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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sound And Vision: Post-Mortem Pop, Starring Drake’s Aaliyah Resurrection and the Second Coming of Whitney Houston

Drake must be the luckiest guy in music. He’s got an enviable portfolio of assets: looks, talent, street cred, excellent connections, gold and multi-platinum. Now the Canadian rapper has a beautiful woman, too”at least a controlling interest in her legacy. But is ownership of the next posthumous phase of Aaliyah’s career one benefit too many?

That’s what some are wondering as we approach the 11th anniversary (on August 25) of the death of Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001, at age 22, cutting short one of the most promising careers in music. Since then, there’s been scant new material issued under her name. I Care 4 U, a posthumous album released in December of 2002, was followed by nearly a decade of silence.

Until now. Earlier this month, Drake unveiled a new Aaliyah track, Enough Said, credited to Aaliyah featuring Drake and produced by the rapper’s Take Care collaborator Noah 40 Shebib. There’s more: Drake has promised a new Aaliyah album, executive produced by himself and 40, with 13 or 14 tracks, to be released later this year.

“Enough Said” Aaliyah featuring Drake

But is it a true Aaliyah album if key players in her life and legacy”namely her immediate family”are left out of it? Her brother, Rashad Haughton, went so far as to deny the family’s involvement on Aaliyah’s Facebook fan page. There is no official album being released and supported by the Haughton family, he posted on August 7, several days after Drake released the new single. (more…)

Your Country's Right Here: Lucero Showcases 'Women & Work'

Ben Nichols, frontman of the punk alt-country band Lucero, talks like a man who has been musically reborn.

Or maybe it’s more apt to liken his attitude to that of someone who worked and worked and then finally solved the New York Times‘ Saturday crossword puzzle ” in ink, first time through. Sure Lucero has always had a cool punk, alt-country sound that won them fans well beyond the band’s Memphis, Tenn., home base. But now think of Lucero’s punk, alt-country sound as super charged, thanks to the addition of new players and instrumentation. You can hear it all on the band’s new release Women & Work, on ATO records, home of the Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket, and other like-minded musicians.

“When we [recorded] Women & Work all eight pieces had been on the road for a couple years,” said Nichols of the group’s cohesive musical direction. “We had time to gel, as a complete unit and it was the first time everyone had been involved [in recording a Lucero record] since day one. We had discovered what was possible and went into this record knowing exactly where we stood and exactly what sound we were going for.”

Not that Nichols and the other original members of the 14-year-old band didn’t have the determination or talent or enthusiasm to find that musical sweet spot before. It’s just that, like solving a puzzle, they needed to find the key to the tricky questions. In this band’s case, it was how to whip Otis Redding soul into Lucero’s punk country sound and have a pleasing result.

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Your Country's Right Here: Janie Fricke Joins with the Roys for "The Country Side of Bluegrass"

Janie Fricke has once again added to her already hefty musical arsenal.

After going from a jingle singer (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Red Lobster are among the corporations that featured her vocals) to a back up singer for A-list hit makers including Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, to a duet partner with Merle Haggard and Charlie Rich, Fricke became an A-list singer herself starting with the 1981 solo hit Down to My Last Broken Heart. Now the singer, who has 18 No. 1 singles, is touring behind Country Side of Bluegrass and reintroducing her songs and voice to a new generation of fans.

At first when they asked me to do it, I thought it’d be pretty interesting, said Fricke of the album she completed with famed Nashville producer Bil VornDick. Then the whole plan came together that included [recording and some touring] with the Roys.

Combining the sound of the brother and sister duo of Elaine Roy and Lee Roy, two-time Inspirational Country Music Duo of the Year award winners, with the much-lauded Fricke whose awards include the much coveted CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award, give the album’s 12 tracks (plus the Ring of Fire bonus track) true distinction.

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Live Wired: Why We Love Live Music So Much

Every week at Live Wired, we talk about different live performances, from national acts to OurStage artists, and attempt to explore what made each show unique and memorable. Despite what changes in the world of music, artists keep touring the country and the world, and we keep buying tickets to go see them. We can sit and review numbers and earnings from concerts or discuss how important touring is to an artist’s career, but that would be no fun. Instead, we want to get to the heart of the matter; why do we love live music so much? Why do we spend the money, take road-trips, wait in line for hours and sing until we lose our voices? These are the questions we asked all different kinds of people in the past few weeks; young and old, music lovers and casual listeners, all with very different tastes. Here’s what we came up with as we take a stab at figuring out the wonder that is live music.

