Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oldie of the Day: December Soul many afternoons did I spend singing my heart out: "Been around the world and I-eye-yiii, I can't find my babehhh, I don't know and I don't know whyyyyy, why he's gone away..." A lot of folks were shocked when Lisa Stansfield showed up on the scene with a sultry voice like a female Barry White, but with the looks of the Iowa girl next door.  Well, maybe not Iowa -  maybe more like a NYC Village gal.  I definitely wouldn't have guessed she was British.  Stansfield has also delved from time to time into recording a few jazz tracks.

Have I said yet how interesting it is that so many blue-eyed soul artists are from the UK? Does anyone have an opinion as to why? 

Anyways, below is a fave track, "All Woman" and "Change".  I started to include the MTV videos, but went the live route so you can see this woman holding her own (over 20 years) without auto-tune.  Also, the classic 90s outfit made me laugh. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December Soul: Mayer Hawthorne

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I hope everyone had a wonderful time, I know I did.  There's nothing like having no drama and lots of fun with loved ones.  I even heard from a long-lost friend - #mega-smile.  However I feel like I'm suffering from a food hangover.  Seriously, I think cabbage, green tea and prune juice are in the near future. Welcome 2012.

Anyways, here's a late installment, and hopefully you've heard of this guy already - Mayer Hawthorne.  He's been on the scene for a while...I finally checked him out after reading a comment on a NCIS blog. Yes, it took an off-handed comment from actor Michael Weatherly (aka "Tony") to convince me to deliberately and formally check out Hawthorne's music.  And that is the power of media.

Hawthorne continues the trend of neo/blue-eyed soul in the US...note the 60s/70s/80s/retro sound and the falsetto voice.  (I wonder if it's possible to be a male contemporary soul singer - black or white - and sing baritone or bass.) Hawthorne also continues this underground trend of musicians who play, write, sing, produce - in other words, the return to talent.  Being from Michigan, I'm sure he's familiar with the Motown way of producing records.  I hope to see him the next time he's close to town.

"You've Got the Makings Of A Lover" definitely copies the sound of 70s R&B ballads; it reminds me of "Too Late To Turn Back Now" by Cornelius (listen to it here).

"Shiny and New" is kind of a hybrid of Earth, Wind & Fire "Love Holiday" and The Stylistics "You Make Me Feel Brand New". Very Nice!

For a blue-eyed soul explosion, youtube Hawthorne singing on Darryl Hall's Live From Darryl's House.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December Soul: Remy Shand

I remember when Canadian neo-soul singer Remy Shand first came out with "Take A Message". I thought, ok please don't be a one-hit wonder.  His sound is that quintessential tenor/falsetto male soul, influenced by people like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye.  But after his early 2000s cd, where did he go?!  From what I can gather, he's had a difficult few years, including a messy divorce and his mother's passing. 

I hope that he chooses to come back soon and share his music publicly again. If I ever make it to his neck of the woods, I will be tempted to try to track him down.   There's an unfinished track floating around, but it's got a few sound glitches. You can check it out here: A Day In the Shade.  Meanwhile below is "The Way I Feel".

Since Remy doesn't have any Christmas songs available, here's a throwback from the band Chicago.  Just a couple days til Christmas, are you ready?

Friday, December 16, 2011

December Soul - Duffy

Duffy, a Welsh artist, is part of that so-called "British invasion" of soul artists in the past few years.  I just listened to her cover of "Mercy" and realized she also kind of reminds me of Kristin Chenowith, both in physical features and because of the high-pitched voice.  Duffy seems to have cut her teeth on the old Motown sound and old soul/R&B music.  And in my opinion, her covers of old tunes like "These Arms of Mine" show her respect to the soul genre  without parrot-like imitating those singers.   That is a trap many singers, regardless of style, tend to fall into when covering a song. 

I am concerned about this Adele-like trend of singing the saddest songs ever known.  There's such pain that comes from her; I hope that her personal demons do not extinguish her voice at a premature age. 

Enjoy this *BUM-BUM* "Tainted Love" cover from Duffy. And I've included "Mercy" since I couldn't find any Christmas song from her that I liked enough to post here.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oldie of the Day: December Soul Pt. 3

You know what gets me excited? Being caught up in a google vortex searching for music and finding treasures I never knew existed.  That's how I find independent artists, long-forgotten albums and unique collaborations.  So the current blue-eyed soul theme is gonna take a slightly more bluesy turn today, thanks to Dr. John and Eric Clapton.  Ok, I have to admit that something about Dr. John makes my right earlobe itch a little bit, but dang that man can kill a piano! And what music lover can't get along without a little Sir Clapton?

This first clip is from one of the installments of VH-1 Duets (great idea VH-1) - Dr. John's "Right Place, Wrong Time".  After that is a clever song, "Mixed Nuts", from a Christmas movie with the same title starring Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, and host of other actors. 

*Have you finished all your Christmas shopping?

