But finding the man she calls “my best friend, my soul mate,” actually bumped her artistry up even more levels. You’ll hear that on her GRAMMY Award- nominated album Blessed and perhaps even more so in her live performances, especially when she performs songs she has just written and will soon record. At a recent sold-out show at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C., Williams did the near impossible. She and her musical partner for the evening, virtuoso guitarist Doug Pettibone, performed a two-hour show before a packed room that had the intimacy of a house concert. (more…)
The Church Studios is a storied recording facility in London’s delightfully named Crouch End neighborhood. Housed in a gothic chapel, the studio has hosted sessions for Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and Elvis Costello, amongst others. However, the studio’s days may be numbered.
According to the Evening Standard, current owner and UK pop singer David Gray is looking to divest himself of the property or have most or all of the site converted into “flats.” “David would be delighted to sell the Church Studios,” noted a spokesperson for the singer. “But given the current upheaval in the music business and the repercussions on commercial recording studios, it is only prudent to explore other avenues, including redevelopment.”
You might recall that towards the end of 2011 Elvis Costello made news by issuing a statement on his Web site discouraging fans from purchasing the deluxe box set version of his live recording The Return of the Spectacular Singing Songbook. It turns out Elvis had tried unsuccessfully to get the label to lower the price for the limited-edition set, which was going for well over $200 (and is currently selling for more than $300). Sure, it included all sorts of schmancy extras, like a vinyl EP, hardcover book, etc., but Costello nevertheless opined that “the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire,” and encouraged people to buy a Louis Armstrong box instead for less money. At the time, he also informed fans that before too long, all the elements of the box would be available individually for a less usurious fee. That day of retail redemption for Elvis and his admirers comes on April 3 with the release of Spinning Songbook in its proletariat-friendly format”the live CD and DVD are available individually or together, and even the two-disc package goes for about 10 percent (at most) of the box set’s cost.
Costello did his first Spinning Wheel tour back in 1986, bringing a big, roulette-style wheel onstage, emblazoned with the names of numerous songs from his back catalog. Audience members where invited up to give the wheel a turn, and Costello was obliged to perform whichever song the arrow landed on. Needless to say, the gimmick was a big fan favorite, and he revived the idea in 2011, capturing a couple of shows for posterity in May at The Wiltern in Los Angeles for the live release in question. Seeing as how it’s finally time for the common man to sidle up to the Spinning Songbook album, it seems like the right moment to deconstruct the track list, examining the origins of each one of the sixteen songs from The Wiltern sets that ended up on the album.
“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.
On the charts, that is.
In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger”and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards”was probably the one that nobody saw coming.
Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records”even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand”are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.
Cry Me A River “ Justin Timberlake
The video Justin Timberlake made for his solo hit, featuring a familiar-looking blonde and a glimpse of a photo in an errant frame, did nothing to dispel theories that this track was about Britney Spears’ cheating ways. Goddam you, Britney, how could you?!
Joe Henry has been exploring the relationship between songs and their aural atmosphere for a quarter of a century. His early albums cloaked his carefully crafted compositions in a variety of artful atmospheres provided by other producers, like T-Bone Burnett and Anton Fier, but he began to hit his stride in the early ˜90s, when he took the production reigns himself on a pair of albums”Short Man’s Room and Kindness of the World”that found him backed by alt-country heroes The Jayhawks. With 1996’s Fuse, Henry began pursuing an increasingly unconventional production muse, employing everything from ambient synthesizer textures to the saxophone of Ornette Coleman (the jazz giant plays on 2001’s Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation). With each album from Fuse up through 2009’s Blood From Stars, Henry’s production became increasingly more impressionistic, but his latest, Reverie, marks a reversal of that direction.
It should be noted, of course, that Henry has also spent the last several years as a producer for others, helming projects for a wide spectrum of artists that runs from the late, great soul man Solomon Burke to New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. During that time, he’s had the opportunity to investigate all manner of American roots styles, which may have affected his decision to make Reverie an organic, all-acoustic, live-in-the-studio affair. Certainly Henry’s work on The River In Reverse, the collaboration Toussaint cut in the Crescent City in 2005 with Elvis Costello, had an effect on him. We worked really, really hard on that record, Henry recalls, it was an incredibly intense, brief period of time. We all felt honored to be there, especially given what had just happened in New Orleans. We were all freshly awakened to how important the music of that city has been. And here’s Allen, the living patriarch of that music”to be in service to him in that moment felt like a tremendous gift.
I’ll never forget the day Basia lied to me. Twice. I was interviewing the Polish singer (best known for her 1988 hit “Time and Tide”) shortly before the release of her 1994 album, The Sweetest Illusion, which was coming five years after her previous album, London Warsaw New York. That day, she promised me two things: First, she would never again make me wait so long for new music. Second, she’d never release a run-of-the-mill greatest hits album featuring, well, her greatest hits. She felt that at the very least, artists owed it to their fans to reprise their hits as brand-new tunes, not just repackage the same old songs.
