As Snoop Dogg once rapped in reference to his own trial, “Murder Was The Case” indeed for Vybz Kartel, a popular Jamaican dancehall artist. Kartel has been sentenced to life in prison after previously being convicted for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams according to the Associate Press. Apparently Williams’ murder was one of extreme cruelty – brutal – with the corpse never being recovered. While Kartel’s musical impact is more notable in Jamaica, Kartel has collaborated with highly regarded musicians in the U.S.A., including Missy Elliott (“Bad Man” from album The Cookbook), Rihanna (“You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” from album Music of the Sun), and Pitbull (“Descarada (Dance)” from album El Mariel).
Jail time typically doesn’t bode well for the artist. Usually upon release, the artist has become a has-been and washed-up. No matter the petitions and the excitement by the most loyal fans in support of the respective artist, regaining footing is perhaps more arduous than the jail time itself. Save for a few exceptions (T.I. and Lil Wayne coming to mind most notably), there seems to be little success after the pen – the penitentiary that is.
Kartel’s sentence without the eligibility of parole anytime soon (35 years into the sentence specifically), seems to end what has been described as a bright, though ‘controversial’ career. Being a musician personally, I truly hate to see the end of any artist’s career. That said, no matter whether you’re an artist or not, you must be/take responsibility for your actions. Unfortunately for Kartel, his actions – or involvement in those actions – have likely cost him his career. What a price to pay for controllable negligence.
After six non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200 Albums Charts, the Frozen Soundtrack makes it a seventh week at the penthouse. This week, Frozen rallies to sell a gargantuan 202,000 copies. I guess folks just can’t “Let It Go” – bad joke, I know. I’d say that the release of the album to DVD/Blu-ray/Digital likely had a role in elevating those sales. After Frozen, things get a bit hairier.
YG debuts at no. 2 with album My Krazy Life, which sold 61,000 copies. 61,000 copies isn’t a bad number, but don’t call it sexy either. Foster The People land at no. 3, moving 54,000 copies of Supermodel, their second album. Skrillex follows at no. 4 with Recess, which sold 47,000 copies. Apparently there were physical copies of Recess, though when I visited the CD section, I was unable to find it – it obviously got its sales totals from digital sales. Rock band The Pretty Reckless bow at no. 5, with 35,000 copies sold of Going to Hell (charming title, right?). Enrique Iglesias’ Sex and Love enters in at no. 8 with a tepid 24,000 copies while Taking Back Sunday land at no. 10 with 22,000 copies sold of Happiness Is. Iglesias and Taking Back Sunday have both had better days where sales are concerned.
“Happy” continues to be the story on the Billboard Hot 100 as Pharrell Williams’ infectious throwback R&B single is a big-time hit. Perhaps more surprising is the success of John Legend’s “All of Me”, which according to billboard.com has risen to no. 2 this week! Two R&B tracks sit in the top two of the Billboard Hot 100 – shocking!
Several new releases landed in the top 10 this week, even though the numbers were so-so for some. Next week, new albums arrive courtesy of Shakira (Shakira), Karmin (Pulses), Johnny Cash (Out Among the Stars), Erica Campbell (HELP), and My Chemical Romance (May Death Never Stop You: Greatest Hits 2001 – 2013) among others. All should definitely have no trouble charting and making some noise.
Well, the headline is pretty familiar folks as the Frozen soundtrack returns to the no. 1 spot yet again. What is most shocking/impressive is that that the numbers for the album don’t seem to change that much. This week, Frozen sold another 99,000 copies, a feat that many artists wished their albums could do consistently. Frozen even killed Luke Bryan’s vibe, as his umpteenth Spring Break EP (Spring Break 6…Like We Ain’t Ever to be accurate), bows at no. 2 with 74,000 copies. After two no. 1 albums last year, ole boy’s streak stops. Frozen, “it’s all your fault!”
