Cherry Glazer

I wrote about/interviewed the band Cherry Glazer. 2 of the 3 members are still in high school! Below, check out their ode to grilled cheese.

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New Albums From Shakira and Kylie Minogue

The surprising conclusion of Shakira, the latest release from the Colombian superstar: it should have been a country album.  In fact, “Medicine,” a duet with Blake Shelton that appears the new Shakira album, is one of the strongest country songs of the year. You might doubt her ability to navigate in this genre, perhaps after watching her cover Mr. Shelton’s “Boys Round Here” on The Voice; you shouldn’t. Her work from the ‘00s—Oral Fixacion Volumes 1 and 2 or She Wolf—proved her to be vibrant and versatile, as she applied her unique, instantly identifiable voice to brash guitar rock, swoony bossa nova, disco, and a variety of danceable Latin-pop hybrid. There are few corners of the musical planet left for her to take over.

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Pharrel’s Girl: Leave the Album, Take the Single

For a good portion of last year, the producer-songwriter-singer Pharrell seemed to be singlehandedly keeping the recording industry afloat through his work on an inescapable pair of hits: “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky.”  With success like that, it’d be foolish not to put out more music as quickly as possible, so he is releasing G I R L, a solo album, this week. Pharrell made his name more than a decade ago as a producer who could provide access to the rarified air up near the top of the charts in a number of genres. In the shifty pop landscape, a reliable hit-maker is king, and Pharrell still knows what it takes to make a hit—his latest single, “Happy,” just hit the top spot on the pop charts, nearly 14 years after he produced his first #1 for Jay-Z.

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For Marva

Marva Whitney, a powerful female funk singer who worked with James Brown in the late 60s (which, according to James Brown’s recent biography The One, was somewhat of a terrifying and dangerous experience, due to Brown’s rigid rules and his violent tendencies), died recently.  She only released one album in her James Brown days, It’s My Thing, which mainly contains her versions of Brown recordings and a couple duets.  In 2006, Whitney made an unorthodox move, recording “I Am What I Am” with a Japanese funk orchestra. It might be my favorite one of her songs:

Same Name, Different Tune

I’ve been reading Willie Nelson’s memoir, Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die, for a review I’m writing, and I’ve been listening heavily to Nelson’s music at the same time.  Nelson has put out a massive number of albums in his lifetime, but I’ve been mainly focusing on his work from the 70s, which is often remarkably spare and wonderfully simple.  In 1977, he recorded To Lefty From Willie, a short tribute album to the country singer Lefty Frizzell.  It includes the song “That’s The Way Love Goes,” a pretty little ditty:

 

Janet Jackson also recorded a “That’s The Way Love Goes,” the highlight of her 1993 album Janet (it shares nothing with Nelson’s tune, aside from the use of the title phrase for the hook).  Jackson steals the circular guitar riff from James Brown’s “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” for the song’s backbone, but she removes its thinness and tension, transforming it into something secure and soothing.  Where Nelson goes for satisfying chord changes and interlocking parts, Jackson locks in a single, unified pulse.

Guessing Games

When I saw Lambchop last spring, they finished their set with an odd cover choice: “Guess I’m Dumb,” originally written by Brian Wilson and performed by Glenn Campbell in 1965.  Before Campbell hit it big (big enough to receive a tribute performance at the 2012 Grammies) with some country pop hits later in the 60s — “Gentle On My Mind” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” in 1967 and 1968 respectively — he played guitar for numerous artists.  When Brian Wilson decided to stop touring and focus on composing increasingly complex pop in the studio, Campbell went on the road as the fifth Beach Boy in Wilson’s place for a little while.  (As seen in the photo on the left, Campbell has the clean cut look of the early Beach Boys down pat.)  “Guess I’m Dumb” has a strong Pet Sounds feel to it, with pristine production and a heavy dose of strings and horns.  Similar to the Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” which contains the lyric “They say I got brains but they ain’t doing me no good/ I wish they could,” the Campbell track has plenty of sweet self-deprecation voiced in a high register.  I haven’t found a recording of the Lambchop cover anywhere, though I remember it being pretty during their show.

