It’s hard to find a person who likes no music at all, though tastes differ drastically, yet it’s the people playing that music who are getting the real buzz according to this animated TED-Ed talk from Anita Collins.
Sam Smith sings soul songs, but not in the usual way. Where most of this genre’s singers shout, he moans. While anger fires many, Smith focuses on hurt. It’s the sound a wound would make, a cry without defense or deflection. It’s so raw, it isn’t always easy to listen to, yet millions can’t help it. Smith’s debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” shows why.
“Money On My Mind” kicks off the album with a crisp, skittering backbeat and chopped-up backing exhalations. The first official single is a bit of a bait-and-switch: the synthesizers don’t set the tone for the record but do reappear at the very end, and at first listen it’s easy to focus on the blaring chorus and miss the “I don’t have” that sneaks up beforehand.
“Good Thing” begins with swelling strings that spill into a muted guitar line, the second track is the real beginning of the end which, “In the Lonely Hour” is all about.
The first time I saw Smith was when he wowed an audience on “Saturday Night Live.” He killed it with “Stay With Me”judiciously placed tambourines, the song builds to a resounding gospel chorus that would give goose bumps to even the most hardened unromantic heart.
“Leave Your Lover” is gorgeous in its simplicity; guitar, piano & string accompany a heavenly melody floating from falsetto to chest voice and back.
The first turning point of the record, “I’m Not the Only One”is where Smith digs down to the bottom of his range before his voice raises to anger, accusing, “You say I’m crazy, because you don’t think I know what you’ve done.” The violins surging behind the breakdown are so high-pitched they practically sting.
On “I’ve Told You Now” Smith is a master of contrasting volume and affect. The phrases escalate to the explosive emotional climax with restraint so subtle you can hear the guitarist’s fingers on the fret board. Here, Smith goes off into his falsetto like a balloon gone awry before being pulled in just as it’s about to fly away.
“Like I Can” begins with whispered strumming that kindles deep indignation and frustration. Smith’s insistence of his stronger feelings is fueled with a full band, another choir.
Smith recants his anger at one of his most vulnerable points with “Life Support”. Smith’s falsetto blurs words together until they eventually collapse against each other during the song’s breakdown, which mirrors his own.
From the opening guitar notes of “Not In That Way”, it resembles Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” With just the simple melody and Smith’s reluctant honesty, it is one of the record’s finest moments.
Another of Smith’s debuts on “SNL,” “Lay Me Down” has more of a theatrical flair than other songs, blending Broadway musical’s storytelling with Whitney Houston’s vocal acrobatics, and a splash of classy Frank Sinatra strings, supported by a military drum beat.
As implied by its title, “Restart” returns to the record’s upbeat beginning and dials it up a notch. With the bounce of select cuts from “Bad,” Smith moves through uplifting pianos. To drive the point home, he scratches and rewinds his verses. Sonically, if not emotionally, it’s a logical progression from “Lay Me Down,” and at any rate it’s good to see him come back from the brink of wallowing.
Smith sings about his heart beating out of his chest on “Latch”, his throaty wail makes it sound like the organ is being ripped out.
On “Make It To Me” Smith lets loose with the record’s only guitar solo, ending the record on a surprisingly carefree note.
If you get this CD, you’ll discover Sam Smith sings soul songs, but not in the usual way.
Her latest album is mostly inspired by personal tragedy, with subject matter that one might expect from album filled with misery. Well, Shine On is not that – Sarah writes and sings about hope in the midst of pain. Shine On is her eighth studio album, I have the other 7. This CD is dedicated to her father, who passed away in 2010, it includes a few songs dealing directly with his death, and much of the music helps us understand how to cope with pain and loss.
Shine On starts with its most upbeat and optimistic songs. On “In Your Shoes,” accompanied by spiccato strings, McLachlan sings about moving on and carving her own path. Not known for humor, Sarah delivers a great punch line on one of the album’s best songs, “Monsters.” While itemizing numerous types of monstrous creatures —from two-faced boyfriends to unscrupulous business associates – she ironically states “Think what your life would be missing if you didn’t have him to sing about.”
Of course Sarah is at her best when singing the forlorn ballad, her voice personifying heartache. It’s what made her famous and the go-to for all sad moments in TV soundtracks. “You were the star by which I light my way/ so how do I find my way now?”she mourns on “Surrender and Certainty.” Led by guitar picking rather than from the piano bench, “Song for my Father,” Sarah honors her late father’s “constant unwavering heart”and sings of how he always helped her through difficult times, being “the place that I could always rest my head.” The call-and-response between Sarah and the trumpet echoesthe musical voice of her father.
“Love Beside Me” offers balance from the melancholy. Playing a funky electric piano in lieu of her characteristicgrand piano, her energetic grooves breakthrough the haze, McLachlan’s voice is inspired as she sings about learning from past mistakes. “Brink of Destruction”is another ballad, sung in 6/8time, keeps the melody moving forward. Though the title might suggest despair, I found it uplifting in its honesty. “Beautiful Girl” is the most stripped down tune of the collection. Instrumentation gets out of the way of Sarah’s lilting voice with her doubling on background vocals, as well. Shine On ends with its warmest track, “The Sound That Love Makes.” After more than a few songs contemplating death, shattered relationships and anguished comes a blatant happy love song. Reminiscent of Colbie Caillat, a cheery ukulele replaces somber piano chords. Love is the one emotion powerful enough to break through the grieving process and shines its light of hope. “I’m seeing the sun in all the greyest skies,”Sarah sings at her most optimistic self.