Luke gets some company on the Billboard 200 where debuts are concerned. Aloe Blacc launches Lift Your Spirit with 45,000 copies sold, good enough to land at no. 4. 311 drop Stereolithic at no. 6, right ahead of Young Money’s second album, Rise of an Empire. The ‘empire’ may be rising according to Lil Wayne and company, but with a mere 31,000 copies sold, the stock seems to be dropping… No. 7 is a new high for Young Money, but previous self-titled debut sold considerably more despite debuting at no. 9. Sara Evans doesn’t have a ‘valedictory’ week herself, as Slow Me Down lands at no. 9 with a modest 27,000 copies. As for my girl Ledisi, well, let’s say her latest The Truth didn’t exceed the peak of Pieces of Me (no. 9), as The Truth misses the top 10.
Pharrell Williams, who manages to stay in the top ten of the albums chart, also keeps no. 1 locked down on the Billboard Hot 100. People must like the “Happy” vibes. As far as next week’s potential newbies on the chart, there are some options, but who knows how much any of them will sell. Supermodel is a notable attraction, courtesy of Foster The People. Enrique Iglesias isn’t exactly the force he once was, but Sex and Love might draw in some numbers. Skrillex drops his latest, Recess, while Taking Back Sunday teach us what Happiness Is. Oh and throw My Crazy Life (Y.G.) into the mix as well. May the best…selling album win the race!
Phantogram • Voices • Republic • US Release Date: February 18, 2014
If you haven’t heard of one incredibly talented duo named Phantogram, well, peeps, you are missing out on a treat! Recently, Phantogram, comprised of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, released their sophomore album, Voices. From start to finish, it is a sheer pleasure to listen to, using a combination of various samples and electronics to establish its musical identity. Sure, different people have different opinions in regards to sampling, but it is incredibly difficult to deny how masterfully all things work together on Voices. I mean, this duo put it work… not the kind that A$AP Ferg was referencing though, LOL. Normally, a full-length review would’ve been ordered up, but with time scarce, I chose to share and reflect upon the tune nearest and dearest to my heart – “Bill Murray”.
Simply put, “Bill Murray” never sounded so gorgeous… I know it sounds totally wrong, ha! The point is that this ballad is arguably the set’s strongest showing – it’s simply stunning and strange. It’s not merely the lyrics or the overall haunting air about the song, but the elements from “The Coldest Days of My Life”, a classic soul song courtesy of The Chi-Lites. Sure, “The Coldest Days of My Life” may not get the same love that “Have You Seen Her” or “Oh Girl” gets (not many could trump those), but the inspiration of the soul classic drives “Bill Murray” and reminds people just how important and everlasting old-school joints really are.
Not only is it the music of “The Coldest Days of My Life” that inspires, but also the lyrics. Take a lyric as simple yet as emotionally stirring as “Lord take away the pain…” – that says it all. Lyrically from the Phantogram end, “Bill Murray” can be considered both simple and complex. The lyrics are poetic, spaced out, and mysterious, still embodying the sentiments of the classic. What isn’t hard to decipher is that love and loneliness definitely have their roles (“Am I lonely…wave goodbye and your heart’s not in line”), and perhaps references to that Bill Murray film that also had Scarlett Johansson in it called Lost in Translation. Hey, it’s perfect inspiration for any indie-pop/rock act…
Ultimately, “Bill Murray” is just one of 11 great pieces that makes Voices a truly sensational album. Still, it’s hard to deny a true ‘ace in the hole’ as this one, particularly when one of the cooler comedic-actors provides the title. But don’t just go purchase “Bill Murray” with all its lushness; buy the entire album Voices. It doesn’t disappoint.
“Nothing But Trouble”; “Fall in Love”; “Howling At The Moon”; “Bill Murray”; “Celebrating Nothing”
February 25, 2014 is filled with a number of notable new music releases. Last week had some notable albums released from Cole Swindell, Candice Glover, and Lost in the Trees amongst them, but only Cole Swindell looks to have a bit of momentum behind it. Bummer. Maybe better luck this week; the likes of Beck, Dierks Bentley, and The Fray are on deck.
