate resourcefulness in Banks’ catalogue that makes her debut a much more rewarding listen than Minaj or Iggy Azalea who, quite frankly, should’ve thought twice before copping the name of a femcee who, despite sales, will most likely outlast her.

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.”

MNEK, “Every Little Word”

“Buzz single” is an adequate term for iTunes Festival opener, MNEK’s latest single, “Every Little Word.” Within the first seconds of the intro, the listener is immersed within a sound scape of hiccuping synths and bleeping samples, before the British vocalist asks the very question you weren’t expecting: “Do you f*ck to this shit?” MNEK’s penchants for blending electronic and R&B/mild Hip-Hop elements, and curt sexuality are immediately reminiscent of Prince’s New Revolution Days and early 90’s R&B groups.

Besides a provocative refrain, however, “Every Little Word” lyrics lack any of Prince’s ingenuity; MNEK’s vocals ultimately prove to be the track’s saving grace. MNEK’s smooth singing conjures images of an underground Ne-Yo, opting for richer vocals and a grittier presence than the latter’s radio-friendly career. Furthermore, MNEK’s vocals weave seamlessly into electronic music, a characteristic reinforced by the singer’s previous features on club tracks from Gorgon City and Rudimental. Between MNEK’s intuitive command of electronic music, retro high-top hair, and sensual vocals, “Every Little Word,” may be the most refreshing treat offered so far at this year’s iTunes Festival.

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.

Matt Duke, ‘One Day Die’

As the followup to 2008’s folksy Kingdom Underground, Matt Duke’s One Day Die shows the promising musician’s ventures into harder, more experimental rock. In songs like “Kangaroo Court”, a speedy rocker with distorted vocals akin to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo work, and the Eagles-esque “Shangri-La”, Duke’s writing promises more texture while still showcasing his talent for irresistible hooks. Duke’s religious undertones are still in full force on the single “Needle & Thread”, and the eerie, small-town commentary “M.L.T.” As a comfortable blend of familiar and radical, One Day Die solidifies Matt Duke as contender for King of The Underground.