Friday, December 9, 2011

December Soul - Pt. 2

Wednesday's Hall & Oates was a serious throwback, so let's go with someone under the age of 40 today and is part of the flow of soul-inspired music coming from the UK.

Jamie Lidell is one of those guys that I didn't realize who he was until his music was used on a Target commercial:

There's something about Lidell that reminds me of Jamiroquai (whew, throw-back to the 90s).   Maybe it's his voice, or the walk on the slightly weird side that they both have.  I do enjoy his sequencing, and mix-in of beat-boxing.  His earlier work definitely is electornic dance music inspired; while his latest releases has some elements of this, it seems to be (a little) more accessible.  It will be interesting to see what he does in the future.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December Soul

I'm taking this month to pay tribute and/or bring awareness to the artists that personify "blue-eyed soul".  I touched on this briefly a few entries ago when I talked about Robert Palmer's covers of two great Marvin Gaye songs.

It's been said that you can't teach soul.  That statement may hold a lot of truth, but one must be careful not to exclude an entire group of people as not being soulful or incapable of performing excellently in this style.  Are there certain elements inherent to a culture's music and art? Absolutely...just watch a group of people clapping to a song.  Most black folks will clap on beats 2 & 4, most white folks on 1 & 3 - and a few folks from both groups will be lost on beat 3.66666.  But I can't entirely agree with the statement because every great African American soul singer learned the craft by being immersed in it, growing up in it, walking it on the way to work, singing it in the church or bar - living it.  And if music is an expression of internal emotions, can these emotions be only relegated in every case to a group of people? No.  I think this is why "blue eyed soul" has always been interesting to me.  These seem to be artists that were only content when expressing musically in a style previously known only to African American culture.  They studied and learned to be more than proficient in it.  They take elements of it and brew it into their songs and are quick to publicly acknowledge its influence.


Ok, I'm done - how about some music?

A few months ago I got re-acquainted with Hall & Oates as I watched their dvd, Our Kind Of Soul, which was very entertaining. I also spent an entire morning at work (shhhh!) in a H & O vortex, trading audio and youtube clips and teen-angst stories with a co-worker.  Here's a nice gem - am I the only one that didn't know Hall wrote "Everytime You Go Away"?  And listen to that opening...guitar, organ, drums taking back down to the blues...#SMOOCH!! Love it!  And after that, enjoy "Children Go Where I Send Thee"...which totally reminds me of Steve Martin and his "family" singing and dancing in The Jerk.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmastiiiiiime is heeerrre....

Tonight I watched Charlie Brown Christmas - it is now officially Christmas  This old classic is such a part of my psyche I can't even remember the first time I watched it.  What is it about this cartoon that still attracts me? It's not like I don't know the story, and can't quote half the movie in my sleep.  And by today's standards, the animation is archaic at best.  There are no explosions, no special effects, no cute gimmicks...and on top of it all, it moves along at a s-l-o-w pace.

The answer is two-fold - the story and the music. Poor Charlie Brown... between all the "good griefs" and "I always mess everything up" and "nobody likes me", he is truly depressed.  Be honest - how many of us have said and/or thought the same negative way.  I've spent a couple Christmases in this same funk.  It's worse than a's a lifeforce-sucking, mind-numbing vortex of swirling, stank pessimism.  And the more you cater to it, the more paralyzed you become, until you end up spending Christmas day alone, watching movies or horrible daytime TV, probably crying into some leftovers or a frozen dinner. 

This peek into Charlie's life reminds the viewer that you don't have to be alone, you don't have to spiral to the depths of despair. Save all that drama for your next re-enactment of Hamlet. It also reminds us to return to simplicity.  Quite a feat in today's smartphone-ridden, hectic society.  But it is possible.

Second part - the brilliance of Vince Guaraldi and his music was the perfect match to Charlie's story.  Piano, light percussion, a little bass....simple music + simple songs = complete mastery. 

The challenge I've issued myself - and renewed tonight - is to keep the season simple for me.  Spend time with the folks I care about, remembering that without the birth and life of Christ "peace on earth, good will towards men" is impossible, and find some way to express that peace and good will to others this year.

And here's something else by Vince Guaraldi, just to show that his musicianship went beyond a Charlie Brown soundtrack.

Friday, December 2, 2011


I hope you take the time to check out a couple of relatively new songs.

First, apparently not a lot of people know that Boyz 2 Men released a new cd a month or so ago. Unfortunately Michael, the bass, didn't return to the studio with them, but even so they still sound great. This release has a mix of their old songs, revamped for the times, and a few new ones.  The one below definitely harkens back to the Motown sound of the 60s, which probably is residue from the Motown cd they did a couple years ago.

The other one is from an New Zealand artist, Kimbra, who currently resides in Australia.  I'm currently working my way through her body of work, and so far, I'm impressed.  She seems to combine jazz, R&B, pop, and a little folk.

*Let me know what you think about these tracks.