It has been a minute since Beck’s last album, six years to be exact! 2008 effort Modern Guilt was a collaboration with ubiquitous production wizard Danger Mouse (Brian Burton). After such a long layoff though, Beck returns with Morning Phase led by single “Blue Moon”.
Singer/Songwriter Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, releases her fifth studio album, simply titled St. Vincent. St. Vincent follows up the singer/songwriter’s previous release, 2012 effort Love This Giant, a collaborative album with David Bryne. St. Vincent rides solo this go-round. Also worth noting is that St. Vincent is being released on Republic Records; this is the artist’s first major-label release.
2014 has definitely seen numerous releases from country male artists. Not wanting to feel left out, Dierks Bentley follows up his 2012 effort Home with Riser. Riser is led by promo single “I Hold On”. Early single “Bourbon in Kentucky” (from summer 2013) has long been available, and serves as the set’s opener.
Another Long Night Out
What better way to celebrate a debut album than to rerecord it and make some musical changes? Brian Culbertson does just that on Another Long Night Out, a re-recorded edition of Culbertson’s 1994 album, Long Night Out. While reinterpretations and re-recording can be iffy sometimes, having personally reviewed Another Long Night Out, I can attest to its excellence and high level of musicianship.
The Fray returns with its fourth studio album, Helios. Helios is the follow-up to 2012 effort Scars and Stories. “Hurricane” is the current single from Helios (January 2014). A previous single, “Love Don’t Die” materialized back in October 2013.
Formula Vol. 2
Romeo Santos is one of the hotter names in Latin Music as of late. His 2011 debut, Formula, Vol.1, debuted at number nine on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. 2014 ushers in the release of its follow-up, Formula, Vol. 2. In between both releases, Santos also released a live effort entitled The King Stays King: Sold Out at Madison Square Garden.
Oxymoron should be one of the most anticipated rap releases of 2014. Whether it really is or not, well only the numbers will tell. But Schoolboy Q built some momentum back in 2013 when he and Kendrick Lamar delivered a joint entitled Collard Greens. Also judging by the strengths of his collaborations in the past, Oxymoron is probably and album that likely shouldn’t be slept on.
Live Through It
Gospel music often does get much love where reviewing is concerned, but I still appreciate a good inspirational, uplifting affair. Live Through It comes courtesy of gospel standout James Fortune. Fortune’s breakthrough album came out in 2012, when Identity debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Keep in mind, gospel albums rarely crack the top ten, unless you are Kirk Franklin, or Tye Tribbett and Marvin Sapp as of late.
Mehliana: Taming The Dragon
Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana
Where jazz pianists are concerned, Brad Mehldau is one of today’s best. Mark Guiliana is an electronic artist…electro-jazz is part of that mix. The two combine for what should be quite an interesting listen…
This isn’t an anticipated release per se, but does anybody remember Neneh Cherry’s 1989 album Raw Like Sushi? Cherry had released her first album in 16 years when 2012 effort The Cherry Thing came about. Blank Project serves as the follow-up.
Sam Smith’s Nirvana EP serves as a sound preview of his upcoming debut album
Sam Smith • Nirvana EP • Capitol • US Release Date: January 28, 2014
Every year there are a number of new artists looking for their breakthrough. Sadly, only a few hopefuls have their dreams realized. Sam Smith is the latest newbie who looks to break through. One of several standout British soul/pop artists, Smith definitely has the pipes to shine and deserves success to knock on his door. Whether or not his commercial aspirations actually come to fruition, critically, Smith is already there; he’s surpassed the test. Nirvana EP is Smith’s springboard, and even at just seven songs, it’s a pretty good springboard at that.
Nirvana EP opens with the experimental R&B track, “Safe With Me”. The track is characterized by its highly rhythmic, pummeling drums and its overall mysteriousness. Vocally, Smith sounds exceptional, delivering a nuanced, complete performance. The refrain finds those soulful vocals transformed through vocal effects – specifically pitch effects. “Don’t you know your secret’s safe with me / all your worries can be put to, can be put to sleep,” Smith sings on the refrain. Regardless of the experimentation, the identity of the track is steeped in R&B while having crossover abilities.
