Wednesday
Nov092011

R. Kelly Memoir to Take Us All On a 'Soula Coaster' (PHOTO)

MUSIC-NEWS REVIEW: People need to chill out on the piss jokes and start anticipating R. Kelly's autobiographical tome.

By Kenny Herzog

The guy's a nutbag, but he's also an incredible artist, and hopefully his memoir will touch on both his weirdness and talent.

I'm not condoning any of R. Kelly's indiscretions over the past 15-plus years. He's been alleged to have engaged in degrading sexual behavior, on camera, with an underaged girl, in addition to longstanding rumors that he wed late R&B singer/Kelly protege Aaliyah while she was a teenager. But if we start evaluating talent on the basis of artists' dubious lifestyles, or retracting our recognition for their finest work, then everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown to Led Zeppelin and Guns N' Roses would be stripped of their prestige and ubiquity as well.

At his best, R. Kelly---who just revealed the above cover of his awesomely dubbed memoir, Soula Coaster, to be released via SmileyBooks in 2012---has been the most consistent and prolific R&B songwriter/producer/performer of the past quarter-century. Early slow-jams like 1993's "Bump N' Grind'" pair agelessy with retro-ballads like 2010's "When a Woman Loves." In between, he's played devil and angel; the former on flawless club hits including "Fiesta" and "Ignition," and the latter for sensitive standouts like "When a Woman's Fed Up." When so inclined, he's easily ranked among the Diane Warrens and Elton Johns in the world of epic soundtrack arrangements, evidenced on "I Believe I Can Fly" from 1996's Space Jam compilation, arguably his most recognizable single. Far as production and collaborations go, he's in a league almost all his own. Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Jay-Z, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston and Britney Spears are just a handful of the dozens who've called on Kelly for studio polish and guidance, not to mention credibility. 

At his most confounding but always entertaining, Kelly's kept the spirit of Ohio players alive with ridiculous album titles such as Chocolate Factory, and plain confounded us through a feature-length series of musical vignettes called Trapped in the Closet that have rightfully become the stuff of unwitting cult phenomenon. 

So, it's no surprise that he and co-author David Ritz (whose biographied no less than Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Janet Jackson, among others) cracked heads on a life story headlined by a play on words as inspired as Soula Coaster. It's what the people want from R. Kelly, and he's not one to disappoint. I don't think he really cares whether people think his eccentricity is authentic or an act, or whether he's a sexual predator or misunderstood musical genius. He's both contriving and witnessing his own legend, and I, for one, am eager to read how he testifies to all the above when Soula Coaster sees release.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: It's unlikely he'll really own up to or offer a satisfying explanation for all the controversy, but Soula Coaster should still teem with fascinating insight about a time and space in R&B, and does come with Ritz's legitimate pedigree.

R. KELLY IS FLAWED BUT FASCINATING RATING: 8/10

THE GENERIC NEWS STORIES ABOUT THAT CAN ONLY FIND THINGS TO SAY ABOUT R. KELLY'S NOVELTY AND SCANDAL RATING: We Get It, He's Weird, And You're Cool But Also Lazy/10

WHY DIDN'T HE JUST CALL IT SOUL COASTER? LOL RATING: Who Knows?/10

 

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Thursday
Nov032011

New Amy Winehouse Single "Like Smoke" is Soulful Collaboration with Nas

 

 

MUSIC REVIEW: Amy Winehouse's "Like Smoke" is the bittersweet sneak preview of highly anticipated posthumous album.

By Robbie Woliver

Amy Winehouse and Nas made some beautiful music together.


Amy Winehouse's posthumous release, Lioness: Hidden Treasure, is a 12-track collection of songs new to the public and alternative takes on familiar songs. The highly anticpated album will drop in December.

BirthplaceMag.com previewed one of those new songs and it is a silky, jazzy gem, as retro and as distictively beautiful as anything that Winehouse has recorded. The Nas rap is equally soulful, and as smooth as a glide on ice.

Here it is:

The album's co-producer (along with Mick Ronson), Salaam Remi, acknowledges that this is not the album that Winehouse would have released herself, but why waste these precious tracks? As Winehouse sings, "Like smoke I hang around." Ahh, if only.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: Still so sad.