Sense of Community & Good Atmosphere

When asking people about their best concert memories, the majority of the answers we received centered around the crowd itself and the overall feel of the show. Whether it’s a giant annual festival like Lollapalooza, or a band like Steel Train playing a small show, the people surrounding you are important. A combination of genuine respect for the artist and also for your fellow concert-goers can really make an event that much better; when you’re all focused on the music, it’s the only thing that matters. We heard lots of people tell us that going to a concert makes them feel like a part of a giant family. It’s an incredible thing, being surrounded by strangers who can turn into friends for one night just because you all are passionate about the same thing.

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The EditoriaList: Top Ten Musical Crimes Perpetrated By Great Artists

Top 5 musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the ’80s and ’90s. Go.

Sub-question: Is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins… is it better to burn out or fade awaaay?

“ Barry, High Fidelity (2000)

I wish they’d actually discussed this in the film, especially the latter bit. For my part, I say great artists have proven that, somewhere inside, they know better, and so should be held accountable for their sins.

Stevie makes this list, but not for I Just Called To Say I Love You. Not even for The Woman In Red…

10. “Freeway of Love” “ Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul abdicated her throne when, in 1985, she recorded this mechanized, synth-driven offense.

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Sound And Vision: Why Bieber Fever Can't Touch Beatlemania?

Don’t believe everything you read.

No matter what the media say”and for more than a year now, they’ve been declaring Justin Bieber as big as, if not bigger than, the Beatles”Bieber Fever is no match for Beatlemania. Even if Bieber’s new holiday album, Under the Mistletoe, which was released November 1, ends up being the biggest one ever (the first single, “Mistletoe,” just debuted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 11, immediately making it the seventeen-year-old’s biggest solo hit yet), remember this: The Beatles never released a Christmas album. (Thank God!)

Obviously, Bieber Fever does have one thing in common with Beatlemania, a movement launched by The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 that continued long after the Beatles broke up in 1970: girls, girls, girls (all screaming at the top of their lungs). They are the cornerstone of Bieber’s success, but Beatlemania involved so much more than overzealous female fans caught up in the rapture of hot musical act.

Thanks to his largely underage female following, Bieber does reasonably well commercially, though he lacks the opening-week clout of Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne or even Coldplay (to name the artists behind the Top 3 debuts of 2011). In the US, he’s sold some 5 million copies of one full-length studio album, three compilations and one EP. That may barely be on par with the sales standards set by pop’s top divas, but it would put him in the running for modern pop’s most commercially viable male star.

Still, Bieber is no chart phenomenon. For all of the hysteria he spawned in his first two and a half years in circulation, he only hit the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 twice in his first eight tries. The highest-peaking of those was “Baby” (No. 5 in 2010), and both were collaborations with rappers (Ludacris on “Baby,” Jaden Smith on “Never Say Never”), which means Bieber has yet to score a massive hit based on his star power alone.

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Discourse & Dischord


The Good

OK Go team up with Muppets on Muppets Theme Song

This week the Muppet’s The Green Album was released, along with this video to the theme song featuring OK Go. Feast your eyes on a bounty of Technicolor existentialism, wherein the Muppets send the band back to their treadmills and their Rube Goldberg machines and treat them like the puppets they are. It’s not like a kind of torture to have to watch this show.

West Memphis 3 released from prison

In 1994, three teenagers were convicted of the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, largely due to the fact that they listened to heavy metal. And even though DNA evidence emerged in 2007 that linked one of the victim’s stepfather and his friend to the crime, the trio”known as the West Memphis 3”remained imprisoned. The case attracted the attention of many celebrities, most notably Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder, who have both campaigned for the release of the WM3. With news that the trio were finally set free this week after eighteen years in prison, band members from Pearl Jam, Anthrax, and Dixie Chicks took to Twitter to celebrate. You can read all about it here.

The Bad

Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford pass away

Two legendary songwriters, Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford, passed away this week. Leiber, who wrote perennial hits like Hound Dog Yakety Yak, and Stand By Me with songwriting partner Mike Stroller, passed away at the age of seventy-eight in Los Angeles. Ashford penned some of the greatest songs of the Motown era with his songwriting partner and wife, Valerie Simpson, including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing Baby. He passed away at the age of seventy in New York. R.I.P.