Title track “Nirvana” very much embraces R&B in its lush production and lyrical content. Essentially, Smith can’t get over a past flame, and has decided to stop running from his feelings so to speak. “Its too late to run away from it all,” sings Smith on the pre-chorus before eventually giving in, “I’m done with running so I give it to you.” He goes on to pour emotion on the cleverly penned chorus, where he believes his ‘heaven’ (Nirvana) is too good to be true: “This moment has caused a reaction / resulting in a reattachment / girl, you take me to Nirvana / I don’t think this will last / cause you’re here in my arms.” Deep and thoughtful, “Nirvana” is a second straight knockout punch for Nirvana EP.
“I’ve Told You Now” (Live at St. Pancras Old Church, London) continues to find the British singer flexing his pipes, particularly on the hard-hitting chorus. Accompanied by piano, guitar, and strings, Smith’s performance is highly inspired. It may not match the more liberal “Safe With Me” or the clever “Nirvana”, but “I’ve Told You Now” continues to show the newbie at his best. On “Latch”, Smith’s former collaboration with Disclosure, the production is set in a beautiful acoustic setting. Unsurprisingly, Smith continues to perform at a high level vocally.
Three more tracks conclude the overall sound EP. The electronic funk of “Together” is fueled by Disclosure, making Smith sound something of a contemporary D’Angelo, falsetto and background vocals intact. “Money On My Mind”, Smith’s ‘ace in the hole’ follows compellingly, even if the notable British hit doesn’t necessarily supersede a stacked opening duo. A remix of “Nirvana” (Harry Fraud Remix)” is the final statement and it is definitely a ‘fresh’ one.
All in all, Sam Smith sets his career up soundly on this introductory EP. Vocally, Smith joins a talented class of British vocalists in 2014: John Newman (Tribute) and Daley (Days & Nights). Smith more than holds his own in such elite company, making him one of the artists to watch closely this year. Nirvana EP receives my blessings for sure.
“Safe With Me”; “Nirvana”; “Together”
Ah, another week and the necessity for new music. February has been a slow month, particularly last week’s scant choice of releases. The three most notable releases last week included two country music artists Eric Church (The Outsiders) and Frankie Ballard (Sunshine & Whiskey), as well as a more underrated R&B release from British singer Daley (Days & Nights). This week isn’t exactly stacked, but there are seven new releases worthy of your consideration, particularly if the music collection is becoming a bit uninspired!
After much delay, American Idol season 12 victor Candice Glover drops her debut album Music Speaks, led by single “Cried”. Unfortunately, season 12 could be described as a ‘bust’ (at least in my eyes), so there isn’t a great amount of buzz surrounding this album. Still, Glover possessed a powerful voice; don’t sleep on it!
My sole experience with indie-pop duo Phantogram (Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel) involves a Flaming Lips song called “You Lust” in which the duo guests. If their work on that track is an accurate preview, sophomore album Voices – their first album in five years – could be something special. On their official Facebook page, Phantogram’s music is described as “a mix of organic and electronic sounds, with swirling guitar, spaced out synths, and chopped up samples and rhythms.” Sounds right up my alley!
One of my flaws as a music journalist as of late has been not giving enough love to country music – shame on me! I missed an opportunity with the release of Eric Church’s The Outsiders last week, the biggest music release last week, as well as Frankie Ballard’s Sunshine & Whiskey, but I’ll make sure I give Cole Swindell some press. Why – well he’s a newbie. It is always difficult to breakthrough, particularly in the crowded market of country male singers. Think about it folks, how many new country male artists have come and tried to dint the charts? Additionally, there seem to be fewer country female artists lately for whatever reason. Regardless, Cole is the latest artist looking for a breakthrough.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Half the City
Single Lock Records
Don’t let folks tell you that soul is dead – it ain’t. St. Paul & The Broken Bones, a Birmingham, Alabama based sextet, releases their soulful debut, Half The City on Tuesday. There is a distinct difference between soul and contemporary R&B; his band is about the authenticity of soul. Kudos St. Paul, kudos.