Heptone

The Heptones recorded several killer reggae albums in the 70s, always driven by their gorgeous, multi-part harmonies.  Their song “I Miss You” came out as a single in 1973 — although the group had been recording for almost eight years at this point, they had only released two or three full-length albums.  “I Miss You” is a cover of a fraught 1972 ballad from the Philadelphia soul group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, who got most of their material from the famous production/songwriting team Gamble and Huff.  The original is over eight minutes long, with Teddy Pendergrass (who went on to a sucessful solo career with disco/steamy slow-jams/”Love T.K.O” in the second half of the 70s) singing lead and tearing into a series of tragic lines as the rest of the Blue Notes provide sad, quietly respectful backing lyrics.  There’s an extended spoken-word portion, and the whole thing is bathed in strings and faded screams.  The Heptones take a different approach, condensing the song into a compact, bouncy nugget.  A great song works in any form.

Springsteen Biographer

The other day I saw Peter Ames Carlin, the author of Bruce, a new biography of Springteen, answer questions about his latest work (he has also written biographies of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney).  The questions were posed by Sean Wilentz, an esteemed historian whose areas of expertise include Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dylan, and now Columbia Records — Wilentz’s new history of America’s oldest record label was released yesterday.  Probably the most notable aspect of the event was the audience, most of whom were Bruce’s main demographic, aging 50+ year-old men and women.  (I was one of maybe three people under the age of forty.)

Bruce inspires a certain level of devotion, and the event was in New Jersey, so these old folks were serious fans.  Almost everyone had a copy of the new book, 2 out of 3 were wearing Springsteen shirts, and the talk occasionally took on characteristics of a revival meeting, with the audience hooting and hollering in support of their favorite rock star. At one point, Carlin quoted lyrics from “Thunder Road,” causing a man to the left of me to engage in a dramatic fist pump.  At another moment, a woman from the crowd asked Carlin about the cover of the book, noting that it was from a 20 year-old copy of Rolling Stone that she had saved at home (presumably as part of her Springsteen shrine).  She seemed disappointed to learn that the publishers had picked it just because it looked cool.

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Thankful ‘n’ Thoughtful

I reviewed Bettye Lavette’s new album of covers, Thankful ‘N’ Thoughtful, for Popmatters.

Most of the covers didn’t do much for me. I thought she did best with a nice rendition of a Black Keys’ track.

The Disappearance Of A Libertine

Pete Doherty burst onto the rock and roll scene in the early 00s as one of the lead singers/guitarists in the Libertines.  With Carl Barat, Doherty wrote quick, explosive songs chock full of scuzzy riffs and harmonies that pulled from any number of famous groups — the Beatles, the Clash, the Stooges, etc.  An ex-literature student, Doherty (2nd from the left in photo) had the baby-face and the fashion down already, and he adapted quickly to the rock and roll lifestyle, getting heavily into drugs and repeatedly running afoul of the law.  The Libs barely lasted long enough to record a second album; one of the biggest hits from this last gasp was “Can’t Stand Me Now,” in which Doherty and Barat traded verses about their mutual dislike. Then Doherty drifted into his own group, Babyshambles. His first album as Babyshambles came out in 2005; it was half-great and half-abysmal, a testament to both the advantages and disadvantages of wandering through celebrity in a doped-out haze.  Two years later, Babyshambles put out Shotter’s Nation, which had the cleanest sound of anything Doherty had ever released. It contained some excellent songs and didn’t have any massive clunkers, but it wasn’t an off-the-cuff expression of sentiment like some of his other work.  Since then, Doherty has done basically nothing, aside from a solo acoustic album that was largely a waste of space. Its too bad that an artist of such potential can’t get it together.

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