Pit Bull sued by Lindsay Lohan

Pit Bull probably felt like he was just stating a fact when he said I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan on his song Give Me Everything. Lohan didn’t think it was too funny, and slapped a lawsuit on the rapper, claiming the lyric does irreparable harm to her reputation. We would say this is another one of her megalomaniacal schemes to stay relevant and make some money while remaining unemployed by Hollywood, but we don’t want to get sued. So we will just think it quietly to ourselves.

The Ugly

Mexican teens auction off virginity for Justin Bieber

After some Mexican teens failed to secure tickets to an upcoming Justin Bieber concert, they took a sharp left into Disturbia and offered to trade their virginity for a ticket on Facebook. We once paid money for a ticket to see Vanilla Ice and it has haunted us for years. This seems like slightly more regrettable action.

Miley Cyrus tops Rolling Stone‘s worst covers list

The artist formerly known as Hannah Montana singing Smells Like Teen Spirit sent icy shivers up the spine of Rolling Stone‘s editorial staff, who named Miley Cyrus’ cover the absolute worst in the whole history of the universe, ever, ever. She probably feels pretty stupid (and contagious).

Miscellany

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Lindsey Buckingham Sows Solo Seeds

Lindsey Buckingham occupies one of the odder positions in the already off-kilter business that is the modern-day music industry. Though Buckingham is the co-leader and driving force behind one of the bedrock bands of the classic-rock universe, the Fleetwood Mac singer/songwriter/guitarist’s long-standing, if sporadic, solo career is considerably more of a boutique operation. This is especially true with the arrival of his latest solo outing, Seeds We Sow, Buckingham’s first-ever release outside the major-label realm. Buckingham had been working under the Warner/Reprise umbrella ever since his band’s self-titled 1975 blockbuster album, but after his contract ran out following his last solo outing, he found the majors to be both uninspired and uninspiring in regard to his new work. As we all know, he says, the model of the large record company, you might say it’s broken. But you might just say it’s insensitive to the sense of possibility, the sense of risk-taking, the sense of nurturing that it used to provide artists. Consequently, he’s gone the indie route with Seeds.

Not only has Buckingham taken the means of production into his own hands for this album, he’s taken over responsibility for pretty much every other aspect of the record too, writing, playing, engineering and producing everything himself. How does the process of building a track work in this kind of one-man-band situation? You may start with a melody idea, you may start with a guitar idea, explains Buckingham, it’s kind of like painting, you commit to one thing to make a start. You could say it’s a more subconscious process. I’m not one of those people who necessarily sits down with something that’s completely finished¦the writing part of it kind of goes along with the recording part of it.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Buckingham is a world-class guitar stylist, and a number of the album’s songs are based around his unique acoustic finger-picking technique. Asked about how he developed his unconventional approach, he muses, It was just kind of a hybrid of things. Part of it is starting really young and not taking lessons, and not knowing what was correct or what wasn’t. Early on I was listening to a lot of Elvis, so you have [Presley’s lead guitarist] Scotty Moore, who played with a pick but also used his fingers. He was a pretty orchestral player. When the first wave of rock music died away, folk music took its place in terms of my interest¦and I did sort of dabble in banjo, enough to have that be a bit of a reference point. It was really just the fact that I started doing it myself and found my own way of approaching it. When I first started with Fleetwood Mac they said ˜Don’t you think you ought to use a pick?’ It’s a little late now, he jokingly reckons.

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The Return Of Fred Durst And Other Rock Comebacks We're More Pleased About

He’s back, folks. Inescapable nu-metal menace Fred Durst, infamous frontman of rap-rock group Limp Bizkit”the band that soundtracked the more regrettable and embarrassing moments moments of your angsty middle school years”is in the spotlight once more, and he brought the whole gang with him. Maybe that’s why people are actually talking about Bizkit’s newest upcoming record, the first in ten years to feature the whole line up. The last album to feature all four original members was Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, historically the only album to put a bad taste in your mouth before you listen to it. Side note: Chocolate Starfish debuted at number 1 on Billboard and sold 1.05 million copies in it’s first week. How does that make you feel?

He looks like every gym coach ever.

We’re not exactly thrilled about Durst’s return to the mainstream consciousness. That doesn’t mean that we look upon every comeback with scorn! So, to get Durst out of our heads, we’re going to be rollin’ on to some of our favorite musician’s musical returns to form.