In recent times, rapper Talib Kweli hasn’t exactly lit up the charts (2007’s Eardrum Warner Bros. album did manage a no. 2 bow on the Billboard 200), but he keeps on releasing albums. This year, following 2013’s Prisoner of Consciousness, TK releases Gravitas. With a shortage of rap in 2013 – until the big-time Schoolboy Q release on February 25th – TK might just be the album to tide rap fans over.
City Heart Southern Soul
Underrated as albeit, Noel Gourdin quietly releases his third album, City Heart Southern Soul via Shanachie Records. Gourdin’s previous efforts came courtesy of two different labels – major label Epic and indie powerhouse eOne. Gourdin is no household name and likely will never achieve such status, but having personally reviewed his previous two LPs, I can attest to the fact that Gourdin is no slouch. The man can sing! Don’t sleep on him either!
Lost in the Trees
Who exactly is Lost in the Trees? Lost in the Trees is an indie-rock/pop group led by Ari Picker. The group’s 2012 LP A Church That Fits Our Needs was an exceptional album that tackled the topic of Picker’s mother’s suicide. Sure it had its sad moments given the heavy topic, but it was masterfully done. One of the year’s most underrated and overlooked albums, A Church That Fits Our Needs truly showed off Lost in the Trees’ musicianship and incredible potential, blending sound compositional technique and exceptional lyricism. 2014 effort Past Life certainly has a tough act to follow, but it’s definitely worth checking out to see what this creative collective comes up with.
From one compilation to another, Now 49 debuts at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. In yet another sub 100,000 copies week, Now 49 sells 98,000 copies. Frozen doesn’t fall too far from grace – it is no. 2 and managed to sell another 88,000 copies. The big news on the charts is how much of an impact the Super Bowl had on Bruno Mars, who’s Unorthodox Jukebox returns to the top 3, with 81,000 copies sold. While his compilation contemporaries may not have near the bragging rights given their numbers, Mars should be proud. Unorthodox Jukebox was released in December 2012 and in February 2014 has managed to re-enter the top echelon of the charts. Now that’s swag.
Now 49 wasn’t the only debut. Toni Braxton & Babyface surprisingly outperform as Love Marriage & Divorce sells 67,000 copies, goo for a bow at no. 4. Sure 67,000 copies still doesn’t leave the duo a great ceiling, but it’s respectable given the status of R&B these days… well save for ‘Yoncé. Broken Bells land at no. 5 with their sophomore album, After The Disco. 44,000 copies isn’t too shabby considering Broken Bells isn’t exactly a household name. Lil Mix isn’t either, yet their sophomore album Salute lands at no. 6 with 43,000 copies. The numbers don’t exactly equate to prolonged success mind you, but in some regards, all four of the newbies on the chart performed better than I anticipated at least.
“Dark Horse” she’s not ladies and gentleman as Katy Perry continues to shine atop the Billboard Hot 100 with pal Juicy J. Changing gears though, as for who’s got next on the albums chart, put your money on Eric Church’s latest, The Outsiders. Church’s previous studio album, Chief debuted at no. 1. This is a relatively quiet release week.
Now 49 is an improvement over previous compilations
Various Artists • Now 49: That’s What I Call Music • UMe • US Release Date: February 4, 2014
Compilation efforts have great intentions, but also can possess their respective flaws as well. The Now Series is a superb way to give music lovers some of the biggest hits via one album. The problem with the series is often by the time some of the hits make the compilation they’ve actually faded or cooled off a bit. Part of this is the restlessness of society while part of it is the assemblers being mindful of what’s currently “hot” and what’s “not”. Now 49 serves its purpose like its colleagues, but of course there are puzzlements with the inclusion of certain songs given the timing. Ultimately though, Now 49 is an improvement over previous compilations.
