Archive for January, 2012

Concert Review – Kelly Clarkson Stronger Tour – Wang Theatre – Jan 26, 2011

January 31, 2012

It seems like Kelly Clarkson is everywhere. She had an Unplugged special on VH1 last November, she sang on the AMA Awards and VH1 Divas Soul, was announced as a mentor on Blake Shelton’s team for The Voice, and she performed as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. And not to be out done on the biggest night in sports, she’s singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

I hardly remember a similar media blitz in her ten year career. Clarkson’s mangers and publicity people seem to be working overtime to make sure she has her fill of the spotlight. In between all these events, she’s also touring.

I never knew I wanted to see Clarkson in concert until I saw a notice about her Stronger tour from her Facebook page. I looked over the dates and found she was coming to the Boston Area at the end of Jan. I really wanted to go, but getting tickets proved challenging as they were already on sale and likely sold out. But being persistent paid off as good seats, too good to pass up, became available.

I don’t have a distinct recollection of ever attending a show at The Citi Performing Arts Wang Theater before, so I was really looking forward to the experience. I love the old classy theaters in Boston and have seen many a musical in town. This was my first “rock” concert at such a venue and it worked surprisingly well.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Kelly Clarkson

January 31, 2012

I’ve never really admitted this before, but I’m a huge fan of Kelly Clarkson. No, I didn’t watch her compete on or win the inaugural season of American Idol. I fell in love with her after hearing “Breakaway” for the first time in 2004.

When I bought her album in Jan 2005 I was surprised to like it. As a country music fan, I’m not easily drawn to pop music. But I didn’t just like the Breakaway album I loved it. It’s easily my favorite pop recording of the 00s. I had become a fan.

On that premise I bought My December in 2007. I was so shocked by the contrast in sound to Breakaway, I sort of gave up on Clarkson. Fearing All I Ever Wanted would only make me wish for a return to her Breakaway glory, I skipped that album entirely.

Now, I’m hardly a fair weather fan. I love Clarkson’s music so much, I begged for her to be good again. After she sang “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Jason Aldean, she reclaimed the glory I was hoping she’d come back to.

Now I’m mad I skipped All I Ever Wanted but consider it a lesson learned. It’s  taken until this year to finally dive in and become the fan I should’ve been since that day in 2004 when she captured my attention with one little song.

Here are my 25 personal favorite Clarkson recordings with my two favorite albums Breakaway and Stronger receiving ample attention. If this level of quality continues into the next ten years of her career, there’s no telling where she’ll be able to go.

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Album Review – Kelly Clarkson – “Stronger”

January 31, 2012

Kelly Clarkson

Stronger

* * * *

At first listen, Stronger seemed like an album in desperate need of a vacation in sound. But the richness of this project became more clear to me as I kept hitting the repeat button on the CD player.

Lead single “Mr. Know It All” is a sunny and upbeat pop number complete with an infectious beat and charming vocal from Clarkson. It’s one of those songs that effortlessly glides off the tongue so much so, you don’t know you’re singing along until it’s over. Co-written by country songwriter Brett James with Brian Seals, Ester Dean, and Dante Jones, I much prefer the original pop recording over the country one because it sounds more natural.

The dance pop “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger),” the second single, also delivers on the charm. The beat and melody are so contagious, you can’t help but want to sing and dance along. In addition, “Stronger” succeeds in taking the proverb that inspired it and presenting it in a way that sounds fresh opposed to trite. It could’ve so easily been caught up in what inspired it, but the writers (Jorgen Elofsson, Ali Tamposi, David Gamson, and Greg Kurstin) succeed in making it an anthem.

Luckily, the rest of the album follows suit in matching the quality of the singles. If you’re looking for Clarkson to build on the success of “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” her duet with Jason Aldean, than you’ve come to the wrong place.  She loves and appreciates country music, but she sings pop music because it’s the most natural fit.

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ACM Nominations – the watering down of country music continues

January 26, 2012

Another day, another country music award show where all the great music from the eligibility period is ignored in favor of pandering to mainstream tastes. Now, I wasn’t expecting the likes of The Dreaming Fields or even Lady & Gentleman to score any nominations but the academy made two glaring omissions.