"LIKE SMOKE" RATING: 10/10

LIONESS ANTICIPATION RATING: can.not.wait/10

 

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Thursday
Oct272011

Susan Boyle Channels Selena Gomez on New Version of "Mad World"

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Susan Boyle, Britain's Got Talent poster girl, is about to release her third studio album (her albums sell gazillion copies around the world), Someone to Watch Over Me. Included in this highly anticipated recording is her part-gorgeous/part-creepy teen-voiced version of Tears for Fears' classic "Mad World."

By Robbie Woliver

 

Susan Boyle seems to approve of her new teen voice.

 

"Mad World" has become one of those ubiquitous songs that never really gets old; Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is another. No matter who sings it, the song will most likely survive. The unlikely superstar, Boyle, who reached global fame by belting out Broadway classics on Britain's Got Talent in 2009, has taken a more daring and unexpected route on her albums. Turns out she has an affinity for rock and roll, and some obscure songs at that. Her choice of "Wild Horses" on her debut, I Dreamed a Dream, for example, was not as surprising as her choice of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" (pick up jaws) on the upcoming Someone, which will be released on November 1.   

The 50-year-old singer has a gorgeous voice, there is no disputing that, and that familiar soaring soprano of hers is not quite in evidence during "Mad World," where she sounds more like a teen Disney star like Selena Gomez or Taylor Swift. It's a great track to play for your friends and make a sure-fire million dollar bet that they'll never guess who it is--and they won't, unless, of course, they are REVIEWniverse followers. But you know what? Boyle's childlike rendition is eerily compelling and creepy, sorta the way weird young Adelaide is on American Horror Story.

We haven't heard Adelaide sing Tears for Fears yet, but it might sound like this:

 

IN OTHER WORDS: Beautiful song. Ethereal rendition. No surprise.

"MAD WORLD" VERSION BY SUSAN BOYLE RATING: 9.4/10

KNOWING IT'S SUSAN BOYLE SINGING AND NOT SELENA GOMEZ RATING: 4.9/10

ADELAIDE CREEPY FACTOR RATING: 10/10

"MAD WORLD" VERSION BY ADAM LAMBERT: Jackpot/10

 

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Thursday
Oct272011

Willie Nile's 'The Innocent Ones' is a Joyous, Pounding Rock Gem

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Willie Nile's European hit The Innocent Ones has been released in the U.S., just in time for several of its infectious populist anthems to join the soundtrack for Occupy Wall Street.

By Robbie Woliver

 

Willie Nile is a musical treasure. In terms of discussing his place in the rock pantheon, there really is no discussion. He belongs there, and for some very crazy reason, not enough folks know about him. Sure, he’s got a legion of fans globally and he’s highly regarded by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Lou Reed, but this guy should be gearing up for his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame speech, and not breaking his back promoting his latest should-be-classic, The Innocent Ones. And you know, on top of it all, he’s a really nice, salt-of-the-earth guy who just happens to rock like a superstar.

Willie’s career began in the 1980s when he balanced himself deftly between the Lower East Side grit of CBGB's and the earnest heart of Greenwich Village’s singer-songwriter revival. This guy has a folkie heart for sure but he is a rock 'n' roll beast.

He debuted on Arista Records and for decades he played his heart out for devoted (dare I say, cultish, fans around the world). His albums throughout this time soared with passion and mastery of the craft, but he was always on the edge, never quite in the spotlight like so many of his influences (Dylan and Springsteen). And that is good news, because it kept Willie hungry, and you can hear it in every single note of every single song.

Check out his catalog on www.WillieNile.com (I particularly like Streets of New York and House of A Thousand Guitars), but just about everything he’s recorded is golden.

Now he’s back with an American release of his European hit album The Innocent Ones, a recording garnering fans and raves like a magnet, and the timing is perfect. Nile’s songs are anthemic, populist pop gems that will certainly find resonance in these troubling times.  And don’t misunderstand this—Nile is no sad sack, his songs are uplifting anthems for any generation.

There’s an extraordinary mix of sensibilities Willie Nile employs in his music. He combines the manic abandon of pop-punk, the passion-of-the-people of folk and a dash of musical influence from his Irish background, more Pogues that Clancy Brothers. 