Some excellent choices found on Now 49 definitely includes the opener, “Timber”, a recent number one hit performed by Pitbull and featuring Ke$ha. “Timber” fits perfectly because it is arguably the freshest song on the track list. Another excellent choices with release date being a considered is “Say Something” by A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera. While “Say Something” has been out a while, A Great Big World’s debut effort Is Anybody Out There? was just recently released. Additionally, the former Billboard Hot 100 top five hit has remained and only grew in popularity. Another solid choice is “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. With “Radioactive” still incredibly popular after a lengthy run, current single “Demons” seems ‘brand new’, even with album Night Visions original bowing in 2012. One could also make the argument for others, like “Unconditionally”, Katy Perry’s outgoing single before the rise of the “Dark Horse” (featuring Juicy J), or the sustained popularity of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (Drake featuring Majid Jordan) or “Stay The Night” (Zedd featuring Hayley Williams). There are some solid tracks featured on Now 49.
As always, there are also question marks. Britney Spears’ “Work Work” (an edited version of “Work B**ch”) may have no issue given its relevance where time is concerned, but Britney Jean as a whole was a bomb. “Work” received some attention, but it certainly wouldn’t earn the honors as the pop star’s best single ever. Similarly, “TKO” by Justin Timberlake feels out of place with much bigger, more relevant hits. The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 definitely didn’t match the popularity of the original. “TKO” could’ve been axed from this set and wouldn’t have been missed. “Gorilla” by Bruno Mars is an excellent song (I didn’t think so when I first heard it over a year ago, but it grew on me), but it has ‘expired’ for this particular set. To the ear, one truly nitpicky person might even chastise the inclusion of Lady Gaga’s duet with R. Kelly, “Do What U Want”. While ARTPOP‘s best joint has only been on the Hot 100 for about 15 weeks, it’s ‘peak’ success has been finished for a couple of weeks at this point.
Ultimately though, Now 49 seems to be an improvement over the last couple of compilations. There are fewer miscues in regards to who and what is included. Now 49 is not perfect, but what compilation is? On greatest hits albums don’t the assemblers often goof somewhere? Sometimes aren’t soundtracks only so-so when listening to them outside the context of the film? Now 49 sports enough meat to please fans, particularly those who want some of their favorites for their own personal playlist.
Another year and another Grammys ceremony has come and passed. As always, there were moments that thrilled me while others made me curse under my breath. Luckily, as a music journalist, this guy has learned how to think like the Recording Academy, hence the accuracy of many of my picks this year. Still, even being correct, you have to wonder what the Academy is thinking sometimes. Yes, I’m specifically referencing the fact that Kendrick Lamar was shut out – ridiculous! But here goes nothing examining the awards given.
The Big Four:
Record, Album and Song of the Year & Best New Artist
Honestly, “Get Lucky” had been a lock for Record of the Year all summer. Even with such a tight category, “Get Lucky” felt like the strongest candidate here. Additionally, Daft Punk’s victory in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category was a lock.
Album of the Year: Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Personally, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City would’ve been my choice for album of the year, but using Recording Academy psychology, I knew Kendrick Lamar didn’t stand a chance – NONE! So ultimately, Random Access Memories seemed the logical, safe choice for voters. It was also a great album and moved some major numbers for an electronic album. Not even Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ brand of hip-hop was going to take this one. Additionally, Daft Punk was a lock in the Best Dance/Electronica Album category.
Here, voters made the best choice in regards to impact. “Royals” was a gargantuan hit, with only “Roar” rivaling in regards to buzz. “Same Love” was a breakthrough record (same sex marriage equality, etc.), but would’ve been a stretch over the most unique record of the bunch. And as good as “Same Love” was, was it necessarily more special than P!nk’s “Just Give Me A Reason” or Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven”?
“Royals” victory in the Best Pop Performance category was also #winning; it was the most unique song/performance of the bunch.
I picked Kendrick Lamar, but honestly, I’m not too angry about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis winning this one. Still, Kendrick is the more valuable long-term artist in my eyes.