Maybe Miranda Lambert doesn’t have as much clout as we thought. Sure her excellent Four The Record got it’s share of the love but nothing for The Pistol Annies?! It was arguably the better album all around. Plus, it sold. Without radio support. And a physical release in stores (until later). If O, Brother Where Art Thou could sneak in, why couldn’t the Pistol Annies?

Also, to ignore Vince Gill and Guitar Slinger is abominable. Sure, he got a song of the year nomination. But that’s more a slap in the face than anything else. He deserves better. Even if they don’t plan on giving him a win, they could at least make him a star player at the party.

Here are the nominees:

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Album Review – The Little Willies – “For The Good Times”

January 15, 2012

The Little Willies

For The Good Times

**** 1/2

Isn’t it refreshing? The first new country album of 2012 also marks the year’s first great one. A sequel of sorts to the one-off side project from Jazz/pop vocalist Norah Jones and vocalist Richard Julian (among others), For The Good Times features a smart mix of tunes originally written and sung by the likes of Dolly Parton, Ralf Stanley, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Lefty Frizzell, and band namesake Willie Nelson.

Like their 2006 debut, For The Good Times consists mainly of cover songs but this is hardly another in the “covers album” sub-genre. Instead they leave their own mark on each recording, making it sound like their own. I’ve been really digging the retro sound the band has cultivated making For The Good Times feel like a long lost album from the 1960s and not a new project from 2012.

The record opens with their take on Stanley’s “I Worship You,” an acquired taste for country fans, like myself, who haven’t grown up listening to songs with distinct changes in tempo. The slow burning chorus, complete with the crescendoing drums and guitars, is the perfect compliment to the heavy twang from Jones and Julian, but the song truly shines when it picks up steam and becomes a rockabilly stomp. I only wish “I Worship You” didn’t keep the back-and-fourth in tempo, it feels quite awkward to me when it changes from fast to slow and the heavy twang on the chorus becomes grating as the song progresses.

While “I Worship You” may not have been a slam dunk, the other places The Little Willies experimented with sound and texture come off much better. I’m in love with Cal Martin’s “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” which features a gorgeous almost snake-like guitar riff and the magical combination of Jones and Julian, who work extremely well together when they use the contrast of their voices on different parts of a song.

Throughout the album he sounds a lot like Lyle Lovett while she comes like a gypsy woman plucked from another era. The conviction in their vocals helps to enhance the overall mood of the record and they don’t just play their parts perfectly, they sound like they’ve been making this music all their lives. I’m always amazed when a singer, such as Jones, can exist in multiple musical landscapes seemingly without transition.

I was never one to consider her as serious country vocalist but her take on Lynn’s iconic “Fist City” easily rivals the original. It’s always tricky when a vocalist tries to take on one of Lynn’s classics since you need the right amount of ferocity in your delivery to pull it off without sounding like a cheap imitation, or worse, a singer simply trying to show they have country cred. Jones aces the exam and the arrangement of drums, guitar, and piano give her the perfect backdrop to let loose and tap into the growl in her voice. This is my first favorite song of 2012 because Jones and company pull off what could’ve been an epic mess by lesser musicians.

Another such slam dunk is their smoky and bluesy take on Williams’s “Lovesick Blues.” For a song with such honky-tonk beginnings it’s quite alarming to hear it given a jazzy club treatment but it works. In their attempt to honor opposed to discriminate against, they’ve given the song a new lease on life. Given that this isn’t the first time Jones has covered Williams, “Cold, Cold Heart” appeared on Come Away With Me, she knows how to handle the material quite well.

The same though can’t be said for their take on Parton’s “Jolene.” I was slightly disappointed in how they turned it into a ballad given that it was done before by Mindy Smith on Just Because I’m A Woman – The Songs of Dolly Parton in 2003. But while they failed to bring anything new to the song, there’s nothing wrong with how they interpreted it, just that it had been done before. Given how they took on “Fist City” and “Lovesick Blues” with such attack, I was hoping for more from this one.