Elvis Presley

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had a storied career but some people don’t realize that it came with many ups and downs. Just kidding! Elvis’s late career downward spiral is well documented, no need to go into that. Presley had initially come to prominence in the mid ’50s with famous gyrating appearances on the Milton Berle Show and Ed Sullivan Show. However, in 1958, Presley was inducted into the armed forces and was on active duty for two years. After his time in the military, Presley began to focus on his burgeoning movie career. Only problem was the movies (and the subsequent music) Presley was putting out during this time received a great deal critical scorn. The lack of quality music and movies being released under his name was beginning to be recognized as sub-par and sales were dropping by the mid ’60s as a result. When he finally returned to the stage in 1968, Presley hadn’t performed in front of a live audience since 1961. However, that performance”later dubbed the ’68 Comeback Special”was broadcaster NBC’s highest rated show that season and captured 42% of the viewing audience. The King was back.

Meat Loaf

There has perhaps been no singer better suited to his chosen moniker. The singer, Marvin Lee Aday, made his first mark in the popular consciousness with an appearance in the über-cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When his record, Bat Out Of Hell, was released in 1977, it became a major hit, selling over 43 million copies. However, the ’80s would prove to be unkind to Meat Loaf. During this time, Loaf had a falling out with his writing partner Jim Steinman. Steinman composed nearly all of Meat Loaf’s music and in 1983, Meat Loaf released Midnight At The Lost And Found without him. Not only was the record a flop, but two Steinman compositions originally intended for the album were left off. What were they, you ask? One was “Making Love (Out of Nothing At All)” later performed by Air Supply. The other…

Oof.

However, Meat Loaf has since rebounded. After regaining a working relationship with Steinman, Loaf followed up Bat with two Bat Out Of Hell sequels whose combined record sales have topped 14 million.

Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana is currently heralded as a giant of Latin rock and jazz guitar, and rightly so. That’s not a position that anyone is trying to dispute”Santana made his mark in the ’60s and ’70s with a legendary set at Woodstock and the 4x platinum Abraxas from Santana, his band incarnation. However, by the ’90s Santana was treading water. However, Clive Davis, head of Artista Records at the time and starmaker that he is, had an idea for Santana. Sign with Columbia Records and produce a record with a few notable pop stars guesting. A Dave Matthews there, a Lauryn Hill there. The result was Supernatural, a record that won nine GRAMMY awards, scored two Billboard Number 1 hit singles and eventually went on to sell 27 million copies worldwide. Here’s a sample below in case anyone is wondering what that kind of record would sound like.

Johnny Cash

The Man in Black was not lacking in success before the ’90s. Cash had a storied career most artists would envy: meeting with the president, working with some of the most prominent contemporary country musicians of his day and becoming a symbol, synonymous with outlaw culture and being an American Badass. So, after a hard decade in the ’80s due to a battle with drug addiction, being unceremoniously dropped from Columbia Records and having been kicked by an ostrich things weren’t looking too rosy for Cash. Then he hooked up with super-producer Rick Rubin. At the behest of Rubin, Cash released the first in the series of his American Recordings which would eventually bring Cash to a new audience and the greatest amount of popular and critical acclaim of his career. However, Cash wasn’t through with the hard times yet. In 1997, he was diagnosed with Shy-Drager Disease, a form of Parkinson’s, a condition left him bed ridden and near-death. So what does Cash do? Record two more records before his passing, including covers of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, U2’s “One” and, of course, Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt”.

Mariah Carey

Stunningly, beautiful and remarkably talented, Mariah Carey is one of the top selling musicians of all time. Period. Carey dominated the ’90s with Number 1 hit after Number 1 hit. In fact, Carey is the only artist to have a Number 1 hit every single year of the 90s. But fate is a fickle bitch. You try to reinvent you image to make rooms for more butterflies and Glitter and what happens? Critical scorn and diminished record sales, that’s what. However, her mental health collapse did bring us one of Total Request Live‘s immortal moments when the singer appeared on the show, distributing popsicles to the audience and wearing an oversized t-shirt (and nothing else) to the chagrin/horror of host Carson Daly.

Following admittance to a care facility, a box office bomb and some of the lowest charting records of her career, Carey made a mid-decade return to the pop world. The release of The Emancipation of Mimi marked a return to form for Carey and the record eventually sold over 12 million copies”single “We Belong Together” was the most successful for Carey until that point. And now with her newborn twins and plans for a new record on the way, Mariah is once again on top of the world.

We’re suckers for a good comeback story. Sure, it can be fun to kick ‘em while they’re down, to snark and make little sarcastic asides. But what’s better then seeing your old favorites kicking ass? It just feels good to see some of our old heroes come screaming back into our collective consciousness, guns blazing. Here’s hoping that any musician going through a dry spell or a rough patch can break back into the collective consciousness like these performers did.