Nile’s music is the rousing, stamping-the-beat-out-on-the-floor kind of rock, even on ballads like “Song For You.” Every track on Innocent Ones will stir you to raise your fists stadium-style, as you rocket along with his riveting, tight band (Steuart Smith on acoustic and electric guitar, electric sitar-guitar, banjo, bass, piano and pump organ, Frankie Lee on drums and percussion, Stewart Lerman on electric guitar, and Hirsh Gardner on parade drum. Multi-talented Nile plays a wide variety of instruments from guitar to keyboards.) These are singalongs that are both provocative and infectious. You need no more than one listen to have every song on this remarkable disk live in your head.

The wonderful pop-music journalist Ann Powers asked in a recent article, “Who are the voices of the Occupy Wall Street movement?” and I would contend…try Willie Nile. Like #OWS he’s direct, he’s got a universal message and he’s passionately devoted. He rarely is introverted in his music, and even the most personal songs are addressed to his wider audience. He opens up his world instead of reigning it all in.

The album kicks of with the always-hopeful sound of clanging of church bells and suddenly jumps into a driving punk beat that has shades of country and Irish rock. “Singin’ Bell” is a jangly rouser that would sit just as well at a Ramones or Clash concert as it would at a Black 47 or Flogging Molly gig. Or, for that matter, even on the Clearwater after a Pete Seeger performance. 

“One Guitar” is finally, after he's made brilliant rock music for so long, Willie Nile’s signature song: “I'm a soldier marchin' in an army/Got no gun to shoot/But what I got is one guitar/I got this one guitar." With its eternal “na na na na na na na na na na” chorus and the theme of one guitar being more powerful than any army, Nile finally has his song that will have its place in history. With all the messages out of #OWS, here is one we can all get behind. Remember this song, “One Guitar,” it’s a beauty. (Check out the website for OneGuitar.org to get more information about his One Guitar charity initiative for the TJ Martell Foundation for Cancer and AIDS Research, and other good causes. He is hoping to get 2,000 versions of the song "one Guitar" recorded for a new Guiness World Record.)

The chugging title track is genius songcrafting with its dead-serious verses juxtaposed with its joyous chorus: “High... High... stand up in the sun/ Everybody sing for the innocent ones/Hey... Hey... nowhere left to run/ Everybody sing for the innocent ones.” It's another #OWS potential standard, because he deftly captures the universal hopes and spirit of the growing movement, even though the song was written well before the movement was born.

These are songs performed with a band that well complements Nile's genuine gusto and earnestness. You can tell from the first note of this album that the live show version will just kill. Here's a taste of Nile's electrically charged live persona, as he performs with his fan Bruce Springsteen: 

 

“Hear You Breathe” with its gentle lyrics and pummeling rock instrumentation demonstrates that how even when Nile isn’t writing an anthem for the people, his songs still have that million-dollar hook. Here’s where the singer-songwriter in Nile goes all rebel on us. Most every other writer would have taken this quiet lyric and written music to it that was something more…well, lyrical. Not Willie, and thank goodness.

Nile does slow down for the Beatles-ish ”Song For You,” whioh turns into a message to more than just the ”you” one might expect. We are all the “you” in this. And the crack in Nile's voice midway in is pure satisfying emotion. And then it’s Nile who becomes the “you” as his band sings to him. That’s a nice turn.

The Buddy Holly-inspired “My Little Girl” is one of several takes on not-so-perfect women in Willie’s universe, as is the pumped-up power-riffed “Topless Amateur,” the Simon & Garfunkel-meet-the Kinks’ “Rich And Broken” and punky-good “Can’t Stay Home,” with its great "Telstar" intro and lusting lyrics like, “But when I see her on the street the sidewalk melts from all that heat.” “Can’t Stay Home,” is perhaps the most fun you’ll have with this album—it is total abandon, sung by the entire band, and it couldn’t be any more ear-wormish. You’ll feel like you’re with your drunken buddies at a Black 47 gig in a funky old Irish Bar on New York’s Second Avenue.