I waited a long time to add this disc to my collection, and it didn’t disappoint me at all. In fact, there are a couple of tunes that will hit the radio this summer I’m sure.
My dear friend Rob introduced me to this fabulous a capella group. The latest studio album from On The Rocks, entitled “A Fifth”, is their fifth studio album (clever huh?). If you have an Internet connection, you’re probably one of over five million people (as of this writing) who’ve watched the video for On the Rocks’ cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. (If you haven’t seen it, follow this link. Go ahead; I’ll wait.) The good news is that, the arrangement still sounds great on A Fifth these guys don’t just rely on gimmicks and fun choreography.
First, though, Bad Romance: there’s so much energy and fun in this arrangement, and these guys absolutely nail it. I’m not in love with the Poker Face snippet, but it fits; still, more impressively, these guys just know how to build a rich, full arrangement that doesn’t sound busy. The “walk, walk, fashion baby” segment is so intricately layered that it conveys a rumbling tension without sounding chaotic, and the whole song just flows and sounds great.
The rest of A Fifth is more of the same high-quality, well-executed arrangements; the only difference is that most of the rest of the songs are older mid-tempo tunes. That’s hardly a complaint, though: their version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Sing a Song is crisply precise; their take on Brad Paisley’s Then drips with emotion; and their cover of CSNY’s Helplessly Hoping just shimmers.
What’s great about On the Rocks and A Fifth is that everything these guys do, they do well: We Don’t Eat is a collaboration with all-female group Divisi that is flawless. There are three originals on this album that stand up beautifully next to the covers here. It might be nice to hear a little more breadth of dynamics (and some of the syllables on And So It Goes are a little distracting), but ultimately, these guys have delivered a solid, stunningly-executed collection of songs.
Chances are you have several CDs with Nathan East playing bass on them. Nathan has played with Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Kenny Loggins, George Harrison, B.B. King, Whitney Houston, Wayne Shorter, Barbra Streisand (yes, THAT Barbara), and even the show I direct, The Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree. If you watched the Grammys, he was featured on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” one of the biggest records of the year and winner of the Grammy for album & record of the year. Here’s the link to the performance.
I was a fan long before I ever met Nathan. Not only is he the premiere bassist in contemporary music, he is an exceptional human. You’ve heard people say, “They are really nice in person”, well, Nathan might be one of the nicest humans I have ever met. Not an ounce of hubris or arrogance. He is brilliant, and can talk about any subject.
His self-titled solo album is a tapestry of musical styles, filled with phenomenal arrangements and performances from incredible musicians, including original compositions by East, such as the Fourplay standard “101 Eastbound,” co-written with his brother, Marcel, and renditions of classics like Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” which is impossible to listen to without smiling (as big as Nathan smiles!).
“Letter From Home” is a Pat Metheny composition. I can remember in one of my late night talks with him, he told me of his great affection for Metheny. Michael McDonald brings his distinctive vocals to Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. It starts simply with Nathan & Michael, and then a big band drives this classic in a completely different direction, in a word, “brilliant!”
Proving he is in touch with what’s happening in the music scene and keeps himself up-to-date constantly, Sarah Bareilles sings “I Can let Go Now”, a poignant Michael McDonald tune. Then just to make sure you’re paying attention, “Daft Punk” another original, lays down a hybrid of Jazz, Funk & House music.
Fans of Contemporary Jazz will love Chuck Leob’s (Fourplay’s guitarist) “Sevente” as well as Bob James’ (Fourplay’s keyboardist) “Moodswing”. “Madiba”, is another original (co-written with Yamaha’s Chris Gero, who also co-produced the album), with Nathan adding some really hip vocals to a gospel/world music groove.
Eric Clapton shows up on Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, an incredibly touching song that makes you stop and assess what is important in life. In case you forgot (didn’t know), Nathan shows off his remarkable voice in a duet with Clapton’s inspired guitar playing. The arrangement is open and airy with room for the melody and music to connect with the listener. Noah East, Nathan’s son, plays a duet with his dad on “Yesterday”. Something so often recorded can become pedestrian. The chord changes and phrasing here, is anything but. I get emotional listening to this interpretation.
Occasionally, I consider learning to play harmonica (never offered at the Conservatoire I attended), but when I hear Stevie Wonder play, I rethink my folly. He is perfect on his version of “Overjoyed”.
The closing anthem is “America the Beautiful”, starting with Nathan, solo on his bass, then a full orchestra accompanies his lyrical playing, when the horns introduce the choir, an enormous sound takes this rendition to Super bowl level performance.
What a joy to listen to this disc, anticipating the next track and each time, finding oneself surprised at the musical turn taken, a breathtaking album worthy of any collection.