Her next studio album, It’s That Girl Again, wouldn’t arrive until 2009, nine years after she had released Clear Horizon”The Best of Basia, one of those run-of-the-mill greatest hits albums featuring, well, her greatest hits.
The morals of this story: 1) You can’t rush inspiration. 2) The first cut isn’t only the deepest”sometimes it’s the best, too. That’s a lesson Mariah Carey may have learned last year when she scrapped plans to release Angels Advocate, a remixed version of her Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel album, after a new version of “Up Out My Face” (Memoirs‘ best song) featuring Nicki Minaj limped onto Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 100 and refused to go any further.
But apparently, Lady Gaga, the reigning queen of remix albums and EPs, still hasn’t received the memo. When she released Born This Way back in May, she put out a special edition that included a separate disc with remixes of five of the album’s songs. (Bryan Ferry did a similar thing with last year’s Olympia.) Divine inspiration or clever marketing ploy? Perhaps a little of both, but “Born This Way”-with-a-twang never would have spent six weeks at No. 1. The “Country Road Version” makes for an interesting one-time listen, but I never need to hear it again.
A lot of musicians produce their own music, but there is a smaller field of those who can produce other artists AND are successful at it. Here’s a list of nine artists better known (in most cases) for their own musical efforts but who have significant bodies of work as producers. This is not to say that they are the “best” or that they are listed in order of greatness. The list is ordered according to a mixed assessment of the worthiness of the things they’ve produced and the amount of producing they’ve done.
9. Phil Collins
Phil Collins, who has had massive success as a solo artist and as a member of Genesis, produced hits for Frida (ex-ABBA), Howard Jones and Philip Bailey, among others. He then presided over the loosest use of the term comeback, when he helped Eric Clapton score big with Behind the Sun (1985) and August (1986). Weeeeeeeak.
8. Jack White
Seems like Jack White has put touring on the back burner in favor of his newfound music mogul-dom. Before he really ramped up work on his Third Man Records label, store, mobile unit and future empire, White branched out from The White Stripes to produce 2001’s Lack of Communication by The Von Bondies (whose lead singer would later be punched many times in the face by White) and Loretta Lynn’s 2004 LP Van Lear Rose. He has produced most of his own studio projects, including The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and Another Way To Die, the theme to the Bond film Quantum of Solace, with Alicia Keys. White produces sessions for his own Third Man Records and has worked with Wanda Jackson, now ex-wife Karen Elson, The Black Belles and of course, Stephen Colbert.
Welcome to 88 MPH, musical time traveler! Before we hop in the DeLorean and activate the flux capacitor, remember that even though you’ve got Hypemachine, your favorite blogs and an RSS feed that ranges from Pitchfork to Vibe, there’s a lot more music out there! Tons of great bands from previous decades are in danger of fading from memory as new generations of music fans ditch their parents’ record collections in favor of what’s new and fresh. 88 MPH is here to show that current music hasn’t forgotten the past. On the contrary, it actively draws on the past for inspiration. This column will showcase OurStage and national acts that either pay homage to, or just plain sound like, older bands. Better strap yourself in, Marty. It’s going to be a bumpy ride¦
The commanding sneer that stared out from the cover of Costello’s debut 1977 LP My Aim Is True said it all. He had an attitude, a clearly-defined style and some fantastic tunes to boot. Barreling out of the British pub rock scene of the mid ’70s, Costello mined the previous fifty years of pop music to create his own signature blend of reggae, punk, power pop and country. Following his debut, Costello formed The Attractions, a backing band that greatly influenced the sound of his two subsequent albums. Pianist Steve Nieve’s organ and synth parts took central roles in Costello’s songs, while Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas played equally complex bass and drum fills that broke the stereotype of the traditionally staid rhythm section. Topped off with Costello’s acerbic lyrics and signature Buddy Holly glasses, these first three albums became classics that influenced the look and sound of guitar-based pop for the next quarter century and beyond.
Costello’s enduring influence shines through in the opening seconds of Throwback Suburbia’s “Same Mistake” (listen below). A vintage organ riff floats above jangly, sustained guitar chords, echoing the intro section to Costello’s “This Year’s Girl” (above). When vocalist Jimi Evans sings “this feels so do or die,” the resemblance to Costello is so close that the elder rocker might as well be guesting on the track. Evans matches his slightly nasal vocal style perfectly and delivers the same type of self-conscious but aloof lyrics that Costello writes so well.
Though Throwback Suburbia are clearly admirers of Costello’s sound, they’re not slavish interpreters. By combining Costello’s vintage sound with modern pop sensibilities, the band deftly retains their own individuality. Throwback Suburbia are currently in the studio recording their new album, which is due for mixing in the fall. Check out their in-studio video diary to see what they’ve been up to!