Then Nile gets all sweet on us when he sings about his quirky daughters in the gritty grace of “Sideways Beautiful.” Every parent (especially daddies) of unique daughters will be swept away by this one.  Yes, he sounds like Dylan, but you know what…he sounds like Dylan, and, yes, the song closely echoes ”You Are So Beautiful,” but it’s wonderfully reinvented Nile-Style.

As with “Can’t Stay Home,”  “Far Green Hills,” has another great Willie Nile line about the heat he feels from the women he desires. He professes his love: “If fire was her daughter, I would drink a pail of water. Just to kiss her…just to kiss her.” The burning desire is eternal, and the production is straight out of MTV-era mid-‘80s, along the lines of Big Country.

Willie Nile has that gift that a rare breed of artists possesses, where they can make the most personal universal. Add Nile’s knack for a devilish, pounding beat, and you have magic.

You can check out The Innocent Ones and Nile's other recordings on CDBaby , Amazon and iTunes.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: Another classic from Willie Nile, and one that has such strong cuts he’s bound to finally get the attention he deserves.

THE INNOCENT ONES RATING: 9.5/10

 

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Tuesday
Oct252011

Pentatonix Kills it With Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" on 'Sing-Off'

MUSIC REVIEW: Pentatonix, the L.A.-based a cappella quintet with an underground swag, not only hips up the NBC show The Sing-Off, but they reinvented Kanye West's already-cool "Love Lockdown," in what had to be one of the best performances of the season.

By Robbie Woliver

Pentatonix can take the Glee kids in New Directions when it comes to out-of-the-box vocalizing. (Credit: NBC)

The Sing-Off is actually a pretty damn cool music competition. It not only embraces the purest of musical styles (a cappella, vocalizing with no musical instruments), it turns what could be a dull glee-club fest into one of the most intricate and current musical showcases. 

You can't cheat when performing a cappella. It's bare, but not spare. Every note, every breath is out in the open, exposed for any flaws. The singers (and "musicians") have to be perfect, not only with their own vocalization, but their harmony, choreography and showmanship. Every band member (one group, the entertaining Yellowjackets from the University of Rochester has 15 members) is providing a unique bit to the overall sound, whether it's the lead, harmony or one of the instrumental sounds. We've heard them mimic violins, basses, drums, and guitars. And each kid can sing better than most of these X-Factor or Idol clowns.

I would be remiss in not mentioning how good the judges, all performers, are on this show: R&B superstar Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men), Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds, who is astonishingly well-informed about music, in general. They are all endearing, likable, funny, and incredibly knowledgable. They are the best judging team on any TV competition. And really, how cool and how un-TV is Ben Folds?

From the start, Pentatonix has proven to be one of the most interesting bands on the show. Up against larger groups like the Yellowjackets, they have more to prove, and they usually prove that they are more intricate and complex than the other groups. But this week they outdid theselves with an extraordinary rendition of Kanye West's "Love Lockdown." It was a gripping performance, the kind that when it was over, you realize you didn't breathe for a minute. 

This fivesome (four guys, one girl) do it all--sing, dance and bring a swagger to acapella that most singing groups tend to lack. They can wail, harmonize, dance, and brilliantly arrange their material, and considering that they're a fairly new entity (three were a trio in high school in Arlington, Texas who added two more members who they found on YouTube, including the beatboxer, of course). Unlike many of the other contestant groups, Pentaonix's influences are less Glee, and more underground, incorporating dubstep, garage house and electronic music. Add that eclectic and very contemporary mix to stellar and often dramatic performances, and you have a winning team here. 

Pentatonix is comprised of Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Avi Kaplan, Kirstin Maldonado and Kevin Olusola. 
Watch their stunning performance of "Love Lockdown" below, and you'll see how they make a cappella as hip as any underground hip-hop show.

 


IN OTHER WORDS: I want to download this on my iPod now.

THE SING-OFF RATING: 8/10

PENTATONIX RATING: 9.9/10

The SING-OFF JUDGES RATING: 9/10

AFRO-BLUE'S ONE WHITE GIRL NEVER GETTING THE SPOTLIGHT RATING: LOL/10

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THOSE TWO GUYS IN THE BACKGROUND RATING: 20/20

 

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