But the slight disappointment in “Jolene” is easily forgotten on tracks like Cash’s “Wide Open Road” and Frizzell’s “If You Got The Money (I Got The Time).” Prior to this album I wasn’t familiar with “Road,” but their fast paced take on the song makes me wonder how it slipped under my radar. Julian takes on the bulk of the work here and pulls it off wonderfully. But more than his vocal, I’m really enjoying the arraingment what at first, when the guitars some screeching in on the opening chords, can sound a little loud turns out to be quite delightful. The fast-paced drum throughout may just be one of my favorite production choices on the whole project. Sonically, it doesn’t get much better this for country music in any era let alone in 2012.

“If You Got the Money” benefits from a very similar arrangement and works equally as well. The blending of both Jones and Julian’s voices here works pretty well although she does tend to overpower him. While that could’ve been purposefully done, it would’ve been just as effective to hear both vocalists on a more even playing field. But, no matter what, I’ll prefer this pair to the likes of Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley any day.

Given that they’re known as The Little Willies, leaving out a homage to their namesake would make an album of theirs seem incomplete. Here they cover his “Permanently Lonely,” Scotty Wiseman’s “Remember Me” which he covered last November on his Remember Me, Vol. 1, and of course, “If You Got the Money.” The aforementioned “Money” is the lone uptempo number of the group. Both “Lonely” and “Remember Me” are gorgeous ballads showcasing the best of what Jones and Julian have to offer.

“Remember Me” is given a straightforward piano-driven arrangement not unlike Jones’s solo work and the best indicator for her jazz/pop fans that she isn’t turning completely away from the singer they love (which is a farce in and of itself – a new solo album from her is expected this summer). But no matter what the style, she pulls it off with the brilliance she’s mastered during her years in the big leagues. Plus, it isn’t jazzy at all bur rather the best in 1970s honky-tonk ballad tradition.

Along the same lines, Julian takes “Permanently Lonely” to much the same places. It’s another I hadn’t known previously and he digs deep into the lyric and pulls out a stunning emotional conviction that’s only heightened by the slow and brooding piano-led arraignment.

Another of my favorite tracks, “For The Good Times” has an arrangement that would make Charlie Rich smile. When Jones comes in on the opening line, “Don’t look so sad/I know it’s over” I instantly have a smile on my face. No matter the subject matter, there is something inherently comfortable in everything Kris Kristofferson writes and I feel like I’m being visited by a friend. I have to give Jones credit here for handling the song with tender care and pulling off another stunning achievement.

For The Good Times is the year’s first great country album because it displays a level of appreciation for the material being covered lacking in almost any covers project coming out of Nashville today. Instead of trying to make these songs fit within today’s market, the band uses a retro sound to transport the listener back to when these songs were commonplace on the radio. In addition, the combination of Julian and Jones on vocals only heightens that feel as Jones is able to tap into not only her gravel but her twang. She isn’t a jazz/pop singer doing country songs but rather a full-fledged country singer. In the era of imitation, that is nearly impossible to achieve.

Keep On Keeping On: 2011 in review

January 9, 2012

My yearly chance to brag or thank everyone who has found my little blog and helped make it a success. Here’s the report on how my blog weathered 2011:

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The brilliance of “Celebrity”

January 5, 2012

I was listening to the radio the other day when Brad Paisley’s 2003 #3 hit “Celebrity” came on. Listening to the lyrics discussing month long marriages, crying on Barbara Walter’s couch, and unlimited stents in rehab got me thinking.

In the 9 years since this song charted, not only hasn’t it aged, but it’s become even more culturally prominant than it was back then. And that has little to do with the mere fact The Bachelor just began cycle 16.

It boils down to the fact we’re even more celebrity obsessed than we were in 2003 and reality television has grown even more outragrous than Paisley could’ve ever imagined. He actually created a document ahead of it’s time written for a Kardashian obsessed world that didn’t yet exist. His forward thinking served him exceptionally well and this tome celebrating our desire to “hitch up the wagons and head out west, to a land of fun in the sun” has far surpassed the novelty Paisley was after and become a scarily honest look at our culture.

So, for everyone who shutters when “Camouflage” comes on the radio and changes the station at the opening licks of “Old Alabama,” let’s take a moment and celebrate when all was good with Paisley’s artistic credibility:


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